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“Should Christians Think Twice about Attacking the Alt-Right?” and Related Questions

05 Jul

Pepe the Frog, symbol of the “Alt Right”.

 

Should Christians sing “God bless America,” “God bless the whole world,” or both? Should Christians display national flags in their sanctuaries? Is it responsible for Christians to decry ill-defined movements like the “Alt Right”? (is it white nationalism or something more subtle?)

This post aims to make you think more critically about questions like this – even though these questions are, for the most part, not directly addressed in the content of this post.

My thesis is that the reason why these questions — always good questions — are taking on particularly import for many today is because we are all wrestling with what Paul Gottfried points out in his 1986 book, The Search for Historical Meaning: Hegel and the Postwar American Right (p. 123):

“There is a difficulty integrating the past into a regime whose founders declare it to be a “Novus Ordo Seclorum [New Order for the Ages].”

You think?

And the quote also syncs with other things Gottfried has observed, most recently in his 2012 book on Leo Strauss, arguably the thinker most embraced by political conservatives in America in the 20th century (he is certainly one of the most influential in terms of seeing “success” [as measured by the right, at least] in politics).

Given the events in American (and European) politics over the past couple years, anyone reading his book will no doubt find what he says on page 128 to be extremely interesting:

“Like the neoconservatives, Straussians refer to the United States as a ‘propositional’ or ‘universal’ nation, held together by a natural-rights creed applicable everywhere on the planet. Such a notion, which has become widespread in America, breaks with any notion of democracy’ in the premodern… sense. In the 1980s and 1990s, Straussians and their neoconservative allies fought with an older American Right, which they accused of being tribalist and antiglobalist in their patriotism. It would be hard to argue in light of this recent history that the Straussians are trying to apply organicist ideas to a hypothetical American volkisch community.”

That is, however, part of the concern now – not that the Straussians are doing it, but that the Trumpians of the world are. Going along with the quote above about the “Novus Ordo Seclorum [New Order for the Ages],” they, “tribalist and antiglobalist in their patriotism” vehemently resist things like immigration and free trade. On the other hand, someone like Karl Marx was very much in support of something like “free trade”. Why? Because he believed that it would break down traditional (think tribal and organic) communities.

On one level that might sound like a very good idea. On the other hand, for Marx and those who follow him today – overtly or covertly – this effort includes the attempt to break down the traditional family.

And that is kind of logical, right? Isn’t the tribe basically an extended traditional family? The idea of nationalism has gotten a good deal of attention from Christians in America lately, due to the Southern Baptist Convention’s recent condemnation of white nationalism as well as those identifying as “alt right” (see here and here and here for more). I think, however, that we dismiss the concerns that many of these folks express too quickly and, ultimately, to our own peril.

Really?

Yes, I think so. What follows is another fascinating observation/proposition Gottfried makes in his book – this time about Straus himself. We see in this extended quotation that even in the 1960s Strauss had noticed something about conservatives and liberals that foreshadowed the emerging nationalism today (as the American right starts to “regress,” as many see it) vis a vis the more “globalist” philosophy (now, increasingly coming to be seen even by thinkers like R.R. Reno as communism’s replacement!):

“…unlike his followers, Strauss in the 1960s foresaw the true lines of division between ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives.’ In his preface to Liberalism Ancient and Modern, he abandons his customary distinction between ‘liberal democracy’ and its enemies to observe the tension between ‘modern liberals’ and ‘conservatives.’ Strauss tries to narrow this difference by stating that most people are ‘moderate’ in their identification with either of the two ideological poles; therefore, the distinction between them might not amount to much in the end. Strauss then muddies the water by telling us that ‘the conservativism of our age is identical with what was originally liberalism.’ Indeed, ‘much of what goes now by the name of conservatism has in the last analysis a common root with present-day liberalism and even with Communism.’ All of this repeats what are merely truisms. No one but a historical illiterate or a hardened, time-bound ideologue would deny that the current Right looks like some form of the archaic Left, whether it is celebrating a crusade for human rights or preaching some variation on eighteenth-century anarchism, with appropriate attributions to Tom Paine.”

