Thursday, February 02, 2023

Protestant Modern: The Collapse of Protestantism

As mentioned in my previous post, it is important to be precise when defining Modernity. For the purposes of this post, Modernity can be considered along two dimension:

1) In one dimension there is material/tecnological modernity which I defined as the material conditions that make up the modern world and which are responsible for the qualitative change from agrarian life. Things, like the  telephone,  the various types of engines, railroads, refrigeration etc are material entities which profoundly altered the way we live regardless of any change in morality or philosophy.  

These devices also led to profound social and institutional changes which would have been impossible without their presence. For example, it's hard to think of the possibility of the modern multinational corporation without the easy availability of telecommunications, which forms the bedrock of the organisation's ability co-ordinate actions.

2) The second dimension is cultural or philosophical modernity.  It's distinguishing feature is the rejection of the Christian vision which, until the mid 20th C, had cultural hegemony over the West. The key modes of rejection was either explicit rejection of Christianity as in atheism or a "functional" rejection of traditional Christianity through negation of traditional interpretations of biblical texts.

This division is important to emphasise since it is commonly assumed that agrarian type societies are by their nature "traditional". This I believe is a mistake since the lack of technological sophistication is no obstacle to moral innovation.  The French Revolution, for instance,  implemented many modern ideas well before the age of steam.  Rome's later stage sexual morality was similar to our own despite the lack of refrigeration.

This is why it's important to distinguish between technological modernity and philosophical and not conflate the two.

It's also this blog's contention that the modern world was Christian until the mid 20th C. and that much of the modern material/technological development occurred within a Christian, predominantly Protestant context.  Sure, some of the foundational ideas arose within the Catholic world, but it's not enough to originate an idea, it also needs to be effectively implemented. And it was the Protestant world which provided the superior cultural infrastructure in which technological modernity thrived. Not only did Protestantism encourage the development of material/technological modernity, it also modulated its expression through its moral principles.

Take a trivial example. Quite soon after photography was developed it's potential to capture the erotic image was realised. The printing press and the surrounding newspaper infrastructure would have made the widespread dissemination of porn quite feasible--and it's fascinating to speculate what a 19th C version of Playboy or Hustler would of been like-- yet it did not happen due to a cultural environment which saw it as a threat and thereby severe limited its expression. Contraception and abortion were also technologically feasible yet severely restricted due to the prevailing moral norms.  Even in the area of cryptography, moral issues modulated the extent of its implementation.

Furthermore, the civic institutions that these societies built were models of trust, efficiency and honesty, at least when compared to the rest of the world. Leaders were held accountable and were meant to be honorable. Now, of course there were exceptions to the rule, sometimes widespread, but compared to the rest, the Protestant world was in a different league. Good governance, wealth and technological advancement were the markers of it. Contemporary writers were also aware of it and the unique position the  Protestant world had found itself in in the late 19th C.  Much of the opposition to immigrant migration at that time was a based up a fear of corruption of the system by cultures which did not share its values.

One of the distinguishing features of modernity is the rise of the bourgeoisie. They were the managerial class which bought the practical skills which enabled modernity. Much is made of the elite, but it is the middle, particularly the upper middle where the cultural "center of gravity" lies. It's the senior lawyers, doctors, economists, journalists, bankers, engineers, etc, that set the moral tone of the professions. The Protestant world was able to produce a large, well qualified, honest and technically able group of senior bourgoisie who were the "managers" of modernity, and it was their cultural values which shaped it. In the U.S. this bourgeois group by and large belonged to the "Mainline" religions but similar "mainline" faiths were in operation in other parts of the Protestant world. These mainline faiths provided moral instruction particularly to the bourgeois who ensured that the commence, law, science, medicine,etc operated with their moral limits. 

The "health" of modernity is in many ways then a reflection of the health of Protestantism and this is why the collapse of " traditional" Protestantism has been the greatest western calamity of the 20th Century. The bottom line is that that Christian guardians of Modernity are no longer there.  It is the corruption of these particularly Mainline strands of Protestantism--to which the senior bourgeois belonged-- which is the mechanism by which the modern world became de-Christianised: Christianity meaning Christianity in a "traditional" sense. As Mainline Protestantism de-Christianised so did the upper managerial classes, who took their moral instruction from it.

