YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

January 24, 2013

Culture wars and the secular progressives

Marianne, symbol of the French Republic

Marianne, symbol of the French Republic

Walter Hudson has written an essay for Pajamas Media ( http://pjmedia.com/lifestyle/2013/01/15/whose-morality-is-it-anyway/) touting religion as the sole building block of social order, the only belief system that prevents “evil.”  Hudson, like many other believers, holds Communists (and by implication, “secularists”) responsible for wanton killing and mass death, perhaps of the kind we have seen at such locales as Newtown, Connecticut, or in the underreported incident in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as perpetrated by Nehemiah Griego (the fifteen-year-old killer, whose father was a local pastor and reportedly  liberal).

It is true that communists have inveighed against religion as “the opiate of the masses” that holds workers in bondage to a fantasy at best, or terrorizes them at worst (with threats of eternal hell), but Hudson’s privileging of religion as the sole source of morality is repugnant to me. I am one of the dread secularists, which puts me in the same category as those who drafted the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment, that forbade any established state religion. It is cultural pluralism that has enabled diverse immigrant groups to come to America, and protected them from forced conversion to a state religion. Has Hudson forgotten that “equality under the law” was a salutary innovation that protected all of us from murder and from what Hudson regards as “evil” in general?

But worse, Hudson’s essay negates the Enlightenment, which removed truth, absolute authority and “virtue” from Kings and established Churches, instead investing knowledge, power, and (potential) virtue in the People and their political institutions.  This disestablishment of monarchs and clergy was laid at the feet of the rising bourgeoisie (themselves the children of the French Revolution), who were then attacked by both the deposed monarchists of the ultra-right and future hard leftists. The new popular freedoms were associated by the ultras with the Cult of Reason (symbolized by Marianne), cannibalism, and a host of other horrors, including parricide and deicide.  And so Mary Shelley wrote her famous Frankenstein;  or the Modern Prometheus, while Herman Melville fretted about his own Promethean impulses throughout life. (For more on this theme see http://clarespark.com/2013/01/26/decoding-call-me-ishmael-and-the-following/.)

Much of what Hudson has written is directed at Ayn Rand, her followers, and “Objectivism” in general.  I conclude that it is the “atomized” individual (along with free market society) that is his target. This so-called “atomized” individual was also the target of the moderate men, the Progressives who hoped to stave off Red Revolution through a compassionate welfare state, that would stop just short of turning the world upside down,  and would co-opt religion in the service of those buzz-words “social cohesion” and “political stability.”

Not all moderate conservatives believed that modernity and capitalism would lead to widespread mayhem. See for instance the social thought of Charles Sumner, the anti-slavery Senator from Massachusetts, whose moral code embraced all of humanity, and most particularly slaves and then the freedmen, while his bosom enemies sought to return the freedmen to new forms of bondage after the Civil War. (See http://clarespark.com/2009/10/05/charles-sumner-moderate-conservative-on-lifelong-learning/, or http://clarespark.com/2012/01/03/the-race-card/ )  Sumner was a visionary, and for his sacrifices to humanity at large, he has been assailed as a carrier of Jewish blood by his major 20th century biographer.

guillotine

If Walter Hudson and those who agree with him want to improve morality, he should come down on the authoritarian family and all those institutions that fail to educate their children to the obligations of citizenry, or those families who believe in demonic possession as the explanation for mental illness. We need more science in our thought patterns, and less regression to pre-capitalist forms of authority, authority that cannot be made legitimate through any appeal to Reason as embodied in the laws, laws that men and women of all colors fought for and formulated out of an abundance of experience.

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6 Comments »

  1. [...] How does Boyle deal with antisemitic representations in literature then?  In his Goethe biography he passes over without judgment Goethe’s several nasty comments about Jews. In the book quoted above, Boyle finds pleasure in Dickens’ Fagin, a monster-victim who is, however, forgiven: pp.133-34: “Fagin is saved from being a stereotypical instrument of anti-Semitism and is raised into literature by our enjoyment of his monstrosity, and that is made possible as much by Oliver’s final prayer for him—Oh! God forgive this wretched man!” (in which a direct vocative can be heard behind the gasp of sentiment)—as by the relish in the caricature when we first meet him, stirring the coffee in an iron pot and serving hot rolls and, of all things, ham to his ‘dears,’ while he inspects their pickings.” Now, dear reader, if you have followed me thus far, you will understand that Captain Ahab’s unpardonable sin, for Boyle and for others who share his ideology, is Ahab’s/Melville’s (Jewish?) predilection for revenge. We may infer that Ahab doesn’t enjoy the Monster, or the idea that Might Makes Right, or that obligation sans “rights” is a source of pleasure. That Captain Ahab’s quest might be a symbol for all the unfinished revolutions of Melville’s time, revolutions that allowed a cat to look at a king, or ordinary people to educate themselves through study and reflection upon their experience, and who, moreover, might indulge themselves in the analysis of the institutions that controlled their lives, thence to participate meaningful in government and self-government–such a reading cannot be allowed in an academy that called a halt to the Age of Revolution as it was once understood.  Happy Fourth of July. (For a recent blog on this  subject see http://clarespark.com/2013/01/24/culture-wars-and-the-secular-progressives/.) [...]

