Ian B Explains the Puritan Hypothesis

Ian B

I am using “Progressive” as the label popullarly assigned to the movement, rather than as an adjective. Like conservative and Conservative or gay and Gay.

I think that the meaningful socio-political divide in the Anglosphere, or at least *a* meaningful dichotomy, dates as far back as the Reformation. It can be seen as two approaches to Christianity. One of these is individualist, distinguishes Church and State (moral and secular rules) and so on. This is the liberal side, which we are on. The other interpretation is collectivist and theocratic. There is no division of the moral and secular rule sets. The State and Church are one, and the law is used for moral correction. This is the side of the extreme Protestants such as Calvin (particularly) and thus I refer to this as the Puritan side.

The “Puritan” side is the particular driver of Statism we have to deal with. It is effective in a way that Communism for instance was never going to be, because it manipulates the human moral sense. Christian culture is a sucker for this. It is particularly acute in Protestantism. Catholicism has a priesthood who stand between man and God and may absolve sin. Sins are a matter for the private confessional. Protestantism abolishes this, forcing the revelation of sin into the public sphere. If nobody is a priest, everyone is; thus the requirement for the public exposure of moral failings which becomes a powerful control mechanism. Everyone morally polices everyone else, so those who get to decide what is moral and what is immoral have great power.

Which brings me to Tom’s question of what is “good” and what is “bad”. That is decided by a kind of lay committee of powerful citizens; in our time it is academics, reformers, activists and so on, who operate a network which agrees what is good (for instance, multiculturalism) and what is bad (for instance, homophobia). If they achieve a society which adheres to these standards absolutely, they will simply find some others to add, of course.

Liberalism recognises that people are individuals and may have different moral standards. Thus in a liberal society, the law does not bother with morals or correction, it simply erects barriers to prevent coercion. You are free to hate me because of my skin colour, or religion, or because I support another football team. The law simply prevents you from harming me by violating my defined space (my person and property). Whether I am one with the angels or a thorough reprobate is no business of a liberal State or society. The Puritan programme to assign moral agency to the State has been the downfall of liberty in Britain.

As I see it.


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