Thursday, February 16, 2023

Protestant Modern: Teal Kooyong

Australian politics isn't really followed by much of the Anglosphere, which is a shame because some of the best examples of the change in Western culture can be illustrated by its study.

But firstly a bit of background. Prior to the 1970's Australia was effectively a Christian country divided among Catholics and Protestants with this division being felt socioeconomically. The Catholics were predominantly the class of the workers while the Protestants were the class of the establishment. The main Protestant divisions being predominantly the Anglicans (equivalent to the Episcopalians) ,the Presbyterians and a significant minority of Methodists.  In comparing it to the U.S., Australia tended to be a bit more "mainline". And in voting patterns the Catholics tended to vote for the Left (Labour) while the Protestants voted for the Conservatives (Called Liberals, as in the classical liberal tradition.) The Liberal party was the political arm of the Protestant establishment.

For much of the 20th Century the Catholic component of the culture felt that it was treated as second class in the country, and I bring this point up not to raise grievances but to illustrate that the dominant governing culture was protestant despite the fact that there was no established religion in Australia.

The most conservative state in Australia was the sate of Victoria, and most of the senior establishment lived in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, it's main city. The electoral seat of Kooyong was geographically aligned with the demographic that governed and administered the country. The seat itself was considered a citadel of the conservative demographic, being the seat of Australia's most successful--and longest serving-- conservative Prime Minister, Robert Menzies. Menzies, himself, was quite religious, describing himself "as a simple Presbyterian."  The seat was always held by a conservative, even in times where there were massive electoral swings to the left.

A funny thing happened at the last federal election. 

The conservatives lost the seat.

What was also interesting was the losing incumbent was generally likeable and politically not really offensive. So why the loss? 

The candidate who won the seat, Dr Monique Ryan, ran on the "Teal" party platform. she represented the interests of the wealthy woke. Whats also interesting is the colour that they chose to represent their stand. Teal is a mix of blue and green and it illustrates the nature of the political shift which I also think is an apt description of the shift in ideological/religious values of the Kooyong voting demographic.

The Kooyong electorate was a bastion of traditional "Protestant" civic morality however with the collapse of Protestantism, both in terms of its number of adherents and shift to the left, the traditional governing classes have abandoned their traditional protestant values and assumed woke ones. The bottom line is that the conservative party has lost its traditional supporter base. The governing class, which used to be Protestant is Protestant no more. (At least in a traditional sense.)

Similar political swings and losses were seen in other areas of the country. The conservative political loss in this former bastion of conservative values does fully convey the catastrophe of this loss. For the seat of Kooyong is also the home of senior public servants, board members, executives and so on.  The senior apparatus of government and commerce is woke.

The political changes seen in Australia have been echoed in the rest of the Anglosphere and this has paralysed the political arm of conservatism.  Traditional conservative ideology has been abandoned by the class that established it and is now adrift. Protestantism, which gave the conservative parties their ideological strength has been drained especially in the ruling classes, and a conflict has arisen in its ranks between the woke benefactors and the traditional i.e. Christians who still hold onto the faith.


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 dimensions:

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.