    Pingback by Unfinished Revolutions and contested notions of “identity” « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — January 29, 2013 @ 7:05 pm | Reply

  2. Speaking as another dreaded secularist I find it a little presumptuous for people to think one cannot have a moral compass without embracing religion. I also think most intellectuals who insist on their religiousity are actually using it for social cover, so as to blend in with the so called nomal people. I don’t think the framers or founders really wanted to protect the people from religion as it has been interpeted in the modern sense where every trace of religion is purged from the public sphere, but was mainly a safe guard to keep religious institutions from gaining politcal over the people overall.
    I find it refreshing to find a obviously deep thinker such as yourself that can state their secularism and not feel the need to hide behind the veil of faith to present conservative view points. I am somewhat new to your blog, but I am finding more to like ( in the traditional sense as opposed to Facbook “Like”) everytime I have a chance to read more. I am looking forward to going back and discovering your articles on Melville and Hemingway, I’ve read a little, but time to actually sit down and deeply read and absorb information seem so rare these days. Please keep the great material coming and I’ll keep finding time to read more.

    Comment by Dellrod Biffens — January 25, 2013 @ 2:53 am | Reply

  3. It just so happens I read the Hudson essay earlier today and had some doubts about his argument, but in large part I agreed with it if Hudson’s “God” were to be expanded to a more open “Transcendent Good,” or maybe even a non-contingent Absolute. I’ve long been making a similar point to secularists I encounter, but I have been unable to convince. I think I’m just using the wrong terms, and hoped Hudson could have provided me with some, but I didn’t see it there. In reading the comments to Hudson’s article there was one poster, Recovered Trombonist or some such, that I thought had some decent points of clarification, mostly in the direction I’d expected.

    I don’t think it can be supported that the Founders were strictly “secularists,” nor do I think their first amendment was about “forbidding state relgion” as much as it was about protecting freedom of religious conscience from state power.

    I recently also enjoyed Ann Coulter’s rough take on the French Revolution, an outgrowth of the Enlightenment, as the entre’ to modern totalitarianism. Yes, they displaced the absolute power of church and monarch, but created a vacuum for despots who rushed in at the first opportunity. Intellectuals historically appear to me to be very good at invalidating existing authority, but very bad at promoting a stable legitimate substitute.

    As to the obligations of citizenry, which I support, I think Hudson’s point is that without an objective external referent, all judgments become arbitrary and derived from transitory power rather than transcendent (objective/external/existing) truth and order. What man can create, man can destroy. I think this was the central justification the Founders placed inalienable rights outside human agency, and a prescient and wise justification it was then and remains today.

    Many thanks for bringing this to the fore here.

    Jeffery

    Comment by Terbreugghen — January 25, 2013 @ 1:49 am | Reply

    • Doing history entails finding human causes for human events. History is a bourgeois science. Both the American and French Revolutions made doing history possible. Doing history of my kind is simply incompatible with histories that take God as one who intervenes in human events. Many of the founders were deists and worldly, as I am. I have no desire for the faithful to bow to my will, nor shall I bow to theirs when practicing my craft. I am and remain a cultural pluralist as the American Constitution promises as a condition of my citizenship.

      Comment by clarespark — January 25, 2013 @ 2:39 am | Reply

      • CLARESPARK WROTE: “Doing history entails finding human causes for human events.”
        TERBREUGGHEN: Agreed, and I would never presume to interfere. Science as well must exclude supernatural causes. The “god did it” hypothesis does not belong there. That said, axiomatic exclusion does not constitute proof. I think there is a pervasive misunderstanding about the object of faith and the goals of religion, both religious and secular. It seems to me that we, all of us, regularly overstep our limits.

        Comment by Terbreugghen — January 25, 2013 @ 1:53 pm

  4. [...] With the country divided and anxious, this day of bogus unity and bogus reverence for the American Constitution can only be a caesura in an ongoing civil war that was present from the beginning of the United States. (For a recent installment see http://clarespark.com/2013/01/24/culture-wars-and-the-secular-progressives/.) [...]

    Pingback by Citizen Obama, political pluralism and the elusive search for Unity « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — January 24, 2013 @ 10:00 pm | Reply


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