Tuesday, June 26, 2007 45 Comments

Cryptocalvinism, slightly tweaked

As usual, much excellent discussion has appeared on my last ultracalvinism post. Of course, readers should bear in mind that many of these commenters, especially the more flattering ones, are posting from my IP address. Perhaps they are outside in a van, snarfing the wireless.

Nonetheless, various persons have convinced me that the name is not quite right. I think the problem is the "ultra," which does not say enough and comes too close to a mere pejorative.

So on further reflection, I prefer cryptocalvinism, meaning two things: that, like Calvin and as a direct result of his intellectual heritage, cryptocalvinists are building the Kingdom of God on Earth, a political system that seeks to eradicate every form of unrighteousness; and that they prefer not to acknowledge this characterization of their mission and heritage.

One problem is that there's already an early Lutheran schism called Crypto-Calvinism. But then again, there's also something called Calvinism. Both these terms are customarily used to describe theological doctrines, such as predestination, grace, etc.

I find it fascinating to observe the fights people once had over Christian theology. Modern readers, especially nontheists such as myself, but I suspect also Christians, have trouble understanding the emotional investment in these details of the heavenly universe. Perhaps it's easiest to see them as mere tribal identifiers, the 16th-century version of Manchester United, Hamas or the Crips. This strikes me as disrespectful, though, and presentist. Readers with a better eye for history are invited to comment.

In any case, my interest (and I think that of most readers) is not in theology, but in culture, government and the evolution of ideas. Stalin for me remains part of the history of Marxism, although few points of Marx's doctrine can be identified in his actions. Ideas and languages have similar patterns of evolution, and it is not a misnomer that Old English and English share a name, though the two are nowhere near mutually intelligible.

For me, Calvinism is a system of government which aims at total righteousness. As Stefan Zweig describes it, in his wonderfully dramatic The Right To Heresy: Castellio Against Calvin,
A master of the art of organization, Calvin had been able to transform a whole city, a whole State, whose numerous burghers had hitherto been freemen, into a rigidly obedient machine; had been able to extirpate independence, and to lay an embargo on freedom of thought in favor of his own exclusive doctrine. The powers of the State were under his supreme control; as wax in his hands were the various authorities, Town Council and Consistory, university and law-courts, finance and morality, the written and the spoken and even the secretly whispered word.
Zweig describes the Consistory, Geneva's religious police:
The members of this moral Cheka thrust fingers into every pie. They felt the women's dresses to see whether their skirts were not too long or too short, whether these garments had superfluous frills or dangerous slits. The police carefully inspected the coiffure, to see that it did not tower too high; they counted the rings on the victim's fingers, and looked to see how many pairs of shoes were in the cupboard. From the bedroom they passed on to the kitchen table, to ascertain whether the prescribed diet was not being exceeded by a soup or a course of meat, or whether sweets and jams were hidden away somewhere.
And the burning of Servetus:
The chains attached to the stake were wound four or five times around it and around the poor wretch's wasted body. Between this and the chains, the executioner's assistants then inserted the book and the manuscript which Servetus had sent to Calvin under seal to ask Calvin's fraternal opinion upon it. Finally, in scorn, there was pressed upon the martyr's brow a crown of leaves impregnated with sulphur. The preliminaries were over. The executioner kindled the faggots and the murder began.

When the flames rose around him, Servetus uttered so dreadful a cry that many of the onlookers turned their eyes away from the pitiful sight. Soon the smoke interposed a veil in front of the writhing body, but the yells of agony grew louder and louder, until at length came an imploring scream: "Jesus, Son of the everlasting God, have pity on me!" The struggle with death lasted half an hour. Then the flames abated, the smoke dispersed, and attached to the blackened stake there remained, above the glowing embers, a black, sickening, charred mass, which had lost human semblance.
But Zweig (whose World Of Yesterday is simply required reading) is as fair as he can be:
Granted, dynamic variety was sacrificed to monotony, and joy to a mathematical correctness; but, in return, education was raised to a niche among the arts. Schools, universities and welfare institutions were beyond compare; the sciences were sedulously cultivated...
This sounds not unfamiliar at all. As does the first quote above. Unless it be "Punch" Sulzberger, no Protestant pope presides over this new Geneva of the postwar West; and yet the views of our professors, journalists and civil servants are, by historical standards, remarkably synoptic. (Of course, they could all just be right.)

But the other two quotes feel strange to us. No one is burning heretics these days. Or even racists - though, like Castellio, they do have some trouble remaining employed. We have no religious police who fondle women's dresses - although it is, of course, important to recycle.

And to the extent that we are religious, we almost exclusively follow the theology of Servetus - who has a good claim to be considered the first Unitarian. Most Christian denominations are still technically Trinitarian, but few make a big deal of it.