It's beyond the scope of this post to elaborate on the mechanics of de-Christianisation, but as Buckley noted at his time in Yale the process was in full swing. Chesterton noted similar changes in England in the 1920's . And what do I mean by de-Christianised? Most of the readers of this blog will intuitively grasp at what I'm getting at but to formally define it is much more difficult as one of the core problems of Protestantism  is inability to self-police its limits. Protestant expression is protean. However if one take the position of sola scriptura, then readings of scripture which broadly deny its everyday textual meaning can be taken as being unsound.  A Christianity which can theologically align Christian approval with the concept of "Gay Marriage" or other modern "innovations" is a false Christianity.

If anyone wants to understand why our institutions are becoming more corrupt and left leaning it is because the space occupied by "sound Protestantism" in the governing  and administrative bourgeois class has been filled by either it's pseudo-Christian variants or by outright atheism. The number of "sound Protestants" in the appropriate administrative positions simply aren't there to push back. 

I don't want to talk about the Catholic relationship to modernity here, except to say that Catholicism could not, and still cannot engage modernity effectively despite being an originator of it's founding principles.  The institutional changes bought about by the Reformation, in my mind, crippled it's ability to engage modernity in a commanding manner. While Eastern Orthodoxy is incapable of engaging modernity at all.

P.S. These are two pictures I took on my trip to the U.S. several years ago.

Thursday, January 05, 2023

Protestant Modern

I think Luther must have chuckled as General Clarke's U.S. Army surged up the Italian peninsula and liberated Rome in June of 1944.  It would have amazed and probably perplexed the reformers no end to see that the spiritual descendants of Luther would be liberating the Pope from their brethren.  Yet the images that emerge from that time ways encapsulate some of the key features of modernity and help us understand its trajectory.

When Max Weber published his book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Weber was formally stating what was apparent to anyone with eyes to see. By the end of the 19th Century, when modernity was already in full swing and despite starting from behind economically, the Protestant world had surged ahead of the Catholic,  both economically and technically, producing the worlds most "modern" societies. These societies weren't just wealthier, but were qualitatively different in that they had broken with the agrarian past and had become industrial. But even the term industrial doesn't really convey the depth of their transformation.  The "wealth" of these nations was in many ways byproduct of a broad and deep cultural infrastructure which advanced science and the arts, commercialised their application and spread their benefits far and wide.

Weber attributed a lot of the success of Protestantism to the unintended economic effects of Calvinism--and scholars have debated him about the assertion--but what whatever the cause there was a clear quantitative and qualitative difference in wealth between the Catholic and Protestant worlds. It's all the more surprising given the fact that the foundations of modernity were put in place by Catholicism in  Renaissance Northern Italy.

This interesting paper gives an idea of the degree of economic divergence between the Catholic and Protestant worlds.

The X axis is rather compressed and can give a false impression. Moderate advantage over longer periods translates to very large gains.

But what this data does not convey is how of the "wealth effect" in Catholic countries is due to the transfer of knowledge from Protestant countries. Take, for example, the inventions of the steam engine, locomotive and telegraph. These inventions have probably been the most transformative elements in the transition to modernity. All were originated, proved and made commercially successful in a Protestant milieu and then copied around the world. The copiers avoiding the research, development and risks costs in bringing an idea to fruition. They are essentially "free riders" with regard to Protestant product development and while it would be impossible to objectively quantify, my intuitive guess is that Catholic economic development would be far less developed if it weren't for this.  This is not to say that the Catholic world did not provide important contributions to modernity it's just that it did it so as a junior partner. Material modernity is primarily a product of Protestantism.

Which raises an interesting question: would modernity have developed if Protestantism had been quashed by the Counter-Reformation. This, of course, is a speculative line of thought but in my opinion a theologically 'rigid" Catholicism would have made  material modernity difficult while a "slack" poorly disciplined Catholicism would of been open to its development, albeit at a slower pace. Catholicism laid down the foundations of modernity but was unable to build on this due to its internal tensions. (More on that in another post.) Indeed, what would see to support this view is the data in the first table above. While there are other factors involved, Catholic and Protestant Per Capita-GDP's start to converge about the 1960's, the time when Catholic religious practice began to collapse.

