Evangelical Democracy

There’s no direct evidence that Adam Garfinkle has been reading Moldbug, but he’s at least reinventing the wheel:

… the Manichean pro- and anti-democracy polarity with which most Americans think about the situation in Egypt is deeply and dangerously misguided. …  this view is an expression of a secularized evangelism anchored in the Western/Christian mythical, salvationist idea of progress, and … its unselfconscious use says a great deal more about what’s wrong with us than about what’s wrong with Egyptians. […]

… the best way to understand U.S. foreign policy is, as the late Michael Kelly once put it, as “secular evangelism, armed.” American foreign policy is, as James Kurth has brilliantly and incisively written, a product of “the Protestant Deformation”, a declension of a religious worldview, complete with logical train and eschatological pretensions, but rendered systematically into secular language that masks its real source. As G.K. Chesterton said, America is indeed a nation with the soul of a church—and not just any church, but a multi-sectarian Protestant one. […]

We Americans believe in global democracy promotion, including in Egypt, ultimately for religious reasons tied to our belief in progress, which is itself a key premise of the aforementioned Protestant Deformation. So when both Islamist and even merely Islamic critics characterized the Bush “forward strategy for freedom” as a Christianity-based attack on Dar al-Islam, and most Americans were embarrassed for them on account of the supposed primitive level of their understanding, the fact of the matter is that they were correct. […]

When I hear democracy-export advocates talk about their plans and aspirations, whether in government or in the NGO think-tank world without, it reminds me of the tone, though of course not with the identical vocabulary, of what meetings in Methodist church basements must have sounded like as missionaries in the mid- to late-19th century were about to head off to fulfill their sacred duties to save the heathens in China. We sometimes worry about mission creep, and rightly so. But what we should be worrying about more broadly, as Lawrence Husick once shrewdly quipped to me, is missionary creep—a version of which infests the infernally silly “debate” we are now having about democracy in Egypt.

July 14, 2013admin 11 Comments »
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11 Responses to this entry

  • Bill Says:

    I was stationed at the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team base in Kandahar City Afghanistan from May 2004 to May 2005. I was there during the presidential election. During the election we worked on 4 hour on 4 hour off shifts for two days. By work I mean patrolling the city with machine guns and spotlights. I was the turret gunner, and it was my job to control the crowd through commands.

    Woodariza = stop, Lasuna Portica = Put your hands up, Rasa ma anduwall = Come here my friend, Zee = go away. I also worked at a check point, Woodariza Pinza Lass Dickieka = Wait for 15 minutes, Tu Poheyzem Engrazi = You understand English.

    I remember teaching the Afghan police the English pronunciation of ‘democracy.’ I was sitting in a guard tower yelling down to them, they were sitting in plastic lawn chairs at the base of the tower. I could hear their radio blaring inside the guard tower, it was constantly blasting what sounded like news alerts with a deformed version of ‘democracy’ interspersed among the dreadful, arrhythmic Pashto and Urdu music. One thing about the Afghans was that they had really good senses of humor, even during super sketchy stuff, like being surrounded by armed men. You could count on them to crack a joke. Share a sideways look and a chuckle over being just outside the range of an improvised explosive device detonation.

    In practice the Army was not democratic with Afghan power, and instead would take important leaders and move them to different parts of the country. This was to destabilize old ethnic and tribal bonds. The Army does the same thing to itself, that’s why soldiers only spend three years on a base at a time. If they stayed longer they might build too much loyalty to each other and not follow orders from Washington.

    I was definitely an evangelical, I sent $100 to Kerry’s presidential campaign and listed my occupation as machine gunner on the online donation form. When I look back at myself it feels like a completely different person.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    It’s good to hear that the Afghans have a lively sense of humor — they’re going to need it.

    That the Army organized rotations to break up tight group formation is informative, especially because it has to go so strongly against the grain. Definitely a data nugget to be stowed away carefully for future application.

    A close relative of mine was in Afghanistan with the UN, a little after your time. A bunch of his colleagues were killed there. He doesn’t seem massively scarred by the experience, but I’m sure a lot of people would be. It’s a place for westerners to learn unpleasant lessons.

    [Reply]

    Bill Reply:

    Yeah, the idea of breaking down the power bases of the regional rulers was important. The Afghans had a different sense of time, and family was really important, in that way they were unformed by the mold of modernity. Those two qualities, timelessness and family, created a perfect petri dish for blood feuds. When we would interview the village leaders they would make up stories about the neighboring village housing insurgent fighters, and the State Dept and UN guys would pull us aside and tell us that there was no fighters in the other village. The elders were trying to use us a proxy in their 300 year old blood feud about a murder or rape from the 18th century.

