On Puritans and Progs (July 2017 draft)

I probably will not find time to write anything particularly polished on the Crypto-Calvinist hypothesis in the next year. But this seems like an auspicious time to summarize my current thinking on the topic.

1. For clarity: to my mind the interesting historical question is about, roughly, the ideological origins of progressivism in the period 1400-1900. That progressivism has similarities to various sects of Christianity and differs from what would otherwise be called a religion mainly in that it claims to be secular, I grant. The Darwinian observation that progressivism is an example of a religion adapting to a legal environment which forbade the establishment of an official religion, I grant. I take these two theses to be the core of Moldbug’s original argument about “crypto-calvinism”; however, the thesis that some flavor of Christianity mutated into progressivism raises obvious questions about whether Christianity (or some denomination of it) is intrinsically vulnerable to becoming progressivism, or whether it primes faithful Christians in a way that leaves them defenseless against progressivism. (It also raises questions about which of the harmful elements of progressivism are present in its most recent theistic ancestor.)

2. The Christian sects/tendencies that progressivism has the most similarities with are Arminianism and Socianism. Both Arminianism and Socianism originate in the work of Desiderius Erasmus.

3. Erasmus was most active before the Reformation. He was always a proponent of little-r reform of the Church (he was also, if I recall correctly, a conciliarist), but he was ultimately loyal to the pope. His attacks on Luther became increasingly fanatical. — Erasmus’ doctrine of grace was unremarkable for Roman theology. Like the scholastic Thomists and, after them, the Jesuits (defending the doctrine of Molina), Erasmus de-emphasized grace in order to carve out a larger role for human free will in salvation than is strictly compatible with St. Paul’s epistles.

Erasmus’ approach to scriptural exegesis was unique, but in keeping with the general Roman dogma that the apostolic Church and its traditions govern which texts are to be considered divinely inspired (as opposed to the Protestant doctrine that Holy Scripture governs the Church). He combined this Roman attitude towards the supremacy of the Curia with a cavalier attitude towards what sort of leeway the Church might have, if it chose to redefine the canon. (E.g. I believe in one letter he refers to St. Paul’s epistles as “impostures”; I do not know whether this was connected to his theological views.) Erasmus was at one point the Church’s highest authority on the textual relationship between the Greek and the Vulgate.

4. As the Counter-Reformation swung into full gear, the works of Erasmus were placed on the Index and (Roman Catholic) Erasmians were forced to conceal their opinions. Erasmus was still widely read. (Why was Giordano Bruno originally forced to flee his Neapolitan monastery? Because he had been caught with a copy of Erasmus.) — As a result, when Erasmus’s theological opinions eventually resurface, they are typically associated his disciples rather than with his own name. E.g. Arminius revives the Erasmian doctrine of grace (“Arminianism”); Sozzini revives the Erasmian approach to exegesis (culminating in “Socianism”).

5. Good places for unpopular views are cities (anonymity in the crowd) and wilderness (anonymity in isolation). These were the places Erasmians fled; but Calvinism tended to do well in the same places. You may be familiar with HBD-sphere arguments to the effect that Calvinism is most attractive to clannish, rural populations; but it is also possible that Calvinism did well wherever its evangelists could easily evade the civil authorities. In the case of the Erasmian theologians, the numbers are so small, and their movements sufficiently easy to track, that we can be quite sure that they developed communities in Transylvania (Socianism) and the Low Countries (Arminianism) because they were fleeing persecution elsewhere.

6. Neither Protestantism in general nor Calvinism in particular had any affinity for, or felt any affection towards, Erasmus. Calvin had Socians burnt in Geneva, and Arminians expelled; the Dutch Church soundly rejected Arminianism and erupted in periodic waves of violence against Arminians (called “Remonstrants” in reference to the Remonstrance of Dort). The Anglican Church had Arminians in the episcopacy (Laud, for example, and possibly Bramhall), and it was in English “Puritanism” that Calvinism became most closely identified with opposition to Arminianism.

7. However, because the Socians and Arminians were located in the same countries as the orthodox Protestant denominations they came to share Protestant attitudes towards the papacy, and towards the Roman Inquisition in particular. (This was part of a general trend towards patriotic anti-papism in the Protestant countries.)

8. While the United Provinces did ultimately move to a more tolerant stance on Arminianism, the real about-face came in England. After the difficulties of the Civil War, Charles II had “learned his lesson”, and enforced a strict episcopal and liturgical policy. Unfortunately, he also had sympathies towards Catholics (and in particular towards his younger brother, the heir apparent), and began enforcing a general policy of toleration for the population at large while enforcing a hollow kind of conformity in the official clergy. To make matters worse, he (and his brother) shamelessly lied about the pro-Roman motive of the policy; the difficulty was that all the loyal aristocrats and writers (the strongest partisans of “throne and altar”) believed the lies, sometimes engaging in vitriolic pamphlet wars with the devout Protestants who called the bona fides of the Stuarts into question.

When the truth came out, Britain had the worst of both worlds: extremely high levels of official toleration and an ecclesiastical establishment which had been made to look ridiculous. This is the period when Socianism started to make inroads among the British elite and various other sects (notably, the Quakers) began to multiply.

9. Note, however, that deism and atheism began to spread rapidly in French society as well, without any intermediate turn to Socianism or other heterodoxies. By its violent repression not only of the Huguenots but also of the Jansenists (who had continued to defend the Augustinian position inside the Roman Church after Trent), a persecution often pressed forward by the silliest, most unedifying means imaginable, the French state rooted out sincere faith from the kingdom. The Gallican clergy was identified wholly with time-serving conformists; Christian ethics were identified with Jesuit casuistry; perfect obedience to the external forms of religion was paired with private blasphemy. —— For whatever reason, the French heresy did not bother pretending to be Christian at all, or to claim even a specious scriptural basis. The most parsimonious explanation of this: the French authorities tended to investigate offbeat religious opinions, no matter how sincere and well-meaning, as possible threats to public order, but were indifferent to discreet private atheism. But the general pattern of French atheist and anticlerical literature makes it seem possible that flat atheism was the path of least resistance for the French intellectuals. Rome insisted that Scripture and liturgy depended on its authority, the French increasingly considered their own clergy to be venal hypocrites; what could be more natural than for them to declare that if their priests were mendacious, they had no reason to take the Bible seriously?

