Progressive Religion

This argument seems strangely familiar. Still, if the central thesis of Neoreaction is becoming common wisdom on a path that bypasses Moldbug, it remains something to be celebrated. Cultural convergence could simply be an index of truth.

Jaded as I am by NRx, Goldman’s review doesn’t quite make me rush out to buy the book (since we’ve been treating this argument as a basic reference for years). It’s still good:

The desire to be redeemed from sin (redefined as a social fact) identifies the post-Protestants as children of the Puritans. That insight is what makes his new book a new and invaluable contribution to our understanding of America’s frame of mind. Just what is a secular religion, and how does it shape the spiritual lives of its adherents? Bottum deftly peels the layers off the onion of liberal thinking to reveal its Protestant provenance and inherited religious sensibility. The Mainline Protestantism that once bestrode American public life never died, but metamorphosed into a secular doctrine of redemption. And that was made possible by the conversion of sin from a personal to a social fact in Walter Rauschenberg’s version of the social gospel. Bottum writes, “The new elite class of America is the old one: America’s Mainline Protestant Christians, in both the glory and the annoyingness of their moral confidence and spiritual certainty. They just stripped out the Christianity along the way.” By redefining sin as social sin, Rauschenberg raised up a new Satan and a new vocabulary of redemption from his snares. According to Bottum, his “central demand is to see social evil as really existing evil — a supernatural force of dark magic.”

Is this a socially intolerable revelation, in the sense that its acceptance would make the existing order of the world impossible? In other words, can the Cathedral overtly embrace its own Neo-Puritanism, without terminal disturbance? This is a question that might rapidly become inescapable.

ADDED: The (NRx-scrubbed) Ultrapuritanism Hypothesis gets Instalanched. Also, Rod Dreher’s meta-review is here.

ADDED: More Bottum-based mainstreaming.

March 19, 2014admin 34 Comments »
FILED UNDER :Neoreaction


34 Responses to this entry

  • fotrkd Says:

    If I’m reading this article right (and I’m not sure I am – is it pure parody?), it may be a veritable blessing to them…


    Posted on March 19th, 2014 at 5:54 pm Reply | Quote
  • Shlomo Maistre Says:

    That would depend on many factors – among then, obviously who/how many people accept the idea and also what it is that they accept exactly.

    That Progressivism consists of prejudiced beliefs? Of irrational tenets? Of religious axioms? Snore.

    That Progressivism denies that man is by nature prejudiced, irrational, and religious? Yawn.

    That Progressivism is not so much a system of beliefs as it is a process of forming them, that Progressivism is the unleashing of ravenous reason, which, by abandoning the prejudice, irrationality, and religion that extend from the past by design, leads to the destruction of those religious/political associations that restrain, pattern, and channel human action in an orderly manner? Well that’s solid but perhaps insufficient.

    Sufficient, though, is when people do not accept anything about Progressivism at all – neither because there aren’t Progressives nor because they are weak, but because to accept one must first consider and one who believes only that which he inherited considers nothing.

    Traditions, habits, values, prejudices are inherited but so is the inherent means by which we all (even Progressives) understand all things – intuition stemming from those particular memories man is endowed with upon conception.

    In other words, nothing communicable can fully capture what is sufficient for Reactionary ascendence because Reaction is about understanding what is true – and nothing is perhaps more true than the harm man deals virtue by communicating except the inherent degradation time deals social order by passing, which itself illustrates the true purpose of Reaction: to preserve order so much as possible by preserving, conserving, and retaining.

    Progressivism is the process of forming belief by communication.

    Reaction fully formed is the process of understanding belief by intuition.


    admin Reply:

    Your argument is very thought-provoking (which isn’t the point at all, is it?).


    Shlomo Maistre Reply:

    A wise retort; we all have our vices.


    Peter A. Taylor Reply:

    False dilemma. We have saying in the aerospace industry: “In God we trust; all others, bring data.”

    Some decisions we can make because we trust our intuition. Some decisions we can make because we trust our analysis tools. (“Reason” is a euphemism for “I trust my analysis tools.”) Other decisions require us to perform tests.

    Moral philosophy is hard. It’s too complicated for intuition to work reliably and our analysis tools are pitifully inadequate. We have to rely on experiment. But it takes 500 years to run an experiment, and there are no controls.