The other thing to remember here is that while intellectual modernity was making inroads the "Negative World" , a West which was hostile to Christianity, was not really a feature of modern society until relatively recently. For much of modernity, religious faith and technological progress were not an issue for the majority of the population. Indeed, what I think best symbolises peak Protestant modernity is the Apollo 8 reading of Genesis. Mainstream Western culture, except a few atheists, saw anything wrong with public expressions of faith while orbiting the moon: There was no intellectual incompatibility between belief in the Almighty and the cultural, economic and industrial powerhouse that bought the Apollo program to fruition. They were one and the same.

The fact of the matter matter is that the Reformation did not only change the religious landscape of the Western world but initiated what would eventually become a profound economic, material and cultural divergence, and  which would result in the Catholic world becoming largely irrelevant in the shaping of modernity. (France is a complex divergence which I won't go into at the moment.)

And this is best exemplified by the events of the Second World War, where the Catholic countries of Europe were subjugated or neutral to the events (due to powerlessness or fear) and South America was indifferent. It was left to the Protestant powers (who had the means and the will) to liberate the seat of Catholicism and shape the course of events. In essence its fate was was determined by other powers.

Weber felt that Protestantism was inadvertently able to direct religious impulses toward economic activity, but I felt that it's effect was much more encompassing. Protestantism turned Christianity towards the mundane things in life thereby transforming them and it modulated modernity into a form which was compatible with it. The wealth was "by-product". But that is not to say that the Protestant modernity was without fault.  Particularly in the field of economics, great wealth rubbed shoulders with extreme poverty and exploitation of the working class. In many ways it was the midwife of Socialism. But overall it forged a world which was honest, efficient and wealthy.

This is why the collapse of  "spound" Protestantism is THE tragedy of the 20th Century, primarily because modernity has become "uncoupled" from what would be considered "traditional" Christianity.  We are now entering a post-Protestant modernity which is repudiating the the modulating influences of the past and the "Globohomo" world that we now inhabit is primarily as a result of the collapse of "sound" Protestantism, particularly of its managerial class, which now practices a form of Protestantism--if it practices it at all--which would have horrified the Reformers.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Merry Christmas

 Merry Christmas to my long suffering readers.

Hopefully I'll be less slack and put up a few more posts next year.

Best wishes to all.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022


One of the recurring tropes seen in conservative blogs is the opposition of modernity to religion. The implication of this line of thought is that somehow a return to pre-industrial society would shore up the decline of Christianity. I don't particularly subscribe to this point of view but I can understand how it came about.  That the the collapse of religion in the West is correlated with the industrialisation of Western society  is true but as all the good text books say, correlation is not causation and the relationship of modernity to religious decline is much more complicated.

But first we need to define terms.

Modernity as a concept has both temporal and qualitative aspects. Temporal, in that it acknowledges that that whatever modernity is, it marks a discontinuity with the past in time. Qualitatively, it acknowledges a civilisational change irrespective of time. I think that one of the reasons why modernity is so difficult to define is because its is one word linked to two different two concepts. 

The first thing to consider the is the temporal component of the concept which I think is its least important aspect. The Latin root of the term, modo, defines the present or contemporary. So the concept refers to the here and now. But the important point of the word modernity is that it is meant to distinguish a now that is different from the past, yet time itself is neutral with regard to modernity's qualitative aspect. The modern world is not modern because it is five hundred years away from the the 1500's, it's modern because there has been a qualitative change since then and its the change in things, not the passage of time that gives the term its major meaning. The reason why the 1500's are not modern is because the civilisation experience  of then is different to what it is today.

So what then are the major qualitative changes in modernity?  From the point of view of Western History, the two main factors would be the development of technology and the change in values, with technological aspect having greater value. Simply put, the modern world would be impossible without the technological innovations particularly of the last two hundred years. Technology has given Western modernity a large component of its qualatative aspect.

But technology does not apply itself and requires human agents for its implementation. Therefore the the expression of technology is conditional on the values used in its implementation. If a society decided, because of its values, to reject technology current technological modernity would be impossible. The point I'm trying to make here is that technology is "captive" to the values of society and these values modulate the expression of technology,  and hence modernity. The interesting thing about this line of thought is that modernity can have many forms and the modernity we currently have is not necessarily the only modernity that could have been.