Note again what is happening here: Gottfried shows us that Strauss is distinguishing between what we might call “classical liberals,” (he calls them “modern liberals” above) which might make up the majority of today’s “conservatives” in America, and other “conservatives”. Again, this is a frequent complaint of some on the Alt-Right. Today’s conservativism really isn’t “conservative” as it doesn’t really conserve anything. It, rather, is just a constant capitulation to the left (hence the popularity of the word “cuck”). They have nothing but mockery for those like William Buckley, who gave the impression that conservativism is simply the man standing in the railroad track, bravely facing the incoming locomotive, and shouting “Stop!” (or, perhaps, just “slow down”?)

“A conservative is someone who stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.” — William F. Buckley’s National Review mission statement.

 

“What is more interesting, however, than these references is Strauss’s pinpointing of two diametrically opposed worldviews. Partisans of the Left, according to this interpretation, look toward a ‘universal homogenous state,’ a creation that Strauss’s correspondent Kojeve defended in his writings. Any ‘approximation to the universal homogenous state is for liberals a move in the proper direction, although they may conceal their enthusiasm by pretending to be advocates of ‘hardheaded politics,’ who believe that ‘the state has been rendered necessary by economic and technological progress,’ ‘the necessity of making nuclear war impossible for all the future[‘] and by the ‘increasing wealth of the advanced countries.’

Against this liberal vision Strauss opposes an essentialist conservative one. Its advocates ‘regard the universal and homogenous state as either undesirable, though possible, or as both undesirable and impossible.’ Conservatives may have to accept in the short run a United Free Europe, as an alliance against the Soviet communist threat, but[,as Strauss says]:

“[T]hey are likely to understand such units differently from liberals. An outstanding European conservative has spoken of l’Europe des patries. Conservatives look with greater sympathy than liberals on the particular or particularist and the heterogenous; at least they are more willing than liberals to respect and perpetuate a more fundamental diversity than the one ordinarily respected or taken for granted by liberals and even by Communists, which is the diversity regarding language, folksongs, pottery and the like.”

Yes, that is right. Strauss is saying that it is conservatives, not liberals, that are ultimately more respectful of diversity. Chew on that for a while!

“Furthermore, ‘[i]nasmuch as the universalism in politics is founded on the universalism proceeding from reason, conservativism is frequently characterized by distrust of reason or by trust in a tradition which is necessarily this or that tradition and hence particular.’ Finally, ‘[c]onservativism is therefore exposed to criticism that is guided by the notion of the unity of truth,’ whereas liberals, ‘especially those who know that their aspirations have their roots in the Western tradition are not sufficiently concerned with the fact that tradition is ever more eroded by the changes in the direction of the One World which they demand or applaud.’

Gottfried then goes on to say: “It would be hard to find a more perceptive analysis than this one for addressing the distinction between Left and Right.”

Can “classical liberalism” remain the Right in America? Without a Christian core?

 

More:

“The underlying insight goes back to Carl Schmitt and his criticism of the ‘universal, homogenous state.’ Strauss is repeating here Schmitt’s critical observations for the benefit of Anglo-American readers. He assumes Schmitt’s famous equation of the universal state with universal tyranny, and he incorporates this distinctive perspective into his delineation of the conservative worldview. Strauss also cites Charles de Gaulle, who as French president in the 1960s argued against an overly close union of European states in favor of a continued national consciousness among European peoples. Strauss presents this conservative type as the exact opposite of the liberal, with his unrealistic and utopian expectations. This conservative antithesis is nothing, however, that he finds disagreeable or which he feels threatens ‘liberal democracy.’

Still and all, it would be a mistake to associate Strauss with his conservative pole too closely. The ‘conservative’ side in his analysis bears a certain resemblance to his targets in [his famous 1953 book] Natural Right and History, particularly to [Edmund] Burke and German romantic conservatives, whom Strauss considered to be more revolutionary than even the Jacobins. One must also keep in mind Strauss’s descriptions of ‘conventionalism’ as an obstacle to philosophy and his insistence that the search for virtue and justice necessarily encompasses the universal.”

Strauss’ implied criticism that conservatives believe excessively in the ‘unity of truth’ goes back to his brief against relativism. He long complained against those who paid homage to Tradition as Truth and he was now reviving this animadversion in a less incriminatory fashion. The unwillingness to apply a universal standard of Reason, we are told in Natural Right in History, has led to destructive wars [my comment: read wars caused, in part, by religion that was unwilling to give up its place in more enlightened society] and has precipitated the demoralization of liberal education. Like his students, Strauss saw this failure to apply rational judgement because of an infatuation with particularities as a conservative flaw.