    Shlomo Maistre Reply:

    Moral philosophy is not a matter of data; it’s neither hard nor a problem to be solved. Moral philosophy refers to a collection of sophistries that seek to address what actions and when actions are justified/moral/good.

    Man deals less harm (both absolutely and proportionally) by communicating only insofar as is necessary to identify, contend with, act well based on what is – not what should be. (What should be is realized – by timeless intuition and in reality over time.) The “pure” engineer is a good example of this, since he – roughly speaking – communicates what ought to be only for the eventual purpose of delineating the pros and cons of courses of actions based on the constraints of what is. The sophist, in contrast, communicates what ought to be for any number of (often subconscious) reasons not directly pertaining to the subject of his words – hubris, social acceptance, demonstration of sexual market value, etc.

    Examine human history. What good has ever come of human reason? Of argument? Although to fully answer such a question one must first recognize what is goodness, the disorder wrought by reason is so inherent and consistent that even one who denies the intrinsic value of intuition will notice a most pronounced trend: social order is a consequence of belief and submission, never reason or argument.

    Was Pax Romana the result of reasoning, of experiment, of communication for the sake of communication? Or was it the result of fortuitous circumstances, great leaders, and religion and patriotism taking hold of and forging the very definition of an entire people?

    A note on sophistry. As all action is exercise of power and all communication is action, the mere expression of opinion is not only the seeking of control but also – and therefore – the exercise of it. Thus, works of penmanship are works of swordsmanship and a definition of morality is immoral/amoral inasmuch as it is universally defined and/or meant to apply outside the bounds of the author’s recognized authority.

    Those dogmas that entail thoroughly prescriptive judgments of that which ought to be, but that are sufficiently clothed in the descriptive garb of what is, comprise those beliefs sufficiently blind to stabilize society, for it is by assuming that reality must be as it is that reality becomes closer to what it should be.


    Alex Reply:

    Is reason not from God?

    Shlomo Maistre Reply:


    In the way I suspect (albeit only suspect!) you mean, no – reason is not from G-d. Certainly the more man reasons – ceteris paribus – the less he likely acts well. Reasoning to some degree is unfortunately inevitable, given the universal degradation of humanity rendered by the original use of reason that led Eve to eat that apple. Man, in other words, is not immortal.

    Prior to elaboration here are two quotes from a certain Joseph de Maistre:

    “Human reason left to its own resources is completely incapable not only of creating but also of conserving any religious or political association, because it can only give rise to disputes and because, to conduct himself well, man needs beliefs, not problems. His cradle should be surrounded by dogmas; and, when his reason awakes, all his opinions should be given, at least all those relating to his conduct. Nothing is more vital to him than prejudices. Let us not take this word in bad part. It does not necessarily signify false ideas, but only, in the strict sense of the word, any opinions adopted without examination. Now, these kinds of opinion are essential to man; they are the real basis of his happiness and the palladium of empires. Without them, there can be neither religion, morality, nor government. There should be a state religion just as there is a state political system; or rather, religion and political dogmas, mingled and merged together, should together form a general or national mind sufficiently strong to repress the aberrations of the individual reason which is, of its nature, the mortal enemy of any association whatever because it gives birth only to divergent opinions.”

    “The essence of all intelligence is to know and to love. The limits of knowledge are those of its nature. The immortal being learns nothing: he knows by nature everything he should know. On the other side, no intelligent being can love the bad naturally or by virtue of his nature; for this to be so, it would be necessary for God to have created man evil, which is impossible. If then man is subject to ignorance or evil, this can be only by virtue of some accidental degradation, which can be only the consequence of a crime. The need, the hunger for knowledge, which stirs man, is nothing but the natural tendency of his being that carries him toward his primitive state and shows him what he is.”

    This hunger for knowledge is fundamentally different from the reason man inadvertently exercises in his actions, albeit man can rid himself of intentional reasoning no more easily than his evil proclivities, as both stem from his nature. Nevertheless, let us define two types of reason by fiat to get at the issue at hand.

    Positive reason is used with respect to that which is; it is used unwittingly, humbly in order to do what one ought to do; reason is likely used more positively the less one is aware he is using it.

    Normative reason is used with respect to that which should be; it is used intentionally, selfishly in order to assess what one ought to do; reason is likely used more normatively the more one is aware he is using it.

