Sean Collins of Spiked interviewed Joseph Bottum who, in 2014, published a book explaining very well the etiology of the hysteria and insanity afflicting America these days. This one is a must-read item.
One person who has long been exploring the religious fervour of todayâ€™s increasingly moralistic politics is the essayist and author Joseph Bottum. Indeed, his 2014 book, An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America, seems almost prophetic. There he argued that the demise of traditional Protestantism in the US has led liberals to transfer their religious beliefs, habits and passions into the political realm, moralising it in the process. Our age of â€˜post-Protestantismâ€™, he concludes, has eroded the boundary between the religious and the political, infusing politics with a religious mindset and discourse. …
The Mainline churches helped define American culture in several ways. First of all, the churches were mostly apolitical, which has had a profound effect on American culture. For instance, thereâ€™s never been a great American political novel. The average French streetwalker in a novel by Zola knows more about politics than the heroes of the greatest American novels. What is it to be an American? At the highest artistic level, it is to be concerned about the cosmos and the self. Politics is incidental to Moby Dick, The Scarlet Letter and Huckleberry Finn. And thatâ€™s because Mainline Protestantism rendered politics secondary to what it deems is most important â€” namely, salvation and the self.
Second, Mainline Protestantism defined the structure of the family, and the shape of everyday life â€“ baptisms, marriages and funerals. It effectively shaped the social life of communities. When Tocqueville talks about these non-governmental associations in America that he found so fascinating, the two examples he gives are volunteer fire departments and burial societies. People banded together to make sure they had funding, and attendees, for each otherâ€™s funerals. This Protestantism will also shape the idea of the nuclear family, provide a sense of the arc of life, and frame how we understand whatâ€™s driving our behaviour, and how we think about politics. So when 50 per cent of the country belonged to these churches, these churches were still shaping social life.
The third thing Protestantism gave us was a shared language of the Bible. When Adlai Stevenson, the former Democratic governor of Illinois, was asked why he decided to run for president for a second time in 1956, he said, â€˜It was not like Paul on the road to Damascusâ€™. There was a cultural assumption that people would get this sort of Biblical reference. That too gave a unity to American culture. As much as the Lutherans were not the same as the Methodists, and so on, the churches shared what Tocqueville called the central stream, the main current in American life.
In the 1970s, the old Mainline Protestantism starts to break down. A question of what might replace its centrality in American culture emerges. There is a period in the 1990s and 2000s when it seems that Catholicism might provide the moral language that Mainline Protestantism no longer did. In the event, that project failed, primarily because liberal Protestantism did not disappear â€“ it just shifted into post-Protestantism. ….
What weâ€™re seeing now is an amplification of what I wrote about five years ago: an intense spiritual hunger that has no outlet. Thereâ€™s no way to see people kneeling, or singing â€˜Hands up, donâ€™t shootâ€™, or swaying while they hold up candles, and avoid acknowledging that itâ€™s driven by a spiritual desire. I perceived this when I wrote about Occupy Wall Street, and itâ€™s become even more like this. It is an intense spiritual hunger that is manifesting itself more violently. Because to the post-Protestants, the world is an outrage and we are all sinners.
As a follow-up to The Anxious Age, I wrote an essay in 2014 in the Weekly Standard, called â€˜The Spiritual Shape of Political Ideasâ€™. The first idea I addressed was white guilt â€“ that there is this inherent guiltiness that comes from being white. This notion has the same logical shape and the same psychological operation as Original Sin. The trouble is that, unlike Original Sin, thereâ€™s no salvation from white guilt. But the formal structure of white guilt and Original Sin is the same. How do you come to understand that you need salvation? By deeper and deeper appreciation of your sinfulness.
Similarly, there is ostracising and shunning. Cancel culture is just the latest and most virulent form of the religious notion of shunning, in which people are chased into further appreciation of their guiltiness. Two years ago, the Nation published a poem about an older panhandler giving advice to a younger one, about how to get people to give you money. The Twittermob went after that poem, on the grounds that the poet was a white man from Minnesota. And the magazine apologised, and the poet apologised for writing the poem. Thatâ€™s what the shunning is looking for. If you profane, if youâ€™re shunned outside the Temple, the only way back is to become fanatic, to convince people that you understand how guilty you are. And even then Iâ€™m not sure thereâ€™s any way back.
