Statist presumption

The common man is typically unnoticed in history, literature, and art. Reviewing James C. Scott’s book Against the Grain for the TLS, Crispin Sartwell writes:

If this picture is even roughly or partly true, mainline anthropology has been profoundly distorted by what we might call a statist presumption, by the equation, for example, of civilization with large-scale political authority. It lays open the question of who did the research, and for whom. The historical narrative, for many reasons, has been dominated by large states and empires that engaged, for example, in elaborate record-keeping and monumental architecture; what persists in time is inordinately the self-interpretation and self-presentation of political power.

TLS July 19 2019

Novissimis Diebus Romanum

Fleming on Romney voters today:

But, are the polls correct?  Is the race Obama’s to lose?  Possibly, probably.  I have one nagging doubt.  As they used to say in the Westerns, it’s too quiet out there.  Four years ago, at this point, there were yard signs all over my neighborhood.  This time, there is hardly anything.  The people I meet in business or at church are all promising to vote for Romney, but it is not because they like the governor.  In fact, they do not.  They do, however, fear that an Obama victory will finish off the American economy, wipe out their pensions, and eliminate Social Security.  That is enough for them, and it may be enough for me.

There is, I think, another reason for the lack of public support for Romney:  fear.  People are afraid of reprisals.  It is not so much that they fear attacks from the New Black Panthers or other militant groups, but in displaying a Romney sign they may think they are inviting accusations of bigotry.  I have, in fact, heard such talk.

I can concur with what he is hearing. Everyone I talk to is convinced that economic calamity – Greece writ large – is on the horizon. This election could seal that fate. As Fleming concludes: “In the long run–and in America, long runs are shorter than the election cycle–it does not matter who wins.  Within a few years, tax-consumers will so outnumber tax-payers that there will be no point in working or saving.” Perhaps I should look forward to my future on the dole prior to moving to some rural redoubt to weather the storm.

Between Babel and Beast

Between Babel and Beast is Peter Leithart’s newest book, this time on the subject of American Empire. My copy is on the way. I just read a review from Roger Olson, a man who is probably not at all sympathetic with Leithart’s theological positions, but hear what he says:

If Leithart were not who he is, a theologically conservative American Protestant (and possibly some kind of Christian Reconstructionist), he would be labeled (by Religious Right types and conservative evangelicals in general) a liberal liberationist critic America and dismissed as a “leftist.” Of course, he’s not that. But many of his criticisms of America echo ones found in the literature of Latin American liberation theologians. For example, he gives numerous examples of instances in which America has contributed to the overthrow (often violent) of democratically elected Latin American governments solely to protect “American interests” (viz., the interests of large American corporations). He doesn’t just throw these charges out there without supportive detail. Read the book.


Of all the books I have read in the past several years, this one strikes a chord with me most strongly. I cannot recommend it strongly enough. Get it and read it. Let it speak to you. Share it with someone you know who believes in “American exceptionalism.”

I don’t know if Leithart is a prophet in the same category as Isaiah or Amos or John the Baptist (or Gregory of Nyssa or Chrysostom), but this book is prophetic. It (especially Parts II and III) ought to be required reading in every American church and Christian organization.

I think this will be a great follow up to Against Christianity and Defending Constantine.

Leithart on Americanism

There is an excellent interview with Peter Leithart over here today. I have to get his new book as soon as I can. Here is an excerpt:

Trevin Wax: You describe the U.S. as a post-Christendom Christian nation. What do you mean by this description?

Peter Leithart: Christendom was a political system that officially subordinated political power to the purposes of God’s kingdom. In practice, Christendom was full of injustices and evil, but in theory it was a political system where theological convictions concerning salvation, the church, the Eucharist, and the future provided the framework for political life.

By the time the first English colonists settled in new England, that order had already collapsed in Europe because of the fracturing of the church at the Reformation. Even though the settlers wanted to establish a Christian polity, it was a new start. Unlike Europe, America has no memory of medieval Christendom – no cathedrals or monasteries or castles – and we never have. From the beginning, America was “post-Christendom” in that sense.

When we get to the late 18th century, we are again in a different cultural world. The American Founders were not trying to shape a political system within the political framework of Christendom. As secularists often point out, there are virtually no references to Christianity in the American Constitution. Even though most of the founders are Christians, their political outlook isn’t forged by the convictions of Christendom.

America is unthinkable apart from Christianity and Christendom; but our polity represents a fairly radical break from the Christian tradition. Oliver O’Donovan captures this when he says that the First Amendment marks the end of Christendom. We are a polity where the church is no longer recognized as having a central and essential public role.

Glenn Beck and Cleon Skousen

The inimitable Aaron Wolf has a good post up about Mormonism and America. Excerpt:

And yet everything about this America-is-God’s-country ideology is Mormon to the core.  It serves as the false foundation of a religion that finds the center of human history not in the Incarnation, Cross, and Resurrection of Christ but in “another revelation of Jesus Christ” in the terrestrial “promised land” on which we stand.  It is Manichaean, declaring our external enemies evil and ourselves good, locating wickedness not in the hearts of sinful men but in the foes of a human government that will wither as the grass.  It is the religion of America—not the real, historical America, but the America of myth and fantasy.

