Tuesday, July 17, 2007 26 Comments

Universalism: postwar progressivism as a Christian sect

Apparently there once was a kind of obsolete proto-blog that was called a "book."

A "book" was like a blog except that the author saved up all his posts for a year or two, then dumped them all in one big printout. This product cost thousands of microcredits, and you had to apply to the Department of Facts if you wanted to write one. And even if Facts stamped your party card, you still had to convince Information to promote you, and those who excelled at this gloriously-opaque task tended to make Talleyrand look like Montaigne.

While this sucked really just as much as it sounds, it did have certain advantages. One of them was that your readers were presented with a crisp and structured argument, rather than a great river of instant manure whose color and consistency can vary alarmingly. This was because the "book" could be "revised" and "edited," practices we now consider unethical.

And rightly so, of course. We don't want to return to the past. No one wants that. However, if you write online and you want to speak with any kind of confidence, you have to be able to change your mind. Ideally this is not done by surreptitiously editing the archives, as if one were writing a "book."

As UR readers have been reminded ad nauseam, one of my many eccentric opinions is that the tradition to which most sophisticated Westerners of 2007 conform is best seen as a sect of Christianity. Since this tradition sees itself as a pure product of science and reason, neither sectarian nor Christian nor even traditional, my perspective is heretical in the strict sense of the word. We can't both be right.

My argument is that though the tradition is theologically atrophied, its moral and political positions, and its personal and institutional patterns of transmission, identify it as the legitimate modern successor of mainline progressive Protestantism. Since this is only the most powerful branch of Christianity in the most powerful nation on the planet, swallowing its claims of dewy-eyed innocence is a little difficult for me.

This heresy implies a substantial qualitative revision of reality as we know it. For example, Richard Dawkins considers himself a follower of something he calls "Einsteinian religion," which appears to differ not at all from the aforementioned tradition. From Dawkins' perspective, he is defending reason against superstition. From my perspective, he is prosecuting one Christian sect on behalf of another. Doh.

It's simply unrealistic to expect to be able to make this revision, or even evaluate it fairly, without adjusting the language we use to "frame" the problem. To this end I've field-tested some neologisms, such as ultracalvinism and cryptocalvinism, and also satisfied myself that existing names, such as liberalism, are just as useless and confusing as they seem.

The problem with the neologisms is that they prejudge the argument. It's impossible to make them nonpejorative. Perhaps this tradition-to-be-named is a bolus of ancient, benighted lies, and perhaps its followers are either deluded zombies or unprincipled opportunists who need to be stopped. But the whole point of naming it is to synthesize a "red pill" that we can feed to the former, and no such pill has any reason to be bitter.

So I've decided I like the name Universalism, with a capital U. Most Universalists would accept this name as an improper noun, because after all they consider their beliefs universal. That is, they think everyone should share them, and eventually everyone will. So all they have to swallow is the capital letter. It goes down easily with a sip of water, dissolves quickly in any hot beverage, can be crushed and mixed with applesauce, etc.

Universalism is the faith of our ruling caste, the Brahmins. It's best seen as the victory creed of World War II, and it's easy to connect to the various international institutions born in that victory, which Universalists still regard as sacred if occasionally stained by human frailty, much as an intelligent Catholic sees the Roman Church. (It is not a coincidence that "catholic" and "universal" are synonyms.)

Universalism is actually already the name of a Christian doctrine, the doctrine of universal salvation. This idea, that all dogs go to Heaven and there is no Hell, is best regarded as an extremist mutation of Calvinism, in which everyone is part of the elect. The modern idea of universal salvation comes to us from Unitarian thinkers such as Emerson, and forms the second half of UUism, whose devotees are, needless to say, Universalist to perfection. (It's an interesting exercise to compare the tenets of UUism to those of "political correctness.")

The Universalist synthesis united two American traditions that in the past had sometimes been at odds. One was the ecumenical mainline Protestant movement, exemplified by institutions such as the Federal Council of Churches, whose most daring theologians were moving toward humanism. The other was what might (with homage to Edward Bellamy) be called the Nationalist movement, a vast raft of secular pragmatists, socialists, anarchists, communists, and other reformers, who flocked to the German-inspired university system that developed in the late 19th century, becoming a sort of roach motel for bad ideas.

(One of the most sensible of the Nationalist philosophers, William James, seriously proposed paramilitary forced labor as the cure for all social ills - in 1906. Oh, Billy, if only you knew! And the utopia of Bellamy's enormously-influential Looking Backward (1888) is essentially the Soviet Union.)

While these groups had generally cooperated in the Progressive Era, there were some tensions - for example, over Prohibition, which the secular Nationalists found hard to swallow. These eased substantially in the New Deal, largely due to the brilliant coup in which Progressives captured the Democratic Party, their former opposition, and converted it into an extremist Progressive movement - while repealing Prohibition. FDR even had a book called Looking Forward printed under his name.