    Rebellion is intrinsically an act of normative reason. Subjects, citizens, children, employees, slaves and subordinates rebel against authority for reasons of what they believe ought to be. Fear not, tender reader, for since the arc of the universe is long but bends towards justice, there is no insurrection so noble, good, or right that its full consequences are not eventually disorderly AKA bad.

    Positive reason, insofar as it is free of normative reason’s corrosive effects, is if not good at least not bad.

    Alex Reply:

    Maistre’s “left to its own resources” suggests reason goes awry when it seeks sovereign autarky.

    “Thereupon there came into being and spread far and wide throughout the world that doctrine of rationalism or naturalism, — utterly opposed to the Christian religion, since this is of supernatural origin, — which spares no effort to bring it about that Christ, who alone is our Lord and Saviour, is shut out from the minds of people and the moral life of nations. Thus they would establish what they call the rule of simple reason or nature. The abandonment and rejection of the Christian religion, and the denial of God and his Christ, has plunged the minds of many into the abyss of pantheism, materialism and atheism, and the consequence is that they strive to destroy rational nature itself, to deny any criterion of what is right and just, and to overthrow the very foundations of human society.” – The Vatican Council, 1870

    Rebellion is intrinsically an act of normative reason. Subjects, citizens, children, employees, slaves and subordinates rebel against authority for reasons of what they believe ought to be.

    Is that an act of reason or just pride?

    Posted on March 19th, 2014 at 6:04 pm Reply | Quote
  • Lesser Bull Says:

    *In other words, can the Cathedral overtly embrace its own Neo-Puritanism, without terminal disturbance? *

    Maybe, but there has to be a reason that the Cathedral insists so vehemently on its not being religious. And on not having a history.


    admin Reply:

    Yes. A Cathedral stripped of smugness is almost unthinkable. At the risk of over-enthusiasm, it’s easy to see how this could spiral into radical demoralization. It should stiffen some spines on our side, too, when the process-in-motion is lucidly recognized as a holy war.


    Posted on March 19th, 2014 at 6:25 pm Reply | Quote
  • Stirner (@heresiologist) Says:

    I think Liberal = Secular Puritan is one of the most effective NRx rhetorical themes. Progs are so very smug about all their correct beliefs being firmly grounded in Science and Experts. To have that directly confronted and to label them and their causes as a manifestation of their liberal faith annoys them to no end.

    It also sets NRx up as a way out of the paradigm of blind faith. Conservatives = blind faith in trad religion. Progs = blind faith in atheistic Puritanism. NRx=only path out of blind faith and towards a more considered perspective on reality.

    Spengler’s review also picked up on an important point. Traditional religions are strongest when they are present (or impede) various aspects of everyday life. Religion then is a tread that runs through daily life, not just a thing you do on Sunday. By politicizing everyday life, the Progs are strengthening the value of their religious framework. Their politics inform their purchases, their Facebook likes, the shows they watch, etc. Efforts to depoliticize everyday life could be covert means for NRx to indirectly attack Liberalism. The less appropriate it becomes for liberals to inject their politics into everything, the weaker their ties to liberalism will become.


    Posted on March 19th, 2014 at 7:03 pm Reply | Quote
  • j. ont. Says:

    I’m not an expert, but it seems to me that the Moldbug/NRx critique of enlightenment is basically in the same vein as the Nietzschian/Foucauldian/Derridian “post-modern”—maybe even “post-structuralist”—critique of modernity, insofar as it identifies in the contemporary mode of life a deep mythological ancestry. Our gracious host is probably in a better position to comment, but to the best of my knowledge the relationship between Moldbug and post-structuralism hasn’t been thoroughly discussed. A lot of the people in the reactosphere act like Moldbug did this amazing thing by suggesting that Calvinism might have something to do with contemporary leftism—that “lots of things you think you know about history are probably wrong”—as though this isn’t something discussed in undergrad philosophy classrooms. Admittedly, someone like Foucault has very different motives from Moldbug, and a very different story to tell—but it’s not exactly mind-blowing to think that, yes, politics today have been influenced by an aggressive strain of Christian ideology.


    admin Reply:

    You’re right to suggest that Nietzsche (especially) anticipated some of this, but the specificity Moldbug adds has a quality all of its own.