I cannot resist quoting Paul Hazard here: Le dix-huitième siècle ne s’est pas contenté d’une Réforme ; ce qu’il a voulu abattre, c’est la Croix ; ce qu’il a voulu effacer, c’est l’idée d’une communication de Dieu à l’homme, d’une Révélation ; ce qu’il a voulu détruire, c’est une conception religieuse de la vie.

This is above all a diagnosis of the French situation. When Hume, invited to one of d’Holbach’s Parisian dinner parties, dismissed atheism with the comment that he had never met an atheist, he was informed that fifteen of the Frenchmen he was dining with were atheist, and the other three had not yet made up their minds.

10. Crypto-calvinism is, ostensibly, Christian ethical principles minus Christ. Did the philosophes have progressive principles? In a sense. What is most notable about the philosophes is their petty resentment of the great. Having no opportunity to practice statesmanship, deliberate, or pass judgement, they flooded France with pamphlets pretending to teach, advise, and judge their betters. They believed hierarchies and traditions existed solely due to inertia and self-seeking. Difference in status did not correspond to difference in talent, or at least not to difference in any valuable talent; the exception was in the literary world, where the work of superior minds (they thought) could not be kept hidden by machinations of the powerful. Need I add that this belief was tied to the assumption that natural talent was scattered more-or-less haphazardly, and that it could at any rate be brought forth in arbitrary quantities by proper education? In addition to this unshakeable petit bourgeois faith in the powers of education and professional training, they had a waspish attitude towards war and worship, the traditional pastimes of the aristocracy.

But these skeptics and atheists did not necessarily share any fixed dogma on whether the modern world could surpass the ancient; whether pleasure was preferable to temperance; whether man is wolf or lamb. All of the concrete content of modern progressive beliefs was absent at this point. The philosophes were pragmatists, above all. The extreme forms the mild prejudices of the French atheists foreshadowed were already present in one English sect, the Quakers; and the philosophes knew of the Quakers and purported to admire them, but were entirely out of sympathy with the fervent pietism of actual, flesh-and-blood Quakers.

10. However the French situation arose, England and France sank into an unhappy feedback loop; ever-more heterodox Socian and Arminian ideas could be openly published and systematically discussed in England, and would then be pushed in France by (implicitly) non-Christian, anticlerical propagandists.

Three notes:

  • At the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Jesuits were in general still adherents of Tycho Brahe’s modified geocentric model of the solar system; not exactly stiff competition for the philosophes.
  • In reading the légitimiste paeans to the superior quality of the post-Revolutionary Gallican clergy, bear in mind the implicit condemnation.
  • When an author has become so popular that the royal censor hides the proofs under his own roof, it is too late for a crackdown.

11. Unitarians are symbolically significant to Moldbug (and to others) because of their temporary control of Harvard (America’s synecdoche-in-chief) and their disproportionate representation in the Brahmin caste. The problem: like the Quakers (who are in every way a better “fit” for the progressive prototype), they were always very scarce on the ground, and dwindled to nothing once immigrants poured in.  Thus there was never any critical mass of Unitarians who could elect to “secularize” themselves in the way Moldbug’s adaptive theory seems to demand. Both the mass appeal of progressive movements and their most prominent propagandists can be traced to other demographics.

Nonetheless, there is something interesting about the way the first American Unitarian ministers took the logic of Pelagianism to its extreme point. They reduced religion to ethics; they reduced ethics to praiseworthiness, conditioned on personal potential (i.e., capacity to choose rightly); and they tied both this ethical duty and their evangelical duties as Christians to the continual conversion of more and more souls to true religion, i.e. to moral behavior, i.e. to the promotion moral behavior in others. It is very curious; it certainly sets off my antennae. But there are no grounds to attribute the subsequent triumph of progressivism to these Unitarians; nor is there anything about the emergence of progressive ideology that necessitates Unitarian influence (rather than some other left-leaning tendency).

One possibility is that the development of Arminian/Pelagian tendencies in British Socianism and Unitarianism was shared at least in potentia by other Pelagian strains in Christianity (let’s call them “para-Unitarians”). A particularly virulent strain struck Boston, and the patient never recovered; but other denominations infected with a less acute strain of the same virus gradually developed chronic symptoms.

12. There are many alternatives to para-Unitarians, however, as the original disseminators of progressive memes. In your grandfather’s day, a reactionary would invariably blame the Freemasons; in TCY the Masonic movement seems as extinct as the Flintstones, but it has all the traits the “Cryptocalvinist Hypothesis” claims to be looking for. The sect spread rapidly; a large part of the reason for its rapid spread was its claim to be non-religious in nature (forging cross-denominational social ties, escaping close scrutiny for religious orthodoxy); it undermined clerical authorities in ways that enhanced the influence of secular fraternities at the expense of the Church; despite its quasi-secular basis it has (well-documented, closely studied) roots in Christian mystical and hermetic traditions. Really, the only reason not to blame the Masons is because the only thing more old-fashioned than weekly meetings at the lodge is paranoid fantasies about what goes on at those meetings.

