Can the differences between Christian and anti-Christian conservatives be bridged?

(Note Oct 21: be sure to see Clark Coleman’s superb response to Kevin’s V.’s argument that both Christianity and America have, at their respective foundations, statements that must lead to liberal univeralism.)

Kevin V. writes:

On the recent exchange between Darwinians and traditionalists, I believe the two sides are speaking past each other. You are making the argument that Christianity does not, as a doctrinal matter, require that national distinctions be erased or that lawful states may not exclude foreigners from entering its borders for legitimate reasons and you are obviously correct on that point. It is beyond question that the European and European-American nations of Christendom exercised their religion in complete harmony with a deep awareness of their racial, national and ethnic differences and with a strong control of their borders, including an array of customs rules and barriers to foreign products, capital and labor.

Your correspondents, including your indirect one, Dennis Mangan, are making quite a different point. While acknowledging the above, they note that modern Christianity, as practiced by the overwhelming majority of the mainstream churches, both the Catholic Church and the various Protestant ones, have discarded that long history and have instead used other doctrinal forms of authority to construct a new vision of Christianity, one which does demand open borders and which seeks a more universal, international governing authority based on the brotherhood of all mankind and the dropping of all distinctions based on race, nation and ethnicity. [LA replies: I don’t think this is correct. It is the trads, not the Darwinians, who are arguing that true Christianity is non-liberal and that Christianity has been changed into a false, liberal form. The Darwinians say that liberal Christianity is true Christianity.]

In response, you are noting that this is an assault in Christianity while your detractors are claiming that you are expelling people from the “conservative movement” for disagreeing with you. I suggest a re-framing of the debate to move past those positions, which I do not believe advance our joint cause.

Let me address this difference by comparing this religious debate to the current political system in the United States. As you have argued, the current political culture of the United States of America in 2009 is a form of liberal universalism. This liberal universalism is marked by a manic drive for ever more powerful intrusions into private life to prevent any discrimination, to ensure equality of outcomes, to ensure “social justice,” and to reform our academic life so that the entire history of the United States and the wider West is, prior to around 1965, nothing more than a catalog of crimes, the story of an inherently defective and racist country which, through striving to live up to its ideals articulated at the forming, is coming ever-closer to realizing the liberal ideal that nation was meant to fulfill.

Note that this liberal universalism, while completely at odds with the former political culture of the United States, while presenting a world view and a vision of American culture that places every single American government, administration and leader prior to the Eisenhower Administration well outside what is today the mainstream, is based on the very same documents and founding events that the former, now lost, American institutions held up and revered. Theodore Roosevelt and President Obama both revered the same Constitution and the same Declaration of Independence, but they stressed very different portions of each document and viewed each through the prism of their wider political culture.

In such an environment as today’s, where the vast majority of Americans of all races and all of its major institutions believe in the central tenets of liberal universalism, it is hardly helpful to note that they’re all wrong and they’ve got their founding documents wrong—that is to say, that they don’t understand Americanism. While that is true, it misses the point that the basic doctrines that make up Americanism have been changed beyond recognition without any wholesale revision or dumping of its founding documents. And if someone were to point out that belief in Americanism today is belief in liberal universalism, one would be right and not impugning the honor of that term or being “anti-Americanism” for saying so.

The same Liberal Revolution that has wrought the wholesale transformation of the basic meaning of Americanism has had the same exact effect on Christianity. While the core documents remain the same, they have been interpreted in a different manner and the churches now among the leading driving forces behind open borders, liberal universalism and pro-international government. This is what Christianity has become today, much as what Americanism has become today; both have undergone a radical transformation. That these new Christians are wrong, just as our new Americans are wrong, is an important point to make, but it cannot blind one to the every-day reality that both the United States Government and the Catholic Church are radical, liberal universalist institutions.

To put it in another context, many traditionalists sound like old-line Trotskyites speaking of socialism while the Soviet Union was alive. Critics of the Soviet Union would say “look at socialism and how it doesn’t work!”, while the Trotskyite comrades would respond “But, you see, what you see in the Soviet Union is not true socialism, but a twisting of our ideals. Under real socialism things would look very different!” To which the critic responds “What socialism could be more real than that actually practiced by socialists?” To which the Trotskyite responds “But they aren’t really socialists and you sully the term and its ideals by applying it to these people!”, etc. etc. Mangan and his comrades are speaking of real-existing Christianity while you and your comrades are speaking of a Christianity that is, while historically sound, been roundly defeated and routed from the churches. [LA replies: This is a misleading analogy. Historic Christendom, the historic Western nations, the historic USA, actually did exist. The “true” Communism of the Trotskyites/Communists never existed.]