The details change. The details will always change. In Calvin's day, big hair offended God. Today, burning fossil fuels is bad for the Environment. Able logicians can argue either point. All kinds of evidence - biblical or scientific - can be deployed.

But as any Castellio can tell you, no Calvin will ever conclude that big hair pleases God, or that burning fossil fuels is good for the Environment. The evidence is sought and, obedient, it appears. Few even doubt it, none argue the converse. Calvinism speaks with one voice.

As this wonderful TIME article (which I've quoted before) reveals, 65 years ago the Federal Council of Churches, an organization of mainline Protestant sects with Calvinist roots, endorsed a system of world government strikingly similar to that supported by right-thinking persons, such as Bono, today.

TIME described this program as "super-protestant," and if modern readers are baffled by this usage, they can consult such works as Richard Gamble's The War for Righteousness: Progressive Christianity, the Great War, and the Rise of the Messianic Nation, which moves the clock back another 30 years, and is full of bloodcurdling Calvinism in a much more militant vein. This same strand reaches back to Beecher's Bibles, the Puritans, Cromwell and his republic of saints, and ultimately, of course, Calvin himself.

But somewhere in the last 60 years, it vanishes. The modern descendant of "super-protestantism" is obvious. Now and then, like Barack Obama, it will even claim to "take back Christianity." But such audacity is rare, and for the most part cryptocalvinism is simply "secular." As far as most people these days know, it was born adult in 1945, like Minerva from the head of Zeus. Or it had always existed all along. Or old versions of it are fabricated in previous generations, in the classic style of Whig history.

I see secularization as an extension of ecumenism, the process that gave us the Federal Council of Churches in the first place. In the 20th century, rationalism - the claim that one's beliefs are derived from reason and science - will always outcompete justification from revelation. Of course, a genuine freethinker has no reason to believe any such claim. But nor does a genuine Methodist have any reason to make nice with a genuine Presbyterian.

Another benefit of secularization is that cryptocalvinism, unlike "super-protestantism," can twist the First Amendment and the general humanist tradition of religious tolerance into a weapon to assault its enemies, the unreformed revelationist Christians. Before the 1950s, the nature of the US as a Christian nation was generally accepted. But when the Warren Court revised this tradition, it had the letter of the law (if not its historic meaning) on its side. Effectively, cryptocalvinism rose to power through Christianity, and then used that power to "pull up the ladder" - a classic Machiavellian maneuver.

Of course, all of these changes are adaptive, rather than conscious. There is no plot. The Illuminati are not involved. The miracle of evolution is that its results are indistinguishable from the product of an intelligent designer. Or, in this case, an intelligent conspirator.

One fascinating fact about the secularization mutation is that, like the human lactose-tolerance gene, it has arisen spontaneously more than once. The relationship between Calvinism and Rousseauvianism is remarkably like that between super-protestantism and liberal universalism. Rousseau, of course, hailed from Geneva, and Robespierre used Rousseau's nominally non-Christian message of universal love to establish a reign that made Calvin look like Coolidge. In fact, through Hegel, Rousseauvian idealistic nationalism was a significant contributor to the progressive Christianity of Woodrow Wilson, which of course begat "super-protestantism." Like languages, ideas tend to have family trees which are actually dags.

Since I've changed the name, let me repeat the four ideals of cryptocalvinism: Equality (the universal brotherhood of man), Peace (the futility of violence), Social Justice (the fair distribution of goods), and Community (the leadership of benevolent public servants).

Cryptocalvinists that believe these ideals are universal, that they can be derived from science and logic, that no reasonable and well-intentioned person can dispute them, and that their practice if applied correctly will lead to an ideal society.

I believe that they are arbitrary, that they are inherited from Protestant Christianity, that they serve primarily as a justification for the rule of the cryptocalvinist establishment, or Polygon, and that they are a major cause of corruption, tyranny, poverty and war.

We'll look at some of these disagreements in upcoming posts.


Anonymous PA said...

How would you list the equal and opposite ideals of Equality, Peace, Social Justice, and Community?

How about: Particularity (nation, traditions); Honor (chivalry, courage); Duty (productivity, work); Hierarchy (Pope's "Great Chain of Being").

June 27, 2007 at 4:03 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

"The miracle of evolution is that its results are indistinguishable from the product of an intelligent designer."
If the above was true ID would sort-of constitute a real theory. In fact, evolution creates things that look RADICALLY different from the sorts of things intelligent designers create. Compare a planned economy to a market, a heart to a pump, an eye to a camera, or flapping wings with feathers to jet engines or helicopter blades.

Heirarchy and Particularity are both aspects of inequality. Honor is only a small part of non-peace, much smaller than enslavement or conquest, for instance. Duty is a good alternative to social justice. Community seems inevitable, and endorsed by every even remotely functional system or human organization. It's opposite could be called "atomism/monadism" but that term describes the liberal (cryptocalvinist) agenda better than it does any traditional society.