    RiverC Reply:

    My first encounter with this critique was from Orthodox sources, men such as the Russians who got expelled into Europe in the early 20th century. It was not as specific as Moldbug’s, it went that the Americans are, to the outsider, two things:
    1. Hyper-Calvinistic
    2. Extremely Judaized / Judaizers

    This meant that not merely the Progressives, but also the Conservatives and the Reactionaries in the USA were both of those things. Moldbug however makes a strong case for Progressives being, essentially, those who take (per Polanyi) the ‘moral passion’ of Christianity and uncouple it from Christianity. The form of this ‘de-christianized Christianity’ is thus both hyper-Calvinistic on one hand, and ultra-Judaized on the other hand. And this de-christed or ‘immanatized’ Christianity is itself Progressivism. This is why unlike many conservatives I wasn’t too upset by Nietzsche discarding Christianity, considering that from a position such as his, it’s a valid solution to the problem of Progressivism: eat all of it.

    However, I’m not convinced that either
    A. Progressivism is specific to Christianity
    B. Worse and/or more insane problems don’t exist in other systems that we don’t know about

    In the former case, I would make the argument that the temptation to progressivism is something like cancer; it is always unique to its host in one way, but a general disorder affecting anything with genes is its cause.


    Posted on March 19th, 2014 at 7:40 pm Reply | Quote
  • Galdruxian Says:

    Yes, the field is wide open for rightist deconstruction and countercultural attacks on Progressivism’s sacred cows. I’ve been doing this for a while now, attacking the religiosity of progressives, and generally the response is “you’re a scumbag fuckwit” or “how dare you prefer strawberry to vanilla ice cream.” The important thing is to reveal the naked power motives masquerading as moralism that props up this religion, and to hammer away relentlessly at its utterly arbitrary and bogus moral claims.

    I suppose Neoreaction right now is a bit like the beatnik movement in the 1950s — marginal, easily laughed off by the squares, but which in a few years may blossom into a full-fledged cultural counter-revolution. What is needed are more creative, transgressive types like Mr. Land, more William S. Burroughs’s and Timothy Learys of the right (if such a thing is possible). As more young, smart hipsters realize how dull and pedantic modern progressives have become, how stale and schoolmarmish their ideology, and are emboldened to come out of the closet as reactionary revolutionaries, an avalanche could be triggered. The progressive order is incredibly tenuous and probably at it’s historic high water mark; a fearless neoreactionary vanguard that wields the weapons of the left has an unprecedented opportunity for memetic conquest.


    John Hannon Reply:

    “What is needed are more creative, transgressive types …”

    Especially comedians.
    Imagine the fun a few neoreactionary Bill Hicks types could bring to the party.


    RiverC Reply:

    Counter-revolutionaries. ‘reactionary revolutionary’ is as strong a contradiction as one can create.


    fotrkd Reply:

    Need(y)… can I suggest a premise of neoreaction: we don’t need Bill Hicks types… we’ve got Bill Hicks precedents and thousands of years of media to dive through. What we’re lacking is the time…


    shalmaneser Reply:

    William S. Burroughs always was a poor fit for Progress: muh gunz, muh misogyny -“There is nothing more provocative than minding your own business.”

    Leary had that Weatherman phase but Comrade Cleaver in Algeria fixed his wagon. When he came back with E.O. Wilson-influenced genetic castes and High Frontiers on his mind, leftoids rejected him.


    Posted on March 19th, 2014 at 8:42 pm Reply | Quote
  • Erik Says:

    Related: The Passion Of 12 Years A Slave

    The NYT on Passion: The Passion of the Christ is so relentlessly focused on the savagery of Jesus’ final hours that this film seems to arise less from love than from wrath, and to succeed more in assaulting the spirit than in uplifting it.
    The NYT on Slave: The genius of “12 Years a Slave” is its insistence on banal evil, and on terror, that seeped into souls, bound bodies and reaped an enduring, terrible price.

    Boston Globe nearly comes out and says it: It’s the story of the American tragedy — this country’s original sin….“12 Years a Slave” is to the “peculiar institution” what “Schindler’s List” was to the Holocaust: a work that, finally, asks a mainstream audience to confront the worst of what humanity can do to itself


    admin Reply:



    Posted on March 19th, 2014 at 10:33 pm Reply | Quote
  • Foseti Says:

    “In other words, can the Cathedral overtly embrace its own Neo-Puritanism, without terminal disturbance?”