(Interestingly, both the mainline Protestant and secular Nationalist movements have deep links to the evil John Calvin, ayatollah of Geneva. Mainline Protestantism descends from Calvinism through, of course, the Puritans. The Nationalists were strongly influenced by this tradition as well, in its later Unitarian and Transcendentalist forms, but many also studied in the Prussian university system, where they learned the secular versions of Calvin's divine State propounded by the Genevan Rousseau, and later by Hegel. Death is a master from Germany.)

After WWII, there was no longer any visible quarrel between these factions. Any views which contradicted Universalism became socially unacceptable in polite society. Progressive Christianity, through secular theologians such as Harvey Cox, abandoned the last shreds of Biblical theology and completed the long transformation into mere socialism. Nationalism also becomes an inappropriate term, as with the growth in American power it morphed into internationalism and, as most now call it, transnationalism. Instead of sacralized regional governments, transnationalists want to build a sacralized planetary government - on the principle that, as Albert Jay Nock put it, "if a spoonful of prussic acid will kill you, a bottleful is just what you need to do you a great deal of good."

Creedal declarations of Universalism are not hard to find. I am fond of the Humanist Manifestos (version 1, version 2, version 3), which pretty much say it all. The UN Declaration of Human Rights is good as well. No mainline Protestant will find anything morally objectionable in any of these documents.

In a probably-vain attempt to boil down all this cant, I've defined the four principal Ideals of the creed as Social Justice, Peace, Equality and Community. As we've already seen, Social Justice means political violence, and Peace means victory. We'll get to Equality and Community shortly.

The latest chapter in this sad and savage story was written in the 1960s, when the first postwar generation came of age. These young men and women had been educated by the Universalist "Establishment" which won the war, and were quite unaware that any serious and intelligent person could disagree with the Universalist consensus. The result was a sort of creeping Talibanization in which the doctrines of Universalism became constantly more extreme, a process that continues to this day.

Today, perhaps the simplest definition of Universalism is that it's the belief system taught in American universities (at least, Federally funded universities). But, again, it is fundamentally a Christian sect, and its moral and political tenets will find echoes in Massachusetts and upstate New York at any time since the 1830s. Hawthorne's Blithedale Romance, for example, is a satire of hippies - written in 1852. All that's missing is the patchouli.

Universalists, as descendants of Calvin's postmillennial eschatology, are in the business of building God's kingdom on Earth. (The original postmillennialists believed that once this kingdom was built, Christ would return - a theological spandrel long since discarded.) The city-on-a-hill vision is a continuous tradition from John Winthrop to Barack Obama. In Britain, the closely-related Evangelical movement used the term "New Jerusalem," which I'm afraid never really made it across the pond, but expresses the vision perhaps best of all. I always picture the New Jerusalem ("in England's green and pleasant land") as involving a lot of enormous concrete tower blocks, with the Clash's "Guns of Brixton" playing somewhere on someone's ghetto-blaster, and a forty-year-old grandmother screaming at her junkie daughter, but I'm not sure this is how they saw it in the 1890s.

What's really impressive about Universalism is the way in which this messianic teenage fantasy power-trip has attracted, and continues to attract, so many people who don't believe at all in the spirit world, only smoke weed on the weekends, and think of themselves as sensible and down-to-earth. Of course, the belief that all Universalist ideals can be justified by reason alone is a necessary condition. But Christian apologists have been deriving Christianity from pure reason since St. Augustine. You'd think these supposedly-skeptical thinkers would be a little more skeptical.

As a non-Universalist, I can't help but admire the success of this particular replicator. It is brilliantly designed, like the smallpox virus. The fact that no one actually designed it, any more than someone designed the smallpox virus, that it is simply the result of adaptive selection in a highly competitive environment, heightens rather than detracts from my awe.

The coolest thing about Universalism is that it has the perfect opposition. If a Christian who believes his or her faith is justified by universal reason is a Universalist, a Christian who believes his or her faith is justified by divine revelation - in other words, a "Christian" as the word is commonly used today - might be called a Revelationist.

Suppose you have two faiths. Both claim to be absolutely and undebatably true. Faith A tells you it is an ineluctable consequence of reason. Faith B tells you it is the literal word of God. Which is more likely to be accurate?

The answer is that you have no information at all. Perhaps faith B is the literal word of God, but you have no way to distinguish it from something that someone just made up. Perhaps faith A can be derived from pure reason, but you have no way to know if the derivation is accurate unless you work through it yourself. In which case, why do you need faith A?

In fact, of the two, faith A is almost certainly more powerful and dangerous. As anyone who's majored in Marxist-Leninist Studies knows, it's very easy to construct an edifice of pseudo-reason so vast and daunting that working through it is quite impractical. And this edifice is much more free to contradict common sense - in fact, it has an incentive to do so, because nonsensical results are especially subtle and hard to follow.

Whereas when the word of God contradicts common sense, the idea that it might not actually be the word of God isn't too hard to come by. In other words, if faith A contains any fallacies, they are effectively camouflaged, whereas the "and God says" steps in faith B's syllogisms are clearly marked and brightly colored, and faith B pays a price in skepticism if God's opinion is obviously at variance with physical reality.

So a reasonable observer might guess that, in fact, the tenets of faith B are more likely to be true, simply because it is more difficult for them to get away with being false. But in reality, these derivations tell us nothing. Probably faith A is right about some things, and faith B is right about some others.

