• Rodak

    But, in fact, didn’t many, if not most, Catholics come here precisely to take advantage of all of the opportunity that “”Protestant liberal rugged individualism” makes possible, and to escape from the smothering feudal, class, and other hierarchical restraints that rendered life in Europe such a long, futile grind toward the grave?
    My take is that neither system partakes in any systematic way in the teachings of the Gospels. Each of them is self-referential and self-serving. I really have come to believe that–whether individually or communally–it is necessary to withdraw from society-at-large to attempt to live a fully Christian life. That said, given that one has decided to be “of the world,” the Protestant world has proven, overall, to be the more comfortable–and just–highway to perdition.

  • digbydolben

    MM, you have outdone yourself here, and probably for the first time, provided your critics with your most cogent explanation of the roots of America’s radical–and, indeed, revolutionary–ideology of consumerist capitalism (“the transvaluation of all values”–for the sake of “constant growth”), in her heretical theological origins in the traditions of profoundly pessimistic “watered-down Calvinism.”

  • http://arturovasquez.wordpress.com Arturo Vasquez

    Re: the cited article – Seldom have I seen so much drivel spewed in one place. “We would be an ‘empire of liberty’.” He should have tacked on: “or else”. Or else we will steal half your country (Mexico), invade you (Vietnam, Iraq, etc.), or topple your government (Chile, Central America, etc.) This does not even mention the interior colonialism against African-Americans, immigrants, and so forth. America has seemed to dream itself a classless society, or a society that has gotten its way by merit and not violence, but just because you dream it doesn’t make it so.

    That is not even to mention the imperialist violence of Anglo-Saxon Protestantism: one that even by colonial standards sought to exploit, decimate, and exclude, rather than evangelize and engage. Read Marx’s Captial: the reason England didn’t have a peasantry is because the nascent bourgeoisie stole church lands and kicked the peasants off. The paupers that entered the cities became the nascent proletariat: landless and dispossessed of the means of production. And much of the fuel for the British economy came from the “humanitarian” efforts of such entities as the British East India Company, that, among other things, was the first big international drug cartel (opium to China).

    It is funny that there has been so much talk of the “Fathers” in this time of crisis. Like all reactionary movements, demagogues tend to return to a mythical pristine origin that scapegoats some for the benefit of others. The Germans in the 1930’s returned to the idea of the blond beast, the master race, and Aryan racial supremacy and blamed the Jews for everything. The American right now wants to return to a disembodied Platonic ideal known as the Constitution that is being attacked by “socialists” and “Marxists”. (Having been both a socialist and a Marxist at one time in my life, I am particularly appreciative of how ridiculous such an accusation really is.)

    Really, though, what of people like me who are stuck with a U.S. birth certificate who do not share the ideal of “America”? I don’t believe in democracy, don’t consider myself exceptionally patriotic, but don’t really have any particular desire to get up and leave. Will I never be a “real American” just because I don’t particularly care for the idea of “American exceptionalism”? I wouldn’t shed a tear if tomorrow someone tore up the Constitution. In this brain of mine, there is only room for one religion, and it ain’t America.

  • Rodak

    Its seems to me to be counter-intuitive that the Church should have owned lands to be stolen by the nascent bourgeoisie in the first place. The Son of Man had no place to lay His head; and He chose that. Neither, I would wager, did the Son of Man deck Himself out like a Las Vegas lounge act to deliver the Beatitudes.

  • Colin Gormley

    “Lowry and Ponnuru extol individual liberty as the supreme virtue”

    Actually they don’t. What they are saying is that what makes the American experiment exceptional is the emphasis of liberty in the founding of the country. Whatever you think of their argument, virtue has little to do with their argument.

    “The first, and most obvious, is that it is anti-Catholic – look at the condemnations of “church hierarchy”.”

    They don’t condemn a hierarchial construct of church per se. Remember the context is the Church of England, where the government and the church leadership are closely knit.

    “As I mentioned in a recent post, liberalism denies that the state has any duties toward God. Instead, the individual is paramount and the state is a purely human creation designed to enforce a social contract between individuals and whose chief function is law and order. Catholicism, in contrast, has always seen society as an organic whole, not as a mere collection of individuals.”