“If we do these things,” Beck preached, “we will heal our nation.”  The phrase is reminiscent of 2 Chronicles 7:14, so often cited at rallies on the National Day of Prayer.  If my people, which are called by my name, shall . . . return to limited government (no. 19)?  Operate according to the will of the majority (no. 20)?  Be debt-free (no. 27)?  The assumption here is that Americans, like the Israelites of old, are uniquely “my [God’s] people.”  And that it is not “I the Lord” but “We the gods” who can “heal their land.”

American Culture

…American culture or civilization has been, in the main, a Baptist modification of old catholic and Reformed culture. The New Christian Right, in its attempts to stem the tide of degeneracy in American life, is a Baptistic movement, and this is the reason why the New Christian Right finds itself in a condition of crisis, confusion, and indeed impotence. The thesis the editors are setting forth, then, is that American Christianity must return to a full-orbed Biblical and Reformed theology, and set aside Baptistic individualism, if it is to have anything to say to modern problems – indeed, if it is to survive.

– James Jordan, The Failure of American Baptist Culture, 1982


Two years ago, when the Messianic State made its latest advance, I posted this. Things now seem worse on many fronts. The debt of around 16 *trillion* dollars is utterly unsustainable. The only thing holding government finances up is that the rest of the world will go down in flames with us if we go down, so the illusion of stability is maintained. At some point, we have to go Weimar, or get bailed out like Britain was in 1946, effectively ending their Empire.

Our government will not stop the madness until it literally has to, with no money on hand to pay military and civilian salaries, fund contractors, or maintain welfare payments to the masses. What will happen then? Riots, looting, the breakup of the Union, or something else? I don’t know, but looking at the mass emigration occurring from Greece and Ireland, as well as the suicides and people working for free provide some clues as to what our future will look like. It may not happen for ten years, or twenty, but it will happen, barring some unforeseen miracle of economic growth and government restraint.

So what to do? I think getting land somewhere that you can flee when cities go up in flames is a prudent idea. I think the Benedict Option will become more and more attractive as time goes on. Violent revolution and taking up arms are not options. Emigration would be nice, but to where? The Welfare State is in power almost anywhere you look that is civilized. It seems best to me to look for a quiet corner of America to retreat to when it all goes down.

To repeat what Jim Jordan said about the illusion of the Right in terms of taking power right now:

Back in the 1980‘s in an essay called “Rebellion, Tyranny, and Dominion in the Book of Genesis” from the book “Tactics of Christian Resistance”, James Jordan exegetes Genesis and its implications for Christian politics. His bottom-line is that right now we are in a situation where we must wait with patient faith, mature, and achieve power only in the distant future. Note that you should probably read the whole essay and understand his exegesis to understand his conclusions. An extended quote follows; Jordan writes:
Is the “New Right” really “ready to lead”? I doubt it. The New Right has not yet figured out the message of the book of Genesis. It continues to think that reformation will come through the acquisition of political power. By looking to the state, New Rightists (and old conservatives as well) make themselves statist. […]
Many conservative Roman Catholics thought that John Kennedy would help turn things around. They were disappointed; Mr. Kennedy apparently spent too much time doing other things to ask what he could do for his country. Mainline conservatives then trusted Richard Nixon, a man knowledgeable in international affairs, to turn things around. They were disappointed; Mr. Nixon’s conscience was not sufficiently seared to permit him to act like a Democratic Party politician, guilt-free. Bible believing Christians had high hopes for Jimmy Carter. Need we add that they were disappointed by the decisions made by Mr. Carter’s mother, sister, and wife? And then the whole New Right got behind Ronald Reagan, who by his appointments betrayed them before he even took office, and has now signed a bill, updating social security, which directly taxes the churches.
Frankly, I believe that in all of this God has, as always, been gracious to us. Are Christians in this country ready to take charge? Heaven forbid! Virtually none of them knows the first thing about the law of God, by which they are called to govern. Most of them do not even acknowledge the sovereignty of God. Few have any experience in governing, since their churches have no courts, being at best mere preaching points (where they have not degenerated into spas and literal circuses). The most powerful New Christian Right people are personality-cult oriented, one-man shows (and by shows I mean shows: radio shows, television shows, and the putting on of shows).
This is not to despise the New Christian Right, or to argue that we should not exercise our (remaining) liberties as Americans to pressure the larger governments toward more Godly actions. We need to remember, however, that there is only so much time and energy alloted to each of us, and essentially that time is far better spent acquiring dominion through service than in power politics.
We may contrast three different approaches, which are not mutually exclusive, but which are of varying value at present. First, there is the effort to change laws by getting people elected to office. That has not been very successful so far, and the reason is that the vast majority of Americans essentially like things the way they are. That’s why things are the way they are – it is what the people want, and it is what they deserve, and so it is what God gives them…
Second, there is the effort to go about our business as quietly as possible. We submit to the “powers that be,” not to any law that such powers may happen to enact. We do not recognize their right to make laws, for to do so would be to grant them absolute power; but we recognize that God has given them power, and we are not to contest that power as such. We practice deception where morally necessary, and that includes preserving our capital, protecting our households, and rearing our children, as Genesis makes clear. If we are taken to court, we fight in that arena for the right to conduct Christian lives, as Paul did in the book of Acts.
Third, there is the effort to develop a Christian subculture, building up the churches as true courts and sanctuaries, developing Christian arbitration and reconciliation commissions, Christian schools, Christian medical facilities, and the like. These latter two methods are the primary ones for our times. […]
When we are ready, God will give the robe to us. That He has not done so proves that we are not ready. Asserting our readiness will not fool Him. Let us pray that He does not crush us by giving us such authority before we are ready for it. Let us plan for our great-grandchildren to be ready for it. Let us go about our business, acquiring wisdom in family, church, state, and business, and avoiding confrontations with the powers that be. Let us learn to be skillful in deceiving them and in preserving our assets for our great-grand-children. For as sure as Christ is risen from the grave and is ascended to regal glory on high, so sure it is that his saints will inherit the kingdom and rule in His name, when the time is right.

