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This kind of thing

One of the problems I’ve found in coming up with stuff to post here is that whenever I read something that I think would be worth linking to or commenting on, I realise that it’s on Samizdata, or EURef, or somewhere else that I know most of this blog’s readers will be familiar with themselves. Combine that with the frustration of persuading the cats in the server to do anything at all, and I usually don’t bother.

But (although you all should) I don’t know how many Kitty Kounters read the Libertarian Alliance blog regularly, so this article, “Where Calvin meets Mao” is probably worth pointing out. It reminded me of IanB’s idea that Political Correctness is just the modern manifestation of Calvinism, methodism, and other forms of hair-shirt Christianity. I’ve always had a bit of a problem with that because I was brought up in the Church of Scotland, which unquestionably has its origins, via Knox, in Calvin’s thinking, and I’ve found most Kirk folk to be pretty down-to-earth and strongly un-PC (certainly there is a more direct link with methodism). Although Scotland is even more plagued with the modern political scourge than most places, it’s not, in general, coming from those people. It really isn’t. On the other hand, there can be no question that PC is strongest in historically protestant countries and you can even see that phenomenon within the United Kingdom, with, as I say, the Scottish political class being more enthusiastic about it than in other parts of Britain.

So this lit a little bulb above my head:

I actually grew up in part as a Calvinist fundamentalist myself during the 1970s … During the late 1980s and early 1990s I was a left-wing Chomskyite and it was during this time that I first began to personally encounter PC. Observing the psychology of PC and its behavioral manifestations up close and in an unadulterated form gave me a sense of déjà vu: “Where I have seen this kind of thing before?”

“This kind of thing”. PC isn’t Calvinism, but it’s the same kind of thing. The phenomenon in its present form undoubtedly stems from the Frankfurt School, and Marxism is about as far from Christianity as you can get, but – and this is the important bit – there seems to be a way of thinking, a mindset, common in Northern European countries that’s conducive to “this kind of thing”. The Jock PC-wallahs aren’t (necessarily) the same people as the Kirk-goers, but 500 years ago they would have been in the front pew lapping up Knox’s sermons (and I imagine today’s Kirk folk would be as dismissive of pure, raw, early Calvinism as they are of PC, since they clearly don’t think that way – in fact I’m sure of it: otherwise they’d join the Free Presbyterians).

In a sense, it’s another example of people who cease to believe in God believing in anything: that controlling, self-hating instinct has to find an outlet, and once the Kirk lost its power it manifested itself in politics. Ironically, for the Politically Correct, it should also be a lesson in the imperfectibility of Man. We have to play the hand we’re dealt, and shuffling the cards won’t change it: get rid of a powerful, oppressive, controlling church, and people who like power, oppressing and controlling others, will simply find another way to do it. And they have.

12 Comments

  1. Richard B says:

    An intelligent and perceptive post, if I may say so. I have long thought that left-wing politics attracts the same sort of people who would have been religious zealots in a more church-going age, but you have nailed it down to Methodism, and I think you are right. My mother was a staunch Methodist, and I know whereof I speak :)

    A further question is what is it in the psyche of certain humans that attracts them to self-loathing, rigid and controlling dogmas?

  2. Ian F4 says:

    This same moment came to me years ago when reading, of all things, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, by Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln (or one of it’s successor books), this was the series that “inspired” Mr Brown and his piss-awful Da Vinci Code, the former authors suing the latter over it, unsuccessfully.

    The book(s) contain a kind of mini-essay about Fascism and Communism and how they effectively replace religion, and I have forever realised that every political ideology has some sort of fanatical wing who start denying the truth and facts when it gets in the way of the ideology.

    Richard Dawkins “God-shaped hole” isn’t actually God-shaped, even Dawkins has a hole which he’s filled with his ultra-rationalist bollocks “god”.

    My descent into a more liberalist agenda started with this epiphany, it’s a constant anathema to a liberal thinker that an incredible amount of our fellow humans are so intent on what _you_ do, and for no reason but silly irrational belief and dogma.

  3. Peter MacFarlane says:

    “people who like power, oppressing and controlling others, will simply find another way to do it. And they have.”

    Brilliant. Well said. Couldn’t agree more.

    Hear him, hear him!

  4. Lynne says:

    That’s a very interesting angle. What’s more it makes perfect sense to me.

  5. NickM says:

    A thing to ponder.

    It is a generalisation but from my experience “non-comformist” faiths tend to build the most dog’s arse ugly places of worship. Socialists merely build the most dog’s arse ugly places to live in. Is this a co-incidence? I think not.

    At the top of Wenceslas Square in Prague stand two buildings. One is an impressive (though not especially good) Victorian thing and that is the Natural History Museum and the other is (was) the parliament. During an insurrection (’68? – I dunno) the Soviets shelled the Natural History Museum and not the parliament. They simply could not believe the parliament building was the parliament building. Neither could I (and it no longer is) because it looks like a faculty of social sciences built at a British provincial university c. 1968.

