My article, Caught Up in The Rapture,” was just reprinted on the SOLO HQ website. The article was written in June, and it appears in the August-September issue of The Free Radical. In many ways, it is a sequel to my recent essay, “Bush Wins!,” providing a kind of sociological underpinning for my view that a Bush victory is more than likely.
Because the articles were written for a magazine that has its share of libertarian and Ayn Rand-influenced readers, I think I should provide a bit of context for the most recent essay. As readers are no doubt aware, I’ve been very critical of “Objectivists,” who have lent their support to the war in Iraq; I believe that too many have turned their backs on Ayn Rand’s radical legacy. As I have stated, those Objectivists who have supported (wittingly or unwittingly) the neoconservative “nation-building” agenda are undermining Rand’s profoundly important critique of the welfare-warfare state in general and US domestic and foreign policy in particular, bolstering the efforts of established power elites.
With regard to the Iraq war, however, Leonard Peikoff, Ayn Rand’s legal heir, had actually hoped that both the Clinton and Bush administrations would have invaded Iran first. Peikoff still believes, apparently, that the invasion of a “secular” state, Iraq, was the wrong war to start. Ironically, though, he argues, as do I, that there are many things wrong with the current administration, which derives much of its support from Christian fundamentalists.
Almost simultaneously with the publication of my Free Radical essay, Capitalism Magazine posts a link to a recent lecture of Peikoff’s, which points to the same trends that I have written about extensively in the piece that appears today. But there are differences between the Peikoff and Sciabarra perspectives. Peikoff argues that the President’s fundamentalist base is leading an assault on American culture. (He recommends a number of essays critiquing Bush’s fundamentalism, including John Lewis’s article “The Threat of a Faith-Based Defense of America.”) Peikoff is so profoundly against Bush that he believes that “not even Hillary Clinton as President would be a threat at this juncture, not a threat to the very foundations and even existence of the United States” that Bush represents.
On the surface, says Peikoff, Bush is “basically interchangeable with Kerry,” but the “big difference is this: … Bush is working to achieve a massive entrenchment of fundamentalism into our government and political system. Kerry has no such agenda. … Anyone who grasps philosophy,” Peikoff asserts, should support Kerry, rather than the “God, faith, sacrifice, statism” of the Bush administration. For Peikoff, Bush has become an “advocate” for a “Puritan theocracy” (a point made by Arthur Silber at his Light of Reason blog for months). Peikoff asks: “Now, if this goes on for even four more years, how long do you think intellectual freedom and freedom of speech can last?” He continues: “I don’t think there’s the least moral justification for sitting the election out on the grounds that, well, both of them are no good. … That is a total immoral evasion. … One [Kerry] is normally, disgustingly bad. And the other [Bush] is apocalyptic bad…”
Alas, I don’t think it is an “immoral evasion” to sit this election out; I think Bush is going to win the election, as I wrote here, and that the fundamentalist impact on American culture and politics assures that victory, especially if that voting bloc comes out in full force for its candidate. But even if Bush loses, I don’t believe there is any fundamental (no pun intended) difference between the candidates with regard to the Iraq war, which has now been institutionalized. Both are ardent supporters of the welfare-warfare state, and thus far their engagement with one another constitutes a “nondebate.”
That said, I do believe that the fundamentalist upsurge is profoundly affecting American culture and politics. As I write in “Caught Up in The Rapture”:
Religion has been an omnipresent factor in American political culture. As Murray Rothbard has argued, ethnoreligious conflict has long impacted on the ebb and flow of American politics, influencing even the shape of political parties. In his essay, “The Progressive Era and the Family,” Rothbard wrote that the battle between pietist and liturgical Christians was often at the heart of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century political controversies. The pietist doctrine essentially rejected the “creeds of various churches or sects” and any “obedience to the rituals or liturgies of the particular church.” For the pietist, the experience of being “born again” is paramount; it is a “direct confrontation between the individual and God, a mystical and emotional conversion in which the individual achieves salvation.” Pietists, especially of the evangelical variety, were deeply dedicated to the belief that “[s]ince each individual is alone to wrestle with problems of sin and salvation, without creed or ritual of the church to sustain him, the evangelical duty must therefore be to use the state, the social arm of the integrated Christian community, to stamp out temptation and occasions for sin. … In particular, sin was any and all forms of contact with liquor, and doing anything except praying and going to church on Sunday. Any forms of gambling, dancing, theater, reading of novels—in short, secular enjoyment of any kind—were considered sinful. … Evangelical pietism particularly appealed to, and therefore took root among, the “Yankees,” i.e., that cultural group that originated in (especially rural) New England and emigrated widely to populate northern and western New York, northern Ohio, northern Indiana, and northern Illinois. The Yankees were natural “cultural imperialists,” people who were wont to impose their values and morality on other groups; as such, they took quite naturally to imposing their form of pietism through whatever means were available, including the use of the coercive power of the state.”
Over time, the political parties reflected the split between pietists and liturgicals. Whereas the more laissez-faire oriented, nineteenth-century Democratic Party attracted liturgical voting blocs, Whig and Republican voters were predominantly evangelical pietists, making war on liquor, immigration (especially Catholic immigration), and private, parochial schools. The pietists were the driving force in the state establishment of public schools as a means to impose civic virtue. The Republican Party was soon constituted by both pietist social reformers, who advocated government intervention to impose evangelical values, and business interests who advocated government intervention to impose federal regulation on unruly states, as well as tariffs, land grants, and subsidies. The pietist-business alliance was mutually reinforcing; it spurred a Progressive movement—generally dating from the end of the nineteenth century till the outbreak of World War I—which united industrialists, scientists, social workers, academics, and technocrats, in an attempt “to control the material and sexual choices of the rest of the American people, their drinking habits, and their recreational preferences.”
Rothbard emphasizes that “all the facets of progressivism—the economic and the ideological and educational—were part of an integrated whole. The new ideology among business groups was cartelist and collectivist rather than individualist and laissez faire, and the social control over the individual exerted by progressivism was neatly paralleled in the ideology and practice of progressive education.”
With the onset of world wars and depressions, the Democratic and Republican parties soon became mirror images of one another, in terms of their common support for the interventionist agenda. But, in many ways, today’s Republican party—which has long boasted of limiting the size of government—has returned to its evangelical pietist and interventionist roots. Indeed, George W. Bush, who, as a child, attended Presbyterian and Episcopalian churches, later experienced a “reconfirmation” of faith—he has never used the phrase “born-again”—to become a Methodist, perhaps the most strongly pietistic of Protestant denominations.
The essay then analyzes the extensive cultural and political impact of the fundamentalist upsurge. I argue further that Bush has become a cultural warrior of sorts, tapping
into the rise of evangelical Christian fundamentalism as a political force. … The Bush administration has thus become a focal point for the constellation of two crucial impulses in American politics that seek to remake the world: pietism and neoconservatism. The neocons, who come from a variety of religious backgrounds, trace their intellectual lineage to social democrats and Trotskyites, those who adopted the “God-builder” belief, prevalent in Russian Marxist and Silver Age millennial thought, that a perfect (socialist) society could be constructed as if from an Archimedean standpoint. The neocons may have repudiated Trotsky’s socialism, but they have simply adopted his constructivism to the project of building democratic nation-states among other groups of warring fundamentalists—in the Middle East.
I should point out that the essay is not an exercise in religion-bashing. But it is a call for a fundamental separation between church and state. That will require, as I say, “nothing less than an intellectual and cultural revolution …”
My essay is published online in full (minus some nice photos that appear in the print publication) here.