At the very least, one of the effects of the shunning is to frighten everyone into silence. Its purpose is to get people fired, to put people beyond the pale, to get them out of our sight. This is for a couple reasons. First, it is to ensure we are not infected by this sinfulness. And second, it is a public declaration of our power. It says, look how powerful we are, that we can do this to people.
We live in just the strangest times. But understanding the historical roots of these radicals as post-Protestant, and understanding the spiritual hunger which has no outlet for them, helps us to explain it.
There can be no question that he is right. Leftism generally is nothing other than the recrudescence and amalgamation of several earlier prominent Christian heresies, and contemporary Woke Leftism is an obvious outbreak of religious hysteria based on that heretic cult.
White men who go around denouncing other white men as â€œfascistsâ€ are wimpy losers who think theyâ€™ll attract women with suck-up speeches about racism. But even stupid left-wing girls prefer alpha males. Sissy boys should drop the left-wing politics and try lifting weights and making money. Freud was a fool and reductionist, but sexual strategizing by losers is the source of nearly all left-wing ideology.”
Thomas Cole, The Course of Empire: Destruction, 1833-1836, New York Historical Society.
Matthew Continetti discusses today’s Progressivism in the light of Irving Kristol’s 1969 lecture on â€œUrban Civilization and Its Discontents.â€
Beginning in the 19th century, writers, artists, philosophers, and intellectuals adopted an adversarial stance toward the dominant â€œbourgeoisâ€ ethos of orthodox religiosity, marital fidelity, conventional morality, and traditional manners. With the advent of mass media and the rise of higher education in the 20th century, the adversarial impulse permeated the institutions of culture. It gained more adherents in each rising generation.
What Roger Scruton described as a â€œculture of repudiationâ€ revised inherited understandings of history, politics, economics, society, art, psychology, and behavior. The philosophy of Darwin, Marx, and Freud deprived individuals of agency. It reduced them to mere products of the environment. The will of â€œthe people,â€ no matter its direction, was considered a good in itself. â€œWhat we may call the transcendental-populist religion of democracy,â€ Kristol said, â€œsuperseded an original political philosophy of democracy.â€
The population fought over the dispensation of entitlements. But it shared a state of mind. â€œIt is, to be precise, that state of mind,â€ Kristol went on, â€œwhich lacks all those qualities that, in the opinion of the founding fathers, added up to republican morality: steadiness of character, deliberativeness of mind, and a mild predisposition to subordinate oneâ€™s own special interests to the public interest.â€
The most important question, Kristol liked to say, was, â€œWhy not?â€ Why not do drugs, consume porn, abandon your children, break into and steal from a Target store? The institutions that once supplied the answers to such questions â€” the family, the church, the community â€” receded in importance and withered in strength against the power of an adversary culture that embedded itself in media and government and the liberation of desires that accompanied conditions of security and affluence.
It became difficult to justify submission of the will to external moral authority. That those authorities were often bigoted or unjust gave rise to the additional demand of justice as a precondition of civil peace and order. But this was a non sequitur. Order is the basis of justice, not the other way around. â€œTo demand â€˜justiceâ€™ as a precondition for political or social stability,â€ Kristol wrote in 1979, â€œis to make a demand on this world which the world has ever refused to concede.â€
What I find remarkable is how the Left had managed to enroll not only the naive and romantic Dummer Jungen, but also the Boobs and Babbitts; the Christers, Wowsers, and Reformers; the Goo-Goos and the energetic ladies whose sex lives are over under a single virtue-signalling, self-congratulatory banner.
Rod Dreher notes that, within many of our most elite institutions, like Yale, the fanatical revolutionary Left has already won.
Last year, I spoke to a Soviet-born scholar who teaches in an American public university. Iâ€™m using a quote from our discussion in my forthcoming (September) book, Live Not By Lies. This morning, she sent me this e-mail, which I reproduce here with her permission:
I know from your blog that the work on your new book is going well and Iâ€™m glad because, boy, itâ€™s so needed. Iâ€™m observing some disturbing developments on my campus, and we are really not one of those wokester schools for spoiled brats one normally associates with this kind of thing.