The real break—the real point of argument here—is between those who believe as you do, that these august traditions can be restored to their proper place and their modern interpretations driven out of them, and those who believe as Mangan does, that these traditions have become so fundamentally changed and interwoven the hearts and minds of the American people (and their Western cousins) that opposition to them requires a realization that both traditions have been damaged without hope of repair.

At the root of this break is that each tradition carried with it one, central idea which is inherently destructive—for Americanism, that “all men are created equal”; for Christianity “all men are children of God and brothers”—and which, even if traditionalists were able to roll back the Liberal Revolution, would again assert itself in much the same way, leading to the same end result. The New Right, which is currently forming, is thus taking the position that any real traditionalist future has to begin at the basics by saying forthrightly that all men are NOT created equal and all men are NOT brothers.

That is the real debate that I would like to see the parties engage in. If traditional Christianity stands for many things in direct opposition to actual practicing Christianity, how is the truth to be re-established? If traditional Americanism means that 98.6% of all Americans believe in things which are totally, completely wrong, how can we reverse that tidal wave of opinion?

LA replies:

First, the question you ask at the end is not new. It is the fundamental dilemma and crisis that this website addresses. Our civilization is liberal, is ever more destructive to Western culture and Western nations and peoples. How many times have I said of the British that they don’t just believe in suicidal liberalism, but that suicidal liberalism has become their essence, and therefore, if there is any possibility that they will cease being liberal, it could only happen through terrible disasters, suffering, melting down the British as they now exist? And we Americans may be only a few steps behind the British in suicidal liberalism.

Far from avoiding the terrible dilemma and crisis we are in, I stress it. I am saying that only the most profound changes can save us.

Which leads to a second point. I may be misunderstanding you, but you seem to be proposing, as a solution to liberal universalist Christianity, a Christianity that is simply tribal and has no universal message. That is impossible, a contradiction in terms. Christ did come for all men. At this moment there are Christians working secretly in Muslim countries bringing Christ to people one by one. (I’m not saying that such evangelizing efforts in the Muslim world can save the West from Islam or that it can be a major part of a strategy of Western defense, but that in the future they may ultimately have an effect far beyond what we can currently imagine.)

My point is, what I’m calling for, a restoration of the traditional Western-Christian balance between the universal and the particular, the spiritual and the concrete, will be very difficult to achieve. But what you seem to be calling for, a Christianity that is entirely tribal and particularist, is simply impossible.

However, the problem in your position is even more serious than that. You write:

At the root of this break is that each tradition carried with it one, central idea which is inherently destructive—for Americanism, that “all men are created equal”; for Christianity “all men are children of God and brothers”—and which, even if traditionalists were able to roll back the Liberal Revolution, would again assert itself in much the same way, leading to the same end result. [Emphasis added.] The New Right, which is currently forming, is thus taking the position that any real traditionalist future has to begin at the basics by saying forthrightly that all men are NOT created equal and all men are NOT brothers.

You are saying that Christianity, even if its liberal tendencies were temporarily turned back, MUST lead right back again to suicidal liberal universalism. So you’re saying that Christianity is inherently liberal-universalistic. And therefore you seem be arguing for the rejection of Christianity per se. Which undercuts your stated purpose of bridging the gap between the Christians and anti-Christians in this debate.

October 21

Clark Coleman writes:

Kevin V. states:

At the root of this break is that each tradition carried with it one, central idea which is inherently destructive—for Americanism, that “all men are created equal”; for Christianity “all men are children of God and brothers”—and which, even if traditionalists were able to roll back the Liberal Revolution, would again assert itself in much the same way, leading to the same end result. The New Right, which is currently forming, is thus taking the position that any real traditionalist future has to begin at the basics by saying forthrightly that all men are NOT created equal and all men are NOT brothers.

