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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.


  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).