June 27, 2007 at 6:48 AM  
Anonymous dearieme said...

Toni Blair fits the bill, although his confessed religious beliefs have long been the novel Publically CryptoCatholic.

June 27, 2007 at 7:37 AM  
Anonymous dave.s. said...

oops - posted the below to the wrong post. religious police...


June 27, 2007 at 8:22 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

The Michael above is not I (who have posted under that name under several previous headings). To avoid confusion in the future, I have appended my initial to this post and will do so in the future.

The theory of evolution, as taught in "public" (government) schools, is assigned the level of importance it has because it serves as a non-theistic creation myth to compete with the theistic accounts of creation given by various religions. The usual definition of a scientific theory, is that it must be testable by experiments or a systematic course real-time observation designed to falsify it. Can anyone design an experiment that would falsify evolution, in, say, the way that Lavoisier's gravimetric experiment on the combustion of mercury falsified Becher's phlogiston theory?

Evolution, for the first several decades after its enunciation by Darwin, served a different purpose - namely, that of explaining and justifying the inequalities that existed amongst the different races and nationalities, and indeed within one national population. It gave rise to eugenics, the idea of Darwin's cousin Sir Francis Galton, which offered the hope that those superior qualities that had somehow arisen amongst the British upper and middle classes by natural selection could be cultivated by artificial selection - people could be bred like prize hogs or cattle.

This is now politically incorrect (never mind whether it is true or false) and the theory of evolution has been heavily re-worked by quasi-Marxists like Stephen Jay Gould, so that its function is now directed purely towards the "scientific" debunking of popular religious belief.

While it seems to me that evolution is a plausible hypothesis to explain the development of different species (Darwin's original goal), much of what is associated with this in evolution as it is commonly taught - particularly the notion that life's origin was purely a random event, undirected by any prime mover or intelligent designer, is not science, but philosophy. It is a sort of Epicureanism for popular consumption, just as "intelligent design" is Platonism for popular consumption.

June 27, 2007 at 9:17 AM  
Anonymous cuchulkhan said...

I agree with Dearime, Tony Blair is the perfect example.

Avowedly Statist, obsessed with endless, endless rule-making and legislating for the sake of it (drinking wine at home is the latest 'misdeed' to come under attack), a moral super-imperialist (he made the 'moral' case for the Iraq war way before the wmd's were found to be nonexistant), ideologically pro-immigration, obsessed with Africa... The most horrifying, bastardized, cryptoChristian whatever you could ever imagine. Bono crossbred with a Bradgelina mutant on steroids.

And his successor, Gordon Brown, IS EVEN WORSE! More Christian, more statist, more Africanist. Did this all start with Livingstone, or was it Wiberforce?

June 27, 2007 at 11:03 AM  
Anonymous Raymund said...

michael s., as a released inmate of a government school, I disgree strongly with this statement:

The theory of evolution, as taught in "public" (government) schools, is assigned the level of importance it has because it serves as a non-theistic creation myth to compete with the theistic accounts of creation given by various religions.

Level of importance? I recall a lecture or two in sophomore biology class. That's it. Many of my high school peers never encountered a discussion on evolution at all, and of those that did, the majority failed to adopt it as a "non-theistic creation myth."

There's plenty to critique regarding government schools, but overemphasizing evolution isn't on the radar.

June 27, 2007 at 11:46 AM  
Anonymous Kyle said...

Just sticking my head in to say hello. New to the blog, directed here by gnxp, and impressed so far.

June 27, 2007 at 12:13 PM  
Anonymous Step2 said...

Hi Mencius,

I am not very convinced about the pacifist creed. Many if not most progressives are willing to support some type of Just War doctrine. The further left you go pacifism does become more prevalent, but a similar result occurs going to the right for isolationist paleoconservatives.

I will agree with the fraternalism and social justice creeds, and point out that they are closely related. Rawls depends upon a rational system for securing your best opportunity for freedom (religious, economic, social) behind the veil of ignorance. Without equality, the thought experiment falls apart since not all races, religions, or classes would deserve the same opportunity.

Although liberals and progressive do strongly tend towards a managed society, the pejorative nanny state, it is because of a utilitarian disposition to social problems. When disparities between and among classes become very significant, utilitarians try to readjust the scales. This avoids some measure of social conflict, but obviously not all of it, and it appeals to the broader of narrative of overcoming inequalities.

If you are going to knock the liberal mythology down, it will have to start with an attack on equality. Not just equality in the particulars, but equality in the abstract. Even if the average IQ or other metric of a race or group is lower, to deny equal opportunity to everyone within that group you must show that this difference makes it difficult or impossible to have significant overlap in making choices.