However, in the struggle between Universalism and Revelationism, the former always wins. Because the Universalists control the mainstream educational and information system, this is really not at all surprising. But since, as we've seen, it is not rational for a reasonable observer to choose justification by reason over justification by revelation, a political system in which the Universalists are the Globetrotters and the Revelationists are the Generals is almost certain to be one which systematically propagates lies.

We've already seen a few of these lies, and we'll see quite a few more. However, I think the dynamics of the struggle are better illustrated by questions in which, by whatever coincidence, the Universalists are right and the Revelationists are wrong.

For example, because my zip code is 94114, although I am straight as an iron spear, I happen to see nothing at all wrong with "gay marriage." In fact I am completely sympathetic to the Universalist view, in which the fact that couples have to be of opposite sexes is a sort of bizarre holdover from the Middle Ages, like the ducking-stool or trial by fire. It's not clear to me why homosexuality, which obviously has some extremely concrete biological cause, is so common in modern Western populations, but it is what it is.

However, because I am straight etc, and also because I'm not a Universalist, I happen to think the issue is not really one of the most pressing concerns facing humanity. And so it occurs to wonder to me how exactly gay marriage became an "issue," when no one twenty years ago even thought of it as a possibility. Whatever the force is that brought this about, I find it hard to imagine anyone describing it as "democratic" with a straight face.

If anyone can come up with an example of a way in which American public opinion has changed in this way, but the change has gone against the Universalists and in favor of the Revelationists, I would certainly be interested to hear it. I think there are a few exceptions - notably in the domain of economics - but they all seem to involve an extremely dramatic intrusion of reality, a force which rarely has any direct impact on American opinion.


Blogger Zimri said...

I have noticed some attempts, lately, to critique this mutant Congregationalism on its own terms.

The villains of the movie Serenity are working toward better worlds; and a better class of man to inhabit these worlds. They rule through a Parliament and assure the audience that they are not the evil empire. Above all they have faith that they are in the right.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, now out in the theatres as well with surprisingly little dilution (given that the appropriately anti-Israeli Rickman is still in it), sports as its main villain not Voldemort so much as the Ministry of Magic. The Ministry holds that defense (defence?) against the dark arts ought to taught as a theoretical course, largely made up of excuses why one should not employ violence against ... ahem! I did not mean to imply that there should ever be an entity to be "against". And to keep one's charges from running unnecessary risks, why, it becomes instead necessary to write legislation and to increase surveillance.

Even editor Gardner Dozois, who in 2006 chose a number of Global Warming tracts as the "Best" sci-fi of the prior year, this year has chosen Walter Jon Williams's "Incarnation Day". This is about virtual children kept in a protected virtual environment; and when one of them writes a thesis about how this setup is a bad idea, her Five-Principles-believing mother then tries to have her deleted.

This is a roundabout way of illustrating, that you are not alone in seeing a new fundamentalism shifting uneasily beneath the façade of American culture. This is not to detract from your own eloquence and clearsightedness. As I see it, while others have observed and warned against this toxic breed of snake, you're the first I know of who has assigned it to its proper clade.

I'm interested in consuming other works of subversive media (although admittedly I am biased toward SF and fantasy, and yes I already know about Heinlein and Tolkien, thanks).

July 17, 2007 at 8:16 PM  
Blogger Bruce G Charlton said...

I approve Universalism as the new name for this old phenomenon.

Today's post is an interesting clarification of how universalism has gone from being the main modernizing stance, to its current state where it is a major obstacle against modernization (for example favouring economic protectionism in the US, and immigration control in mainland Europe, and holding down public sector standards in the name of equality in the UK).

Indeed, the biggest internal contradiction of Universalism (and it has plenty) drives its tendency to gravitate to National Socialism - which solves some of the contradictions.

For example, if you favour a lavish welfare state, you cannot favour free immigration - so either you prevent immigration (France) or allow only ethnic nationals access to the welfare state (Germany).

In Scotland, which now has a devolved government, they have introduced a full subsidy for college fees - so you can go to university without paying. But only if you are Scottish, not if you are English. Indeed, the Scottish National Party is increasingly successful in elections - significantly because their socialism is more coherent than the socialism of the dominant UK Labour party. So - Scotland is becoming more socialist than the UK, and at the same time more nationalist - with new, openly-discriminatory laws against the English.

The tension can be seen in the USA too. The philospher Richard Rorty was a clear example of Universalism, and was intelligent enough to notice the contradictions this led to. In Achieving Our Country he notices that the domestic policy goal of reducing inequality conflicts with the international policy goal of reducing inequality - in the sense that US workers are already massively overpaid compared with third world nations.

It seems that Rorty managed to live with this contradiction, probably because he regarded the Republican party as essentially wicked, but many US universalists are trying to reduce the cognitive dissonance by a revival of isolationism in economics and foreign policy. In other words, *national* socialism.

But (as well as being a recipe for long term decline in economics, defense, science etc. etc.) even this is riven with contradiction. Because Universalists in the US are pro- unrestrained immigration, even pro- illegal immigration.