In other words, what this means is that Strauss does not see particularities such as Christianity as giving any support whatsoever to the idea of “universal standard[s] of Reason” (which one might think would help point to, perhaps, consistent laws in the moral realm). Perhaps given the impact of persons like Hegel on 20th century American conservativism, all of these statements from Strauss above should not have surprised me so much. Hegel, to, would have some real issues with the idea that respected Tradition, in any sense, could be equated with Truth (and insofar as Christianity is seen as being an integral part of what we call Western Civilization, I argue it can’t be separated from this notion of Truth).

But at the same time, you might say, “didn’t Strauss speak out against historicism?” He did indeed, but I note that elsewhere in Gottfried’s book he seems to drop hints that he thinks that even Strauss himself could not escape what were in fact his historicist tendencies. This makes some sense in the context of Gottfried’s work, because it seems that in his view, anyone who thinks positively about progress to some degree should and will embrace a conservative form of historicism (again, see this post for more).

Hart discusses Augustine’s influence on American ideas and ideals – no historicism needed to recognize historical context.

 

From my limited reading on this topic, it appears to me that Strauss was perhaps unaware of – or not forthright about – what were in fact his historicist tendencies, but that someone like Edmund Burke for example, a devout and traditional Christian interested in society’s advancing, should not necessarily be lumped in with the historicist philosophy, with its, I think, very acidic tendencies. It seems to me – again, from the limited reading I have done on the topic – that Burke is misread by both Strauss and Gottfried.

Just the kind of thing you might expect a Liberal Christian Nationalist to say…. That said, don’t think that my interest in “identity politics” means that truth has no place. In fact, if you want real, and not just feigned, concern for the truth to stay, I submit that Christians and Christian allies need a continuing voice in our nation’s political conversation.

But the Left also occasionally appealed to particularity, albeit more disingenuously, to win acceptance for its ‘one world’ idea. In the short run, it stressed the diversity that it would ultimately have to remove to fashion a universal homogenous state based on uniform human rights (pp. 63, 64).

When concepts of equality, social justice, and human rights are untethered from a Christian frame, what we in the West have experienced in our lives to be good about those concepts is lost.

There was a time that the idea of “uniform human rights” had some appeal to me. Now, however, I see this as the primary tool of those who would spurn the Christian religion en route to accomplishing their own Global, Utopian promises. As one Alt-Right voice recently put it, Jesus Christ didn’t die for the sins of the world so that you could build your new Tower of Babel.

That, at least, rings true. God won’t be mocked – used – by either nationalists or globalists.

Practical application? If, for example, communists or globalists demand we put their flags in the church’s chancel, we should refrain. But we should also be cautious about people who say things like this:

“A Christian church has absolutely no business displaying a national flag in the sanctuary, at least not as it is commonly done. The church born at Pentecost was a reversal of Babel, not a doubling down on the fragmentation of Babel.” (see here).

Joe Carter: “How can we claim to be sons and daughters of God while separating ourselves from our brothers and sisters?” (see context here). Should Christians, then, strive to end nations?

 

For more of my thoughts on Christians, nations, and nationalism, see here.

FIN

 

William F. Buckley: https://www.muckrock.com/news/archives/2015/oct/01/william-f-buckleys-fbi-file/ ; Joe Carter – Gospel Coalition website.

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7 Comments

Posted by on July 5, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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7 responses to ““Should Christians Think Twice about Attacking the Alt-Right?” and Related Questions

  1. Rev. Karl Hess

    September 14, 2017 at 3:00 am

    I didn’t read this whole thing, but I’m glad to see someone commenting on this. I noticed that the synod’s reaction to the whole thing at Charlottesville was to put up resources to teach people why racism is wrong.

    This to me is an example of moral cowardice among the Missouri Synod confessionals/conservatives. I think we can probably guess that 98 % of people in the synod agree that it is wrong to hate people because of their race. There are about a million things we ought to be discussing in the wake of this that would result in us being perceived as castrated unworthy heirs to Luther’s legacy.