June 27, 2007 at 2:09 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

Raymund, apropos of the level of importance assigned to evolution in government schools, bear in mind that this refers not only to the curriculum as presented to the "inmates" (as you very aptly call them) but to the prominence of the topic in the public debate over school curricula. It seems to me to be significant when this part of a school curriculum becomes the central issue in litigation before Federal courts, for instance.

A benefit of privatization, or some sort of voucher system, would be that parents could choose schools for their children on the same basis that they buy any other household good or service. Instead, the government's involvement with the delivery of education makes everything - from curriculum to discipline to sports - the subject of political debate, and not infrequently of legal dispute.

The teaching of what is called science in government schools is considerably impeded by the failure to provide sufficient preliminary instruction in mathematics. It is just about impossible to make much headway in basic mechanical physics without knowing at least how to do differential and integral calculus in one variable. Yet these subjects are typically not part of public secondary education - the student will encounter them first in the freshman year of college, if then. A good deal of chemistry can be learnt without higher mathematics, but requires extensive memorization for which the modern high school student is not prepared, and laboratory work that is now largely absent from curricula for liability reasons. School boards don't like it when a kid drops a thermometer on the floor of the lab and the whole school has to be evacuated pending the arrival of a haz-mat removal contractor to clean up, at horrendous cost, a few cc's of spilt mercury. Biology in its turn requires some knowledge of chemistry to understand, for example, the metabolic cycles of plants and animals, much less the complexities of DNA.

What instruction in "science" in government schools has largely come down to is indoctrinating the kiddies in a sort of lowest-common-denominator environmentalism, so that they go home to hector their parents about recycling or global warming, and presenting a dumbed-down Epicureanism in the guise of evolution, so as to contradict whatever religious instruction they may have received at home.

Frankly, given their level of math instruction and fear of chem lab work (justifiable considering the tort bar and the regulatory climate), the best that secondary schools could do in the scientific subjects would be to teach old-fashioned taxonomic botany and zoology, so that students might at least be able to identify common garden plants, wildflowers, and weeds, or know the North American birds. Alas, I don't see much evidence that even this sort of simple, interesting, and potentially useful knowledge is being taught in those schools.

June 27, 2007 at 3:09 PM  
Anonymous tggp said...

Evolution has, as noted, very little prominence in education. It has prominence in debate because some people vigorously object to it, as is not so much the case most other things in school (which is not a good sign). Evolution was just theorized to justify inequality or whatnot. Charles Darwin was not a "social darwinist" and should not be confused with Galton (who was no scientific slouch himself).

It is true that designed things actually look different from evolved things, but evolved things often look like they were designed if you don't look carefully enough.

Gould is not taken seriously by most in the field. It is mostly laymen that think he is some kind of authority.

For more on evolution and falsifiable experiments, see this excellent essay from Eliezer Yudkowsky. Evolution is not the main focus (Bayes' theorem is), but if you skip down a ways or search for the word "extremely" you'll find the relevant part.

Regarding pacifism, remember that the First World War was supposed to be "the war to end all war" (of course it wasn't called "First" or "WW1" back then).

June 27, 2007 at 10:50 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...


It's an interesting thought. I prefer to avoid Ideals (universals existing independently) altogether, but there definitely are a set of traditionalist counter-Ideals that correspond to the ones I mentioned. Try Petain's "work, family, country" for a start...

June 27, 2007 at 11:06 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

michael s.,

I think of evolution as a deductive conclusion, not an inductive one. It is not a theory or a fact, but a theorem. Heritable variation in a competitive environment will produce descent with modification, regardless of any evidence to the contrary.

I did love Stephen Jay Gould when I was twelve, but there is definitely a creation-myth aspect. And it is simply shocking that anyone claims to know anything about the origin of life. Hubris, anyone?

June 27, 2007 at 11:10 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...


I would say that we live in such a pacifist society that any deviation from absolute pacifism strikes us as remarkably bellicose.

To see how this has changed over time, there is no better example than the Ems Telegram...

June 27, 2007 at 11:15 PM  
Anonymous Raymund said...

michael s., we agree on many points related to primary and secondary education. I would want my children to have a strong grounding in mathematics and hands-on science lab experience. ("Those who are ignorant of mathematics are condemned to talk nonsense"). I support school choice (after all, rich Brahmins already have it), and the risk of parents using school choice to inculcate a belief in phlogiston, Freudianism, etc. in their children is, IMHO, a price worth paying to separate information from security.

I suspect the apparent importance regarding the teaching of evolution--specifically, the amount of controversy it generates--reflects a Brahmin/Cryptocalvinist desire to feel oppressed by OVs/literalist Christians, q.v., http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/2007/05/democrats-party-of-lies.html.