They are pro-unrestrained immigration because it makes them feel good. But I think this is only possible by sheer economic ignorance and general wishful thinking.

If you are pro- unrestrained immigration (as I am, basically - I mean as a general stance, not as an absolute in-all-circumstances principle); then you cannot also be pro- a lavish and open-access welfare state. Universalists refuse to make this choice, they want to have their cake and eat it - because they can then feel good both about helping the US poor and welcoming poor immigrants from elsewhere.

Indeed, the extremism of Universalism works in exactly this way - it evolves towards ever more ways of feeling morally superior about ever more things, and ignoring ever more real world constraints.

July 17, 2007 at 11:05 PM  
Blogger drank said...

Well, I don't know that I'd put this up as a strong counterexample, but I think that US beliefs about the United Nations have somewhat shifted in the "Revelationist" direction over the last decade.

Consider the following propositions:
- "The UN advances democracy and human rights in authoritarian societies"
- "The UN will stop dictators from obtaining nuclear weapons"
- "The UN can successfully mediate solutions to regional conflicts"

I find it very hard to believe that more Americans believe in these Universalist tenants in 2007 than did so in 1997. I'd guess that they've gone from almost universal support to a simple majority in that time frame.

But like the examples that you allude to from economics, there's a lot of empirical evidence available on these propositions. Moreover, I expect this is something of a nadir for the Universalist position, and it seems likely to regain some ground over, say, the next US presidential term.

July 17, 2007 at 11:08 PM  
Anonymous bbroadside said...

As does zimri, I mainly notice radical critiques of universalism and progressive-idealism in science fiction. It is clearest in Serenity, where the do-gooder bad guys are explicity universalist. Equilibrium had the oppressive goverment trying to change human nature, but I don't really remember if they were universalist or some kind of anti-emotion island. The other tyrannical governments in the recent spate of movies tend to be highly nationalistic and isolationist Children of Men, V for Vendetta. Looking at it through the UR schema, I would hypothesize that this is because SF writers are more independent from the Polygons; you don't need a degree or a civil service position to do it.

On the term Universalism, I give it two thumbs up. It emphasizes the point which separates this sect from other political religions (to borrow from Voegelin), since a lot of violent tyranny is explicity not universal and prides itself on its hidden knowledge. The -calvinism terms were not bad I think they tended to throw people who took the theological reference too literally.

Progressive-Idealism is a good term, but I think it misses possibly the most dangerous aspect of what we're talking about. Having been inspired by / stolen from UR, I'm working on an essay to explain how left-leaning, peace-loving humanitarians could have deluded themselves into believing that South Vietnam was a natural, liberal democratic US ally. It wasn't the progressivism or the idealism per se; it was Universalism that was the key to mainstream support for US intervention in Vietnam.

July 18, 2007 at 12:09 AM  
Anonymous Colin Laney said...

"Universalism" is a much improved term over crypto- or ultra- Calvinsim, both of which were misleading in different ways. U-ists need not engage in crypsis, since there is no religious body or movement that can persecute them. On the other hand, ultra-Calvinists do already exist, and are easily recognized by their large, colorful placards which read: GOD HATES FAGS.

It still might be necessary to keep a modifier in reserve for the term "Universalism", and I would suggest "Progressive", both to link it to the actual American cultural-religious-political movement which culminated in WWI, and also to the Enlightenment tradition, with which it has important links, and to Voegelin, which a lot of the commetariat here (myself included) seem to think is vital to your thesis.

The Enlightenment mytheme that Reason unleased from the nobles and the clergy would deliver, well, progress unending, has encountered some unexpected snags. I will not say it has run aground, but the hull has been comprimised in more than one compartement by the blood stained rocks of intractable human unreason, and ship's engineers - Steven Pinker, for one - are already hard at work plotting another course to our destination, the Kingdom of God on Earth. The Enlightentment faction's codename for this workaround is "Darwin's Left": we'll see how they'll do with that. While I personally renounce the Left and all its works, it is also true that no civilization has had so much raw knowledge about marketing, "the manufacture of consent", focus testing, polling, etc. Which is to say: they're not out of the fight. The only real flaw in the the Enlightenment faction's plans is they can't see what they don't want to see, and the sort of people who get hopped up about rational worldy utopias are, by definition, the sort of people who willfully don't want to know anything about how life on earth works. So there's that. "Darwin's Left" isn't going anyplace until they come to grips with biology, and there's a lot of sticky, messy, embarrasing stuff down in there which I don't think Lefties have the stomach for - but, we'll see. History is made of surprises.

The link to the American Progressive period I think you are familiar with. You might want to read a bit about "British Israelism", which was everywhere in British religious and intellectual life in the nineteenth century. A subset of this movement, "National Israelism" culminated in the creation of the state of Israel, so this is not something minor that can be overlooked. The "Hebraic-Puritan" memeplex, "I am my brother's keeper/ I am my brother's jailer" is at the core of your plank of "the managed society".