This academic year Iâ€™ve had an opportunity to work with some early-career academics. These are newly-minted PhDs that are in their first year on the tenure-track. Whatâ€™s really scary is that they sincerely believe all the woke dogma. Older people â€“ those in their forties, fifties or sixties â€“ might parrot the woke mantras because itâ€™s what everybody in academia does and you have to survive. But the younger generation actually believes it all. Transwomen are women, black students fail calculus because there are no calc profs who â€œlook like them,â€ â€˜whitenessâ€™ is the most oppressive thing in the world, the US is the most evil country in history, anybody who votes Republican is a racist, everybody who goes to church is a bigot but the hijab is deeply liberating. I gently mocked some of this stuff (like we normally do among older academics), and two of the younger academics in the group I supervise actually cried. Because they believe all this so deeply, and Iâ€™d even say fanatically, that they couldnâ€™t comprehend why I wasnâ€™t taking it seriously.
The fanatical glimmer in their eyes really scared me.
Back in the USSR in the 1970s and the 1980s nobody believed the dogma. People repeated the ideological mantras for cynical reasons, to get advanced in their careers or get food packages. Many did it to protect their kids. But nobody sincerely believed. That is what ultimately saved us. As soon as the regime weakened a bit, it was doomed because there were no sincere believers any more. Everybody who did take the dogma seriously belonged to the generation of my great-grandparents.
In the US, though, the generation of the fanatical believers is only now growing up and coming into its prime. Weâ€™ll have to wait until their grandkids grow up to see a generation that will be so fed up with the dogma that it will embrace freedom of thought and expression. But thatâ€™s a long way away in the future.
Iâ€™m mentoring a group of young scholars in the Humanities to help them do research, and Iâ€™m starting to hate this task. Young scholars almost without exception think that scholarship is entirely about repeating woke slogans completely uncritically. Again, this is different from the USSR where scholars peppered their writing with the slogans but always took great pride in trying to sneak in some real thinking and real analysis behind the required ideological drivel. Every Soviet scholar starting from the 1970s was a dissident at heart because everybody knew that the ideology was rotten.
All of this is sad and very scary. I never thought Iâ€™d experience anything worse, anything more intellectually stifling than the USSR of its last two decades of existence. But now I do see something worse.
The book you are writing is very important, and I hope that many people hear your message.
Folks, Americans are extremely naive about whatâ€™s coming. We just cannot imagine that people who burst into tears in the face of gentle mockery of their political beliefs can ever come to power. They are already in power, in the sense that they have mesmerized leaders of American institutions. Iâ€™m telling you, that 2015 showdown on Yaleâ€™s campus between Prof. Nicholas Christakis and the shrieking students was profoundly symbolic. Christakis used the techniques of discursive reason to try to establish contact with these young people. None of it mattered. They yelled and cursed and sobbed. The fact that he disagreed with them, they took as an assault on their person.
Jacob Howland informs us that Kierkegaard long ago foresaw the damage to civilization and the human destruction that would be caused by ideologies of tyrannical equality.
SÃ¸ren Kierkegaard considered the primary human good to be individual freedom: the freedom to judge for oneself, to speak and act for oneself, and to come to be oneself in the fullness of oneâ€™s concrete particularity. â€œThe good cannot be defined at all,â€ he wrote in The Concept of Anxiety (1844). â€œThe good is freedom. The difference between good and evil is only for freedom and in freedom, and this difference is never in abstracto but only in concreto.â€ The goodness of the natural world resides in the harmonious abundance of existing beingsâ€”this improbable lily, that joyful birdâ€”each of which earnestly inhabits no more or less than its allotted place and time, spontaneously expressing, within these limits, its own rich particularity. The goodness and meaning of human life similarly consists in the irreducible particularity of individuals and communitiesâ€”families, congregations, nationsâ€”that arise in freedom and are sustained by freedom.
As early as the 1840s, however, Kierkegaard warned that late modernity is animated by a crushing spirit of abstraction that poses the gravest threat to the human good. The Hegelian philosophy that dominated the ageâ€™s intellectual culture, he observed in Concluding Unscientific Postscript (1846), was of no use to actually existing human beings; it spoke absurdly â€œof speculation as if this were a man or as if a man were speculation,â€ and would perhaps someday find its â€œtrue readersâ€ among â€œinhabitants of the moon.â€ But such philosophical lunacy was the least of the matter. Long before the revolutionary followers of Marx and Engels brought Hegelâ€™s systematic science down from the heavens and settled it in the cities of men in a malignantly inhuman formâ€”the reductive ideology of dialectical materialismâ€”Kierkegaard prophesied the inevitable destruction of individual character and passion through an inherently reflective social process of â€œleveling.â€ The present age, he wrote in Two Ages (1846), is democratically â€œoriented to equalityâ€ and marked not by â€œthe happy infatuation of admiration but the unhappy infatuation of envy,â€ a â€œcensoriousâ€ passion that wants to â€œstifleâ€ and â€œdegradeâ€ individual excellence rather than to emulate it. A constant bane of human existence, envy is particularly destructive in the present age because â€œthe abstraction of leveling is related to a higher negativity: pure humanity.â€ Late-modern leveling, Kierkegaard predicted, would destroy all organic structures that mediate between living individuals and the bloodless abstraction of humanity as such. Nothingâ€”no person, institution, or even â€œnational individualityâ€â€”will be able to halt what he calls the â€œspontaneous combustion of the human race.â€
Daniel Flynn, in the American Spectator, says: Yes, you can blame Massachusetts.