Let’s examine the problems here one at a time. First, one of the issues in political philosophy that our Founders addressed was whether the authority of monarchs was absolute, so that any attempt to escape it was merely unlawful rebellion. Through the various natural rights and social contract theorizing of their intellectual ancestors, one position that was devised was that no human being exists in a natural state of dominance over another. Some ants or bees might be naturally destined to be the queen and others the workers or drones or whatever, but no analogous natural state exists for human beings. Therefore, by mere ancestry no man could claim the right to be king absolutely, or independently of the consent of the governed. Some conservatives debate this point still, but regardless of caveats it was a founding view of this country. They expressed the idea that one man is not born to be a ruler, and another man born to be ruled by that ruler, through the phrase “all men are created equal.”

The phrase has nothing to do with all men being equally handsome, or wealthy, or intelligent, or athletic, or anything of the kind. No man is stupid enough to believe any such thing, although the narrow belief that each ethnic group is equally capable of attaining economic success is a belief that the left must pretend to hold for various reasons I will not detour into discussing.

Second, the Christian belief in equality or universalism pertains to salvation only. Galatians 3:28 is found in a context of a division between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. This conflict is the primary focus of the entire letter to the Galatians. Paul is trying to emphasize to the Galatians that all who were saved were baptized into a single body of Christ, the church, and thus there cannot be a split between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians with the former considering themselves superior to the latter and not wanting to associate with the latter until the Gentiles become more Jewish.

Both statements are subject to misinterpretation. So what? Every statement a man can make is subject to misinterpretation. Statements about truth come into conflict with human desires, creating incentives to misunderstand, re-interpret, or misrepresent those statements. The statements of the human biodiversity (HBD) crowd will be misinterpreted ad nauseam as time goes on. They will be misrepresented as racists, Nazis, fascists, etc., by the political left, because the political left has an incentive to do so. If the criticism of Christianity and Americanism is that they have foundational statements that have been, and will continue to be, misinterpreted, then that is a very weak criticism, because the problem is unsolveable as long as human beings are willful and come into conflict with each other.

Finally, the solution offered is to deny the statements. Brilliant. Don’t understand the statements and correct their misinterpretation. Instead, declare that the statements are false and that the wrong interpretations of them are correct. Then everyone will perceive you as a denier of Christianity AND a denier of the founding documents of our country. That is a terrific path to popular and political success.

October 22

Kevin V. writes:

While I broadly agree with your and Mr. Coleman’s responses, I believe that my initial statement was not sufficiently clear on the point that has become the main focus of engagement.

In particular, Mr. Coleman is absolutely correct that any religious or political idea is susceptible to misinterpretation and that, therefore, that fact alone cannot be used to hold either Christianity or Americanism at fault for today’s massive liberal consensus.

I agree with this. My statement that both tenets about equality would, in the event of a successful traditionalist reaction “again assert itself in much the same way, leading to the same end result,” is over-broad.

What I meant by my closing paragraph’s reference to the massive consensus on both issues in today’s world is that even granting Mr. Coleman’s point that any idea is susceptible to misinterpretation and that, therefore, this fact does not invalidate the underlying message, we have reached a point where the misunderstanding is so massive, so wide-spread, so socially accepted that it has ceased to be a misunderstanding.

If it is true, as you say, that suicidal liberalism has become the essence of the British with we Americans not far behind, it is a mere debater’s point to note that this mass of people, whose fundamental essence has been changed, has been lead astray by a misunderstanding.

To call it a misunderstanding understates the magnitude of the problem by a huge margin. A misunderstanding can be corrected. A movement could come along and restore the truth of the matter.

However, in my view, in both cases the misunderstanding is so massive, so fundamental, that its doctrines have successfully and completely replaced the former position. (Which is why I find the comparison of traditionalists to Trotskyites not implausible; while it is true that the socialism of the followers of Trotsky never existed while the Christian and American traditions traditionalists stand for most obviously did, they have been so successfully erased from modern consciousness as to, for all practical purposes, no longer exist. [LA replies: I think this is greatly overstated.] Even to the extent they exist in historical memory, they are regarded as simply criminal regimes that denied even basic human rights and, thus, are not worthy of any respect whatsoever).

A simple thought experiment shows this to be true. Say some group of traditionalist Americans were to arise and were to attempt to re-impose the actual, true meaning of “all men are created equal” that Mr. Coleman lays out. What would be the result?