    “By their works shall you know them…”

  6. Sam Duncan says:

    Not sure about that one, Nick. Up here, the UP Church in particular was known for putting up some magnificent buildings (it became known as “the bonny UP”), and the old “big” Free Kirk wasn’t far behind it. And they were by far the biggest denominations in the 19th Century, dwarfing the established Church of Scotland.

    Mind you, as I’ve said before, the term “non-conformism” doesn’t really make a lot of sense in the Scottish context. Put another way, more in line with my post above, the sort of people who would have been Parish Church in England were UP or Free Kirk. There is, and always was, an “anglican” Episcopal Church of Scotland – which is very “high church” – but we’re talking about social phenomena here I think, not strictly religious differences.

  7. Philip Scott Thomas says:

    Sam –

    You’re quite right to question the Calvinist roots of political correctness. Its roots, like those of Anglo-Socialism, are not in Calvinism, but in Methodism – try googling on the phrase “more Methodist than Marxist”. It’s pretty common on modern lefty blogs, at least in the UK.

    Methodism was of course founded by John Wesley. Wesley got his start while in Germany, where he attended a Bible study group studying the book of Romans. He said later that he felt his “heart strangely warmed.” The Bible study group he attended was a house meeting, an integral part of the Lutheran Pietist movement.

    One of the key tenets of Pietism was that one should publicly demonstrate one’s salvation in the doing of good works, i.e., charity to one’s brethren. Wesley brought that back to Britain and kicked off the whole Methodist-inspired social reform movement. Strip that movement of the Christian element and you basically have Anglo-Socialism, including the need to demonstrate one’s social piety through, amongst other things, what we call “political correctness.”

  8. Paul Marks says:

    The historical background of the P.C. tactic (and is a tactic – at least at the leadership level) are not a great secret. But I have typed them out in my comments on the orginal posting (I used the link that Sam gave us), and I am not going to type all that stuff out again.

    As for Scotland – is the Church of Scotland Calvinist anymore? In any real sense?

    Surely that is more the Free Church – and I must say that I like most of founders of that (although I do not agree with their theology).

    And not just because Thomas Chalmers and co were anti statists although that is part of it (men like Chalmers might fear God, although I doubt, it but fear and obey MEN? You want to take my money and order me about do you? Well let us see you make me obey you – I will take you all on, and with arm tied behind my back, On the other hand, if they found a hungry person they would give him their last farthing, and go without bread themselves,although if anyone spotted them doing it they would go red in the face).

    They were honest – they said what they meant and they did what they said they would do. P.C. types lie as easy as they breath.

    They were always up for a fight – unless their opponent was weak (especially helpless) , then they did not want to fight.

    Again P.C. types are the opposite – they enjoy fighting when their opponent is helpless (and run crying “human rights” when their opponent is violent and ruthless – like they are themselves).

    Also on Methodism:

    Calivinist Methodist or Wesleyian Methodist?

    Wesley was about as anti Calvinist as you can get – far more so than the Lutherians were, he had a Moravian opposition to predestination of course.

    That is why he fell out with George Whitfield of course.

    Of course George is (or was) a hero of Glenn Beck.

    He was attracted to the good side of George Whitfield – the courage, the strong faith, the GENUINE respect for the ordinary person.

    However, Whitfield had a dark side (which is was a duty to make our Glenn aware of – and, to be fair, when he was made aware of it he spoke of it on live television) – not just predestination.

    For example, not bothering his head about the morality of slavery (indeed helping to introduce slaves into the Georgia – against the clear written intentions of the founder of the place) whilst thinking that Wedgewood china was evil (luxury you see – slaves are not luxury), although of course the fact that Mr Wedgewood was a staunch foe of slavery may also have had something to do with it.

    Old George has many good characteristics – but he was not a man of sound judgement (theologically or otherwise).

  9. Paul Marks says:

    The historical background of the P.C. tactic (and is a tactic – at least at the leadership level) are not a great secret. But I have typed them out in my comments on the orginal posting (I used the link that Sam gave us), and I am not going to type all that stuff out again.

    As for Scotland – is the Church of Scotland Calvinist anymore? In any real sense?

    Surely that is more the Free Church – and I must say that I like most of founders of that (although I do not agree with their theology).

    And not just because Thomas Chalmers and co were anti statists although that is part of it (men like Chalmers might fear God, although I doubt it [their attitude towards God was more like that of a personal friend - someone so close to them that they could talk to Him about stuff they would never talk to human beings about, because that would be "soft"], but fear and obey MEN? “You want to take my money and order me about do you? Well let us see you make me obey you – I will take you all on, and with one arm tied behind my back….,” On the other hand, if they found a hungry person they would give him their last farthing, and go without bread themselves,although if anyone spotted them doing it they would go red in the face).

