Squaring the Culture

"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

10/14/2009 (2:34 pm)

Progressivism, the Religion

I’m in the first chapter of Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, and I’m delighted to find that he’s accurately identified the religious character of American progressivism.

The one thing that unites these [variously fascist] movements is that they were all, in their own ways, totalitarian. But what do we mean when we say something is totalitarian? The word has certainly taken on an understandably sinister connotation in the last half century. Thanks to work by Hannah Arendt, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and others, it’s become a catchall for brutal, soul-killing, Orwellian regimes. But that’s not how the word was originally used or intended. Mussolini himself coined the term to describe a society where everybody belonged, where everyone was taken care of, where everything was inside the state and nothing was outside; where truly no child was left behind.

Again, it is my argument that American liberalism is a totalitarian political religion, but not necessarily an Orwellian one. It is nice, not brutal. Nannying, not bullying. But it is definitely totalitarian — or “holistic,” if you prefer — in that liberalism today sees no realm of human life that is beyond political significance, from what you eat to what you smoke to what you say. Sex is political. Food is political. Sports, entertainment, your inner motives and outer appearance, all have political salience for liberal fascists. Liberals place their faith in priestly experts who know better, who plan, exhort, badger, and scold. They try to use science to discredit traditional notions of religion and faith, but they speak the language of pluralism and spirituality to defend “nontraditional” beliefs. Just as with classical fascism, liberal fascists speak of a “Third Way” between right and left where all good things go together and all hard choices are “false choices.”

The idea that there are no hard choices — that is, choices between competing goods — is religious and totalitarian because it assumes that all good things are fundamentally compatible. The conservative or classical liberal vision understands that life is unfair, that man is flawed, and that the only perfect society, the only real utopia, waits for us in the next life.

I’ve been saying for decades that the current version of what we call “liberalism,” which its adherents are calling “progressivism,” feels like a religion, and its adherents exhibit all the characteristics of True Believers. These Believers take as axioms — as dogma, really — the inherent virtue of radical egalitarianism, multiculturalism, and moral relativism, dismiss all other views of truth as hopelessly backward, and ultimately celebrate the ascendancy of the enlightened apex of human development, namely themselves.

Understanding that progressivism is a religion explains lots of things. It explains why progressives consider holding their political position the apex of moral virtue, and holding contrary positions, the depths of moral vice. It explains why progressives are impervious to reasons, statistics, or sound arguments that do not support their point of view. It explains why they feel perfectly justified in controlling even the smallest decisions of the populace. It explains why they feel no compunction of conscience while breaking every conceivable law or rule of civil behavior in the pursuit of power. It explains the fervor with which they pursue political power. It explains everything: they’re True Believers.

I produced a decent definition of “religion” in my post on Darwin Day this year:

…“theism” is not a useful definition of religion: there are major, recognized world religions that contain both many gods (Hinduism, Shintoism, Buddhism) and no gods (Confucianism and Taoism.) A better definition of religion would be “a dogmatic set of cohesive ideas purporting to explain the nature and purpose of the universe, and from that to derive how Man should live.”

Progressivism is nothing if not dogmatic; you can’t even raise questions about their presuppositions without getting scoffed at. They definitely have ideas regarding the nature of the universe, and they not only have derived from those ideas how Man should live, but consider themselves the rightful executors of the power to make them live that way. Oh, yes, progressivism is a religion, alright, and a highly coercive one at that.

Some will object that they can’t be religious because they do not believe in God. I’ve had that conversation with atheists of various stripes; they want me to get it through my head that Atheism is not belief, but the absence of belief. That’s like saying that on a sunny, warm day we are not experiencing weather, but the absence of weather. If the topic is “What is the universe, and how should we live in it,” the answer may or may not include God, but all answers to that question are addressing the same topic. The answer that says “We must work together under one Government to create a world without racism, sexism, homophobia, or unfairness” is as much religion as the answer that says “Fear God, and keep His commandments, for such is the whole duty of man.”