The result would be a massive resistance from the vast majority of Americans, all of whom would deeply believe that they are resisting you in the name of American values, that they are the upholders of Americanism while you, Mr. Coleman, are anti-American. You could patiently explain to them that they are mistaken—and they are. But what is in their hearts and souls? What is in their essence? You are not going to convince them.

The same holds true for Christianity. Believe me, when I see local Christians lighting candles, tying ribbons and hanging up the “WE FORGIVE YOU!!” banners at the site of the latest school shooting, before the bodies of the murder victims are even cold, I want to gather them around and explain to them that they’ve fundamentally misunderstood the Christian doctrine of forgiveness. I don’t think it would work, though.

All of this is to say, there are misunderstandings and differences, and heresies and badly-thought-out political movements, and then there are errors so large as to fundamentally transform the nature of the thing in question, and fundamentally change the essence of the people’s souls and minds as it relates to the thing in question. Given the seriousness of the current situation, I would suggest we are dealing with the latter when it comes to Christianity in the West and as to the ideals of what it means to be American.

Which is why I was of the opinion that the two sides are not as far apart as suggested. Real, actual Christianity does exist and it is does not require political liberalism and is not inherently the cause of liberalism, so the traditionalists are right on that point. Current, as-practices Christianity does require political liberalism and empowers it, so the secularists are right on that point. To bridge the gap I believe one must hold tight to the former as best we can while the wider society marches to disaster.

If a people’s essence have changed to the point of no return, then the only thing left for dissenters to do is to organize and save themselves. We are not at this point yet, and I would not advise giving up the fight just yet, but we are very, very close to this point. Once Americans reach the point we agree the British have reached, the only answer is to save what can be saved; that is, to give up normal politics and retreat into communities designed for the long-haul. Perhaps these communities each have historians, literature specialists, theologists, experienced farmers, etc, and they will have to be prepared to go it alone if chaos follows. But as sure as a new order arose out of the downfall of Empire, a new order will arise out of the downfall of the ultra-liberal experiment and it’s up to these people to preserve what can be preserved. There comes a point where one’s countrymen have to be written off—as painful as that is—and preparation for the unknown future must begin.

Mr. Coleman remarks that my proposed solution is a political loser. Leaving aside the questionable nature of his proposed winning strategy—basically, shouting “you are all WRONG!”—I agree. My proposed solution, stated in the previous paragraph, amounts to giving up on liberal society once it becomes clear to traditionalists that the essence of that society has been fundamentally changed beyond hope of repair, as we now see in Britain.

A final point. You detect in my comment a sentiment against the universality of Christianity. This was not intended. Christ’s message was, indeed, for all men and the Church is properly a universal and catholic one.

Kevin continues:

Are we both not in agreement that nothing short of a revolution would save the Dead Island? If, as you say, we’re a step or two behind, then wouldn’t the same hold true for America? I know it’s our country and throwing in the towel at some point is painful, but believe me it’s painful for certain Britons I know. I have an acquaintance here, a British gentleman in his 60s, who completely agrees with you. If there was some kind of traditionalist uprising he, creaking joints and all, would grab a rifle, I’ve no doubt of it. But we have to be prepared for the absence of any such opportunity. I think it’s much more likely that things will slowly fall apart, as happened with the Roman Empire.

Aaron S. writes:

When time has permitted, I’ve been reading with some interest parts of the ongoing discussion regarding liberalism and Christianity. For what it’s worth, consider the following a somewhat fragmented and as-yet inconclusive reaction of a young-ish scholar to this issue.

I’ll not try to straighten out how much of the analysis advanced by Mr. Coleman is his, and how much is Mr. Sowell’s. In either case, this seems a common enough trope among conservatives that it needs some rooting out: namely, the assertion that our problems begin with Rousseau, or perhaps that the modern liberal project may be excised from Christianity if we take our start with the man from Geneva. [LA replies: I have to jump in here and say here that when I complimented Mr. Coleman’s comment I did not mean to say that I agree that there are no liberal elements in Christianity and that any liberal elements only appeared as a result of Rousseau. Clearly there are liberal elements in Christianity, in the Gospels and in Paul, from the very start, and I don’t think I’ve ever suggested otherwise. The issue is not whether there are liberal elements in Christianity, but whether Christianity as such is liberal and must lead to liberal universalism among peoples and societies that adopt it.]

