Wokeness: Old Religion in a New Bottle Sean Collins Spiked, Aug. 14, 2020
Woke anti-racism certainly appears to have taken on the trappings of religion. White people have been seen washing the feet of black people and asking for forgiveness, a ritual firmly in line with the Christian tradition. And terms like ‘white guilt’ and ‘white privilege’ are treated much as Original Sin used to be – things for which humanity must forever atone.
One person who has long been exploring the religious fervour of today’s increasingly moralistic politics is the essayist and author Joseph Bottum. Indeed, his 2014 book, An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America, seems almost prophetic. There he argued that the demise of traditional Protestantism in the US has led liberals to transfer their religious beliefs, habits and passions into the political realm, moralising it in the process. Our age of ‘post-Protestantism’, he concludes, has eroded the boundary between the religious and the political, infusing politics with a religious mindset and discourse.
Spiked’s US correspondent, Sean Collins, caught up with Bottum, at his home in the Black Hills of South Dakota, to find out what he makes of the contemporary political moment, woke anti-racism and the phenomenon of cancel culture.
Sean Collins: As you note in An Anxious Age, the collapse of Mainline Protestantism (that is, the older, non-evangelical Protestant denominations) in the US is striking. In 1965, more than 50 per cent of Americans belonged to Protestant congregations. Now it is less than 10 per cent. Why, in your view, is this collapse so significant for broader American society and politics?
Joseph Bottum: In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville identified the central current of America as a current of morals and manners. However much rival sects feuded against one another, there was this central current. And it is the Mainline Protestant churches which provided America with those morals and manners. (‘Mainline’ is a term that was created later, but we can apply it retrospectively.)
The Mainline churches helped define American culture in several ways. First of all, the churches were mostly apolitical, which has had a profound effect on American culture. For instance, there’s never been a great American political novel. The average French streetwalker in a novel by Zola knows more about politics than the heroes of the greatest American novels. What is it to be an American? At the highest artistic level, it is to be concerned about the cosmos and the self. Politics is incidental to Moby Dick,The Scarlet Letterand Huckleberry Finn. And that’s because Mainline Protestantism rendered politics secondary to what it deems is most important — namely, salvation and the self.
Second, Mainline Protestantism defined the structure of the family, and the shape of everyday life – baptisms, marriages and funerals. It effectively shaped the social life of communities. When Tocqueville talks about these non-governmental associations in America that he found so fascinating, the two examples he gives are volunteer fire departments and burial societies. People banded together to make sure they had funding, and attendees, for each other’s funerals. This Protestantism will also shape the idea of the nuclear family, provide a sense of the arc of life, and frame how we understand what’s driving our behaviour, and how we think about politics. So when 50 per cent of the country belonged to these churches, these churches were still shaping social life. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
The Challenge of Marxism Yoram Hazony Quillette, Aug. 16, 2020
The collapse of institutional liberalism
For a generation after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, most Americans and Europeans regarded Marxism as an enemy that had been defeated once and for all. But they were wrong. A mere 30 years later, Marxism is back, and making an astonishingly successful bid to seize control of the most important American media companies, universities and schools, major corporations and philanthropic organizations, and even the courts, the government bureaucracy, and some churches. As American cities succumb to rioting, arson, and looting, it appears as though the liberal custodians of many of these institutions—from the New York Times to Princeton University—have despaired of regaining control of them, and are instead adopting a policy of accommodation. That is, they are attempting to appease their Marxist employees by giving in to some of their demands in the hope of not being swept away entirely.
We don’t know what will happen for certain. But based on the experience of recent years, we can venture a pretty good guess. Institutional liberalism lacks the resources to contend with this threat. Liberalism is being expelled from its former strongholds, and the hegemony of liberal ideas, as we have known it since the 1960s, will end. Anti-Marxist liberals are about to find themselves in much the same situation that has characterized conservatives, nationalists, and Christians for some time now: They are about to find themselves in the opposition.
This means that some brave liberals will soon be waging war on the very institutions they so recently controlled. They will try to build up alternative educational and media platforms in the shadow of the prestigious, wealthy, powerful institutions they have lost. Meanwhile, others will continue to work in the mainstream media, universities, tech companies, philanthropies, and government bureaucracy, learning to keep their liberalism to themselves and to let their colleagues believe that they too are Marxists—just as many conservatives learned long ago how to keep their conservatism to themselves and let their colleagues believe they are liberals.
This is the new reality that is emerging. There is blood in the water and the new Marxists will not rest content with their recent victories. In America, they will press their advantage and try to seize the Democratic Party. They will seek to reduce the Republican Party to a weak imitation of their own new ideology, or to ban it outright as a racist organization. And in other democratic countries, they will attempt to imitate their successes in America. No free nation will be spared this trial. So let us not avert our eyes and tell ourselves that this curse isn’t coming for us. Because it is coming for us. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
Yes, This Is a Revolution Abe Greenwald Commentary, September 2020
The battle for the survival of the United States of America is upon us. It has not come in the form of traditional civil war. There are no uniformed armies, competing flags, or alternate constitutions. The great showdown is not being fought within the physical limits of a battlefield. It is instead happening all around us and directly to us. It defines our culture, sustains our media, and gives new shape to our public and private institutions. In this fight, there is no distinction between what was once known as the culture war and politics rightly understood. The confrontation stretches through time and space, reframing our distant past even as it transforms the horizon, erupting from coast to coast, and constraining our lives in subtle and obvious ways. And it’s happening too fast for us to take its full measure.
