The New Clarion

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God Or State?

December 20th, 2008 by Myrhaf · 15 Comments · Politics

Robert Tracinski makes this point in a post about the massive and surprising return of statism this year in TIA Daily:

…this crisis is a clear refutation of the claim, made in some Objectivist circles, that the intrusion of religion into government is the central political issue of our time. If religion were really the central issue, politically or culturally, we would expect large numbers of people to turn to God—and to religious politics—in a crisis. Instead, when the crisis came, people turned to the state.

This is a boldly stated refutation of Leonard Peikoff’s 2006 statement:

How you cast your vote in the coming election is important, even if the two parties are both rotten. In essence, the Democrats stand for socialism, or at least some ambling steps in its direction; the Republicans stand for religion, particularly evangelical Christianity, and are taking ambitious strides to give it political power.

Socialism—a fad of the last few centuries—has had its day; it has been almost universally rejected for decades. Leftists are no longer the passionate collectivists of the 30s, but usually avowed anti-ideologists, who bewail the futility of all systems. Religion, by contrast—the destroyer of man since time immemorial—is not fading; on the contrary, it is now the only philosophic movement rapidly and righteously rising to take over the government.

Is it, as Tracinski says, either/or — God or state? Could it be, rather, that Republicans turned so readily to the state because they had already turned to God? After all, Bush’s entire presidency, with his compassionate conservatism, has been big government brought on by the altruistic ethics of Bush’s religion.

In an economic crisis, one would expect the state — even a religious state — to look for economic solutions. People might react to bankruptcies on Wall Street by turning to God, although it’s more likely after a major terrorist attack or natural disaster. Church attendance might rise in addition to the bailouts and increasing state intervention in the economy. It’s not either/or.

There is a larger point to be made. I suspect that both Peikoff and Tracinski have been misled by the propaganda of the two major political parties. Yes, the Democrats are the home of the socialist/nihilist left and the Republicans are the home of the religious right, but they’re both big government parties. The welfare state has turned them into two gangs fighting for power so they can distribute the loot stolen from producers to their favorite pressure groups.

The rise of religion could turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to socialism in America. Religious ethics are socialist ethics. In the Sermon On the Mount, Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and wealth.” Monks who take a vow of poverty follow the logic of that statement. On this premise, socialism, which redistributes wealth from the rich to the poor, is moral; capitalism, in which individuals selfishly pursue wealth, is immoral. American Christians twist themselves into pretzels to rationalize the pursuit of wealth, but if you take Jesus’s words seriously and cut the crap, you have to side with socialism.

We’re lucky Marx was an atheist and that he created, under the influence of Hegel, a bizarre fantasy about history going from feudalism through capitalism to culminate in communism — a kind of heaven on earth. Were it not for all this, religion would have allied itself with socialism to fight capitalism long ago.

The New Left has shifted the emphasis from economics to culture — multiculturalism, feminism, environmentalism, animal rights, etc. No longer saddled by Marx’s fantasies, it will be easier for the left to integrate with religion.

I wait in dread for what I call the Grand Rapprochement, in which the left and right come together to form one big statist party. I imagine the deal being something like: the right gets to enslave man’s spirit and the left gets to control the economy. The two sides will mutually reinforce one another as the religious right gives them morality and the left gives them a veneer of practicality in this world.

The biggest sticking point to the Grand Rapprochement would be abortion, and here someone will have to lose. I think it would be the feminists because their arguments are weak. Religionists argue against abortion with righteous moral fervor. Abortion is murdering babies! The moral high ground always wins. Women will get screwed again. So to speak.

What is the greatest threat to America, the socialist left or the religious right? The answer is both. And the big loser will be freedom.

15 Comments so far ↓

  • Burgess Laughlin

    The Dec. 14, 2008 New York Times carried an article titled: “Bad Times Draw Bigger Crowds to Churches.” It suggests that attendance has increased on the short term, at some churches.

    We may be in only the beginning stages of a very bad economy. This is a long-term trend to watch for, if it is indeed a trend and if attendance is an appropriate indicator.

  • Inspector

    “We may be in only the beginning stages of a very bad economy.”

    I agree. Not only do we have yet to feel the full effect of the current economic woes, but also reactions to them are going to make things much worse.

  • Andrew Dalton

    You guys need to fix your spam filter. My comment keeps getting rejected as “spam” for some unknown reason.

  • Myrhaf

    Burgess, Inspector, I think we’re about to see the worst economy since the ’70s.

    Andrew, I hope we get it fixed, as I value your comments highly.

  • L-C

    Has Peikoff made any recent statements about this? I remember his Kerry “endorsement” and the statement above. Has he changed his mind?

  • Myrhaf

    I don’t think he has changed his mind. He abstained from voting for McCain or Obama because they were both terrible.