June 28, 2007 at 8:01 AM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

To tggp's point that "evolution was just theorized to justify inequality or whatnot. Charles Darwin was not a 'social darwinist'..." - I didn't say he was. Indeed I acknowledged that his original purpose was to explain the development of different species, and that his hypothesis was plausible.

We are here, however, talking about elements of the crypto-calvinist creed, and the way in which a popular conception of evolution has become one of them. That there were past popular conceptions of evolution, markedly opposed to the present one, is evident by the way in which eugenics rode piggy-back on evolution throughout the latter half of the nineteenth and the first third or so of the twentieth centuries.

Jack Lindsay pointed out that the origins of Darwinism could be found in the sociological and economic thought of Darwin's time:

"...Darwin was stimulated into constructing his evolutionary theory by the work of Malthus on the pressure of population, which had behind it the advent of the industrial proletariat and the question of its wages. Marx commented at the time: 'It is remarkable how Darwin recognises among beasts and plants his English society with its division of labour, competition, opening up of new markets, inventions, and the Malthusian struggle for existence.'" ("Blast Power and Ballistics: Concepts of Force and Energy in the Ancient World," New York, 1974: Harper & Row; p. 123.)

To this I add that Darwin's ideas of natural selection and survival of the fittest make an obvious reference to Adam Smith's "invisible hand" which accomplishes a like function in open markets, rewarding those participants who innovate, adapt, and persevere, while eliminating those who are obsolescent, ill-adapted, or lacking in strength.

In any event, these implications of Darwinism are not emphasized in the popular presentation of it, having been substantially edited out by left-leaning interpreters and revisers like Gould.

June 28, 2007 at 10:08 AM  
Anonymous George Weinberg said...

It seems to me that these "cryptocalvinist ideals" are somewhat inconsistently applied. For example, I get the impression that this "brotherhood of man" ought to imply regarding differences of ethnicity, creed, age, gender, etc. as being superficial. Yet I note that, with certain obvious exceptions, identity based groups and identity politics based on these sorts of criteria seem to be being actively encouraged. Care to speculate as to why that might be?

But there's a deeper problem. By your theory the cryptocalvinists at least believe their values are based on reason. Yet the "pomos" seem dedicated to opposing the very ideas of reason, knowledge, objective morality, even objective truth. Why would ultracalvinists tolerate them, let alone work hand in glove with them? I don't see how it can just be to piss off "the right", although it does accomplish that .

June 28, 2007 at 12:18 PM  
Blogger Luke said...

This is a copy of my comment over at GNXP. Since I am one who believes, as it were, I thought readers here might be interested.

Certainly a thought provoking post of Mencius's. I disagree even before I am quite sure why? (Is that prejudice -- or intuition?)

Anyway, why stop with ultra-Calvanism or crypto-Christianity and call it radical Judaism? These themes are all found in the old testament as well as in the new, after all, in Catholicism as well as Protestantism.

The problem, I think, is that every idea and every ideal in this long biblical tradition is capable of being understood, and misunderstood, in more than one way, and often in two, diametrically opposite ways.

For example, violence is bad ("the whole world was filled with violence" according to Genesis after the Fall) and we look forward to the day when swords shall be beaten into plows and pruning hooks; but, meanwhile, neither Jews nor Christians are pacifists: the children of Israel must defend themselves, and the followers of Jesus will be crucified and abused in the most violent ways as part of the divine economy or so it would seem.

Certainly, the Englightenment thinkers did not invent the great triad of liberty, fraternity, and equality, though their anti-clericalism blinded them from its true source in our Biblical religious traditions. Ditto for Marx, the multi-culturalists, etc..

In any case, the trick -- some would say the impossible trick -- is to realize these disparate ideals in the real world without undermining the very civilization from which they arose. Clearly it is not hopelessly unrealistic, since modern Western liberal democracy is, at its best, a good first approximation. But can it last? Or will the attempt to perfect and extend, say, the simultaneous realization of political and economic liberty with social justice, cause the whole shebang to come down in a giant, flaming crash?

Of is today's pc multi-cultism a case of good, though very difficult, ideas being wrongly understood and ignorantly applied?

It would be naive to expect any final consensus on this question before, and until, such a grand apotheosis or synthesis is acheived, which is no where in sight.

Such is the drama -- the tragi-comedy -- of Western civilization. Personally I am an optimist, based on the incredible progress that has been made to date. But that is like a string theorist being optimistic that a final theory will be realized based on how far science has come already in unifying the forces of nature. (I am less optimistic about the success of the latter project, btw, but would not be unhappy to be proven wrong!)

June 28, 2007 at 12:59 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

As to Luke's point "why stop with ultra-Calvinism or crypto-Christianity and call it radical Judaism," I suggest that to do so would omit one of its essential elements which is found in Christianity but not in Judaism: what amounts to its theory of history, namely that somehow the human species is progressing towards perfection.