    You are conflating “the state” with society, which is the core fault of the analysis. The two are not equivalent.

  • WJ


    Great post. In recent years the ideology of “individualism” has been a stalking horse for the corporate consolidation of wealth, which needs to be mentioned more often whenever you hear some neoliberal extolling the “individualism” and “entrepreneurial spirit” of Reaganism.


    I just want to say that I really enjoy your posts. You have a stylistic brio uniquely fitted to the combox.

  • digbydolben

    Rodak, to follow up on what Arturo wrote–and to support it, against what you’ve said in opposition to it: it is an acknowledged fact that, during the Dark Ages, the monastic institutions of the Catholic Church virtually saved civilization in Europe by preserving and duplicating Roman agricultural techniques and vintnaculture. Aldous Huxley, no fan of Church hierarchies, offers a superb account of how the Benedictines accomplished both this and the rescue of the peasantry from famine and disease, in Gray Eminence.

    In English history–and particularly in the Celtic parts of the British Isles and France–the monks were, until the Late Middle Ages, the best friends and protectors of the peasantry, giving them sanctuary from their aristocratic predators and teaching them what they would not otherwise have known about agriculture and animal husbandry. They most emphatically were NOT “worked to death” in the monastic establishments and the corruptions of the Late Middle Ages occurred only when the hierarchy and the Roman curia began to SELL abbeys and priories to aristocrats.

    And, still, the peasants were never so badly treated by the monks and nuns as they would be by the rising Tudor aristocracy, when they seized the land and evicted their tenants.

    Disraeli, the 19th century’s most brilliant British politician, mourns the destruction of the monasteries in terms that make him the founder, in British political history, of a type of “conservatism” unknown to American politics–“wet,” paternalistic (in the best sense) and Christian Toryism.

  • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

    Yes, I would have to exempt the monasteries, at least in part, due to the fact that they, by definition, represent an attempt to withdraw from society-at-large in order to live a more fully Christian life. That said, monasteries that became rich in a worldly sense–and I think there were some–still stand accused of…being rich in a worldly sense. It’s not as though the Protestant work ethic did not have good results, in a material sense; as American political conservatives are wont to remind us. But, it is hard to show, in either case, how holiness was an effective factor in the production of abundance. Or, how it was in the first instance, but not (as claimed) in the latter.
    As for the Church apart from the monasteries…

  • http://www.opinionatedcatholic.blogspot.com jh

    “Protestant work ethic”

    I actually think the Protestant work ethic is tad overblown. I mean it was not like the people of Louisiana when they were under French and Spanish control were just sitting around. A lot of stuff was going on.

    Further the fact that a lots of folks were able to get basically Free land forever seems part of the equation for success

  • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

    Either it carries the full strength of Satan and his minions and is responsible for all of American’s moral ills, or else it’s “overblown.”

    It’s all so confusing…

  • Alex

    Please don’t call Americanism in any way Calvinist.

    It is most assuredly not, though it may have been at one point or another.

    If the original Puritans toiled in the name of God and profit because this world was all they could count on, their god having already blessed or cursed them for all eternity, their decidedly less-toiling descendants feels that a moment of pretend gnosis is enough to assure salvation.

    It is not Christian, yes; but neither is it Calvinist.

  • digbydolben

    Alex and Rodak (and everybody else on this thread) should some day take a look at this book, by Harold Bloom:


    It is an extremely insightful analysis of the Gnosticism that Bloom calls “the American religion.” He demonstrates that that religion has little to do with orthodox Christianity, but that it indeed DID form as a mutation of Calvinism.

  • Alex

    Digbydolden brings up the book that formed most of my thinking on the whole matter. I am not, however, as sure as Bloom that the religion in question is properly Gnostic. It is, rather, a simplistic do-it-yourself mockery of the strange (and apparently heretical) postulates in the gospel of Thomas. A pretence.

  • Kiyoko Edridge

    Here’s a funny quote to make you smile :)

    If at first you do succeed try not to look astonished. :)