William Blaxton, the cityâ€™s first settler who dwelled alone on Boston Common, invited the Puritans to settle on the Shawmut. They soon encouraged him to leave. â€œI have come from England because I did not like the Lord Bishops,â€ the first Bostonian lamented. â€œI cannot join you because I would not be under the lord brethren.â€
In the next generation, the Puritans, who depicted themselves as paragons of religious freedom (a bit of propaganda so effective that most fall for it today), executed four on Boston Common for the crime of Quakerism.
Beacon Hill, overlooking the Boston Common, served as the epicenter of the Know Nothing Party during its brief, 1850s heyday. The Know Nothings won every congressional seat, every seat in the state senate, every state constitutional office, and all but 3 of 379 seats in the state house of representatives in the 1854 elections in Massachusetts.
H.L. Mencken traveled from Baltimore to Boston in 1926 to sell a copy of The American Mercury, which contained a story about â€” gasp â€” a prostitute, to the Reverend J. Franklin Chase. The Watch and Ward Society head handed a half-dollar to Mencken, who hilariously bit the silver coin to affirm the honesty of the minister magazine buyer. He then handed over a copy of The American Mercury, which resulted in his immediate arrest â€” and the cigar-chomping Mencken throwing his remaining magazines in the air to the crowd gathered at Brimstone Corner at the edge of Boston Common where the entrance to the Park Street station stands.
Boston imagines itself as the Hub of the Universe and the Athens of America. Massachusetts executed more witches than the rest of the colonies combined, â€œbanned inâ€ regularly prefaces the name of its capital city, and Chik-fil-A, plastic bags, leaf blowers, and other annoyances of the enlightened today regularly face official opprobrium.
How to reconcile the former self-perception with the latter reality?
Todayâ€™s Proper Bostonians deny their ancestry. But a thread runs through the Puritans to the Know Nothings to the Watch and Ward Society to todayâ€™s do-gooders. Just as the Puritans, the Know Nothings, and the Watch and Ward Society regarded themselves as enlightened, progressive, and cultured, local parochial cosmopolitans imagine themselves as the vanguard of tolerance. Intolerant people remain most intolerant to the idea of their own intolerance.
â€œAs politics have become more about identity than policy, partisan leanings have become more about how we grew up and where we feel like we belong,â€ the Atlantic, which commissioned the survey, points out. â€œPolitics are acting more like religion, in other words.â€
[It] is a recurring theme with the American Left. It is the reason they embraced the term â€œProgressiveâ€ as their preferred label. They start with the unspoken belief that the story of man is written. It is the duty of the righteous to live it out in order to reach salvation. Itâ€™s why â€œbeing on the right side of historyâ€ comes up so often. They think of the struggle as between those on the side of the great historical force and those who are standing in the way of it. The righteous are always looking forward and moving forward.
It is also why they think of the past as a dark age dominated by the sinners. There is no romanticism on the American Left, because the past is by definition further away from the glorious future. Instead, the past is filled with monsters that were either slain by the righteous, or locked away, but ready to return at any moment. For example, they remain forever vigilant about the return of Nazis, as if they are a real thing that still exist. In the mind of the American progressive â€œNaziâ€ is just another name for Old Scratch.
Notice in that Times piece that the Trump voters are described as â€œleft behindâ€ rather than unhappy or in disagreement. In other words, the people voting for Trump did so because they were sad for having been left behind by the righteous. Voting for Trump was a cry for help. Itâ€™s tempting to see this as part of Obamaâ€™s narcissism, but in reality his narcissism is also the result of this deep belief in the flow of history. He was chosen to lead the faithful, so of course he is a narcissist. What savior would not be a bit full of himself?