    For instance, whether it is racist to not think slavery is inherently sinful–and whether it bodes ill for our physical safety when angry mobs tear down statues of men who did not believe this, since the fact of the matter is that we believe the Bible is the inspired word of God–and it makes provisions for owning slaves, and tells slaves to “obey their masters.”

    Whether it is sinful to want to preserve one’s ethnicity and the ethnic makeup of one’s country–as one might imagine some Europeans might want to do.

    Whether multiculturalism and globalism are in fact violations of God’s will as expressed by God in Gen. 11 and as interpreted by Paul in his sermon in Athens (Acts 17:26).

    Why St. Paul seems to be unaware of the great wickedness of making negative judgments about the character of entire nationalities, as he does in Titus 1:12-13.

    We are long overdue for a genuine Christian discussion of race and related themes, since they are the hauptartikels of the revised American civic religion. Rather than Hellenizing, we ought to show how as you said in another post, the American civic religion is a heresy, which has mutated certain Christian ideals into leering caricatures, so that the American state religion is to Protestantism what Caitlyn Jenner is to a human male (or female). And this beast is now eating our country, especially our children, like a cancer. The accomodationist strategy that the LCMS, like most conservative protestant churches, has adopted is allowing the beast to finish off Christianity in this country. It thrives when it is able to look like it has the same ideals we do and is just more consistent. The LCMS should take the bold step of saying, “No, anti-racism is not the apex of human morality. No, slavery is not the unforgivable sin, in fact, it is actually no sin at all.” Of course the short term result will be furor and being treated like the Westboro Baptist church; the long-term result will be blessing. The long term result of trying to stay within the overton window in Sodom is that your wife turns to salt, your children go to hell, and eventually you either have to confess Christ and face their wrath or deny Him and face His.

     
  2. Rev. Karl Hess

    September 14, 2017 at 3:04 am

    There are a million things we ought to be discussing that would NOT make us look like castrated, unworthy heirs to Luther’s legacy–as we now look by mewling anti-racist drivel that has already been taught far more effectively in this country than we could ever imagine doing with our own children. That’s what I meant to say in the second paragraph in the previous comment.

     
    • Nathan A. Rinne

      September 15, 2017 at 3:21 pm

      Pastor Hess,

      Thanks for your thoughts here. I’m still wrestling with all of this stuff as you are. You raise a lot of excellent points that I think a number of people are afraid to talk about out loud.

      +Nathan

       
  3. Rev. Karl Hess

    September 28, 2017 at 11:15 pm

    Our failure to say what God says when it is costly to do so costs us more in the long run, when the falsehoods we are silent about become recognized as such. Then white nationalists and other misguided or evil people who did have the courage to speak will be able to brand us as enablers of those who promoted falsehood.

     
  4. As It Is Written - Mark 1:2

    December 5, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    “THERE WAS A TIME THAT THE IDEA OF ‘UNIFORM HUMAN RIGHTS’ HAD SOME APPEAL TO ME”

    This interesting blog post contained the following statement:

    “There was a time that the idea of ‘uniform human rights’ had some appeal to me. Now, however, I see this as the primary tool of those who would spurn the Christian religion en route to accomplishing their own Global, Utopian promises.”

    As a Christian who enjoys reading this Christian blog, I found this denigration of universal human rights to be disappointing and a bit alarming. May I please explain my concern?

    I was reminded of a statement by the famous Canadian professor of psychology, Jordan Peterson: “weak people do not survive in this world.” This blogger quoted that statement in another post recently.

    Professor Peterson is also constantly denigrating the conception of human rights and civil rights. Peterson, in his manifesto-like December 2016 “Letter to the World,” said: “We need to take responsibility, INSTEAD OF INCESSANTLY INSISTING ON OUR RIGHTS,” and “For men and women alike, this means voluntary adoption of responsibility – responsibility for oneself, family and state. In that responsibility, AND NOT IN RIGHTS, resides Meaning itself – the meaning that makes life bearable.” [the ALL CAPS added for emphasis]

    Now, is it really true, as Jordan Peterson says, that “weak people do not survive in this world”?