Judaism accounts for Creation and Fall, but leaves man in the world facing dilemmas of faith and morals that can only be resolved by following the Law. It offers a vague promise of a future deliverer in the person of the Messiah, but no clear eschatology. One can't immanentize a non-existent eschaton.To find an eschaton we have to look for it in Christianity.

Christianity offers a time-line of history from Creation to Apocalypse. So, in their different ways, do the political movements Voegelin called "gnostic." Mencius's crypto- or ultra-calvinism belongs to this class. Having touched earlier on evolution, I'll observe how neatly it fits with this non-theistic residuum of Christianity. Not only does it supply a useful creation myth, but provides a theory of history that ties in neatly with this particular species of Voegelinian gnosticism, even as the earlier, eugenic-racialist understanding of evolution did with an earlier species of the same genus from 1933-45.

June 28, 2007 at 2:01 PM  
Blogger Luke said...

Michael S., Maybe I am mistaken but I believe there is the idea of future progress toward an ultimate goal in Judaism, just as in Christianity. It's not just the idea of a Messiah, but the whole "Day of Yahwe" stick and, indeed, the very concept of a Millennium, as a kind of cosmic sabbath in which the Edenic state would be recovered. Or consider the promise to Abraham: I will bless them that bless you, and curse them that curse you, and in you shall all the nations of the earth be blessed. Judaism was once a proselytizing religion, you know, especially around the time of Jesus, and they planned (aimed?) to convert the world.

June 28, 2007 at 3:38 PM  
Anonymous tggp said...

I was unaware Judaism had been a proselytizing/universal religion. There weren't too many of those back in the day. The Greek schools of philosophy were detached from ethnicity and semi-religious, and then there were also Buddhism and Zoroastrianism (the former obviously escaped the population it arose from, and while the latter did not as far as I know it is not particularist and it is usually lumped in together with Christianity and Islam and considered a major influence on the two).

I think a lot of people have a very distorted view of the 19th century and it economics, evolutionary theory and "social darwinism". I would recommend reading the short piece "The Secret History of the Dismal Science" by David Levy and Sandra Peart. It would likely be of interest to Mencius Moldbug as well, since it depicts a conflict between upstarts of the "dissenting" tradition and pseudo-aristocrats over lower classes and the organization of society. It is also tough to decide "Who was the Social Darwinist?" between Herbert Spencer and Oliver Wendell Holmes.

June 28, 2007 at 9:10 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...


You raise fascinating questions, which I certainly intend to answer! It'll be interesting to see whether or not our answers agree...

June 28, 2007 at 11:39 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

tggp - damn, that's a good article! Thanks for the link.

June 28, 2007 at 11:41 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

michael s.,

It's funny how people such as me seldom feel the need to actually read Darwin, assuming his formula for natural selection (which can be stated in a sentence) is all there is to him. But of course he wrote shelves and shelves, and he recognized no line between science and society - worth remembering.

I should devote more time to Voegelin's gnostic thesis, as well as Kuehnelt-Leddihn's view that leftism is a perversion of Christianity. It is easier to explain one's own perspective without first listing all the closely related views that got you there, but this is not really an excuse.

June 28, 2007 at 11:46 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...


I don't disagree with anything you say - many of the tropes of Christianity (and Judaism) strike me as quite admirable.

My main point is in the post I put up today - that there are actual engineering problems lurking behind these ideals. The ideals are not wrong per se, but inasmuch as they distract us from the engineering they can be quite confusing.

June 28, 2007 at 11:48 PM  
Anonymous Michael S. said...

TGGP, thanks for the link to the Levy and Peart article. The Punch cartoon of the Quaker radical John Bright as "Dr. Dulcamara in Dublin" reminds me of the wide popularity of Donizetti's character from "Elisir" as an archetype of the charlatan. W.S. Gilbert's first opera (which was not written in collaboration with Sullivan) was called "Dulcamara, or the Little Duck and the Great Quack." I believe it is now lost. Gilbert, a Tory to the bone, loved to deflate radicals and æsthetes, and usually targeted specific public figures in his libretti. These allusions are no longer apparent to us without footnotes. I've often wondered who his version of Dulcamara was supposed to lampoon.

Mencius, as I noted in an earlier comment, the career of Joseph Priestley as he shifted from his early Calvinism through Arianism, "necessarianism," and Socinianism, might well be investigated as an early example of the ultra- or crypto-calvinist phenomenon. Priestley was a friend of Erasmus Darwin (Charles's grandfather) and a fellow member with him of the Lunar Society. Erasmus Darwin was a physician, but preoccupied himself with what Mencken called "the uplift," e.g. such things as the suppression of drunkenness amongst the lower classes, female education in boarding-schools, etc. One can here see the first corpuscles of crypto-calvinism bumping against each other and starting to coalesce in proper Epicurean fashion.