Jews are also a good candidate, of course. They would have to function more as a catalyst than anything else, since they don’t really proselytize (depending on how you classify socialism, psychoanalysis, and the singularity, to be sure), but the basic model would be: (1) jew emerges from ghetto; (2) jew goes shopping for new worldview which will be considered high-status in the gentile world, or otherwise useful; (3) jew acquires position in gentile world from which his new worldview infects others. This story is a good complement to “progressive Christianity” and “Masonry” as well, because he may want a doctrine that seems plausible for a religiously-indifferent jew to hold; he may also want an amphibian doctrine that he can pass off as a form of Rabbinical Judaism at Passover, but as wholly goyisch in the company of Fellow Europeans.

13. I still stand by a point I have made previously, namely that the attempt by minority sects (Methodists and Presbyterians in nineteenth-century England, Roman Catholics in America) to demand public impartiality between the minority and the majority can produce many of the tenets of progressivism de novo, but I have nothing useful to add to that hypothesis at this time.

[14. In the discussions that followed this post, a consensus emerged that ancient Stoicism  (some of whose doctrines were incidentally transmitted in the writings of the fathers of the Church, particularly those of the Alexandrian School; others of which were revived by Renaissance classicism) is actually a surprisingly good fit not just for the general outlines of progressivism, but some of its unique quirks as well. The Stoicism-progressivism parallel could be developed into either a hypothesis about memetic transmission (direct, or indirectly through Christianity), or about conceptual attractors, or about the sociological correlates of ideology (e.g., the parallels between elite ideology in the Greco-Roman imperial systems and Anglo-American elite ideology). Such an explanation would not, however, fit neatly into any inquiry that uses Church history (specifically, the history of the various Christian churches since the Reformation) to evaluate “the Puritan hypothesis” empirically — unless one accepted some controversial theory like that of Dilthey, who assigned to Renaissance Neo-Stoicism an important role in determining the subsequent direction of modern Christianity.]

Review for people who are forgetful and/or scroll directly to the bottom:

The tendencies in Christian religion which have the most affinity for progressivism are, pace Moldbug, not Calvinist or “Puritan” in origin. They are not even “Protestant” in any strict sense. They multiplied in late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth century England for incidental reasons; but France became infested with outright atheism in the same period, and the French apostasy fits the progressive profile better than the English heterodoxies. Anglo-American sects that show an unusually strong, and unusually early, resemblance to progressivism are difficult to connect to the ideological and political successes of progressivism. Such sects (e.g., Quakers and Unitarians) may display in exaggerated form a process of degeneration which other sects went through more gradually (and thus, more sustainably); the latter sects would then be in a position to act as prototypes of progressivism. The Freemasons fit the description of “precursor to crypto-calvinism” quite closely as well.

I don’t know if this brings me any closer to understanding the decline of our civilization or the nature of its greatest enemies, but I am now fairly confident that there is no latent progressivism lurking in the heart of Christianity. (The only systematic connection between theology and progressive tendencies I’ve discovered arises out of Pelagianism. Justification by faith is a fairly unique doctrine and this respect Pelagianism is merely reversion to the natural fantasies of the heathen world.)

48 thoughts on “On Puritans and Progs (July 2017 draft)

  1. Some thoughts:

    2A. Some context: a contemporary reader will typically understand the conflict between Arminianism and Calvinism as a question of, when an individual exercises his or her “free will” and choses to become a Christian, whether free will should be understood in a libertarian or compatibilist sense. Normative Western Christianity would view compatibilist free will as “good enough” to be morally praiseworthy or blameworthy, and is comfortable with the idea of monergism (God chooses us, we don’t choose him). People who are Arminians are very uncomfortable with the idea that God “makes them” be one thing or the other. There is a lot of Arminianism in American evangelicalism. Catholics do not use these terms, but there is a similar debate between Molinists (Jesuits) and Augustinians/Thomists. Rome has, for centuries, declined resolve this disagreement, even given the privileged position of Thomas Aquinas. You will hear a diluted version of Molinism from most American priests. The modern Orthodox seem to believe in libertarian freedom, but I have not read the Eastern fathers at sufficient depth to know whether this is true.

    2B. Socinianism is characterized by a denial of Christ’s divinity (Unitarianism) and a belief that true libertarian freedom requires that God not infallibly know future events, but only know the future as possibilities (currently called “open theism”). Open theism is popular among certain America evangelicals with theology degrees. Progressive evangelicals are all Arminians and may be open theists because they want to have a high standard of when an action is truly “free” and therefore praiseworthy or blameworthy. Therefore, people in “protected groups” are subject to a lower standard. Pope Francis does this too.

    3. Erasmus was part of a movement called “humanism.” To properly situate humanism within the Renaissance means understanding the birth of modernism. Jacob Taube characterized the early moderns (like Machiavelli) as having decided that, after a millennium of a civilization focused primarily on the afterlife, our attention should be focused on the here and now. So you get the Bacons speculating about airplanes and submarines.

    9. Towering over French culture in this period was the skepticism of Montaigne. Pascal’s Pensees are a direct reaction against this. Pascal’s Provincial Letters defends Jansenism against the Jesuits.

    12A. Some additional points about Freemasonry. This movement was absolutely ubiquitous in the 18th century. In addition to George Washington and many other American Founding Fathers, even Joseph de Maistre was a Mason! Well until the mid-20th century, Freemasonry in Catholic countries was typically anticlerical and atheistic. We know about the French Revolution, but how many people focus on the Mexican Revolution and the Cristero War? Plutarco Elias Calles was a Mason, not a Protestant, a Puritan, a Unitarian or a Quaker.

    12B. The ADL thinks even mentioning that Karl Marx or Herbert Marcuse was Jewish is a hate crime. Enough said!

    Much of the above is consistent with the idea that people who like progressivism might also like certain aspects of certain kinds of Christianity. Bottom line, progressivism is the child of modernity, of atheistic secular humanism, not Christianity. It may sound like Pat Buchanan, but it’s true.

