Archive for September, 2009

It is ironic that the Progressives appealed to Lincoln, as if their own political views were of a similar brand as his.  But in fact, Lincoln held to the natural rights philosophy of the founding fathers, the same natural rights philosophy despised by the Progressives.

Contrary to Progressive paternalism Lincoln would have offered the philosophy contained in the contemporary song, “Root Hog, or Die”—that is, take the risk of being free, overcome a paralyzing fear of the future, work hard to obtain one’s daily bread.

As against this view, Ronald Pestritto points out in his book Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism, 2005, the American Progressives thought they were “presenting a rationale for moving beyond the political thought of the American founding.”

In the twentieth century, Fascism and Nazism were extreme versions of European Progressivism.  It would be wrong to say that all Progressives were in effect Fascists or Nazis, but all Fascists or Nazis were Progressives.  The essential thing that Progressivism has in common with Fascism or Nazism is statism.

The origins of statism go back at least to Aristotle, who defined man as a political animal, but the modern origins of statism can be found in the German philosopher Georg Hegel, who argued that the state has a “supreme right against the individual, whose supreme duty is to be a member of the State” (Philosophy of Right).

The Progressives echoed this.  Mary Parker Follett redefined the traditional American concepts of natural rights, liberty, and equality in terms of statism:  “If my true self is the group-self,” she claimed, “then my only rights are those which membership in a group give me.  The old idea of natural rights postulated the particularist individual; we know now that no such person exists.”  (The New State, 1918.)

She further claimed that the state and the citizen are one, and that the “state is not the servant of the people.”  Moreover, the will of each individual should combine with wills of all others to produce what she called an “all-will.”

Follet justified her statism by saying it was a middle way between extremes: “Our old political dualism is now disappearing.  The state does not exist for the individual or the individual for the state.”

The Italian Fascist Benito Mussolini echoed these ideas:  “The Fascist conception of the State is all-embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value.  Thus understood, Fascism is totalitarian, and the Fascist State—a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values—interprets, develops, and potentiates the whole life of a people.”  (Doctrine of Fascism, 1932.)

Similarly, Nazi party member Carl Schmitt said: “The recognition of the plurality of autonomous life would, however, immediately lead back to a disastrous pluralism tearing the German people apart into discrete classes and religious, ethnic, social, and interest groups if it were not for a strong state which guarantees a totality of political unity transcending all diversity.  Every political unity needs a coherent inner logic underlying its institutions and norms.  It needs a unified concept which gives shape to every sphere of public life.  In this sense there is no normal State which is not a total State.”  (The Legal Basis of the Total State, 1935.)

Progressivism billed itself as a “third way” between the extremes of socialism and anarchy.  Later, Fascism and Nazism would also bill themselves as the middle way between Marxism and liberal democracy.

Lincoln would have recognized the real extremes as statism on the one hand and anarchism on the other.  The golden middle is individualism, the traditional American view of liberal democracy enunciated by Jefferson and Madison.

This is why Lincoln opposed both abolitionism and secessionism.  The abolitionists were disappointed with Lincoln for not using the Emancipation Proclamation to free the slaves in southern States that remained in the Union.  (In our day, Lincoln-bashers despise him for the same reason.)

However, Lincoln believed Federal dictation to the States without Constitutional authorization was a form of absolutism.  He thus would have rejected the modern “Leader” principle, the idea of rule by a strongman or charismatic dictator.

On the other hand, the secessionists believed that a minority could depart from the Union simply because they lost an election to the majority.  Lincoln, however, believed that majority rule, held in check by Constitutional limitations, was the only way to avoid anarchy and despotism.

In Lincoln’s view then, liberal democracy was the true middle way.  Far from being a proto-Progressive, Lincoln would have rejected its statist philosophy as forcefully as he rejected abolitionism and secessionism.