    That’s good that your relative is ok. It didn’t bother me either. If I had been single I would have stayed there as long as possible. It was fun and felt natural. If a war breaks out here I will be fine.

    A bunch of my Afghan friends were killed. The way I understand it the way most of them died was they were hit by a roadside bomb, they were in a minivan on the way to shop at the American PX (a military grocery store). I liked all those guys and I’m sorry they died. There was one death that did get to me more than the others. Popeye, our base handyman, was shot in the head at a red light. He had a young son. The day we left I gave Popeye a $20, which was roughly 1,000 Afghanis (their unit of currency). I gave his son a doll from the Kill Bill movie, the hot asian school girl. It bugged me that they killed him, he was a cool old dude. His hands were made out of leather, I watched him fix a plastic pipe by lighting it on fire and squeezing the hole closed. Most normal people would’ve had to go to the hospital for burns on their hands, he just dusted his hands on his pants and went about his business. I made a point of looking at his hands after I saw him do that. They didn’t look like any human hands I had ever seen, they were thick and crooked, and I know this doesn’t make complete sense but they reminded me of an animal hoof. Part of the reason I gave him $20 on the day I left was to touch his hand and see what they felt like, they felt like a powerful hand inside a baseball catchers mitt.

    Sorry, I get word diarrhea when I write about the ‘stan.

    Regarding your thoughts about the break up of regional power. The Army wasn’t the only one trying to break up Afghan regional power. The Taliban were trying to consolidate power right before the 9/11 attacks and they went after their biggest rival for power Commander Massoud. Ahmed Shah Massoud, a.k.a. The Lion of the Panjshir, he was an important regional commander who controlled northern Afghanistan right up to 9/9/2001 when he was assassinated. He was important because he was educated and never lost control to the Taliban. September 9th is a national holiday for him there.

    Also, second way the US spreads democracy: Culturally we can thank Sylvester Stallone for making way for Democracy in Afghanistan. Rambo III was based in Afghanistan, and it was one of the main ways the Afghans related to us Americans. On a few occasions they would actually run to meet us, and whoever won the race would tell us his name was “John.” A name they choose because of Rambo. The local warlord was named Toor Jon, which translates to Black John, and he got to be the John in his group because he was the warlord. Some Afghans thought all Americans would be as muscular as Rambo, it was weird, but as propaganda it was effective.

    [Reply]

    Posted on July 14th, 2013 at 2:24 pm Reply | Quote
  • Jack Angelo Says:

    I haven’t studied Protestantism enough to speak intelligently about it, but it’s baffling to me how Protestant America seems to have become more Catholic (universalist) than Catholic Europe itself.

    In my opinion, America’s foreign policy is utterly stupid. Pissing off everybody else, basically, and they don’t even benefit from it.

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    “… it’s baffling to me how Protestant America seems to have become more Catholic (universalist) than Catholic Europe itself.” — that’s an irony I’ve not seen explored much. It deserves to be.

    American foreign policy seems to be approaching maximum entropy. Obama has actually done everybody a favor by pulling that forward, so we can begin to see what’s over the horizon.

    [Reply]

    Orlandu84 Reply:

    @Jack Angelo
    “I haven’t studied Protestantism enough to speak intelligently about it, but it’s baffling to me how Protestant America seems to have become more Catholic (universalist) than Catholic Europe itself.”

    I think that a little linguistic unveiling is in order just to clarify the terms. “Protestant” comes from the Latin word, “protestantem,” which means, “one who declares or protests in public.” It was first used by Church officials to condemn those who resisted Church authority. Catholic, on the other hand, comes from two Greek words, “kata” and “olos.” “Kata” means “about” and/or “related to”; “olos” means “whole,” “entire,” and or “complete.” Together in the word “catholic” they mean “concerning the whole.”

    Moldbug would likely comment that the universal tendencies of the USG are towards ‘progress’ through protest/revolt. The stones that form the Cathedral are the shouts of the mob tearing itself to pieces. The more they revolt, the larger the Cathedral grows.

    “Catholic Europe” is a figment of our collective imagination. The Roman Catholic Church never gained total control over anything outside the Papal States. For example, the Roman Rite has usually not been the ordinary way that Mass was celebrated except till recently. For most of the Church’s history, local priests and bishops added and changed the liturgy to suit their own tastes. In the Second Vatican Council the Church once again tried to achieve liturgical hegemony and uniformity. It was not long till there were clown masses on the one hand and High Latin Masses on the other.

    The difference between America and Europe might very well be one of time scale. Whereas the liturgical changes that happened in the Catholic Church proper took centuries to unfold, the USG’s Cathedral works over the course of decades. By working ever quicker, the Cathedral has attempted to rid Western culture of the eternal or timeless.