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    1. 2A. To get into a discussion of grace in the comments box would be de trop, but fwiw the Thomist conception is closer to the Molinist, and the traditional debate on this point was between the Augustinians and the Thomists; Molina effectively renovated the Thomist position, just as Jansen renovated the Augustinian position (within the Roman tradition).

      I’m not sure whether analytic philosophy frames like “libertarian vs. compatibilist” are helpful… but yeah, it would be difficult to get into. Bottom line is, the will is depraved, grace first, you can’t merit grace.

      2B. Ugh, I didn’t know “open theism” was a thing. That is far more extreme even than Erasmus (who did allow that God had foreknowledge, but claimed he didn’t have any say in the matter). But it’s clear that that is the direction Socianism was pushing even in the 1820s… Channing’s absurd views on praiseworthiness require some kind of antinomy about causality and the human will.

      3. Erasmus was a humanist’s humanist, to be sure. But “modernism” is much later than 1500; “modern” didn’t even have a comparative sense at that time. The modern/middle ages split wasn’t made until 1561 or so

      9. Important to understand that the skepticism of Montaigne, Bayle, and even Descartes and yes, Pascal pointed towards fideism. You can argue about how sincere it was, but lack of certainty about one’s own opinions was (at that point) taken as reason to attach oneself to the authority of the Church.

      12a. I didn’t know de Maistre was a mason 🙂 Before or after the revolution?

      >Plutarco Elias Calles was a Mason, not a Protestant, a Puritan, a Unitarian or a Quaker.

      This gets at a broader point I only alluded to with the US/UK/France comparison: the US is a very cool country but not the entire world. You can’t understand the growth of unbelief in Spain, Italy, and Germany in terms specifically designed to understand Washington DC. More general trends like freemasonry and materialism which seem less striking in the US have more explanatory power in the bigger picture.

      >people who like progressivism might also like certain aspects of certain kinds of Christianity

      Possibly, but progressivism is *much* more recent than those kinds of Christianity. Thus the difficulty of figuring out what it is.


      1. De Maistre never stopped being a Mason Andréa always believed it was consistent with Roman Catholicism. See Isham’s book on de Maistre and Guenon.

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    2. >The modern Orthodox seem to believe in libertarian freedom, but I have not read the Eastern fathers at sufficient depth to know whether this is true.

      There was zero Augustinian influence in the East, thus Orthodox theology does not even recognize the doctrine Original Sin. Thus no depraved will, no satisfaction theory, no predestination, etc. etc.


      1. >I recently read a claim (by Charles Taylor) that Gregory of Nyssa took Eastern theology in many of the same directions that Augustinians took Western. Thoughts?

        Any similarities are skin deep. They use the same framework, but that is all. Of course, there are more nuanced interpretations of Augustine, but if we are talking the mainstream, Cappadocian Fathers are pretty much the opposite of Augustinians. Gregory of Nyssa is a typical Eastern thinker. His theory of atonement was standard Eastern one, in that Christ had to die not because of some legalistic reasons, but because in order to take up human nature upon Himself, He had to take up the whole of it, He needed to take it fully, He needed to be birthed, to suffer and die. Otherwise it would not have been complete. There’s certainly not even the faintest trace of predestination in Gregory’s theology, though I would not go as far to say (as some do) that he advocated the doctrine of apokastasis.

        According to him human nature is good:

        The language of Scripture therefore expresses it concisely by a comprehensive phrase, in saying that man was made in the image of God: for this is the same as to say that He made human nature participant in all good; for if the Deity is the fullness of good, and this is His image, then the image finds its resemblance to the Archetype in being filled with all good.

        He doesn’t appear to believe in man’s depravity, and places great emphasis on free will:

        Thus there is in us the principle of all excellence, all virtue and wisdom, and every higher thing that we conceive: but pre-eminent among all is the fact that we are free from necessity, and not in bondage to any natural power, but have decision in our own power as we please; for virtue is a voluntary thing, subject to no dominion: that which is the result of compulsion and force cannot be virtue.

        Indeed, he speaks of the Fall as almost being a good thing:

        […] in acertain way the sin that entered into the world was profitable for the life of man: for the human race would have remained in the pair of the first-formed, had not the fear of death impelled their nature to provide succession.

        He was very weird like that. He does however think that base instincts which serve animals so well in self-preservation are what leads humans to vice:

        These attributes, then, human nature took to itself from the side of the brutes; for those qualities with which brute life was armed for self-preservation, when transferred to human life, became passions; for the carnivorous animals are preserved by their anger, and those which breed largely by their love of pleasure; cowardice preserves the weak, fear that which is easily taken by more powerful animals, and greediness those of great bulk; and to miss anything that tends to pleasure is for the brutes a matter of pain. All these and the like affections entered man’s composition by reason of the animal mode of generation.
        Thus our love of pleasure took its beginning from our being made like to the irrational creation, and was increased by the transgressions of men, becoming the parent of so many varieties of sins arising from pleasure as we cannot find among the irrational animals. Thus the rising of anger in us is indeed akin to the impulse of the brutes; but it grows by the alliance of thought: for thence come malignity, envy, deceit, conspiracy, hypocrisy; all these are the result of the evil husbandry of the mind; for if the passion were divested of the aid it receives from thought, the anger that is left behind is short-lived and not sustained, like a bubble, perishing straightway as soon as it comes into being. Thus the greediness of swine introduces covetousness, and the high spirit of the horse becomes the origin of pride; and all the particular forms that proceed from the want of reason in brute nature become vice by the evil use of the mind.

        However he believes that right, as opposed to bad use of mind can make those same impulses lead to virtue instead of vice:

        So, likewise, on the contrary, if reason instead assumes sway over such emotions, each of them is transmuted to a form of virtue; for anger produces courage, terror caution, fear obedience, hatred aversion from vice, the power of love the desire for what is truly beautiful; high spirit in our character raises our thought above the passions, and keeps it from bondage to what is base; yea, the great Apostle, even, praises such a form of mental elevation when he bids us constantly to think those things that are above and so we find that every such motion, when elevated by loftiness of mind, is conformed to the beauty of the Divine image.