June 29, 2007 at 9:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But the other two quotes feel strange to us. No one is burning heretics these days. Or even racists - though, like Castellio, they do have some trouble remaining employed. We have no religious police who fondle women's dresses - although it is, of course, important to recycle."

No worries - we are getting there, slowly but surely. Even relatively mild heresy is systematically becoming outlawed.


"A local politician in southern Sweden has been fined 18,000 kronor for writing a motion claiming that 95 percent of all heroin brought in to Sweden comes via Kosovo.

Dahn Pettersson, a councillor for the local Alliance Party, presented the motion to Burlöv council last year. The main subject of the motion was homelessness in the town.

He said that drugs were a major reason for homelessness, adding: "Is it surprising that rough sleepers are growing in number when we import this drug, due to the fact that [former immigration minister Birgit ] Friggebo gave 46,000 Kosovo Albanians permanent residency? After this mistake, heroin has flooded Sweden and Europe."

Prosecutor Mats Svensson told the court Pettersson had used tactics that pitted different societal groups against each other and deliberately spread wounding statements about Kosovo Albanians.

"It is never ethnic groups that commit crimes. It is individuals or groups of individuals," Svensson told the court."

June 29, 2007 at 1:09 PM  
Blogger Conrad H. Roth said...

I should read that Zweig, now shouldn't I?

"Modern readers, especially nontheists such as myself, but I suspect also Christians, have trouble understanding the emotional investment in these details of the heavenly universe."

You should see the lather of hatred stirred up over philology and linguistics in the late 19th century--the 'odium philologicum'. That is even more bizarre to us today.

June 29, 2007 at 6:20 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

michael s.,

There are vast troves of lost Tory wit from the 19th century. I don't find Carlyle readable, but I kind of wish I did. Mrs. Jellyby, however, is near and dear to my heart. The Levy and Peart article is excellent, but of course typical in its presentist smugness.

Thanks for the pointer to Priestley. I enjoyed Uglow's Lunar Men in which he's discussed, but that book presents such a sympathetic and personal view of its protagonists that it's awfully hard to examine them in the proper entomological style. Liberalism was so much more lovable in its kitten years.

June 29, 2007 at 10:10 PM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...


"Odium philologicum" is a wonderful phrase if nothing else. I am quite ignorant of this controversy - I'm afraid the Varieties may have to cover it...

June 29, 2007 at 10:13 PM  
Blogger Conrad H. Roth said...

"Perhaps it's easiest to see them as mere tribal identifiers, the 16th-century version of Manchester United, Hamas or the Crips. This strikes me as disrespectful, though, and presentist. Readers with a better eye for history are invited to comment."

I also wanted to comment on this. It's a difficult issue, of course, but I don't think it is unnecessarily presentist to think that most of the significant 'theological disputes' were fundamentally political, ecclesiastical, or at best ethical in nature. Take the 1054 Schism, for instance--more to do with Constantinople politics and ecclesiastical conflicts around Europe than the theological dispute around 'filioque'. The Church always understood that imposing intellectual orthodoxy was a way of retaining power; look at the condemnation of Berengar of Tours, or the conflicts between the upstart scholastic Abelard and Bernard of Clairvaux. (It's obvious from Abelard's autobiography that you didn't have to be a dogmatic Trinitarian to dislike the brilliant but impossibly conceited Abelard.) The same goes for William of Ockham vs. John XXII--and Ockham's nominalism works in interesting ways with his political democratism and anti-authoritarianism. Even Aquinas' variable fortune after his death reflects the struggle for dominance between the Dominicans and other Christian factions.

Luther and Calvin had great scriptural and historical authority for their actions--the traditional conflict between priest and prophet, going back to the dualism of Aaron and Moses. The prophet always rails against the moral corruption of the priest: that's his role. Sometimes he's accepted into the fold, eg. Bernardino of Siena or Joachim of Flora, but there are usually difficulties. Luther etc. took off from Jan Hus, and both were more interested in ecclesiastical corruption than they were in theological metaphysics.

So to me it's clear that ideological dispute is rarely if ever 'purely theological'--and that dispute is rarely just ideological. It's worth thinking about the fact that almost all serious intellectual theology is syncretistic (proto-Unitarian, if you will) in nature. This is because it all basically derives from Neoplatonism, whose basic goal is to find the Unity behind the Multiplicity. The more intellectuals have thought about their religion, the more abstract it becomes, and the more they find parallels--whether to Plato, to Aristotle, to Islam or Buddhism. It is this universalising tendency that was fiercely combated by the medieval Church, wanting to preserve its theological uniqueness, and therefore its political stranglehold.

June 30, 2007 at 3:43 AM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...


Indeed. I forget the source, but there is a very moving bit somewhere in the vast writings of Luther where he realizes that his beliefs are more or less the same as those of Jan Hus, who of course he was taught to consider public enemy #1.