However, qualative changes can also occur in a society in the absence of technology, and history is full of societies which were technologically backward but which culturally changed over time. Here it's the change of values and not the passage of time which is the marker of change. The late Roman Emprie was "modern" in that it differed from the founding values of the Republic.  Looking at the decadent values of the late empire and ours now, are we really that modern? Strip away the technology and we resemble a lot of "old" decadent societies.

Whats been interesting about the West is that it has undergone two transformations over the past few centuries. First, the material one, driven by technology, and secondly the cultural one, driven by other factors.

When religious conservatives talk about modernity they have to be quite specific. It needs to be understood is that incorporation of technology into our civilisation has bought, quite literally incalculable, benefits. The production of medicines, diagnostic equipment, food and safe transportation for instance, sits atop a vast mountain of technological capital. Turning the clock back would come at the price of an ocean of human misery. A more simpler existence, i.e. agrarianism, would be a more painful one as well. 

Of course, none of these religious conservatives would dream of getting of getting rid of the beneficial effects of technology what they want to do is simply change morality, but even here we have a problem.

Now, while I have separated technology and culture, treating them separately, the reality is there is an interplay between the two of them. Formally, technology shouldn't really impact upon our values system but materially it does, and the medium of the interaction, from a civilisational level, is the midwit. Culture isn't just a product of the guys at the top of the intellectual food chains, it is a product of all levels of society and I don't think what isn't recognised enough is just how powerful this midwit engagement with science and technology is in the shaping of culture.

"A little science distances you from God, but a lot of science brings you nearer to him" is a quote attributed to Pastuer but it captures the essence of things. Not thinking deeply about things is problematic but its how most of the human race lives and the midwit engagement and being satisfied with superficialities is a powerful solvent of traditional religious morality.  The experience of penicillin and fertiliser have probably been more effective de-Christianisers than nominalism.  For the day to day believer, penicillin cures, prayer doesn't. Fertiliser, rather than fasting, ensures the crops. God becomes increasingly irrelevant to our day to day lives.  Faith atrophies rather than is rejected and it is lived as if it is increasingly irrelevant. Only the troubled and the deep end up engaging religion.

The point here is that technology, in it's success, undercuts a powerful psychological mechanism which powers moral values, namely dependency, especially in the midwit class. As they say, "there are no atheists in foxholes" which simply is a recognition that in desperate times the midwit is prepared to give God some consideration: atheism and degeneracy being luxuries of comfort. 

Christian forensic philosophers have laboured to identify and combat the errors of modernist thought but the fact is that stupid ideas have been around since time immemorial. What distinguishes the  modern world from the past is the traction these stupid ideas have now, or appear to have now. The average man does not engage life like a Pascal, Nietzsche, Heidegger or Kant: in fact he's probably never even heard of them. The fault of Christian philosphers has been to map the thought of dissident philosophers on the brains of midwits, combating a process that isn't naturally occurring in their minds, wondering why their arguments don't work. The fault lays in the failure to recognise that  Homer Simpson doesn't do Heidegger and the widespread consumption of internet porn is not due the average man's acceptance of the arguments of Foucault.

Rather, how modernity attacks religion is "psychologically", through material comfort, security and abundance. The "argument" of modernity is not logical but existential. God is not needed, or sought, among people who are fat, happy and in-control enough.  Stupid ideas, which never would have been given the time of day in  a precarious world are suddenly given a hearing. Hubris, ingratitude and sloth act on a population-wide level consigning "hard" religion as an irrelevancy. The rejection of God is more pragmatic rather than philosophical. The relationship of Christianity to modernity is much bigger than just the world of ideas.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Pushing Ukraine West

Vladimir Solovyov is one of Putin's chief propagandists.

Back in 2008 he sang a different and more sensible tune.


As many Russian analysts have recognised,  the Ortho-con policies of Putin have pushed the Ukrainians away from the Russians.  Had Putin simply followed the the ideas expressed by Solovyov in 2008, he--and Russia--would he would be in a much stronger position than now.