The Boundless Field of Absolutism

Posted: September 6, 2009 in Government, Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln explains why he could not extend the Emancipation Proclamation to all the southern states:

“The original Proclamation has no constitutional or legal justification except as a military measure. The exemptions were made because the military necessity did not apply to the exempted localities…If I take the step [as Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase had proposed] must I not do so, without the argument of military necessity, and so, with out any argument, except the one that I think the measure politically expedient and morally right? Would I thus not give up all footing upon constitution or law? Would I not thus be in the boundless field of absolutism? Could this pass unnoticed or unresisted? Could it fail to be perceived that without any further stretch, I might do the same in Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri; and even change any law in any state?”

Lincoln could free the slaves in the Confederate states out of military necessity, but to free the slaves in Union states would have required a constitutional amendment and also would have alienated pro-Union southern states — a foolish thing to do during war.

Lincoln believed he could not interfere with the domestic matters of states without Constitutional authorization, for to do so would amount to absolutism.  If he could act unilaterally in the case of slavery, why couldn’t he do it with any other domestic issue in the states?

For Lincoln, that was the essence of absolutism — dictating to the states on matters that were not under the jurisdiction of the federal government, as per its enumerated and limited powers under the Constitution.

It would be nice if our modern judges understood the Constitution as well as Lincoln did.  But with the doctrine of “incorporation” and the resultant judicial activism, modern judges are as anti-Lincoln as any neo-Confederate ever was.  They have no problem at all in wandering into the boundless field of absolutism.


Death of a President

Posted: September 4, 2009 in Culture, Politics, Theology

A Phoenix preacher named Steven Anderson has managed to get himself into the national media spotlight by praying for Barack Obama’s death.  One of his church members actually showed up at an Obama event carrying a weapon:

Regardless of what one thinks of Obama – and I don’t think very much of him – this type of talk is inexcusable.  Didn’t we just go through eight years of leftwing extremists wishing for George Bush’s assassination or death, even making movies and video games about it?  Ethics 101 — What’s wrong in one case is wrong in the other as well.

Phoenix pastor and debater James White has responded to Anderson, noting that Anderson is a King James Only advocate, someone who believes that the King James version of the Bible is inspired, not just the Bible per se:

A good historical overview of the King James Bible can be found on Wikipedia at:

As if anticipating KJV Onlyism, the KJV translators gave a fairer assessment of their own work: “[T]he very meanest translation of the Bible in English, set forth by men of our profession… contains the word of God, nay, is the word of God.”

Thus, from the scholars who gave us the KJV is the humble admission that even the poorest Protestant translations still contain the word of God.  The fact is, the KJV was composed to be the standard text for the Church of England, to be read in Anglican churches.  It reflects some of the ornate style and dignified language of the Jacobean period – the time of Shakespeare.  Despite its literary and historical merits, it is not the be all and end all of Bible translations.  Indeed, the old Geneva Bible was the translation that many of the English reformers used, not the KJV.

Anderson appears to be suffering from an inferiority complex.  On his webpage, he says he “holds no college degree” but has “well over 100 chapters of the Bible committed to memory.”  He apparently never got a ministerial degree, either, which may explain his hostility to Bible Colleges.

While it’s true that ministers don’t have to be elite philosopher kings in order to preach the gospel, there is no harm, and certainly much good, in getting an education before taking on ministerial duties.   St. Paul “spent some days with the disciples at Damascus” before beginning his ministry (Acts 9:19), and Apollos temporarily halted his preaching ministry in order to learn theology from Priscilla and Aquila (Acts 18:26).

Anderson’s KJV Onlyism may be inspired by the fact that he doesn’t know Greek or Hebrew, which is usually a requisite for pastors.  He gets upset when he hears preachers correcting the KJV by citing the original Greek.  “They are correcting the perfect Bible,” he says.

Anderson argues that hell is a literal place of fire and brimstone and is now located at the center of the earth.  He also believes Jesus descended into a literal fiery hell for three days.  Aside from Anderson’s very peculiar versions of geology and Christology, he does not understand that “hell” in the Bible is a translation of three Greek words, each having a different meaning, cf., where “hades” means place of death.  He also doesn’t understand that “Sheol” is the Hebrew term for place of death, and thinks the Spanish infierno is a better translation! 