There's more to say about this entry, but I'll just note in passing that the conclusions you're reaching at this blog are frighteningly similar to those presented by David Gelerntner in his book Americanism. What you're calling Universalism, he calls Americanism, and he claims its tenets derive ultimately from the British Low Church tradition and set foot on American soil with the Puritans. His main difference with your take is, he thinks 'Americanism' is the best thing since Judaism, which with he explicity links it, going so far as to christen Americanism as the "Fourth Great Abrahamic religion".

Another interesting take on the phenomenon is Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia by John Gray. As you might guess by the title, he's against it.

It seems a convergence of sorts is taking place on this thesis, though you are presenting two intertwined ideas: one is about the ideational current that culminated in the current moment as Universalism (Gelertner's 'Americanism') and the other is the institutional infrastructure of that movement, what you are calling the Polygon.

The Polygon is presented in some detail in Carroll Quigley's Tragedy and Hope, but he's strongly for it; openly speaking of it as a moral imperative.

One last book I'd like to bring to your attention is Christopher Hitchen's Blood, Class and Nostalgia. The backbone and incipient nervous system of the Polygon - now an international (Trilateral Commission, Bilderbergs), not a bilateral (CFR, Round Table Groups) or national, organism. Symptoms include: Davos, NAFTA and the soon to be completed NAFTA corrider, Trade NAFTA visas(http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/types/types_1274.html#3), the proposed NAU,the EU, spp.gov, the hysterical emotionalism about global warming, with attendent prosposed persecutions of dissenters, the NAU currency "The Amero", the IMF, the World Bank and other forms of creeping blight.

And so forth. I think a comment you once made about "Massachusetts taking over the world" after 1945 is quite right; but its organs and appendages are now of global reach. We're now talking about what the Polygon has done to metastisize itself rapidly enough that a violent counterresponse in any single country (Russia, for instance) would not significantly alter its plans or capacities. Basically, I'm suggesting that you look outside the United States, the undoubted Ground Zero of the current manifestation of whatever it is we're talking about, to see just how far it's gotten. Global monoculture makes resistance to itself nearly impossible, even in imagination, so overwhelming would be the cocoon of mutually reinforcing propaganda that citizens of the Brave New World.

On that note, and while we are still discussing the naming of names, I think you should either take the name Mustapha Mond as an apotropaion, or - if you are serious in your resistance - John Savage. Mencius Moldbug is not a name that inspires confidence, and is, if I may so so, un-euphonious.

No time to discuss it in depth now, but Wells' Open Conspiracy should be mentioned. The proximate genesis of the nascent World System is not Bellamy but those involved in what H.G. Wells called "The Open Conspiracy": especially persons around Cecil Rhodes, though I imagine the trunk both branched off from was the mid seventeenth century Low Church tradition, quite active in both halves of Anglo-America. That's another really productive place to examine; the lair where the beast was whelped. You'll also note that turn of the century Britian is where the most informed counter-revolutionary writings were produced: not just Huxley and Orwell, but C.S. Lewis ("Abolition of Man") and possibly even Tolkien, who always insisted that that LOTR wasn't about the Second World War, to the incredulity of deep fans. He did once allow that some important link existed between The Ring (not Sauron, but the Ring) and world Finance.

Following that line of inquiry, would, I suppose, involve an encounter with Pound's Cantos. I will say this though: between the most unfashionable thinker on the question of the relationship between Capital and world events, namely Ezra Pound, and the most sound thinker, Niall Ferguson, one of them is a visionary and the other a scheming careerist who does not have the best interests of History, or his fellow world citizens at heart.

More later & cheers,

July 18, 2007 at 4:32 AM  
Blogger Bruce G Charlton said...

zimri and bbroadside talk about critique of universalism in SF. True enough, and there is a lot of critique of universalism from conservative traditionalists, and from the extreme left too. There is a more trendy kind of critique from 'deep green' environmentalism', and a related one from anarchists.

In other words - being anti-universalist may encompass being pro- a wide range of other things; some worse than universalism.

But the mainstream critique of universalism is from pro-modernizers who favor growth in science, technology, the economy, the mass media and are generally libertarian and individualist.

I'm one of these - other examples on the blogosphere are Instapundit, Virginia Postrel, Arnold Kling, Tyler Cowen, (mostly) Megan McCardle, Russ Roberts, Greg Mankiw...

These people are not great moralizers, like the Universalist bloggers are. In general they want to improve social functioning - economic growth, better science, better technology etc. And they favor increased competition, freedom and individualism as the means to this end.

The above people are all (except me) from the USA. Similar English versions of these ideas tend to be rather culturally Conservative. I once attended a UK Liberty Fund conference, and - while agreeable enough - there wasn't much libertarianism on show - it was almost entirely cultural Conservatism, somewhat nationalistic, very moralizing.

The other striking aspect of the above mentioned modernizing bloggers is their *optimism*, especially compared with the mass of universalist bloggers (who are utopian in aspiration, but apocalyptic in mood - and who moralize without rest, on every topic, in every sentence, from dawn til dusk...).

Richard Rorty wanted to regain this optimism for the universalist cause (his great example was Whitman) - but he did not succeed even for himself, and certainly failed wrt. democrats and socialists in general.