Would that things were this simple! Mr Coleman attributes to Rousseau the “view that people are inherently good until imperfections in society cause them to be unhappy or ill-behaved or dysfunctional or whatever,” and also a “view of perfect human nature.” The problem here is first, that this doesn’t exactly square with what Rousseau says, and second, that several elements making Rousseau’s view as difficult and poisonous as it is are not new, but come to bear this particular “fruit” under a set of intellectual commitments not occurring (to my knowledge) outside the Christian orbit. I’m as anxious as you are to demonstrate that Christianity does not of its very nature “liberalize” us, but to do so, we’ve got to prune diseased branches where they emerge from the trunk, and not just where they become unsightly.

Most conservatives seem to understand—correctly—that Rousseau brings us hypertrophied notions of equality and individuality. He does not, however, pull these from a hat. They emerge rather naturally from the preceding 2-3 centuries of debate, most of which is explicitly Christian in character. For just one example, take Rousseau’s use of equality as a norm. We can say on this count that Rousseau is not authentically Christian. But the problem is that equality as a concept with normative significance goes back beyond Hobbes, and has a home in some longstanding theological debates. The most obvious figure to consider here is Hugo Grotius, whom Rousseau cites favorably on several occasions. Grotius’s doctrine on property begins with something called the “original community of the world.” As Grotius puts it, “nature establishes no lords.” This was understood by his interlocutors at the time as a specific claim about Genesis, and was defended (in part) as such by Grotius when he was challenged. This is not yet so rich a concept of equality as Rousseau’s, but it is a direct rebuke—rooted in characteristically Christian speculation—of the ancient premise of there being morally significant natural inequalities among people or nations. Grotius in turn draws from Catholic sources (which I will avoid multiplying here), each successively expanding the significance of notions like choice, will, equality. Thus, where “authentic” Christianity ends and liberalism begins is a matter not so easily settled.

This is not to say that it is a problem without an answer. There are, of course, other streams of Christian thought of which we can avail ourselves, but those who suggest an essential connection between Christianity and liberalism are not simply engaging in smear tactics or loose associations. Christian hands are all over the development of egalitarian arguments from at least the time of the Renaissance forward, and arguably, earlier than that.

Perhaps we ought to think of the West as having a very serious case of cancer. On the one hand, these anti-Christian types are offering treatment that amounts to “cut off his body!” But we shouldn’t allow this to pull us—in an honest effort to distinguish patient from disease—into an (ultimately futile) project to show that the tumor contains none of the patient’s genes.

LA replies:

I repeat that neither I nor anyone on my side of this discussion (though maybe I’m wrong about Mr. Coleman re his discussion of Rousseau) has ever asserted that the tumor (liberalism) does not contain the genes of patient (Christianity). How could anyone say that? It’s simply a truism that liberalism is a secularized form of Christianity. I’ve also said in a score of different ways that the New Testament contains gnostic potentialities and that historic Christianity is not just the New Testament, but the New Testament plus this-worldly understandings, coming from non-Christian sources, which are necessary for the New Testament teaching to be workable in earthly society. That’s the very nature of Christianity, stemming from the fact that Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels is not about setting up an earthly society. Christianity is complicated, difficult, and dangerous. But so is being human.

I wrote in a September 2007 entry, “What Christianity requires in order not to be destructive of society”:

The original teaching of Christianity as presented in the New Testament is about how to live in what Jesus called the kingdom of heaven. It is about the individual soul’s relation with God through Christ. It is not about the political organization of society. The New Testament simply assumes the existence of political society and goes on from there. Because Christianity is not, like orthodox Judaism and Islam, a complete recipe for this-worldly existence, Christians must “render unto Caesar,” i.e., render unto sa non-Christian basis of authority. Christian society is thus more complex—more differentiated, to use Eric Voegelin’s term—than any other. It is multileveled, mediating between the pole of the Christian, spiritual realm and the pole of political and cultural existence in this world, which does not come from Christianity itself. If the society loses its this-worldly pole it will go out of existence. This is the reason why Christian society is the most risky and most dangerous type of society, the most open to catastrophic derailment, such as the derailment of modern liberalism. Yet Christianity’s this-worldly “lack,” which makes Christian society so vulnerable in comparison to the religiously structured society of traditional Judaism and Islam, is also the thing that, by requiring Christian society to be multileveled in order to function in this world, makes it the fullest and truest articulation of the human soul, extending downward to the apeirontic depths (the many) and upward to transcendent spiritual truth (the One).