Youâ€™ll notice that Progressives are forever warning about some attempt to â€œturn back the clockâ€ and return us to a former state of sin. It resonates with Progressives, because for them, the eternal quest for salvation means going forward, breaking away from the degraded past. Trumpâ€™s â€œturning the clock backâ€ is viewed as the wages of sin. Obama thinks he tried too hard to deliver his people to the promised land. The result was the great leap backward into Trumpism. It is a lament and call to redouble the efforts of the faithful.
American Progressives are the purest form of true believers, because they have disconnected their beliefs from practical considerations. Therefore, they are immune to facts and reason. When you examine the language they use to describe politics and the culture, you see the extreme mysticism. Obama does not even really know what â€œleft behindâ€ means, but he is sure it is a bad thing. For him, it is a purely a spiritual issue to be thought of in those terms. Practical considerations simply have no salience for him.
The error the Right has made for generations is to think it is possible to prove the Left wrong, and therefore force them to abandon their agenda. Thatâ€™s like thinking you can disprove sections of the Koran and cause the Muslims to abandon their faith. In fact, efforts to do so will always be met with a fierce defense of the faith. Practical arguments always embolden the righteous, as it confirms their belief in themselves as moral agents in a holy cause. Your irrational resistance is proof they are on the righteous path.
It’s a foolish society that chooses for its teachers and storytellers people who hate that society.
All too often our children are being taught by people who have no experience of our society and no success within it. Their indoctrination at collectivist â€œeducationâ€ schools has made them openly (and ignorantly) hostile to America.
What if one of the requirements to teach K-12 was that you be at _least_ 50 years old, with proven success in the society (in business, a trade, parenthood)? You needn’t have made a million or be a top-level executive–so long as you have functioned effectively within American society.
Judith Miller discusses the odd culture of America’s Cool Grey City of Love as San Francisco commemorates the 1967 origin of the Counter-Culture which today dominates the city.
It is San Franciscoâ€™s smug self-satisfaction that so enrages critics like Michael Anton, the San Francisco native who now works for the Trump White House in national-security communications. In a blistering 2015 critique in the Claremont Review of Books, Anton asserted that â€œSan Francisco valuesâ€ had come to reflect little more than a â€œconfluence of hippie leftism and filthy lucre,â€ a marriage of convenience between â€œold-time materialism and hippie â€˜morality.â€™ â€ What kept the Summer of Love veneer going for so long, he asserted, is the implicit deal between the high-tech oligarchs and the hippie rank-and-file. â€œThe latter not only decline to use their considerable propaganda skills to vilify the former, but cheerfully glorify and whitewash them,â€ he wrote. â€œThe oligarchs in turn subsidize the lefties through nonprofits and make-work jobsâ€ and, more important, â€œtake their cues from them on matters of politics not directly contrary to their economic interests.â€ Both groups benefit from what he called this â€œsocio-intellectual money laundering.â€ The resulting policies have done little to create opportunities for an aspiring middle class that is neither elite nor bohemian.
Anton is not wrong about the less savory aspects of the counterculture. A notable omission in the cityâ€™s much touted tradition of â€œtolerance,â€ for instance, is that it rarely extends to politics. There is no welcome mat out for Republicans, especially conservatives. Student mobs at Berkeley boast about preventing conservative scholars from speaking on campus. Socially liberal but fiscally conservative activists like David Crane, who worked as Governor Arnold Schwarzeneggerâ€™s finance director, struggle to raise funds for candidates willing to question the pension burdens being imposed on future generations by San Francisco liberals in the name of â€œworkersâ€™ rights.â€ Several Republican city residents confided that they would never display a Trump/Pence sticker on their car or home window for fear of vandalism.
Harrison loves my country too,
But wants it all made over new.
Heâ€™s Freudian Viennese by night.
By day heâ€™s Marxian Muscovite.
It isnâ€™t because heâ€™s Russian Jew.
Heâ€™s Puritan Yankee through and through.
He dotes on Saturday pork and beans.
But his mind is hardly out of his teens:
With him the love of country means
Blowing it all to smithereens
And having it all made over new.
[Juan Bautista Alberdi argued that Liberty produces in the common man the anguish of responsibility and he therefore yearns for an absolute monarchy and no obligation to decide. Thus the death of the Ancien Regime spills over into Socialism. He saw a hundred years ahead.]