July 18, 2007 at 4:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Colin Laney is "wintermute" of The Phora and I claim my five pounds!

July 18, 2007 at 6:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What I find interesting is the ability of the Universalists to demonize the opposition. Don't think about what it is that the fundamentalist is saying, just know that "Fundametalism" is bad. Don't bother to read Atlas Shrugged, just know that "Ayn Rand" is a fool. Don't think about the benefits of free markets, just know that there is really "no such thing" as a "free market", and anyway, the best people don't spend their lives "trading".


July 18, 2007 at 8:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps they are fake Universalists, that is, actually revelationists who haven't made their revelationist tendencies conscious.
Thus making them more powerfull, because a) they are revelationists so know how revelationism works (at least subconsciously) b) universalism is generaly closer to the mechanics of reason so their arguments are necessarily stronger and hold out in "rational" analysis.

thus the universalists can seem to be "true" universalists because they combine both tendencies.

A true universalist wouldn't be a "true" universalist i.e. a revelationist in disguise because the true universlist would indeed combine
and go beyond either revelationism and universalism.

July 18, 2007 at 9:21 AM  
Anonymous George Weinberg said...

And so it occurs to wonder to me how exactly gay marriage became an "issue," when no one twenty years ago even thought of it as a possibility.

That's a bit of a head scratcher, but it was the Generals that made a political issue of it. The whatever-we're-calling-them would have been perfectly happy to let the courts decide (their way, eventually).

What I want to know is, why can't the left do something useful, like legalizing pot?

July 18, 2007 at 2:13 PM  
Anonymous tggp said...

So this means you aren't going to publish a book? That's a real shame. I think you'd get a lot more readers (and not just the losers on the internet variety) that way.

Is mainline Christianity the most powerful branch? I've heard they're outnumbered by evangelical these days. Speaking of which, Ed Glaeser has a lot of interesting papers on American political history, and this one that shows that mainline Protestantism was the primary predictor of Republicanism before an odd brief period of time when income was a major factor followed by the present in which it has been replaced by evangelicalism. However, he's most likely on the Other Side judging by his paper on the history and efficiency of the regulatory state, "The Injustice of Inequality" and his attribution of anti-welfare sentiment and policy in the U.S to a lack of empathy for the poor due to their race.

Comments about the message of popular fiction, especially sci-fi fantasy reminds me of David Brin's point that we are indoctrinated against conformism.

July 18, 2007 at 2:41 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

On the early origins of Universalism, an interesting book is D.P. Walker's "The Decline of Hell." Walker points out that it was Christian orthodoxy, as enunciated e.g. by Tertullian, that not only did the damned suffer eternal torment in Hell, but it was part of the delight of the saved in Heaven to observe and contemplate the torments of the damned.

This, however well it is in keeping with the essential schadenfreude of human nature (as exemplified by the popularity of everything from public executions to Three Stooges 2-reelers), struck certain sensitive souls as a barbarous doctrine. The repudiation of the doctrine of Hell arose from their distaste for the pleasure said to be derived from it by the saved, and eventually gave rise to the notion of universal salvation. Of course, we must recognize their hatred of the traditional pleasure of the saved described by the Church fathers, as the begetter of similar hatreds expressed by the Puritans, who, as Macaulay had it, prohibited bear-baiting not because of the pain it caused the bear but because of the pleasure it gave to the spectators. We see the same hatreds amply illustrated today in the censoriousness of today's Universalists - the politically correct.

Colin Laney notes that "ultra-Calvinists do already exist, and are easily recognized by their large, colorful placards which read: GOD HATES FAGS." Colin has got in the wrong pew here, so to speak; Fred Phelps's Topeka, Kansas congregation, which is responsible for these deplorable demonstrations, is the Westboro Baptist Church. As a point of theological precision, whatever Phelps himself may claim, Baptists are not Calvinists. They are believers in free will; their theological ancestor was Huldreicht Zwingli. The first Baptists in America, led by Roger Williams, were driven by the Calvinists from Massachusetts into Rhode Island, which Cotton Mather described (forgive me) as "the fag end of civilization."

With reference to Colin's comment about the "Open Conspiracy," good references are the autobiography of Lord Tweedmuir (John Buchan), "Pilgrim's Way," and Carroll Quigley's "The Anglo-American Establishment." Whether the circle around Cecil Rhodes has heirs of the blood at the levers of world power today seems a doubtful proposition to me; those heirs seem to me to belong to Mencius's optimate caste rather than to his brahmins. Undoubtedly many of the ideas of the faction that came to dominate the Rhodes/Milner circle towards the end of its ascendancy are incorporated in the credo of Universalism.

July 18, 2007 at 3:54 PM  
Anonymous Colin Laney said...

Colin has got in the wrong pew here, so to speak; Fred Phelps's Topeka, Kansas congregation, which is responsible for these deplorable demonstrations, is the Westboro Baptist Church. As a point of theological precision, whatever Phelps himself may claim, Baptists are not Calvinists.

Well, this really comes down to whether a sect's teaching and character style or its chosen denominational marker determine classification. I think of him as hypercalvinist because, well, he is. Calvin's five points are obviously more important to him than is theological congruence with Baptist contemporaries.