I expanded on this idea in June 2009:

.[T]he Christian scripture very clearly contains the potential for leftist, communist, antinomian, gnostic, society-destroying beliefs. This makes it a dangerous religion, requiring the greatest wisdom on the part of mankind to maintain the balance between the spiritual claims of the religion and the needs of mundane existence. But that dangerous quality of Christianity is an inevitable result of the fact that Christianity is the truest and most highly articulated vision of reality that there is. Because it is so highly articulated, it always contains the potential for disastrous simplifications.

In this regard, Christianity is no different from man himself. Man is the most intelligent living being on earth, far more intelligent than the animals. Yet only man is capable of insane illusions, evil, destructiveness, etc., which animals are not. The very existence of a mind capable of knowing truth implies the constant possibility of believing in falsehoods. Animals never believe in falsehoods.

The higher the being, the more ways there are for it go wrong. By the same token, the higher and truer a religion, the more ways there for it to go wrong.

(That has a Nietzschean ring, doesn’t it? But it is a Nietzschean-type insight used to defend Christianity.)

To which Leonard D. replied:

“The higher the being, the more ways there are for it go wrong.”

Or: the more complex a thing is, the more likely that removing parts from it will cause a failure of some sort.

To which I replied:

Yes. :-)

October 23, 12:30 a.m.

Aaron S. writes:

Fair enough, re your past writings and present commitments on the topic. But I was reacting to Clark Coleman’s assertion that liberalism had arisen only in the last three centuries of a twenty century old religion, and could be expressed in terms of a “Rousseau-type” view of human nature. My argument amounts to “it hasn’t, and it can’t so simply.” (If Mr. Coleman meant otherwise, I take back my criticism). Or rather, that if we accept—as we probably should—that Rousseau expresses an attenuated or oversimplified brand of Christianity, then an obvious question arises: what would a NON-simplified version look like? (This will certainly be the question of our opponents in this debate). [LA replies: I reject the formulation, that Rousseau expresses “an attenuated or oversimplified brand of Christianity.” It’s not Christianity at all, period. The fact that some elements are attitudes that had brought into the world by Christianity were then separated from Christianity and made into something else, doesn’t make that something else a form of Christianity. The fact that liberalism could not have existed without Christianity, doesn’t make liberalism a brand of Christianity.]

I’m all for your oft-invoked Voegelin-ism that Christianity possesses the most “highly articulated” vision of reality. But where does this leave us with respect to the concrete problems of liberal-era political reality? Let’s start with one example, as I’m curious as to your position on this matter: the idea of popular sovereignty. Can anyone deny that this is a part of America’s concept of itself?

How would a “fully articulated” Christianity deal with this question? From Bellarmine and Suarez, through the Scottish covenanters and Locke, the idea that government should answer to the “will” of the people goes hand-in-hand with the denial of natural ranks. But this is precisely the kind of liberal, leveling concept that would make a “highly articulated” notion of social and spiritual reality very difficult to maintain, would it not?* So on what (non-liberal) basis could we defend this aspect of our heritage? Or is that simply impossible?

I can think of several possible answers, but I’m not sure that any fully satisfies me …

LA replies:

The phrase “popular sovereignty” is mainly associated with Stephen A. Douglas and the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which declared that the new territories or states could choose by popular election whether they would have slavery or not. The Republicans and Lincoln opposed this. Lincoln famously argued that that are moral truths, such as that no man has the right to own another human being, that no majority has the right to deny.

Lincoln was being true to the American political tradition, The American system of government was never based on the pure will of the people. Yes, sovereignty originates with the will of the people, but that will is mediated through the process of representative, deliberative government. This was the common sense of the American people at the time of the founding, at the time of Lincoln, and in mid twentieth century America. When I was a kid, notions of representative government, deliberative process, and checks and balances played a bigger part in the idea of America than did democracy. Hard to believe, but true. It was always understood that the Founders did not like democracy, which they equated with mob rule. The one time it was tried, in Pennsyvlania in the 1790s, it turned into a mini people’s dictatorship and was a disaster, and Pennsyvania soon returned to a balanced, checks-and-balances type system like the other states.

