Friday 30 August 2019

More on the stupid meme that the modern Left are the new 'puritans'

Further to my recent post; I think I am clearer as to the strange support given to the stupid idea that the modern Left are the new 'puritans': it seems that Catholics (Roman, Anglo, perhaps Orthodox) are using the argument as a way of refighting the Reformation.

The core problem with the Left=Puritan argument is that it puts politics above Christianity; in that it implicitly argues that political expediency ought to be primary in deciding the nature of Christianity.

In other words, the implicit assumption is that Christianity is to be understood as a part of The State, and in terms of how best a nation may be governed.

The Left=Puritan idea is a way of reasserting either the ideal of the Constantine/ Byzantine/ Anglican synthesis of Roman State and the Christian Church; or the Medieval 'City of Man'-'City of God' separate-realms division between the King and the Pope. Implicitly, the core question being addressed is the problem of how Christianity may function in the administration of a stable state.

This is understandable among members of the 'secular-Right' who regard religion as a means to an end; and therefore hate and fear serious, zealous, primarily motivating Christianity; they prefer a tolerant, insipid, 'Sunday' Christianity of reasonable men and moderation - something that fits smoothly into the Establishment.

But such a style of argument ought to be regarded as abhorrent by serious Catholic Christians; those who put their religion above politics... yet such people are in fact making this argument; whether by error or confusion, or from falling into sin. They ought to be giving credit for serious Christian faith as more important than political expediency; but have fallen into putting expediency first.

Such a view equates 'puritans' with the political perils that ensue when individual Man is in a personal relationship with Jesus, or God the Father. So, it is a re-run of one aspect of the Reformation; which was between serious Christians (mostly of lower and middling classes) and the Establishment supporters of the political expediency of moderation and corruption.

So the equation is made between the destabilising effects of zeal and enthusiasm - or personal religion; and what are assumed to be similar defects in the modern New Left. (This is, anyway, not what I personally see among modern Leftists - who seem to be mostly timid bureaucrats rather than wild zealots, but that is aside.)

The fault is that this is to equate Christian zeal (even if erroneous in one way or another) with political zeal. It is, in fact, to see Christianity in terms of politics. Examine the arguments, and you will see that this is so.

Further, I think those who use modern Leftism to excoriate what they suppose to be puritanism are making a rhetorical mistake if they suppose that an argument in favour of the moderate corruption and reasonableness of a mature and stable Byzantine or Holy Roman monarchy will inspire and fire the individual idealism and courage necessary to roll-back the New Left.

Given the ubiquity and degree of top-down corruption (mainly politicization) in the Catholic (and other mainstream) churches; the only possible future of Christianity in the West is to be strong, personal and primary.

And for such Christians to set-aside the political wrangles, and especially arguments about political expediency, until after Western Men has recovered (or generated anew) a living, inspiring, motivating Christian faith.


BruceB said...

I think you are seeing this on pro-Anglican/England/English sites (not just where you and I overlapped). I see this elsewhere. I don't see this as a Catholic or Eastern Orthodox vs. Reformation battle (your points about Church/State still stand).

And I definitely see a "it's the Jews" vs. "No it's not" aspect in more than one place.

dearieme said...

The analogy is made because so many people loathe the image of Puritans as witch-burning, quaker-hanging fanatics, taking pleasure in denying other people their pleasures. Are you arguing that the image is entirely false, or just unrepresentative?

Is the case much different from loathing the image of Renaissance Popes as heretic-burning, hypocritical psychopaths, taking pleasure in keeping concubines while oppressing popular pleasures.

John Fitzgerald said...

Good piece Bruce. I've become increasingly drawn to Catholic Integralism and the idea of a restored Christian Empire in recent months. My belief is that the faith should play a role in shaping society because if Christians don't then you can be sure someone else will. Society should also - as much as is possible - reflect the Divine order, beauty and harmony of Heaven. I can't speak for the Orthodox but certainly, in my view, there are enough good folk left in the RCC to direct things the right way, should they ever get the chance. But I agree 100% that it's all worthless unless there is a religious awakening first. These things can't be imposed top down.

As a side note I think this grass roots upsurge against a corrupt and dying order is depicted by Charles Williams in his poem 'The Calling of Arthur'. Arthur doesn't impose himself. He answers a call and responds to a need instead.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB - The meme is mainly repeated by secular Right (influenced by Moldbug, who I think got it from Voegelin, who - with his over-inclusive unrigorous nonsense about 'Gnosticism' - seems to me a very dubious source for serious Christians); and Moldbug is I think half-Jewish so there is that; but it (rather surprisingly, and shockingly) seems to appeal to Catholic Christians for the reasons I describe.

d - My point is that Catholics need to be able to recognise that many individual Protestants were far better Christians than were the Catholics at the time of the Reformation. I believe that we need to recognise a distinction between public expressions of correctness of theology, and strength of Christian faith. Further; that the indiviudual's faith is *ultimately* of incomparably greater importance than denominational orthodoxy (i.e. motivation trumps all).

@John - "My belief is that the faith should play a role in shaping society because if Christians don't then you can be sure someone else will. " - Absolutely; but we cannot know how this could be attained until after there are enough Christians to do the reshaping.

In particular, we cannot predecide the form of such a society as if the awakening had already happened; and then implement the Christian politics before there are any/ enough real Christians. I suspect that a future society emergent from reconverting moderns to Christian would be Very different from what most traditionalists envisage.