    The sort of person who would (in private) tell God how much they loved their wife and children and how much they feared for them (and cry as they did it, without knowing they were crying), but would never think of telling the wife and children how much they loved them (till the wife or child were seriously ill – and then sometimes still leaving it too late). And certainly not the sort to cry in public – in fact you could torture them for days and get nothing (apart from contempt) out of them.

    They were honest – they said what they meant and they did what they said they would do. P.C. types lie as easy as they breath.

    They were always up for a fight – unless their opponent was weak (especially helpless) , then they did not want to fight.

    Again P.C. types are the opposite – they enjoy fighting when their opponent is helpless (and run crying “human rights” when their opponent is violent and ruthless – like they are themselves).

    Also on Methodism:

    Calivinist Methodist or Wesleyian Methodist?

    Wesley was about as anti Calvinist as you can get – far more so than the Lutherians were, he had a Moravian opposition to predestination of course.

    That is why he fell out with George Whitfield of course.

    Of course George is (or was) a hero of Glenn Beck.

    He was attracted to the good side of George Whitfield – the courage, the strong faith, the GENUINE respect for the ordinary person.

    However, Whitfield had a dark side (which is was a duty to make our Glenn aware of – and, to be fair, when he was made aware of it he spoke of it on live television) – not just predestination.

    For example, not bothering his head about the morality of slavery (indeed helping to introduce slaves into the Georgia – against the clear written intentions of the founder of the place) whilst thinking that Wedgewood china was evil (luxury you see – slaves are not luxury), although of course the fact that Mr Wedgewood was a staunch foe of slavery may also have had something to do with it.

    Old George has many good characteristics – but he was not a man of sound judgement (theologically or otherwise).

  10. Paul Marks says:

    Before anyone else mentions it – you can tell Brother Glenn is an ex Catholic Morman (rather than a Scots Calivinist) – the crying alone would tell you.

    “Ah get a grip on yourself man – yes the Reds are turning the Republic (indeed the world) into Hell on Earth, but that is no reason to go soft and cry like a babe”.

    Of course the idea of a modern Republic (that the common people have the right to overturn rulers they do not like) is a 16th century Calvinist concept.

    Although not from John Calivin of course – the people haveing the right to overturn his rule? Of course not.

    It is from George Buchanan – the common folk have the right to reject the rule of anyone, even the Elect. Indeed if a man is a tyrant he can not really be part of the Elect anyway – he must be pretending, the base LIAR, let-me-at-him-and-his-whole-bodyguard….

    Brought America (much later) by men like John Witherspoon (a Calvinist about as unlike John Calvin as can be).

    Although many of the Presbyterians in the United States (not Witherspoon) soon ditched predestination.

    Some ditched Presbyterianism as well – and became such things as Free Will Babtists (and the like – ever wondered who founded Hillsdale Collage and why it is like it is).

    But some had another way – yes one of my favourate little stories is comming.

    When a wagon reached the pass in the mountain chain called the “Cumberland Gap” it was found that the trail was still very hard, the wagon had to be lightened to get through.

    A lot of stuff had to be left behind – stuff the family did not really need and did not make sense anyway, like PREDESTINATION.

    There are still “Cumberland Presyterians” in the United States.

    Of course the love of story telling (and talking generally) is perhaps not very Scottish (one can debate that), but we are dealing with (in the main) “Scots Irish” (Ulster Scots) and they were as used to fighting their English (and Scottish) overlords as they were fighting the Catholics (whose culture was not quite as far away from them as might be thought).

    Fight anyone and anything (a bear – for example) fear God (slightly – perhaps, or at least say you do) and man not at all.

    And be friends with the people you fight – Senator Benton “President Jackson was a fine man, I shot him once, a fine man”. Use Indian skin for your shaving strap – but also marry an Indian (if you happen to fall in love with one – and she with you).

    Work till you collapse – and then work some more (especially if you have enough money not to need to work at all).

    And do not drink at all – or drink till you vomit (blood).

    These are some of the roots (and foundations) of the United States – although even in the past they were rather covered up.

    As for today – no comment.

  11. Philip Scott Thomas says:

    Paul –

    What you’re getting at, albeit somewhat obliquely, is what Systematic Theologians (a Continental discipline, BTW, almost entirely unknown in the UK) call the Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms. Luther and Calvin couldn’t have differed more on it.

  12. AMcguinn says:

    The mainstream centre-leftist political principles of today were explicitly described as Christian when they were first introduced.

    http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,801396,00.html

    This article will be familiar to readers of Unqualified Reservations: http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/2007/06/short-history-of-ultracalvinism.html

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