The late great Joe Sobran argued that modern American liberalism embraced abnormality as a replacement for the allegiance to international communism. The Soviet Empire was a murderous and nullifying creation, but the American Left simply ignored its reality and instead pretended it was the path to some glorious future. When reality made that impossible. The Hive was left without a queen and found a variety of causes like gay rights around which to organize.
Sobran was mostly right in his description of the post-Soviet Progressives, but I don’t think he truly appreciated the nature of the American Left. As he wrote in one of his columns, for him the Left was an odor, something he could sense, but not fully describe. He was not alone. The Right was just as warped as the Left by the defeat of Nazism and the subsequent Cold War. It was the lens through which everything was viewed for half a century.
The big mistake, I think, is to assume the American Left is just a traveling partner of the European Left. The Right has turned “socialist” into an epithet that has no meaning. Calling Obama a socialist or his health care scheme socialism is just a way to lodge a protest. The Right and the Left have embraced the basics of socialism for close to a century now. The debate is over how far to go with it. The last serious politician to advocate the end of Social Security, for example, was Barry Goldwater.
When Christianity failed as a unifying force for Europe, nationalism filled the void. “If all of us can’t be God’s people, well, maybe some of us can be God’s people” was what bound the people to each other and their rulers. When nationalism failed, various forms of socialism filled the void. Fascism, socialism and communism are European heresies, with communism as the first serious effort to unify Europe under a single religion since the Thirty Years War.
In America, what emerged after the Civil War was Public Protestantism mainly in New England and Private Protestantism in the rest of the country. The old Puritans had always believed that each person’s salvation was predetermined. What mattered was carrying out God’s work on earth. Put another way, you signaled your salvation status through public piety and working toward the perfection of society. That’s why New England has always been the hotbed of utopian lunacy.
Private Protestantism is the mirror opposite, starting with the status of one’s soul. Your garden variety Evangelical thinks the point of your life is to get right with Jesus in order to gain salvation. Since heaven on earth is not just an impossibility, but against the will of God, efforts to perfect society are pointless and possible evil. It’s why populism, individualism and a fetish for individual rights is dominant in the South, Appalachia and the Southwest.
Now, it is certainly true that Jews and European immigrants of the 19th and 20th century brought socialism, fascism and communism with them. These ideas found a home in the Yankee culture of Public Protestantism. The philosophy of Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler, for example, turns up in the Social Gospel movement of the early 20th century. Similarly, Reform Judaism of Abraham Geiger folded neatly into the American Progressive Movement, which has always been the technocratic arm of Public Protestantism.
The central defect the Puritans faced, the one they were never able to resolve, was that the human condition is immutable. They could kill as many Indians as they liked, but the nature of man was not going to change. Worse yet, Christianity was often at odds with utopian efforts to fix the world. In the 19th century Christianity, began to take a back seat to saving the world, but that created a new problem. If the purpose of God’s anointed is to save the world, what’s the point if there is no longer a God to do the anointing?
In the 20th century, Progressivism became Public Protestantism with a void at the core where God used to exist. Into that void first rushed an imaginary interpretation of Soviet Bolshevism that needed constant tending to avoid exposing the humanity crushing reality of it. Once that became impossible, what has rushed into the void is a series of vulgarities that serve no purpose other than to offend common sense. The God of the Left is now just the outrage of the decent.
It’s why the Left appears to be racing to the abyss. Today they clamor for what was unimaginable twenty years ago. That means twenty years from now they will be clamoring for what commonsense today says is beyond absurd. In 1995 gay marriage was a joke and today it is required. Today pedophilia is a monstrous taboo, but already the Left is clamoring to normalize it. The debate amongst Progressives is never about limits. It is about how far beyond the limits they can go.
The race to pile on society every imaginable indignity has its limits. Pop music performers, for example, tried to replace talent with outrageous behavior. Finally, there was no one left to outrage. The logic of the Progressive faith will follow the same path, but the end is the obliteration of society. Open borders fanaticism, for example, is just passing out the Kool-Aid at a national scale. One can’t help but wonder if Obama’s urge to give Iran the bomb does not include the hope that they use it.
It will not end well.