When you go to the Manifesto of the Westboro Baptist Church - http://www.godhatesfags.com/main/manifesto.html - these are the first words that appear:

Manifesto of Westboro Baptist Church

We are a TULIP Baptist Church!

We believe -- and vigorously preach -- the 5 Points of Calvinism!

Anyone preaching otherwise is a Hell-bound false prophet, a messenger of Satan, to whom we say, Anathema Maranatha! and, Let him be accursed of God!

To every lover of Arminian lies -- believing and preaching that God loves every individual of mankind -- we say, You are going to Hell! Period! End of discussion! God's decree sending you to Hell is irreversible! Hypocrites! How can ye escape the damnation of Hell?!

I think that last paragraph pretty much cinches the case for Phelps as a literal hypercalvinist. Phelps, like many Calvinists, hyper- or otherwise, seems to have a real bee in his bonnet regarding limited atonement. In his own words, his is a "TULIP Baptist Church". And if you don't like it, then: You are going to Hell! Period! End of Discussion!

I ask you: what could be more Calvinist than that?

Fred and his family are fascinating, especially for anyone interested in historical Christianity. Listening to him speak or preach, it's hard not to think of the great tradition of American Divines stretching back to Johnathan Edwards and beyond. I recommend Louis Theroux's outstanding documentary, "The Most Hated Family in America", which is now available in its entirety on youtube:


I mean this very seriously: watching Phelps preach is almost like having a time machine and being given the possibility of seeing what Augustine, Tertullian, Calvin, Edwards might really have been like in person. He is strong minded and quick witted, not at all the Christian moron of popular imagination. His absolute and immovable certainty, discernable even when he is not speaking, is so sure that the viewer's faith in his or her own worldview is shaken. That also goes for his daughter and the women of his extended family: though promulgating a doctrine that cannot but sound insane - utterly insane - to modern ears, they are cheerful, sharp, determined, and indefatigable. It is solely the fact that they are evil and insane which prevents me from really admiring them wholeheartedly. Watching them, I wonder if I would have been as moved by, say, Savonarola's preaching. We who were raised in easygoing religious life of the late twentieth century United States - we lovers of the Arminian lie, in other words - have a distorted view of Christianity. Any major figure in Christian history (excepting a very few saints): Augustine, Tertullian, Chrysostom, Savonarola, Luther, Calvin, Cromwell, Edwards, would look and sound and act far more like Phelps than any other Christian you've ever met. These were all men who understood, at a very deep level, that God was a God of hate, almost exclusively. Recall Edwards: you are like a spider to God - "an infinitely loathesome spider" - who is held over a roiling cauldron, which God would really prefer to drop you in. Modern Christians - again, as we know them in America in the last half century - have internalized an entirely different set of values, beliefs and expectations about God, grace, the afterlife, etc. I think immidiate post Reformation Protestantism really did succeed in its main goal of re-creating the atmosphere of early Christianity; namely a nightmare world of endless vituperation, hatred and violence, for which please see the Wars of Religion. It is instructive to read the late Ancients on the character of early Christianity, especially Emperor Julian. To a man, they are all taken aback by the steadfastness and earnestness of the Christians, but are puzzled and shocked to the point of incomprehension by their ulcerating hatreds, and endless mutual persecutions.

Mencius (may I call you Mustapha?) has made many references to Calvin as evil or repulsive, and I find footage of Phelps an interesting study for that reason. He's like the dinosaurs on Jurassic Park; however terrifying, something long dead has been successfuly resurrected and no true student of history could remain unmoved, IMHO. Your mileage may vary.

Whether the circle around Cecil Rhodes has heirs of the blood at the levers of world power today seems a doubtful proposition to me;

You know, I was really imprecise about that and I'm sorry if I gave the wrong impression. I did not mean to suggest that Cecil Rhodes' direct issue run the world, rather that the groups he created and endowed in his will are the backbone of the Anglo-American establishment, which Ezra Pound colorfully referred to as "Yankee Judea"; more poetic than than "cryptocalvinism", but bound to ruffle feathers. Especially coming over Marconi's wireless!

By the way, Michael, your book recommendations are excellent. You've obviously been doing your homework on this issue. Between Quigley's "Anglo-American Establishment" and Hitchens "Blood, Class and Nostalgia", anyone can get a pretty clear picture of the beast's skeleton and viscera. There isn't one single book that ties together this site's "Universalism" - which is, as I said above, currently being publicly named and examined very closely by both hostile (Gray) and friendly (Gelertner) forces. We are obviously in a new age of sorts, in that discourse about this yet to be named beast is not limited to the John Birch society and televised broadcasts by Pat Robertson, though it is true that much of the ambient buzz about the Polygon is provided by unsound types like David Icke and Alex Jones.