    All that seems timeless now is the past. As the past grows in allure, people want it more and more. Like young men and women drawn to a cabin in the woods, contemporary people want to look at what was and still is and not what will be. Looking at what is left over, however, forces us to either become heroes or monsters. Which one we become depends upon whether we gain self mastery or squander it.

    [Reply]

    Alex Reply:

    … tt’s baffling to me how Protestant America seems to have become more Catholic (universalist) than Catholic Europe itself.

    “The readers of Time magazine were assured in the summer of 1992 that ‘within the next hundred years … all states will recognize a single global authority.’ The author of the article was Strobe Talbott, member of the CFR, former Rhodes Scholar and President Clinton’s roommate at Oxford. Mr. Talbott, at that time Ambassador-at-Large and Special Advisor to the U.S. Secretary of State on the New Independent States and Russia, admitted that ‘it has taken the events in our own wondrous and terrible century to clinch the case for world government,’ made possible by the democratic ‘idea that all human beings are born equal and should, as citizens, enjoy certain basic liberties and rights, including that of choosing their own leaders.’

    “As he explains it, “Once there was a universal ideology to govern the conduct of nations towards their own people, it was more reasonable to imagine a compact governing nations’ behavior toward one another.’ Setting up the new Utopia should not prove difficult, because, says he, ‘All countries are basically social arrangements, accommodations to changing circumstances. No matter how permanent or even sacred they may seem at any one time, in fact they are all artificial and temporary.’ For solutions to incidental problems, he invites global planners to study the United States. As prototype of modern artificial governments, he believes it is still ‘the best example of a multinational federal state.’ To use it as a world model would be little more than ‘the logical extension of [its] Founding Fathers’ wisdom.’ (The Birth of the Global Nation, July 20, 1992.)

    “Every artificial government from Cain’s city to the United Nations exhibits four distinguishing marks: It is one, human, universal and autonomous. A Catholic has no trouble recognizing these characteristics as mirror-images of the four marks of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Utopia’s unity resides in a man-made ideology imposed on all without distinction. Its holiness is that of man become his own god, whereas its universality is nothing more than the fallen human nature shared by all of us. Its apostolic authority is ‘the consent of the governed.’

    “In other words, Utopia is the official apostasy of nations, the apo-State.”

    – Solange Hertz, Beyond Politics: A Meta-Historical View of What Keeps On Happening.

    E pluribus unum. (As for once Catholic Europe, it’s conforming to the same template.)

    [Reply]

    admin Reply:

    The symmetry is mesmerizing, but I can see openings for the unconvinced. Doesn’t the repetition of unity, in opposition, suggest an excessive freedom of interpretation? One might have expected a discordant plurality to occupy this position.

    [Reply]

    Alex Reply:

    Oh absolutely. The quoted author (whom some on Team Rome have dubbed ‘the mother of all traditionalists’) would doubtless concede she was preaching to the convinced. The most sympathetic reader may withhold unqualified consent from some of her more outré speculations even as he enjoys having his flesh made to creep: “The underlying ideology is the same which in the past produced not only the United States but the League of Nations, and which now actuates the United Nations. Economic complexes like the hetero-national European Community put together by the Maastricht Treaty, not to mention t hose being contemplated in Asia, are all patterned on the selfsame likeness of the Beast from the sea, whose swaying horns and heads share one body. He has yet to reach full stature, but he can be identified.”

    That said, the Strobe Talbott piece serves to remind one that the USA is perhaps best seen not as a ‘Protestant nation’ but as the offspring of an unholy coupling between Puritanism and the Enlightenment (Luke 23:12). From this flows both opposition and unity. Opposition because the apostles of Liberty Enlightening the World were as self-consciously in revolt against the old order as the medievals self-consciously sought continuity with the ancient world. (“And thenceforth our Trumpet shall publicly sound with a loud sound, and great noise, when namely the same (which at this present is shown by few, and is secretly, as a thing to come, declared in figures and pictures) shall be free and publicly proclaimed, and the whole world shall be filled withal. Even in such manner as heretofore, many godly people have secretly and altogether desperately pushed at the Pope’s tyranny, which afterwards, with great, earnest, and especial zeal in Germany, was thrown from his seat, and trodden underfoot, whose final fall is delayed, and kept for our times, when he also shall be scratched in pieces with nails, and an end be made of his ass’s cry, by a new voice.” – Confessio Fraternitatis) Unity because a vision of human autonomy which can draw up a new nation to a rational plan isn’t going to balk at conceiving a rationally planned family of similar nations. (“We have it in our power to begin the world over again!” – Paine) (Here the redoubtable Mrs Hertz goes full Manly P Hall, ruminating darkly on the Green Dragon Tavern’s alchemical significance.)