That would be to make exactly the mistake I criticise; the error of putting politics first (and leaving the small matter of converting people to become actual Christians until 'later').

I think we meed to get-over the old (seductive but anti-Christian) error of assuming that Christian society is like a blueprint; and that Christians can simply be slotted-into pre-prepared social niches; the idea that a Christian's job is to obey the rules and to fit-themselves-into these pre-prepared niches.

Michael Dyer said...

To kind of riff on your point, the problem is the history of the America left is wrapped up in the history of lapsed Puritans. The problem with the left is that they are not Puritans. For all the Puritan failings, they were serious Christians, seriously interested in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The lapsed Puritan, is like the the lapsed Catholic (Hitler, Mussolini) and the lapsed Eastern Orthodox IStalin, Lenin), the corruption of the best is the worst.

When Moldbug wrote on this originally, he showed actual history making this connection, the lapsed New Englander degenerating into sort of a vague Unitarian, then a vague Unitarian Universalist, then atheism, materialism, and communism. Engels brought Marx to see a talk by a man preaching the “new” gospel of the American communes. There is a direct historical connection between lapsed Puritans and the creation of communism.

Regarding something in BC’s comment to BB, I have been thinking hard that the evangelism is, obvious when you think about it, the only answer. It is the one thing that encompasses everything else and the only thing that matters because it is everything, God isnt a tool, He is the Point. We’ve learned too much from the enemy and it was when the Right embraced materialism that it’s downfall was assured. You can’t outsmart God.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Michael - Well said; that's it exactly.

dearieme said...

"Catholics need to be able to recognise that many individual Protestants were far better Christians than were the Catholics at the time of the Reformation."

It should be natural for them to recognise this, else why has the Roman Catholic church changed itself so much since then, often (or am I wrong?) in a Protestant direction. I mean, I hear tell that they even allow their subjects to read the Bible, and in the vernacular at that.

Wildly off-topic: it has just occurred to me that what the Bible really needs is a good abridgement. I've read abridgements of some of the great secular works - Gibbon, Adam Smith, Charles Darwin - and found that they work really well. It would need to be in good, poetic English, by which I mean it should use as much of the Authorised Version as possible.

It could be shortened in three ways. The simplest would be simply to cut out that which is known to be late faking - little bits of Mark, for instance, and some of the letters of Paul. The most popular would be to excise that which stimulates great boredom to no good purpose - Fred begat Alf and so on. The trickiest would be to cut out passages the meaning or relevance of which is obscure. (Such censorship is OK as long as full versions are freely available.)

I take it that the key defect of this idea is that it's been tried many times with little success?

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - Part of the problem is that there are *so many* Bibles, in so many lengths and styles...

One common suggestion I have seen is to read five books in the order LAGER: Luke, Acts, Genesis, Exodus, Revelations

My abridgment suggestion is the Fourth Gospel, chapters 1-20, in the Authorised Version. But then readers will already know that!

Anonymous said...

Posted over at the Orthosphere:

“Puritanism” covers a multitude of sins, often stereotyped and exaggerated, and a multitude of virtues, often ignored or forgotten. John Demos' book, A Little Commonwealth, showed that Puritans were not so “Puritanical” after all. They liked to dress colorfully, have parties, dance, sing, and drink.

The Puritan family typically had between seven and ten children living in a small house and could be very warm and supportive. The nuclear family was the basic social unit and tranquility was an important social objective, not surprisingly, given their relatively small commonwealth and their small houses filled with so many children.

This does not strike me as particularly similar to modern secular leftism, leaving aside the most serious and obvious difference that, as Bruce points out, the Puritans were, by and large and by their own lights, sincere and serious Christians, while the secular left is, by and large and by conscious decision, not.


Bruce Charlton said...

@Leo - I think that some people are reluctant to admit that some of the 'Puritans' were strong, sincere, lived Christians (ie that Puritanism was a *Christian* revival, to a significant extent) - and, as such, some were better *Christians* than most of the 'catholics' of their time and place. If this is agreed, then it becomes the primary consideration.

There is also the point to be considered which I made in Thought Prison - that IF we are being rigorous about the roots of Leftism in the church; then the Great Schism of c 1000AD was important - when the modernising Leftists of the Roman and Western Catholic Church divided from the traditionalists of the Eastern Orthodox Catholics.

That the Romans were modernisers is obvious from tha fact that the schism ushered in an immediate process of rapid theological (and organisational) change, such that no two consecutive generations of Roman Catholics stayed the same from then until now. For example after Scholasticism began, each new generation changed significant aspects of the previous one - and even Aquinas was subjected to significant change almost immediately (from eg Duns Scotus and William of Ockham).

In other words - If Puritanism is to be considered as the root of Leftism post 1500; then Puritanism had its roots in Roman Catholicism from around 1000. So if Leftism is the 'fault' of the Reformation, then Leftism is also the 'fault' of the Roman Catholic church!

Scott Locklin said...

I think it's a mistake to attempt to litigate this philosophically (though sociological arguments are probably fair game); merely noticing the worst of shitlibbery isn't present in Catholic countries, and is present in Protestant seems enough to me.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Scott - My argument is 'for' Christians, which you aren't -- Minus being a Christian, there are various persepctive. But the European cultures with the lowest average fertility are the ex-Catholic (Italy, Spain, Ireland), which means that biologically they are probably the most damaged.