For partisans, it often feels as if everything stands or falls on the ideological battles of the day. But this is different. This is objectively real, and it’s remaking the nation before our eyes.
We know it’s different this time because the stakes are continually articulated by the enemies of the current order. They are demanding, and in some cases getting, a new and exotic country. The police are indeed being defunded. The statues are coming down. The heretics are being outed. The dissenters are being silenced. The buildings are burning, and the demands are ever growing.
In June, the editors of Commentary called this combination of mob violence, cultural torment, and public intimidation “the great unraveling.” Since then, things have gotten appreciably worse.
The great unraveling at first consisted of riots and looting under the pretense of seeking justice for the recently killed George Floyd; the anarchist occupation of a section of Seattle; and a rash of accusations, confessions, and dismissals of individuals who showed insufficient fealty to the new anti-racist paradigm. At the time, extreme policy proposals, such as defunding municipal police departments, were subjects for popular discussion and debate. Everyday Americans swapped Black Lives Matter reading lists and strove, however misguidedly, to broaden their conception of racial inequity.
As of this writing, Portland, Oregon, has endured more than two months straight of anarchist violence directed at federal buildings and employees. In other cities—New York, Los Angeles, Richmond, Omaha, and Austin, to name a few—mob violence continues to erupt regularly, always connected to cries for justice and sometimes resulting in death. Accelerating the general dissolution, police forces have been successfully hobbled in response to the killing of George Floyd, and the resulting spike in murder and violent crime shows no sign of abating. All the while, armchair lynch mobs have continued to claim the scalps of those who veer from or merely stumble on the path to social-justice enlightenment. It is the full-time job of any American with a public presence to bow down before the identity cult. Professional athletes have mutated overnight into a congeries of Kaepernicks. As for the public, 62 percent of all Americans, according to a poll by the CATO Institute, now say they’re afraid to voice their political views lest they be punished professionally.
Leading media organizations, as they did from the start, lend their approval to all of it. After months of defending chaos in the streets as “mostly peaceful,” the media elite is openly covering for a movement whose defining features are intimidation and mass violence. And having completed their Internet-assigned reading in black–white relations, a majority of Americans (56 percent, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll) now find the United States guilty as charged of systemic racism. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
To America, From a Worried European Friend Daniel Schwammenthal WSJ, July 28, 2020
History and evolutionary biology teach us that the normal course of human affairs is tribalism, oppression and poverty. The emergence of liberal democracies isn’t the inevitable endpoint of supposedly linear Western progress but an aberration—and a rather fragile one at that.
This is why the rising illiberalism in the U.S. is so troubling. Activists who seem to understand George Orwell’s “1984” not as a warning but as a manual see free speech—the lifeblood of democracy and human betterment—as a fascist tool of oppression. Other classical liberal ideals—a colorblind society, rational discourse, the scientific method—suffer the same fate.
These unenlightened views have spread with lightning speed. Once confined to the campuses of the nation’s elite universities, they have moved into the mainstream of public discourse. America’s future leaders have been spoon-fed two theories born of Marxism. One is postmodernism, so called because it rejects the liberal ideas of modernity and the very notion of objective truth. The other is critical theory, which is preoccupied with uncovering hidden power structures that have supposedly stood in the way of a communist revolution.
These once-fringe theories have given rise to quasireligious dogmas that divide society into hierarchies of oppressor and oppressed, setting the stage for eternal societal strife. In this new cult, dissent or insufficient fervor is interpreted both as validation of the doctrine of ubiquitous racism and a punishable thought crime. As in medieval witch hunts, both denial and forced confessions prove the defendant’s guilt.
On the other end of the political spectrum we find right-wing populism, which imagines “pure people” taking on a corrupt elite, and of course the far right, with its Nazi infatuation. The wide availability of guns in the U.S. isn’t only a subject of dispute in the unfolding culture war but could help turn it deadly. Witness the recent synagogue shootings by real white supremacists. Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are obsessions shared by the far left and the far right. America is headed for unprecedented polarization and possibly civil unrest.
But why am I, a German Jew living in Brussels, so worried about U.S. domestic affairs? As the adage goes, when America sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold. Right now, America has pneumonia.
I learned to cherish the U.S. long before I had the privilege to live and study there. History can be very personal. What Madeleine Albright called the “indispensable nation” meant the difference between life and death for my family. I was brought up in the firm knowledge that had it not been for those unimaginably brave American boys storming the beaches of Normandy, I wouldn’t have been born, and my parents and the rest of my people would have been extinguished. No doubt I’m leaving out entire libraries of nuance, but that is the quintessential truth.
America today is what it has always been: a flawed society, like all others, but also a unique force for good in the world. No other multiethnic, multireligious society can credibly claim to be more democratic, more prosperous and more just than the U.S. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
For Further Reference:
The Captive Mind and America’s Resegregation: Andrew A. Michta, WSJ, July 31, 2020 — Czesław Miłosz, a future Nobel Prize-winning poet who had just defected from Poland, began work in 1951 on a book called “The Captive Mind.”
Civil War Begins When the Constitutional Order Breaks Down: Michael Vlahos, The American Conservative, Nov. 4, 2019 — Georgetown Institute poll finds that two-thirds of us believe we are edging closer “to the brink of a civil war.” Yet Americans cannot properly analyze this “gathering storm.” We lack a framework, a lexicon, and the historical data (from other civil wars) to see clearly what is happening to us.
‘Wokeness is Being Pushed on Everyone’: Helen Pluckrose, Spiked, July 24, 2020 — Wokeness is more prevalent than ever. Big businesses and public institutions are kow-towing to the latest activist trends.