    I suppose the sed contra would be that the various Frankenstein’s monsters stitched together by the globalists look to be coming apart at the seams under the mutually reinforcing pressures of economic agony, resurgent ethnonationalism and the apparently indigestible element of Islam. Or maybe all this is just another stage in the process of solve et coagula!

    Posted on July 14th, 2013 at 3:06 pm Reply | Quote
  • admin Says:

    @ Alex
    Dazzlingly brilliant (as always). Everyone needs to follow your utterly disturbing link. Then we need to burrow down into an alchemy discussion, because that is what it’s all about.

    [Reply]

    Alex Reply:

    Your kind words are more than my poor squibs deserve but alchemy is a potentially fruitful topic.

    . . .

    BTW have you ever read any Gene Wolfe? I recently stumbled across this delightful (if obscure) poem by him:

    The Computer Iterates the Greater Trumps

    DEMENSION Trumps (21)
    Do 1969 1 = 1,22
    N = 22-1
    Trump (N)
    Trump (21)
    The Universe includes by definition all,
    That Man has seen since the great fall.
    God’s calling card this, upon our silver Disch,
    On what table? In what house? In what hall?
    Trump (20)
    The L6a6s6t Judgement, and my creed betrays,
    Unlearnt foreknowledge of those coming days.
    The angels come to smite the sea and land,
    The anti-Christ for us — and slays.
    Trump (19)
    The Sun the dancing children love,
    Casts down this radiance from above.
    Fusion, fission, no remission;
    So small a house, so large a stove.
    Trump (18)
    The Moon, stillborn sister of our Earth Pale
    Faced observes the living birth.
    Soon, soon, the sister’s children come,
    To plow and plant that stoney turf.
    Trump (17)
    The Star, sky-ruler by default,
    Pours out two waters: fresh, and salt.
    Naked, bare breasted girl, and (whisper)
    Magna Mater of the Old Cult.
    Trump (16)
    The Falling Tower smote by God,
    Thunders in ruins to the sod.
    Master, it needs no wit to read this card.
    Master, you must wait his rod.
    Trump (15)
    The Devil straddles his searing throne,
    With power in his hands alone!
    He says,
    We have been shown; we have been shown; we have been shown.
    Trump (14)
    Death in this deck’s no gibb’ring shade;
    But naked peasant with a blade;
    Think on that, thou unfought people! and,
    Remember whence these cards were made.
    Trump (13)
    The Hanged Man hangs by his feet,
    Knew you that? His face, so sweet,
    Almost a boy’s.
    He hangs to bleed. Who waits to eat?
    Trump (12)
    The Wheel of Fortune; cause and effect;
    God will save his own elect;
    The wheel turns until it stops —
    The bitch within runs ’til she drops.
    Trump (11)
    Sworded Justice weighs us men,
    Then, sordid weighs us up again.
    Were’t not more justice just to slay?
    Slayings sans guilt to slay again?
    Trump (10)
    Fortitude with hands like laws,
    Clamps shut the writhing lion’s jaw;
    Ignoring his beseeching eye.
    Ignoring his imploring paws.
    Trump (9)
    Taking two hands in the Tarot game,
    Temperance, with Time her other name.
    Pouring light into a golden cup.
    Watering our wine. Drowning our fame.
    Trump (8)
    The Hermit with his lamp and staff,
    Treads all alone his lonely path.
    He who hath no one,
    Know you who he hath?
    Trump (7)
    The Lovers mean birth as well as lust,
    Read ye that riddle as ye must;
    Men from semen, O ye people!
    Dust from dust from dust from dust.
    Trump (6)
    The Chariot’s a Gypsie car,
    And we the happy drivers are,
    with whip and reins and endless pains,
    So far, so far, so far.
    Trump (5)
    The Emperor for worldly power,
    To shake and scream a fleeting hour;
    To this a bribe, to that a bullet —
    Remember, Mater, the Falling Tower?
    Trump (4)
    The Hierophant, The Pope, The Priest;
    Today we fast, tomorrow feast.
    The bridegroom was with us yesterday;
    The Hierophant remains, at least.
    Trump (3)
    The Lady Hierophant, good Pope Joan,
    Who will not let the truth alone;
    A scholar killed her yestereve,
    Today she’s sidling towards the throne.
    Trump (2)
    The Empress, Nature, loving and cruel,
    Grim mistress of the one hard school,
    Mistress of microbes,
    Breaking each tool.
    Trump (1)
    The Juggler points both down and up, in mastery of confusion;
    First in all the deck stands he, creator of illusion.
    Sword, coin, and cup before him lie,
    And on his face derision.
    Trump (0)
    *******FOOL*******
    errorerrorerrorerror
    232323232323232323

    1969

    [Reply]

    Posted on July 19th, 2013 at 4:05 pm Reply | Quote

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