1apunchAs with all True Believers, their cognitive dissonance runs deep. They can hurl the most incredibly vicious racial epithets at black conservatives like Sowell, Thomas, and Rice (remember Clarence Thomas as a lawn jockey?), and then claim that conservatism is the source of all racism without the slightest awareness of the irony. They slur conservative women with utter, unrestrained viciousness (Katherine Harris “applies makeup with a trowel” and Michelle Malkin is “a mashed-up bag of meat with lipstick”) but consider conservatism the bastion of sexist hate and suppression of women. They ruminate about conservative talk show hosts “blowing up like a blimp” and fabricate out of thin air racist quotes to accuse their opponents, but wonder how conservatives can be so mean-spirited. They cannot even watch Sarah Palin on TV without screaming curses at her, and regard capitalists and conservatives as evil incarnate, but lecture us about tolerance and getting past our differences. Because they are The Good Ones, it is simply not possible that they could do evil; because their beliefs are the very definition of tolerance, open-mindedness, and multicultural harmony, what they do simply cannot ever be considered intolerant, bigoted, or vicious.

Adherents engage in a pretense of intellectual discussion among themselves because Reason sits high in their panoply of gods; but it is pretense only, and impervious to serious engagement from outside its own circle of self-congratulation. Ask any conservative what it takes to get a progressive to engage them in reasonable conversation; every one of us who has tried can count on one hand the number of times we have succeeded in getting a cogent, polite response to a sincere intellectual challenge. I’ve been trying for at least 25 years, and still know only a handful of progressives who can talk politics with me without hurling insults. Conservatives can play drinking games betting on how many words it will take before the progressive resorts to sneering: my record is four words. I’m not kidding; a friend asked me “Why Iraq?” and he interrupted with a sneer after “What was intended was…” When Rush Limbaugh gets a call from an acknowledged liberal, he times how long it takes before he gets called a derogatory name; it’s invariably less than 2 minutes. Ask any conservative how many times he’s been called “Nazi,” “fascist,” “racist,” or various shades of “imbecile” simply for offering a contrary idea to one held by a progressive. In my experience, there is no connection between the idea offered and the accusatory response; “fascist” is a definition. To the progressive, intelligent conversation begins with “are you a believer?” If the answer is “no,” then it’s simply an article of faith that what follows is “fascist,” “sexist,” “racist,” or “greed,” and can have no merit.

And then, there are the Christian progressives. These are becoming increasingly common, as the shaming and fault-finding directed by the culture at large toward Christians for remaining faithful to an “outdated” sect take their toll. Increasingly, devout Christians are succumbing to the lie that using other peoples’ tax money to engage the government in programs for the poor is somehow a Christian act. Theft is never Christian; and the notion that the government can force righteousness on a people is as demonic a notion as ever infected a Christian mind. More to the point, though, the dogmatic assumptions of progressivism are biblically unsound; man cannot be perfected through political activism, it is no virtue to make all outcomes equal regardless of performance, and showing love to people of different races and cultures does not imply that all practices are of equal moral worth. By committing to the progressive Utopian vision, no matter how well-intentioned or filled with Christian-sounding endorsements, Christians are serving among the legions of a foreign god.

One must remember when engaging progressives that one is most likely engaging what I would call a Brittle Fundamentalist. Brittle Fundamentalists can only see the world in black and white; they can accept no grays. Consequently, they will resist with intense fervor any effort to move them from serving the goals of progressivism, and simply disbelieve any fact you produce that does not fit their picture of the world. But, like all Brittle Fundamentalists, there is a breaking point; if the preponderance of the facts from a trusted source at any time forces them to acknowledge that they’ve been wrong on any subject, the entire house of cards can collapse in a matter of days. They can quickly become conservatives if they ever permit themselves, even once, to let a contrary thought in. Their faith is inflexible, and that makes it breakable.

The fact that Western civilization has been overtaken by a non-Christian — I should say an anti-Christian — religion, it is clearer than ever that the path to saving Western civilization is not political, but religious. The culture will not be turned by winning a series of elections; the culture will be turned by religious revival, and by nothing else.

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