Obviously America was not founded as a Christian state. Just as obviously, it was not founded as a radical, plebiscitararian democracy. From its beginning America has had two opposing tendencies, which the liberal historian Page Smith called the secular-democratic and the classical-Christian. In its founding, America was a unique mixture of these different elements, and they have been in a battle with each other throughout our history. Over time, the secular democratic or plebiscitarian tendency has gotten stronger and stronger, and the classical-Christian tendency weaker and weaker. It may be the case, as some commenters here believe, that the process leading toward the rule by an unaccountable elite acting in the name of the equality of all humanity has gone too far and can’t be turned back. But that doesn’t mean that the contrary, classical-Christian elements are nothing. They are part of our heritage, they are still vital to many Americans, and they are true. And I think they provide the only meaningful and workable basis within our tradition to fight back against liberalism.

But, you may ask, what about the people who forcefully opposed Obamacare at the townhall meetings this past summer? Wasn’t that a manifestation of populism? I wouldn’t call it populism. I would call it an informed citizenry speaking up against the attempt of secular elites to impose an unconstitutional bureaucratic tyranny on us in the name of equality. The secular-democratic tendency at bottom is about will, the will of the people, or the will of an unaccountable elite acting in the name of the people. The classical-Christian tendency at bottom is about truth, the truth of man’s place in the universe and how he ought to live.

Mencius Moldbug wrote (Oct 21):

Re: Christianity is intrinsically liberal-universalistic

Of course it is. 1: Christianity is intrinsically Biblical. 2: Liberal universalism is easily found in the Bible. 3: Christianity is intrinsically liberal-universalistic. With which of these steps can you possibly disagree?

Of course, Christianity is not *exclusively* liberal-universalistic. Non-liberal non-universalism is easily found in the Bible as well. Have you ever read R.L. Dabney’s theological defense of slavery, in his Defence of Virginia? Dabney was a minister—Stonewall Jackson’s pastor, in fact. Give it a whirl:

Of course the Bible contains liberal universalism. It also contains a defense of slavery. It contains everything. This is a description of a virtue, not a vice.

It is up to human tradition to make this document into a religion. It is easy to construct a religion, having some relationship to the Bible and calling itself Christian, whose real content consists entirely of liberal universalism. It is also easy to construct a Christian religion which is used as the basis for the Inquisition. Which of these is the true religion? I don’t believe this question can be answered objectively.

I should note, though, that the side of the Christian tradition that has stood as a guardian of order is, in general, the side most traceable to the strong Roman influence in Christianity. The virtues of a Dabney, say, are Roman virtues—duty, order, family, country. In other words, they are pagan virtues. It is no surprise that they keep reappearing in the post-pagan era, even outside Catholicism proper—for a virtue is simply a virtue.

Thus, you can legitimately summarize Christianity as Romanitas plus X. Where X turns out to look something like liberal universalism. This is definitely a point for the “universalism is the essence of Christianity” view, but it is not really a very strong or meaningful point. The answer really depends on *why* you are a Christian, and as a non-Christian I can’t really speak to this.

LA replied to Mencius (Oct 21):

I’ll try to reply to this tomorrow.

Mencius replies:

I think you’ve answered most people’s questions, including mine.

I found that an extremely cogent and realistic discussion, especially Aaron S.’s contribution. It is such a pleasure to see people with a sound understanding of present history which connects back to the 1500s. Take that, National Review!

Speaking as a right-wing atheist, I have never understood why right-wing atheists feel the need to cut off the body along with the head. In an American country, the philosopher should be pro-American; in a Muslim country, he should be pro-Muslim; in a Christian country, he should be pro-Christian. Regardless of what entities do or not exist in his system of the universe. Living in San Francisco, I make a strong effort to be pro-liberal, despite the enormous lies these people believe, despite the enormous mess they have made of the world. This is not a matter of agreement, just mere human sympathy. [LA replies: This reminds me of how, in the days after Obama’s election, I

There is always something wrong, something neurotic, about a writer who hates his people or country. A venial sin, in my opinion, but a sin nonetheless. (There’s never anything wrong with hating the government, though.)