    It certainly IS true that in wild nature that the weaker animals do not survive. There is no 911, police, paramedics, U.N. peacekeepers, NATO, FEMA, Red Cross or Salvation Army for wild animals living in the wild, except in the rare case that a kind-hearted human being with resources happens upon a wounded animal or a young animal separated from its mother.

    But in civilized human societies with strong laws and customs concerning basic human and civil rights, those on the “weaker” side of the bell curve spectrum DO survive and are often comfortable and relatively happy.

    By contrast, weaker people in the Nazi-ruled nations of Europe in the 1930s-1940s did not fare well, and suffered a fate akin to weaker animals in the wild.

    It seems that Professor Peterson, and many on the Conservative or Libertarian side of things, want human societies to operate more like things operate among wild animals in wild nature. Is that something regenerated Christians should or could support? Should Christians really say that there is no human right to health care, no right to a job that pays enough for basic survival, no right to be free from systemic violent crime?

    Matthew 28:19-20: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.”

    As the whole of the Scriptures show (I believe), Jesus did NOT command His disciples, in their roles as Messengers and Ministers of the Gospel, to save Western Civilization or to tinker with the laws of human governance in order to create a Utopia or even just a Better World.

    Jesus Christ did and does promise a Utopia or paradise, however. In the Bible it’s called the “New Jerusalem” (Revelation 21:2). But this paradise is not produced by human wisdom, human governments or technology, but by supernatural action of God the Father and of Jesus Christ at the End of This Age.

    But until the Glorious Revelation of the New Jerusalem for the Elect at the End of the Age, Christ’s disciples are not, I think, forbidden by God, in their roles as citizens of a nation or citizens of the world, to promote reasonable steps to make this World as habitable, survivable, and pleasant as possible for everyone. I believe this is a view widely held by theologians.

    Some people believe the notion that the mission of the Church is to save Western Civilization came about with Emperor Constantine the Great. They even have a term for this. They call it the “Constantinian Shift.” Prior to this shift, Christians looked to the New Jerusalem of the Second Coming for their paradise, security, and salvation. After this shift, they tended to look to the worldly Empire for their paradise, security, and salvation. I believe that Conservative Gnostic Christians like Jordan Peterson are true Constantinians in this sense. But so are other conservatives, such as Rod Dreher and Pat Buchanan over at the American Conservative website. And Donald Trump seems to me to be playing out a Constantinian role.

    Jesus didn’t suffer, die, and rise again in order to establish the 1948 U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or the 1789 U.S. Constitution, or the Social Security Act of 1935. But I don’t think Christ forbids such devices either in this worldly interim.

    Lastly, this current revival of Nationalism does not just mean that peoples of other nations should not be recognized as having the same basic human rights as people of one’s own Nation, but ALSO means that rights even within one’s own Nation should be contingent upon one’s standing within the Dominance Hierarchy of one’s own Nation. These new Nationalists always see the rich as having, in effect, more rights than the middle class and poor even within their own Nation, even if they don’t explicitly state this. That’s why they insist that there’s no right to health care, and no right to a living wage job, and no right to be free from discrimination in hiring or housing on the basis of race or homosexuality. This is expressed in psychology professor Jordan Peterson’s constant attack upon the concept of rights in favor of the concept of responsibility, but what Peterson mainly means, I think, by “responsibility” is competitiveness, i.e., the will to fight, to compete, and to struggle against others and defeat others in order to earn whatever you can get and keep. This is because Peterson believes that “Natural Selection” is the only viable and virtuous way for the distribution of resources in a society to be determined. But is that idea something that regenerated Christians ought to support?

    (Thank you for allowing me to express my concerns here. Forgive me, for I have no doubt been unfair, inaccurate, and incomplete in many respects. I hope my betters will point out my errors, for the benefit of all.)

     
    • Nathan A. Rinne

      December 8, 2017 at 1:40 pm

      Mark 1:2 — interesting thoughts. I think Christians are stuck between nationalistic thoughts and globalist thoughts for good reason. Paul both upheld slavery and undermined it at the same time. I think that we need to be able to do similar kinds of things. I don’t think there is much that is objectionable — to my knowledge at least — about the 1948 U.N. stuff.

      That said, we are a long way from this now, and no one can deny that the obsession with rights over and against responsibilities is not a good thing.

      We, and all, deserve nothing but damnation. And yet, God is good to us.

      +Nathan

       

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