    That depends on whether they’re allowed to portray their belief as a belief is reason and things rational or whether it’s portrayed as the fundamentalist religion it is.

    The genius of Moldbug’s argument is that it relentlessly mocks this belief (in addition to correctly describing it).

    Believers in this religion take it as a tenet of their faith that religion is stupid and backward.

    If they’re acknowledged as religious themselves, they’ve lost by their own standards. They see themselves as mini-voltaire’s when in fact they’re poor-man’s-torquemedas (no offense to torquemeda). They can’t survive the revelation of this fact.

    (Note also that this is why it’s f-ing crazy that High Church types defend these clowns. Conquest’s second law works in mysterious ways).


    Peter A. Taylor Reply:

    “Believers in this religion take it as a tenet of their faith that religion is stupid and backward. ”

    Some versions do, some don’t. There also isn’t an agreed-upon definition of “religion”. At a Unitarian Universalist church, you might hear a minister defending “religion”, properly understood, or you might hear the choir sing John Lennon’s “Imagine”. Older members are more likely to have chips on their shoulder about “religion”. New members tend to have been raised without it, and don’t have the attitude. My wife has a chip on her shoulder, but only about Christianity. She leads the Pagan group at our church.


    Lesser Bull Reply:

    I believe that if you eliminated the anti-religious sectors of progressivism, there wouldn’t be enough fervor left to sustain the thing.

    No offense, but I have the same impression about UU.


    Peter A. Taylor Reply:

    No offense taken. In fact, it sounds like a good discussion topic for my group this Sunday.

    Peter A. Taylor Reply:

    We did discuss this last Sunday. The most knowledgeable person there claimed that the dogmatic Humanists are a net drain on the church. It’s true that they provide a great deal of the fervor among the remaining members, but they more than balance this out by driving away the liberal Christians. There is a large population of Christian theological Universalists (in the sense of believing that God is too loving to send people to Hell) who would be UU if the dogmatic Humanists weren’t so obnoxious. The population of Humanists is comparatively small. So UU has captured only a tiny fraction of its natural market.

    Posted on March 20th, 2014 at 8:18 am Reply | Quote
  • Orthodox Says:

    How many steps does it take to get from Cathedral to Satan?


    Alrenous Reply:

    Only a couple, but you have to walk backward.


    Posted on March 20th, 2014 at 10:03 am Reply | Quote
  • Alrenous Says:

    I like these:

    Maybe as a result, a hunger for a thicker world, for a supernatural infusion, is written across America in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries

    “re-enchantment and spiritual thickening of reality”

    Because, now I get to say, “Oh hey, I wrote about that.”


    Posted on March 20th, 2014 at 2:29 pm Reply | Quote
  • RiverC Says:

    Dreher may be daft on some of the aspects of DE, but dang, this is good stuff

    (Benedictine Exit is one of the few successful Exits of the past)

    Furthermore, I read Dante as a kid, though of course not in the Italian. Through it comes my namesake.


    Posted on March 20th, 2014 at 3:30 pm Reply | Quote
  • VXXC Says:


    “for since the arc of the universe is long but bends towards justice, there is no insurrection so noble, good, or right that its full consequences are not eventually disorderly AKA bad.”

    How conveinient. There’s something familiar about this argument as well.

    Well let’s spread the bad around then, hence do our worst.

    It’s quite been done to us.

    Lay down in degradation and ruin while we very slowly kill you with bankruptcy, drugs, porn, crime, a truly comprehensive ruin –or you’re evil.

    Hmm. Well. Let’s be Evil then.


    VXXC Reply:

    I see no reason why Evil should have all the fun.

    This may lead to sovereignty absolutely not being conserved, but them’s the breaks.


    Posted on March 21st, 2014 at 2:14 am Reply | Quote
  • j. ont. Says:

    Curious—are there any buddhist NRx blogs/resources out there? Western Cathedral types seem to love buddhism—or some white-washed orientalist version, but I expect there’s potential for some serious reaction there.


    Posted on March 21st, 2014 at 4:46 pm Reply | Quote

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