Clark Coleman writes:

I will be concise (unusual for me). Kevin V. states:

Mr. Coleman remarks that my proposed solution is a political loser. Leaving aside the questionable nature of his proposed winning strategy—basically, shouting “you are all WRONG!”—I agree. My proposed solution, stated in the previous paragraph, amounts to giving up on liberal society once it becomes clear to traditionalists that the essence of that society has been fundamentally changed beyond hope of repair, as we now see in Britain.

First, to claim that my strategy is shouting “you are all WRONG!” is a straw man argument that signals the end of productive conversation. I urge Kevin V. to mature beyond this stage. I am obviously advocating making certain very calm and reasonable arguments that are designed to persuade others.

Second, it is not clear what “giving up on liberal society” means, so I won’t waste time responding to this “strategy” until it is spelled out.

The gist of Kevin V.’s response is that things are too far gone for Americanism and Christianity, that they are so permanently re-interpreted by liberalism that it is a hopeless uphill battle to reclaim them by arguing for correct interpretations. But how does this differ from HBD or other aspects of what he called the New Right? How much resistance will they face from the entrenched liberalism? Does he think that HBD will overcome resistance more successfully because it is scientific in nature? Take a look at the response to The Bell Curve upon its publication. Did having facts on its side make liberal elites accept it or even silently stop resisting it?

Any strategy to overthrow the entrenched liberal order faces a huge battle against the vested interests of the liberal order. But, I don’t share his specific pessimism over the correct interpretation of the “all men created equal” phrase. Many times I have heard someone say that they don’t understand the phrase, because it is obvious that all men are not equal. They are speaking, of course, of the popular misinterpretation. It sounds as if many people are receptive to hearing a sensible explanation, but no one gives it to them. Does Rush Limbaugh spend 5 minutes of his 3 hours explaining it? All we need is an audience. You don’t even have to convince the audience that different groups have different abilities. All you have to do is convince them that the Founders were not talking about that, which is a simple matter of history. Has anyone witnessed a vigorous counterattack against such a simple historical argument? I have not, so why be pessimistic when it has not even been attempted?

Clark Coleman writes:

I appreciate Aaron’s contributions, but let me simplify the whole argument for the sake of clarity. The key question to me is:

Does [fill in the blank] logically and inevitably lead to the egalitarian leftism we see today?

I contend, and believe it is actually easy to argue, even though this might be thought to be a complex subject, that if we fill in the blank with “Christianity” or “the Bible” or “the New Testament” that the answer is a resounding NO. If we fill in the blank with “the philosophy of the nature of man and the nature of society developed by Rousseau, Condorcet, and those of similar mind” the answer is a resounding YES.

Of course Rousseau had influences, and Condorcet had influences, and there were certain issues of fairness and equality that were already being discussed before they were born, including by orthodox Christian writers. But the critique of the feudal system and its economic descendants that was offered by Grotius et al., if plugged into the blank spot in my question above, produces the answer NO. One may observe that it does not seem fair for a man to be born a serf, and no matter how honestly and hard he works he will always be a serf and so will his children and grandchildren, without reaching the conclusion that the only alternative is a leftist egalitarian redistribution of wealth with guaranteed equality of outcomes. One could criticize such a state of affairs as not being meritocractic enough because economic mobility is almost impossible. A meritocracy, however, will never guarantee egalitarian results, only opportunity.

But, even if I misunderstand Grotius, the real question is what does the Bible say. If you proved to me that the ideas of Grotius are absolutely indistinguishable from those of Rousseau, then I just point the finger of blame more at Grotius than I previously did. But I don’t believe this is the case. I believe that, while there are ideas at least as far back as Plato that could be described as leftist, that the era of Condorcet and Rousseau is where a line was crossed so that my question is answered with YES for the first time. Because the statements of the Bible do not inevitably lead to the conclusion of leftist egalitarianism, I believe the central argument raised at Mangan’s site is unsubstantiated.

By the way, regarding “the man from Geneva,” I am anti-Calvinist in my faith, so do not misunderstand my critique of Rousseau. A conception of human nature that conflicts with Rousseau’s goes back to the Old Testament and did not await the invention of Calvinism or even Roman Catholicism.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at October 20, 2009 11:45 PM | Send

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