        He was a married man (back then married men could still become bishops), but later became an anti-natalist (in contrast to his earlier comments on the Fall, what happened to cause this shift in opinion we don’t know, possibly grief caused by the loss of loved ones?):

        As at our physical birth there comes into the world with us a potentiality of being again turned to dust, plainly the Spirit also imparts a life-giving potentiality to the children begotten by Himself. What lesson, then, results from these remarks? This: that we should wean ourselves from this life in the flesh, which has an inevitable follower, death; and that we should search for a manner of life which does not bring death in its train. Now the life of Virginity is such a life. We will add a few other things to show how true this is. Every one knows that the propagation of mortal frames is the work which the intercourse of the sexes has to do; whereas for those who are joined to the Spirit, life and immortality instead of children are produced by this latter intercourse; and the words of the Apostle beautifully suit their case, for the joyful mother of such children as these shall be saved in child-bearing ; as the Psalmist in his divine songs thankfully cries, He makes the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children. Truly a joyful mother is the virgin mother who by the operation of the Spirit conceives the deathless children, and who is called by the Prophet barren because of her modesty only. This life, then, which is stronger than the power of death, is, to those who think, the preferable one. The physical bringing of children into the world— I speak without wishing to offend— is as much a starting-point of death as of life; because from the moment of birth the process of dying commences.
        If you do not throw into the fire wood, or straw, or grass, or something that it can consume, it has not the force to last by itself; so the power of death cannot go on working, if marriage does not supply it with material and prepare victims for this executioner. If you have any doubts left, consider the actual names of those afflictions which death brings upon mankind, and which were detailed in the first part of this discourse. Whence do they get their meaning? Widowhood, orphanhood, loss of children, could they be a subject for grief, if marriage did not precede? Nay, all the dearly-prized blisses, and transports, and comforts of marriage end in these agonies of grief. The hilt of a sword is smooth and handy, and polished and glittering outside; it seems to grow to the outline of the hand ; but the other part is steel and the instrument of death, formidable to look at, more formidable still to come across. Such a thing is marriage. It offers for the grasp of the senses a smooth surface of delights, like a hilt of rare polish and beautiful workmanship; but when a man has taken it up and has got it into his hands, he finds the pain that has been wedded to it is in his hands as well; and it becomes to him the worker of mourning and of loss. It is marriage that has the heartrending spectacles to show of children left desolate in the tenderness of their years, a mere prey to the powerful, yet smiling often at their misfortune from ignorance of coming woes. What is the cause of widowhood but marriage? And retirement from this would bring with it an immunity from the whole burden of these sad taxes on our hearts.

        His is not a gnostic’s distrust of marriage, but something clearly born of sorrow (he appears to almost envy the monastics):

        Would indeed that some profit might come to myself from this effort! I should have undertaken this labour with the greater readiness, if I could have hope of sharing, according to the Scripture, in the fruits of the plough and the threshing-floor; the toil would then have been a pleasure. As it is, this my knowledge of the beauty of virginity is in some sort vain and useless to me, just as the grain is to the muzzled ox that treads the floor, or the water that streams from the precipice to a thirsty man when he cannot reach it. Happy they who have still the power of choosing the better way, and have not debarred themselves from it by engagements of the secular life, as we have, whom a gulf now divides from glorious virginity: no one can climb up to that who has once planted his foot upon the secular life. We are but spectators of others’ blessings and witnesses to the happiness of another class. Even if we strike out some fitting thoughts about virginity, we shall not be better than the cooks and scullions who provide sweet luxuries for the tables of the rich, without having any portion themselves in what they prepare. What a blessing if it had been otherwise, if we had not to learn the good by after-regrets! Now they are the enviable ones, they succeed even beyond their prayers and their desires, who have not put out of their power the enjoyment of these delights. We are like those who have a wealthy society with which to compare their own poverty, and so are all the more vexed and discontented with their present lot. The more exactly we understand the riches of virginity, the more we must bewail the other life; for we realize by this contrast with better things, how poor it is. I do not speak only of the future rewards in store for those who have lived thus excellently, but those rewards also which they have while alive here; for if any one would make up his mind to measure exactly the difference between the two courses, he would find it nearly as great as that between heaven and earth.

        But apart from his worldview becoming more tragic, it does not appear that his views have changed otherwise.

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      2. Interesting, thanks for the extensive reply.

        This sounds like Augustine:

        >Thus there is in us the principle of all excellence, all virtue and wisdom, and every higher thing that we conceive

        God is “interior intimo meo et superior summo meo”. Now, the emphases on freedom from bondage in that passage sound un-Augustinian, but remember that Augustine thinks it is _our will that deliberately and perversely turns away from the good_, not a defective vision that limits our access to the good. And Nyssa’s account of bestial pleasures is exactly the sort of predetermination of the will that might cause that perversity.

        It’s interesting that he has a “fortunate fall”, I thought Milton was one of the earlier widely-respected versions of that. It’s also intriguing that Nyssa’s two most “prog” ideas in these excerpts – the fortunate fall and the anti-natalism – both sound very closely linked to the Stoic conception of Providence.


    3. I should update with a revision of my reply to 2a: I have been convinced (by Theso from twitter) that St. Thomas himself was probably an Augustinian wrt grace (as were many other early scholastics). Nonetheless it is still the case that 1-2 generations later, “Thomists” (anti-Scotists) were pushing an anti-Augustinian soteriology. (This may have been because on other important questions, first among them divine voluntarism, the Scotus/Thomas disagreement broke down on Augustinian/anti-Augustinian lines.) Maybe in the future I should say “Dominican Thomists” or something to be more clear but no one else does so it’s probably pointless.


