Minor Note: Exoteric Calvinism

Via TWiR I found Shylock Holmes’ excellent précis of Theodore Parker’s life and works.

If you enjoyed Holmes’ excavations into the murky origins of the progressives’ “arc of the moral universe” cliché, you must find time to read W.E. Channing’s sermon Unitarian Christianity (1819). It is an excellent encapsulation of the intellectual and theological errors of liberal Christianity (sic) and Channing’s conclusion demonstrates with unusual clarity how abruptly bad soteriology leads to the absurdities of Whig history.

On the other hand, I’m inclined to agree with the anonymous commenter who oh-so diplomatically notes, over on Holmes’ Parker post, that “[Moldbug’s] understanding of Church history has many lacunae”. In fact, let us word this a little more strongly: as intellectual history, the great merit of Moldbug’s Puritan Hypothesis is that it serves as a coordination point for philosemites who would rather not talk about some (((other))) unitarian sect and papists who would rather not talk about heretics in pretty dresses albs.

In particular, the hypothesis ignores:

  • that American Unitarianism was imported into Boston from Britain and was only very indirectly linked to indigenous New England Calvinism;
  • that Anglican Unitarianism itself grew out of Arminianism, which was rejected by the Dutch Calvinists at Dort in 1619 and was rejected with great violence by the English Calvinists shortly thereafter;
  • that the stereotype of “Puritan missionary fervor” which Moldbug triumphantly links to America’s fervor for imposing its principles on its satellites is, in any case, grounded in the missionary activities of conservative Calvinists who rejected Parker and Channing;
  • that the PA Quakers, not the MA Congregationalists, are to blame for most of the progressive themes in early US history, including universal suffrage, democracy, (hypocritical) pacifism, disestablishment of state churches, and abolitionism;
  • that the disestablishment of state churches did not undermine a de facto policy of Protestantism, and general cultural unity, until the establishment of urban immigrant enclaves;
  • and that the ethnic composition of Harvard in the last fifty years has had some intriguing religious dimensions, but not with respect to infiltration by the Eternal Calvinist.

The genesis of leftism truly is fascinating, but it’s almost impossible to study the history of ideas from an ideological perspective: I mean, to study it in order to advance the goals of a 21st-century ideology, be it left-wing or right-wing. You will not be able to enter into any of the details of our ancestors’ debates if you do not care about the issues animating them, and in the end you will fall back on that Manichaean worldview the Left loves (“these people advanced the progressive cause, those people fought against it”).

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7 thoughts on “Minor Note: Exoteric Calvinism

  1. I could not agree more. But watch out. If this valid observation is granted, then we need to nuance Moldbug’s entire reconstruction of Modernity. For any particular historical event, such as the American Revolution, we can note elements in what the various actors said and did that have echoes in our times, but we cannot focus on some particular element that is relevant to us as totalizing the character of the entire event. For example, “all men are created equal” has been badly abused by our contemporaries (like Obama), but it is very clear Jefferson just meant that there is no such thing as a hereditary aristocracy. (See his famous comment about men “booted and spurred.”) In America, that was certainly a true statement. The Declaration of Independence should be understood as a statement by Jefferson, Adams, etc. that they were a new elite who would govern America in the way they sought fit, regardless of whether Lord North had an aristocratic title.

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  2. Even Moldbug somewhere (??) admits that what he calls Universalism (or “Crypto-Calvinism”) is a strange admixture of Puritanism and Quakerism, and that pound for pound the Quakers have had more influence. I’ve tended to view Anglo-progressivism as a pathological artifact of low church polity in general, which is a feature shared with many Jesusy Communist Sex Cults pre- and post-Reformation.

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  3. I’m glad that there are voices in the reactionary world rejecting the Puritan Hypothesis. I’m fresh out of the cave, and the light is hurting my eyes.

    Anyway, just what I know about church history, I always felt uneasy about it. The link you pointed out between quakerism is unitarianism is important, because even in the reformation they had different roots. It’s important to distinguish between the “magisterial reformers” (Calvin, Luther, Beza, Cranmer) and the “radical reformation” which produced the peasants war, ranters and levellers, quakers and regicides. This is why anabaptists and the english baptists were ousted from the anglican church and the church of scotland. They came from the crazy traditions.

    I wonder how much of these problems in america came from the Moravians, because they were influenced by the quietism/ultra-piety which devolved into alot of craziness, and they didn’t come in mass numbers to America but they tended to be pretty influential in religious circles, and we wouldn’t have the barbarities of Methodism and the Second great Awakening without them. Modern vanilla evangelicalism is like their retarded grandchild.

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    1. Welcome to the sunlit world…

      I didn’t realize the Moravians were that influential – I thought they just kept to themselves. (And also I don’t know if there’s a Quaker > Unitarian connection per se – I assume not. Rather, the non-theological principles we associate with the Unitarians were originally, and quite skillfully, championed by the Quakers in the previous century, but the Quakers are still trinitarian.)

      But anyway, I think we agree on the basics – it’s important to understand the actually details of the theology before jumping into cladistic classifications.

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