However, I think serious discussions began on both sides when CFR personnel began appearing on television news programs with the person's name and the simple title, "Council on Foreign Relations" beneath. Personally, I keep tabs on the world conspiracy by reading Foreign Affairs every month. At $32 a year (two years for $60)you may peer directly into the core of the Progressive-Universalist nervous system, and monitor the most intimate and therfore banal goings on there. Wells was right - the conspiracy is totally open. I mean really - what are you going to do about it? FA is evil at its wonkiest: how best to achieve a federated world state without sexism or racism, managed by transnational NGOs of zero accountability? The rest of it is even more trivial: now that we have the levers of power, what settings are best? The siesta-inducing cover story this month is concerned that globalization's benefits are insufficiently distributed, which any honest economist (not that there are any living) could have told you would be the case. The apparatchik's solution: a New Deal for Globalism! Well, that can't go wrong. Once the UN is granted direct power to tax, all of the successes that the US is currently enjoying from the Income Tax, the Great Society, the War on Poverty, the Civil Rights Movement, et. al. can be expanded to encircle the globe. The rough beast come round to Bethlehem at last! I mean, exporting democracy has been such a success, why shouldn't we try enforcing every item on the DNC's wishlist - on a global scale? Enough half measures already - I say bring on the Messianic Age The sooner it begins, the sooner it will be over.

Voegelin, Genesis 11 and Lao Tzu, among others, have studied the problem and arrived at identical conclusions. The most poetical is Lao Tzu, from Chapter 29 of the Old Boy's Book of the Tao: for those who are confused or uncertain regarding the trajectory and telos of current events, WARNING: contains spoilers.

I see that those who want to take over the world and manipulate it do not succeed.

The sacred mechanism of the world cannot be manipulated.

Those who manipulate it will fail,
Those who hold on to it will lose it.

July 18, 2007 at 10:44 PM  
Anonymous tggp said...

Fred Phelps really is an ultracalvinist (they use the acronym T.U.L.I.P). He does not believe in free-will. He likes to say "God doesn't hate them because they're gay, they're gay because God hates them". That was actually the way I thought back when I was religious, although I thought God's acts were too inherently inscrutable (not only is he not an American or a human or an earthling, he's not of this universe since he created it!) to really say what he "hates". You might want to read the theological debate between Phelps and John Rankin here.

July 18, 2007 at 10:46 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Well, let's say that Phelps is a crypto-Zwinglian; his doctrine (as described in his Wikipedia entry, shaky though that resource may be) is that "salvation or damnation could be directly obtained by either aligning with or opposing Phelps." This seems to imply a degree of free will, and more resembles the notion of Zwingli that God may annul his covenant to save a man should he relapse into sinful life, than it does the pure predestinarianism of Calvin, for whom one's entire future was in any event planned out long before his birth.

The Zwinglian-Anabaptist branch is a most peculiar line of the Christian family tree. It has given rise both to the most pacifistic sects (e.g., Mennonites, Amish, etc.) and to the most violent (Zwingli himself seized theocratic power over Zurich and died in civil warfare with other Swiss cantons; John of Leyden set himself up in similar fashion in Münster; and the most recent example is David Koresh, whose Branch Davidians were an offshoot of Seventh-Day Adventism, which is in turn splintered from the Baptist denomination). Polygamy is another recurrent theme in this group of sects. John of Leyden had sixteen wives; Koresh was also reputedly polygamous; and Mormonism had an early and strong influx of Campbellites (Church of Christ/Disciples of Christ), who sometimes called themselves "reformed Baptists."

July 18, 2007 at 11:39 PM  
Blogger Aaron Davies said...

Speaking of Rand, I wish Mencius would say something about her. While the Formalist program is a clever hack, and the first means of achieving libertarian goals that I've ever heard of which might actually work, I still think the only way to ultimately slay the beast for good is to replace it with an ideology (packet?) just as strong, but correct--and Objectivism is the only candidate I know.

July 19, 2007 at 2:35 AM  
Anonymous tggp said...

The Wikipedia article is not terribly accurate. Phelps is perhaps the most disliked American by Americans, which doesn't bode well for neutrality. What Phelps actually seems to believe is that because only his church (which consists virtually but not entirely of his family) is actually spreading God's message (that he hates fags, fag enablers, and pretty much everybody), that indicates God has already damned everybody but them. On the other hand, he does emphasize that sodomy is an activity voluntarily engaged in, while race, age and disability (all of which he has as a lawyer used the civil rights act on behalf of) are not. I think this is because he believes God hates what you do rather than what you are, even if what you do is already determined by God. I would like to note that the WBC rarely offers anyone the hope of salvation if they repent, they merely exclaim that others are damned and that they have been commanded by God to give that message. This is part of the reason why they are so hostile and off-putting. They aren't looking for converts, they are living agents of God's righteousness.

July 19, 2007 at 6:46 AM  
Anonymous tggp said...

If Progressive Idealism was replaced by Objectivism, I'm not sure how much of an improvement it would be! Sure, it at least endorses libertarianism, but it's far more idealist, deontological rather than consequentialist, moral rather than pragmatic and positively cultlike. I'm just repeating what I've heard from elsewhere, as I haven't actually read any of Rand (or her followers) work. On the other hand, I'm a Stirner fan, so how seriously can you take me?

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January 31, 2009 at 11:09 PM  
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March 2, 2009 at 8:03 PM  
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March 2, 2009 at 9:18 PM  
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