  2. And we didn’t mention Germany at all. Modern historical critical study of the Bible was invited at Tubingen in the 18th century and greatly reinforced the convictions of the deists. Since then, the number one reason religious people give not to do what is the Bible is this scholarship, now available at a university near you!


    1. I didn’t mention Germany because reasons. The lower criticism definitely has roots in Lutheran theology (as well as in Renaissance Humanism, of course); the higher criticism is more complicated and I didn’t want to go into. To some extent it’s just French atheism dressed up for German censors, to some extent it’s a wholly new phenomenon related to local conditions, the Goettingen School, etc. Is the lower criticism enough to get you pozzed without the freeform fantasias of the higher criticism? Debatable.


  3. “I am now fairly confident that there is no latent progressivism lurking in the heart of Christianity.”

    Or to put it for our Social Matter friends, if it is there, it isn’t PROTESTANTISM that causes it.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. The very fact that after the Three Henrys in France and then eventually after the treaty of Westfalia (1648, an accomplishment of two French Catholic cardinals) both Catholicism and Protestantism existed in parallel might have made some minds switch from trying to determine which one is true to thinking that none is true.
        (As a Papist, I will not agree with your statement above, but, indeed, we should not pull feathers.
        As for Jesuits, they are children of the 16th century, of Nicky Machiavelli. It is an omen for us Catholics have the most horrible Pope in centuries in the person of a Jesuit).

        Liked by 1 person

      2. >… might have made some minds switch from trying to determine which one is true to thinking that none is true.

        What was particularly difficult for them to bear, imho, was not the coexistence of varieties (there was already the Eastern Church, the Mohammedans…) but the scandal into which the Church brought itself by having the most pious and most learned continually on the “wrong” side.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s important to distinguish between two hypotheses:

      (1) Progressivism is somehow a specifically jewish ideology (in the cladistic sense)

      (2) Jewish power provides a better explanation for the accelerating dysfunction of modern society than progressive ideology does

      Obviously there are many differences between these, but one key difference is that a “powerful, self-interested minority” story where the Holocaust is retroactively magnified for ideological purposes can’t explain changes that were already underway before the 1930s (and may have difficulty explaining changes that were underway in the immediate postwar period, before the cult was built up).


    1. Yup, pretty much. It’s a dirty little secret because even traditionalists who despise poz are fond of Stoicism; it’s basically the civic heritage of the West, the glory that was Rome. Even grim reactionaries who are willing to hurl abuse on Socrates fawn over Seneca.

      Nonetheless Stoicism in itself doesn’t quite explain it because (a) while there are many striking (and rare, if you take the synoptic view: cosmopolitanism above all) Stoic doctrines in Progressivism, there are also many points of complete opposition; (b) medieval thought was always laden with Stoic concepts, even before you got to peak-Stoicism in the Ren.


    2. How can you reconcile that statement with the fact that many early protestant sects were crazy commies (Diggers, Münster Rebellion, etc.)? I does not appear that Stoicism influenced much of anything save Eastern monasticism.


      1. The point was that I don’t see significant influence of Stocism vis–à–vis Protestantism on development of Progressivism. But even so, Medieval philosophy was firmly Aristotelian in the West, whereas in the East it was, in contrast, very Stoic (you won’t find any deliberations on substances and accidents there). And Renaissance philosophy? Was Neostoicism really more influential than Platonism? It’s probably insignificant next to Platonism! And even then there is far less temporal (and so probably cladistic) distance between Renaissance and Progressivism, than between Protestantism and Progressivism. Weren’t the Great War era Progressives (the founders of what is to grow into contemporary Progressivism) basically all Protestants who used Christian symbolism and eschatological lingo?


      2. I think the point at issue was that Stoicism is a better explanation for the key features of Progressivism as an *alternative* to Protestantism.

        >Was Neostoicism really more influential than Platonism?

        tolle lege, my friend… do you need reading recommendations?


      3. Makes sense since those were Latin texts. But didn’t Renaissance witness the revival of Greek scholarship in the West, esp. Plato? I mean they even had Platonic Academy in Florence…


      4. Sort of, but it’s complicated. The old “Greek scholars fleeing the collapse of Byzantium” story was always a proto-prog exaggeration. The return to Greek scholarship was a minor part of the story, and much more noticeable in the production of new *editions* of the Latin texts of the Greek classics, including Giuti’s Aristotle (1530?) and, of course, Erasmus’ New Testament. The bigger story was a return to Latin as a living, literary language, as opposed to the crabbed Latinate jargon of scholasticism, which went hand-in-hand with the revival (and rediscovery) of the Latin classics. And an important part of this was reading the texts in the original, and reading multiple texts by the same author, rather than in summaries/epitomes…

        Liked by 2 people

    3. So then, how to explain the existence of Circumcellions (already back in 4th century)? I don’t think it’s hard to corrupt Christianity into Progressivism on its own merits, without the need to dubiously blame it some outside influences. Protestantism unleashed freedom of interpretation, and when every individual is free to interpret as he wishes, it’s not hard to imagine people arriving at all sorts of conclusions.

      >tolle lege, my friend… do you need reading recommendations?

      Don’t ask. Tell, if you have some that you think would convince me of point you are trying to make. ‘Cause I just can’t see it.


      1. >‘Cause I just can’t see it.

        Just a note to avoid misunderstanding. It’s not that I can’t see being convinced, I can’t see (currently) how Neostoicism was more influential than Platonism.


  4. A few comments.

    Claim 1 about Moldbug argument is misstated or at least, incomplete.

    The leading authority on this is, well, Reactionary Future. Also see his more recent work with Patron Theory.


    “but I am now fairly confident that there is no latent progressivism lurking in the heart of Christianity.”