It even gets weirder than this. Here's a link to Solovyov and Zelensky singing together on Russian TV in 2013.

Bonus: For Comrade Vatnik who likes to populate my comments thread with vulgarities. It appears that Solovyov is a bit of a fan of Mussolini.

Russia's war against Nazism in Ukraine is in safe hands!

You can't make this stuff up. This really is Clown World.

Thursday, October 13, 2022


The truth is this war has its roots much further back than Obama. If you want to point to an incident as a starting place, it would be American involvement in the Balkan war during the Clinton years. American support for Kosovo against Serbia was the start of a new conflict with Russia. At the time, it was viewed in Moscow as a deliberate offense to the Russians. In the years that followed, this affair has become a warning for the Russians about what Washington plans for them.

One of the things about being of the right it is the desire to calibrate one's beliefs to reality. So its with some surprise that I read the above over at Z Man's blog. Quite simply its a revision of history.

Unlike the current situation in Ukraine, when the war in Yugoslavia started the American's did all they could to stop the country from breaking apart, including placing an arms embargo on the Croats, Slovenes and even the Bosnians. The Americans was so concerned about the stability of the former Soviet Union that they did not want to set a precedent by recognising the breakaway republics. Even the Baltics had a hard time gaining recognition from the U.S. The fact of the matter is that the Bush administration of the early 90's did all it could to support the continuity of the the former Soviet Union and turned a blind eye to much of the slaughter in the former Yugoslavia. The Republicans, for all their mouthings of liberty, did bugger all.

The entry of the Clinton administration initially didn't really change much. But it was the nightly reports of slaughter and murder, perpetrated mainly by the Serbs that turned public opinion in the U.S. and Europe against Serbian/Russian interests.  By the time the issue of Kosovo had come around, the largely accurate public image of the Serbs had taken such a beating that Serbian claims to Kosovo fell on unsympathetic ears.  American policy in Kosovo was designed to save lives and if the Serbians hadn't a policy of extermination I doubt that there would have been any intervention at all.

This of course bothered the Russians and their apologists who somehow felt that their right to dictate what happened in that theatre of operations trumped the human rights of the inhabitants of that region. What's really weird about this is that it was supported by large sections of the American "right".

While the fine detail of U.S. foreign policy towards Russia is beyond this blog post the fact of the matter is that U.S. Russian relations were quite cordial, even to the extent that Russia was mooted as a potential NATO member until the Orange Revolution where the Russians were outmaneuvered by the Americans, failing to get their man installed. (Unlike in Belarus.)

It's clear now that the U.S. is hostile to the Kremlin but it wasn't always this way and while both sides are responsible for this deterioration in their relationship. The way the Kremlin and their apologists paint it, one would think that the Russians were victims of exploitation instead of contributory agents. Putin is a Russian Nationalist with an imperialistic vision and his desire to restore a modern version of the tsardom is what rubs many people the wrong way and in the playbook of Russian diplomacy, when Russia doesn't get what it wants it is a "victim." 

While it is true that Putin's nationalism is in someways more "wholesome" than Western Liberalism in some ways it's far more rotten. Putin's anti-sexual-deviancy needs to be balanced by his disregard for the loss of innocent life. His appeal to family values has to be balanced by his blind eye to civic vices. What surprises me is just how many of the right are blind to them, or even worse, how many of them see as justifiable. From my perspective Putin's "badness" is a different "badness" to the "badness" of the West: But it is still bad.

Just as Neoconservatism wants to build a conservatism without reference to Christ, Orthoconnery wants to build a conservatism subordinated to Russian/Orthodox Nationalistic interests*. In this schema, the Church blesses whatever the State wants and reinterprets facts to further that narrative. The truth be damned. The idea that NATO is a threat to Russia is laughable as is the idea that Ukraine is a fascist state and so on.  The fact that many on the Western Right buy into this is a measure of how pitiful their understanding of when membership of the right entails.  i.e. a commitment to the truth and justice.

*Note: I'm not criticising legitimate Orthodox patriotism but its a patriotism that must be grounded in the truth.

Saturday, July 02, 2022

Service Announcement

Even though not much has been posted recently on the blog it's not dead yet. I won't be posting for the next two months due to personal reasons. I'll still be keeping my eye on things though.