It’s true that some theologians believe hell is a literal place of fire and torment, but it’s also true that many others believe fire is symbolic for separation-from-God, a punishment that hurts the soul (with shame, guilt, regret) the way fire hurts the physical body.

His lack of understanding of simile and symbolism leads him to accuse Jack Schaap of blasphemy.  It seems Schaap’s great sin was to describe the Christian’s relation to Jesus by way of a rather clumsy simile involving sexual relations within marriage.  Now the basic concept of bridal theology can be found in both the Old and New Testaments, but its indelicate elaboration only starts with Ambrose and with mystical theologians of the Middle Ages.

Schaap was merely following in that rather creepy tradition of overdoing the marriage simile.  Anderson is thus correct to oppose it, but I suspect his opposition has to do not so much with literary taste, as with a gnostic hatred of sex.  Like a true gnostic, he would probably deny that the Song of Solomon has any sexual content in it.

In Anderson’s world, “normal” men are never tempted by homosexuality, which means once a man becomes a homosexual, he is beyond help.  There is no preaching of the gospel to homosexuals in Anderson’s soteriology.

He is opposed to birth control, including the pill, which is, as he puts it, “the most heinous form of birth control.”  Likely Anderson would regard condoms as the invention of the anti-Christ.    As far as I see, neither the pill nor condoms actually take life, but rather prevent conception.  In Anderson’s view, however, preventing conception is like the sinner refusing salvation, so he regards family planning as selfishness.  Anderson’s proof-texting for these views is worthless, something he might have learned had he studied in seminary or graduated from a Bible College. 

Anderson is undoubtedly a legalist.  He is down on contemporary Christian music.  I agree with him there, but he descends into legalism when he advises people not to listen to their CDs throughout the week but only sing hymns.  He also says they should sing hymns from fifty years ago.  He’s also down on women wearing pants, or girls wearing “tight blue jeans.”  In addition, he says “there is really no way we can watch television.”  I would say that television is often unwatchable, but it’s up to the individual whether he watches it or not, not meddling preachers.  He opposes in vitro fertilization as well, regarding it as unnatural, and opposes male gynecologists since they have to look at nude women.  I suppose Anderson, following his own logic, must also oppose male doctors since they often have to look at unclothed women (surgery, child-birth, etc).

It’s all very fine to criticize contemporary culture, which is certainly bad enough, but there is something worse — legalism.  This is what happens when the standards of weak or immature Christians are imposed on other Christians or people in general.  What Anderson wants to impose on himself is his business, but if Christians want to watch TV, or a DVD, or listen to radio, that is their business, not his.

Because Anderson rejects Calvinism, his theology is not a theology of grace, but of works.  It’s no wonder his sermons and essays are so rambling and legalistic.  Because Anderson is an Arminian rather than a Calvinist, it’s all about getting up enough will power to strive against sin, to follow legalistic rules and regulations, to view life through the prism of fear, sin, and wrath.

Because he’s a legalist, Anderson sees enemies and temptations all around him, but his greatest enemy appears to be Barack Obama, whom he says he hates.  “If you want to know how I’d like to see Obama die, I’d like him to die of natural causes,” said Anderson.  “I’d like to see him die, like Ted Kennedy, of brain cancer.”

Anderson would like to see Obama die of natural causes, to be sure, but if Obama were to be assassinated, I suspect Anderson would not dislike that particular outcome either.   I wouldn’t be surprised if Anderson or one of his parishioners doesn’t turn out to be a doppelganger for John Wilkes Booth.

I think it’s pretty obvious this is not the religion of the gentle Savior.  It is not a theology of grace.  What Anderson’s theology represents is the theology of hate, the theology of the spiritual psychopath.  From this all Christians should turn away.