An interesting question, which I have no answer to, is whether the tie to Neoplatonism (which of course the Neoplatonists just knew as Platonism) is, in the biological parlance, homologous or analogous. Certainly one could make a case for Christianity as a branch of the Platonist tree. And yet the idea of the "the One" is hardly inaccessible...

June 30, 2007 at 4:28 PM  
Blogger Conrad H. Roth said...

"Certainly one could make a case for Christianity as a branch of the Platonist tree."

Unquestionably. Think about it: St. John, Origen, Augustine, Pseudo-Dionysius--these are the main founts of Christian theology, and they are all Platonists. Aquinas is considered more of an Aristotelian, but his theology is essentially wrapped up in the Platonic doctrine of participation.

The One may not be inaccessible, but the Jews weren't really talking in that way, and the chief rival was Manichean dualism, and Roman state religion, with its unresolved multiplicity. (Unresolved, that is, except by the Stoic and other philosophers, all of whom derived their metaphysics from... Plato!)

July 1, 2007 at 3:01 AM  
Blogger Kirby Olson said...

I'm American, but wanted to congratulate you on this interesting thesis that seems to speak directly to my experience.

As a Lutheran Surrealist, I've long suspected both Calvinism and Marxism (our two big political camps here in the states) of being secretly in league, or joined at the hip. The idea of crypto-Calvinism would apply to Bush and to Clinton (Hillary) except that they are both nominally Wesleyan.

Lutherans in general (and Luther in particular) didn't like the idea of a state and religion as one and the same and worked instead on the idea of two kingdoms. This kingdom (secular) was under the sway of law, while the kingdom to come was under the sway of the Gospel.

Calvin wished to unite them, as Marxists do.

Luther didn't believe we were capable of being saintly, and actually outlawed the canonization of saints. Lutherans don't believe in them.

While surrealism probably went too far in adopting Sade as its patron saint (and thus arguing that people are basically criminal deviant psychopaths with no redeeming value), they would appear to be closer in some ways to Lutherans than to Calvinists.

As for the Hus interpolation, that is correct. Luther said that he and Hus were essentially on the same page. Hus too believed that the body of Christ is one, and that he was not a heretic, and not a Bohemian but was a true and upstanding Christian, and that it was the church that had fallen, and therefore had an upside down perspective that needed to be righted. But Hus sent an army against the Pope, and Luther didn't.

Luther only stood up to the Pope. He had an army in back of him that saved him, but he didn't order them to attack the Catholics.

Again, a very nice post. I was sent here by someone named Chris Miller, and have never visited before. I will bookmark your blog.

July 4, 2007 at 10:52 AM  
Blogger Mencius Moldbug said...

A Lutheran Surrealist! Kirby, I'm afraid your ideology takes mine and shows it the door.

I liked your review of Bérubé...

July 4, 2007 at 1:16 PM  
Anonymous TGGP said...

Luther didn't believe we were capable of being saintly, and actually outlawed the canonization of saints. Lutherans don't believe in them.
Oh, really?

Hus sent an army against the Pope
I don't see anything about that in his Wikipedia article.

I thought I remembered reading a good post from Berube on the sheer stubborn factual incorrectness of the Chomsky crowd grousing about his "cruise missile liberalism", but now I can't find it.

July 4, 2007 at 8:05 PM  
Blogger Hope Muntz said...

Cool site--and really interesting post. It seems to me that something that maybe isn't addressed is the direct link between Calvinism and Marxism, for instance, Hillary's embrace of 'collective capitalism' or soft socialism. It seems to me that fake Christians like her are more inspired by oldfashioned leftist dogma than by Calvin, since they certainly aren't puritans in their private lives. Could it be that Calvin's theocratic propaganda you describe could just be a kind of feature of all dictatorial regimes? After all, Hitler made quite a few of the same claims for the 'Thousand Year Reich', right? just asking.

July 8, 2007 at 12:01 PM  
Blogger Dr Zen said...

There's a world of difference between burning fossil fuels and the height of your hair. We don't say the former is bad because it's our orthodoxy but because it has measurable bad outcomes. Of course, you can argue that those outcomes are not bad. Are you doing so?

It's thoroughly amusing that a man who talks about crypto-Calvinism so fiercely adheres to his own credo. The "theorem" of evolution is "religious". Dude, it fits the facts. Your "theorem" doesn't. That's really all there is to it. We'd stop believing in it if you brought some facts that it couldn't explain. I note that your answer is to denigrate broad explanatory power. In our "religion", that is what makes a theory good though! We don't pretend otherwise.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

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March 2, 2009 at 7:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! thanks a lot! ^^

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March 2, 2009 at 7:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


March 6, 2009 at 9:30 PM  

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