    Your evidence does not support this conclusion.

    At the very least, you would need to take on the arguments for the claim at their strongest.

    One person to wrestle with is, of course, Nietzsche.

    A more recent argument is one made by TUJ and his claim about Comte. Comte, unsurprisingly, modeled his system on Catholicism.

    However, part of the problem is looking at ideological systems in a Platonic sense, as if they had some perfect form or fixed essence. Christianity and Progressive are subject, like genes, to selection pressures and will evolve.

    Thus, you overall conclusion can still be “right” – “Christianity” is not to blame because no one is really to “blame”.

    In a way, it is a “natural evil” as opposed to a moral evil.

    Although, if anyone deserves blame, alas, it would be Constantine:



    1. >One person to wrestle with is, of course, Nietzsche.

      I don’t take the slave-morality doctrine and the “crypto-calvinist hypothesis” to be the same thing… they have an area of common overlap (which I accept) but they’re quite different in their most distinctive features

      >However, part of the problem is looking at ideological systems in a Platonic sense, as if they had some perfect form or fixed essence. Christianity and Progressive are subject, like genes, to selection pressures and will evolve.

      Have you read Darwinian Reactionary’s stuff? Essential vs. accidental is the wrong frame.


      1. 1: Of course, but the features that MM is describing is very similar to what Nietzsche was complaining about. Nietzsche’s contrast between Master Morality and Slave Morality is close to Optimate and Brahmin views.

        The key point, regarding your claims, really is genealogy. Nietzsche is pointing to the distinction between “priest” values and “warrior” or “Aristocratic” values.

        2: Have done.


  5. The problem with Gallicanism and the position of France versus Rome is related with the permanent obsession of the Valois (since Charles VIII) and Bourbon kings to re-establish the political and intellectual supremacy that France held in Europe from Bouvines (1214) to Crecy (1346), due to her strength, but also due to weak England and Holy Roman Empire.
    With the Habsburgs holding Spain, (southern) Netherlands, Austria, Bohemia, Milan, Naples, Sicily, this position was heavily compromised. France became an ally of the Sublime Porte. France supported Protestantism externally (the not-so-religious Thirty Years’ War won by France though mostly waged by proxies). And finally, France had less influence on the Popes of the late 16th and the 17th century than the Habsburgs. Urban VIII, the long-reigning pope of the Thirty Years’ War was one of the exceptions (perhaps fatal for the Habsburg ambitions to win the war).
    The “realist” policy of Catherine Medici and Henry III, the lack of major French contribution to Tridentine Council (apart from Cardinal Guise), the failure of the Catholic League led the Guise family to prevent the succession of Henry IV, the attemps of the French kings to control the choice of bishops and other ecclesiastical officials, the failure of Mazarin to throw a veto against Cardinal Pamphilj in the quick conclave that chose him as the successor of Urban VIII which makes another Spanish guy in Rome… All seems to make an ambitious clergyman, a faithful servant of the King not so much emotionally attached to the distant Court of Rome. Make a priest a servant of the King, otherwise je could be a Spanish sleeper agent!
    Bossuet was a good orator, Vincent de Paul was a great Saint, but there was no person like St Ambrose. Not a fraticello SJW, not a conformist.
    Private apostasy can be tolerated, provided that it is an exception.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. >Bossuet was a good orator, Vincent de Paul was a great Saint, but there was no person like St Ambrose. Not a fraticello SJW, not a conformist.

      Well, there was François de Fénelon. Sure he was a bit of universalist cosmopolitan, but he was merely channeling Maximus the Confessor (and was rather mild in comparison).


      1. Fénelon was a quietist.

        The tragedy of the Gallican Church, post-1640, was really that all of its talent was drawn into its Jansenist wing and promptly subjected to suppression by Rome, at the bidding of Paris.


      2. Quietism is an official dogma in the East. Fénelon, Meister Eckhart, John Eriugena, and other “Eastern” Westerners were controversial in the West, but I think the Western opposition to mysticism was a gross error. Insistence on “utilitarianism” over “contemplationism” played a large, but often ignored, role in killing the faith methinks. I reckon things like “God became man so that we might become God” still sound very blasphemous to the Western ear…

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Perhaps already brought up by other commentators, but…

    You can’t just count Unitarian and Quaker noses. Your model seems to be: Just not enough of them around in high enough places. Not the right model. The model is virality. Ideas. Memes. The Shakers literally autogenocided themselves and the name is today synonymous with wholesome, and extremely expensive, craft furniture—high degree of “holiness”. Not one Brahmin in 10 doesn’t know the tune and words of ‘Tis a Gift to Be Simple. It’s a recurring theme on PBS ferheavnssakes.

    Unitarians are, of course, small in number, but I’d put their average IQ at least 115. They fight well above their weight class. They are a vanguard. What unitarians believe today, all mainline protestants will believe in 20-30 years. (And “mainline” Catholics will torture Catholic teaching to pretend it’s possible to believe it.) Progressivism isn’t a proper institution established through property and power, and thus noticeable noses. It’s a complex tapestry—of often dubious coherence—of influential ideas. You only need one guy to have an influential idea (like Marx or Wilberforce). That can get grafted on to the ruling class memeplex, modifying some bits of it, casting off others.

    E.g., Progs are not terribly enthusiastic about eugenics these days. But it’s undeniable that Margaret Sanger and Hillary Clinton have the same species of mental worm.

    The overwhelming influence of unitarian and quaker ideas seems self-evident… even if the actors “responsible” for the spread of the disease are hard to pinpoint.

    That is not to take anything away from your rich and rewarding exploration into the role of France in this ideological history.

    Fantastic piece overall!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your high opinion; the post is very unpolished in places, some of which you have placed your finger on directly. My only apology can be that I hope you will, in the end, like the other things I need time to write even better…

      >Not the right model. The model is virality. Ideas. Memes.

