The progressive movement in America was born in a renewed white supremacy based on “elite science” and maudlin literature. Woodrow Willson, president of Princeton and of the United States, was the political leader. Thomas Dixon was a central propagandist.
Dixon left Evangelicalism because for all its problems, evangelicalism could not, quite, abandon her Black brothers and sisters.** Of course many did, God forgive them, but the Bible nagged. It was the racialists that had left the good old book behind or given the text a modernist twist that could argue that the favored race (the white race) must drive the others to the wall. After all, this was science. The secularists of New York gave my childhood friend a lobotomy for being Black, not the holy rollers down the street.
The holly rollers? They were, by the way, integrated. Dixon had a brother who was no hero on issues of race, but would not be what his brother was. Why? One Dixon kept to the old book, the other went with Princeton and Woodrow Wilson.
Thomas Dixon knew how to turn a profit on scientific racism, especially when he combined it with bad Biblical exegesis. If he had to embrace the Confederacy, then he would. After all, the Evangelical churches in New England and the Midwest were not so hungry for psychological support, having sided with emancipation against the Union.
Dixon knew that the mainstream of the traditional church (those immigrant Catholics and Orthodox) were not an easy market for maudlin thrills. He knew that an RA Torrey had too much Yale to change the Gospel for his full blown white supremacy. After all, his own brother would not go so far as he would, given that pesky Bible. Just like social media today, extreme, ugly positions, especially those with a scientific wash, sold and Thomas Dixon wanted cash. He got it by writing novels and making films (Birth of a Nation) that set the nation back one hundred years. Ask scholars put it:
He exhibited the moral certainty characteristic of evangelicals. But he combined it with the reform ambitions and ecumenical sensibilities of the Social Gospel movement. Dixon’s taste for the posh life did little to erode his disposition toward moral absolutism. Far from it. Dixon may have left the pulpit, but he had no intention to stop preaching. He remained deeply committed to his moral precepts as a writer and lecturer. “No man,” he warned, “can write the truth and not preach.” This impulse in turn helped to fuel his unquenchable ambition to influence the public opinion of his day.*
And so here is a warning. Nothing is so dangerous as maudlin popular entertainment combined with establishment approval. Dixon was “click bait” in his era, cruder than the Princeton or other Ivy College establishments ever would be, but they liked him. Woodrow Wilson loved him. Get the government, university, and popular entertainment together and no cause is so good that it cannot be corrupted. Dixon favored many (good) progressive causes. He is famous for his racism.
Of course, reactionaries, Southern unreconstructed rebels also liked his work. Too many Evangelical made excuses and embraced white supremacy, but many hesitated, too little, but they hesitated. Why? The Bible told them so. No praise for them, they compromised too much, too often.
Yet “the other side” from the fundamentalist Dixon brother did worse. The progressive, listen to science and change with the times, Dixon sibling sided with Wilson and not justice.
Though the smart people did not see it at the time. The big bold “art” made by the establishment, combined with religion that agrees with the spirit of the age, that is approved by corporations and both parties is almost surely antichrist.
Let us attend.
*Gillespie, Michele, K.. Thomas Dixon Jr. and the Birth of Modern America (Making the Modern South) (p. 29). Louisiana State University Press. Kindle Edition.
**Any “traditional” church that tolerates white supremacy is just as evil without any intellectual excuse.