  • L-C

    I can’t but agree with your conclusion, in any case. Either one of these maladies is enough to topple a society in time. We have both, and they were never that different from each other to begin with.

  • Diana Hsieh

    Augh! I just spend more time than I ought to have writing up a fairly lengthy comment, and I can’t post it because it seems “spammy” to some dumb program. What the heck does that mean? What’s the criteria? It can’t be anything legit: my post was just a long argument without anything that might raise a reasonable red flag like links or profanity.

    Seriously, that’s really insanely annoying, as I just wasted a whole lot of time for absolutely no purpose whatsoever. I’m saving the comment, in the hopes that I can post it at some point. (Let me know when you fix the program.) In the meantime, I won’t be writing any more comments for this blog, as I don’t want to run the risk of being “spammy” again. That seems like a shame to me, as I generally like what you’re posting so far and I’d like to comment on occasion.

    [Ed: I’ve posted your comment after disabling the existing spam protection. I reviewed its code and it was bizarrely aggressive. Previous versions of the system took a more modest approach to spam protection and the release notes didn’t identify the change.]

  • Diana Hsieh

    First, congrats on the new blog. Second, a bit of a rant:

    If Tracinski thinks that a single election — particularly one in which the Democrats seriously courted evangelical voters — could refute Dr. Peikoff’s argument based on his DIM Hypothesis, then he’s even more hopelessly mired in short-term analysis than I thought.

    Of course it’s not an either-or choice between God and State. That shows such a serious misunderstanding of Dr. Peikoff’s claims and arguments that I just can’t even wrap my head around what Tracinski thinks the refutation amounts to. Does he think that Dr. Peikoff’s view is that the state would wither away as people turned to the church? That people would embrace God
    and individual rights? In fact, it’s going to be faith *and* force.

    The real question is whether secular socialism is still an active intellectual force driving the culture — as it was in the early part of the 20th century — or whether religion is taking over that role and doing so for the long haul. Notably, if religion does become the dominant
    philosophic force in the culture, we can and ought to expect it to embrace and incorporate other vicious modern ideologies — most notably welfare statism, egalitarianism, and environmentalism. All of those views can be supported by Christian scripture — and as Yaron Brook and Onkar Ghate argued this summer, they will need Christianity to survive.

    Obama is part of the movement to reinvigorate socialism under the banner of religion, I think. And that’s part of what makes him so dangerous qua socialist. In response, the GOP is likely to run a statist evangelical nut like Huckabee or Palin in 2012. (I just don’t see any hope for a fiscal conservative indifferent to “life” issues, not when the party’s intellectual leaders are insisting that compromise is fine on any issue but abortion.)

    Soon, we’re darn likely to have two thoroughly religious political parties, with just minor variations in their increasingly statist policies. The GOP is already thoroughly religious — and they’ve abandoned all concerned for rights in recent years. The Dems haven’t understood or advocated rights in ages, and now they’re embracing religion as the basis of their egalitarian
    ideals.

    That’s the very ugly future about which Dr. Peikoff (along with Yaron Brook and Onkar Ghate) have warned us.

  • Diana Hsieh

    Thanks for the tech support, Bill! It’s a strange feeling to be overcome with the desire to throttle a computer program. 🙂

  • Per-Olof Samuelsson

    In his 2006 statement, Leonard Peikoff wrote:

    “In my judgment, anyone who votes Republican or abstains from voting in this election has no understanding of the practical role of philosophy in man’s actual life—which means that he does not understand the philosophy of Objectivism, except perhaps as a rationalistic system detached from the world. ”

    But then, if he abstained from voting for either candidate this year, he must have changed his mind, mustn’t he?

    (Btw, I never liked his original statement. I thought it was “rationalistic” and “detached from the world”.)

  • Per-Olof Samuelsson

    By pure coincidence, just after I wrote the above I watched Craig Biddle’s lecture “McBama vs. America”, available at the ARI:s web site. There, he explains quite convincingly that the great danger with Obama is precisely that he combines socialism with a profoundly religious outlook.

    I guess many of you must have seen this lecture already, but if not, I recommend it highly.

  • Diana Hsieh

    Dr. Peikoff didn’t change his mind. He applied his principles to a different set of concretes, namely the candidates in the 2008 election as opposed to the candidates in the 2004 and 2006 elections.

  • John Sabotta

    Remember, remember
    The Fifth of November
    Objectivist treason and plot
    I see no reason
    That Objectivist treason
    Should ever be forgot

    (This applies more to the presidential election before last, but your rotten bigotry makes it applicable all the same. The Objectivists deserve everything they’ll get as reward for their betrayal of liberty, and they’ll get a lot. In the meantime you can write articles about how libertarian are all immoral child molesters, or whatever lie strikes you as plausible.)

  • Khartoum

    Great post. I’ve heard somebody comment on this blog that you guys have put together a set of awesome writers in one blog. I couldn’t agree more.