      I agree, 100%. That is the whole point of cladistic analysis rather than morphological or some other kind of analysis of ideas; to trace the vectors of infection.

      As such, it is important to actually trace the lines of descent, or at least plausible lineages (where the gaps in the cladogram are inevitable), rather than spitballing superficially “neat” resemblances. And the bottom line is that the immediate sources of circa-1920s progressivism are too well-established; they can be traced back to forms in the 1880s-1890s, which can in turn be traced back to the First International and other unseemly dens of apostasy. Unitarianism/Puritanism’s “turn to secularism” takes place too late, and in the wrong countries and the wrong social milieux, to play the role of Patient Zero.

      Now, to substantiate this we have to do some cross-comparison of various hypotheses. For example, are the Unitarians a better or a worse candidate than straight Methodism? Than Quakers? Etc. etc. This involves asking questions that would be irrelevant if we had a 100% certain cladistic identification in hand; for example, questions about unique or counterintuitive points of doctrine, questions about scope, status, and rate of spread.

      >The overwhelming influence of unitarian and quaker ideas seems self-evident…

      Doctors said the same thing about amyl nitrates and AIDS once; it turned out that the correlation was real but misleading as an etiology of the disease.

      I agree with you that the coincidence between progressive ideas and Quaker ideas (as enshrined, irrefutably, in the state constitution of PA and other governing documents) is extremely suspicious. But the Quakers were disappearing! So on the cladistic model, we need to either identify the survival of some nucleus of Quakerism through to a point where a derived form began to spread contagiously, or we need to show that even as Official Quakerism and Hinckleyite-Quakerism were disappearing, some modified form, Quakerism-Prime, which wasn’t calling itself Quakerism, was multiplying rapidly.

      If we can’t do that, there are other alternatives: (a) the cladistic model is a misleading approach to explaining the similarities between the Quakers and modern-day QOG, or (b) progressives and Quakers are related in a complex, indirect way (and possibly via a most recent common ancestor which did not exhibit their common mutations).

      -B- is a live possibility because we know of similar cases in other fields: obscure madmen who published pamphlets that fell dead from the presses, never influenced a soul, only to be later dug up by historians who saw that obscure lunatic’s delusion was later re-invented by a more successful denomination a century or two later.

      And wrt -A-, it’s worth remembering that cladistic analysis makes very strong assumptions about worldviews/ideologies and how they are lived and spread. I imagine you can see that I treat cladistics as a very powerful tool, even if in reality you never get conditions which perfectly justify its use; but one must be open to the possibility that in the end, certain questions posed in terms of cladistics won’t have good answers because we don’t have exact models for the type of heredity/transmission in question (yet).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. >-B- is a live possibility because we know of similar cases in other fields: obscure madmen who published pamphlets that fell dead from the presses, never influenced a soul, only to be later dug up by historians who saw that obscure lunatic’s delusion was later re-invented by a more successful denomination a century or two later.

        Exactly! What needs to be taken into account is political expediency. Even though I significantly (and that is a weak word to use) disagree with “Neoabsolutists” and have nothing but disdain for their monomania (they view people as mindless, passive tools without any beliefs or convictions of their own acting deterministically solely according to the structural organization of society), they are partly right. If Quaker and Unitarian beliefs weren’t around, it’s likely Cathedral would’ve taken up whatever else was lying around and was politically expedient.


      2. I think you’re missing the full scope of the “Cryptocalvinism” theory, though: it’s not about a tool the Cathedral used, it’s about what the Cathedral *is*. The interest of crypto-calvinism is mainly contingent on how it fits into Moldbug’s larger theory of progressivism: Cthulhu, AIAC, the Cathedral, RvB, the whole spiel.


  7. Calvinists are not Unitarians. Moldbug argued their is a direct intellectual line from Cotton Mather to George McGovern. He’s wrong. Harvard was co-opted. Lots of institution have been co-opted, the Vatican, the Boy Scouts, etc. etc. We need to put this idea to bed.

    On Nietzsche, the problem is you cannot base anything on the impulse of strength, because that is a temporary phenomenon of youth. We are all born weak infants and die weak elderly. The philosophy of “will to power” does not reflect human experience. Even Nietzsche did insane and alone.


  8. From Spengler via P.T. Carlo’s article at Thermidor:

    “WESTERN mankind, without exception, is under the influence of an immense optical illusion. Everyone demands something of the rest. We say “thou shalt” in the conviction that so-and-so in fact will, can and must be changed or fashioned or arranged conformably to the order, and our belief both in the efficacy of, and in our title to give, such orders is unshakable. That, and nothing short of it, is, for us, morale. In the ethics of the West everything is direction, claim to power, will to affect the distant. Here Luther is completely at one with Nietzsche, Popes with Darwinians, Socialists with Jesuits; for one and all, the beginning of morale is a claim to general and permanent validity.”

    “The moral imperative as the form of morale is Faustian and only Faustian. It is quite wrong to associate Christianity with the moral imperative. It was not Christianity that transformed Faustian man, but Faustian man who transformed Christianity—and he not only made it a new religion but also gave it a new moral direction. The “it” became “I,” the passion-charged centre of the world, the foundation of the great Sacrament of personal contrition. Will-to-power even in ethics, the passionate striving to set up a proper morale as a universal truth, and to enforce it upon humanity, to reinterpret or overcome or destroy everything otherwise constituted—nothing is more characteristically our own than this is.”

    The problem is Faustian civilization. Therefore it is bigger and badder than we thought.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I saw that quotation. It’s a little hard to know what to make of it, given the very source of “Thou shalt”. In one sense it is true and banal (that the original Christian “Thou shalt” took into account the possibility that many would not do what they ought to do), and in another sense it is interesting but false.


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