The Non-Neutral State as Theologian

We are told by our secularist masters that government is to remain free of religion. It should take no position on religious matters. But as Greg Bahnsen said:

The alternative to God’s law is not no law at all, but human law; governments which do not guard the majesty of God and His righteous law have no alternative and choice but to uphold the majesty of their own human authority … If no higher law is adhered to, then the law of man is absolute; there is no logical barrier to stop such a state from becoming totalitarian. When the state’s will is substituted for God’s will, then the only real crimes become crimes against the state (as in Imperial Rome, present day Russia, and much of the United States), for example, treason, defection, and so forth.

And so it is that our government has no problem ruling on the finer points of religion when it threatens our order. One think tank that has done the government’s thinking for it for decades is the RAND Corporation. In a report from RAND titled “Deradicalizing Islamist Extremists“, published in 2010 we find advocacy for one form of Islamic theology against other forms. For example:

Nevertheless, precisely because Islamist ideology plays such a central role in these groups, it is necessary to change militant Islamists’ beliefs as well as their behavior. Moreover, while it may be difficult to alter the worldview of Islamist radicals, there is an opportunity to use mainstream Islamic theology to undermine radical Islamist ideology.

Let me say here that the government is right to oppose Islam, but what is it opposing it with? Simply put: secularism. There is no real concern for any truth claims, all such claims are assumed to be so many baubles for the unenlightened masses. The goal is to get these Muslims to embrace an ideology that is effectively neutral towards truth claims. You can believe in Jesus or Allah, it doesn’t matter, so long as your beliefs make absolutely no claims on politics or the State. Once they start doing that, the State will not tolerate them, and thus the State makes a theological claim of its own. Witness:

Because ideology is such an important driver of violent Islamism, most of the existing deradicalization programs in Muslim countries include an ideological component in the form of a theological dialogue. These prison-based programs enlist imams, Islamic scholars, and some- times even former radicals to discuss Islamic theology in an effort to convince militants that their interpretation of Islam is wrong. Since the discussions “are based on a common reference to Islam and Islamic law as the ultimate source of truth and legitimacy,” they are more compelling than other approaches and, at times, effective in moderating the prisoner’s beliefs.

A credible interlocutor who was knowledgeable about both Islamic theology and democratic ideals was used to conduct the ideological intervention, which consisted of challenging the political and social underpinnings of the radical narrative as well as its theological foundation.

In these cases, once a trigger emerged, the leaders of the radical organization began a period of internal deliberation. When presented by credible interlocutors—usually accomplished Islamic scholars, or ex-militants—mainstream Islamic theology served to push the mili- tant leaders to disengage and deradicalize by raising questions about their ideology. Mainstream Islamic teachings pulled the leaders toward moderation by offering them a chance to redeem themselves in the eyes of God, as well as a way to justify the strategic and ideological shift to their followers. Because Islamic jurisprudence prohibits many types of jihad, the militant leaders could present the organization’s moderation as a correction of past beliefs that were the result of a misreading of Islamic theology.

Because counter-radicalization and deradicalization programs are embedded in a war of ideas, the counterideological component of these programs is extremely important. Most Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian programs employ a form of theological dialogue in which main- stream scholars and sometimes even former radicals engage extremists in discussions of Islamic theology in an effort to convince the militants that their interpretation of Islam is wrong.

As I said, the claims of Islam are evil and should be resisted, but they cannot logically be fought by a secular state claiming neutrality as the highest value of all. They can and should be combatted by a renewed Christendom, one which combats the rule of Allah with the rule of the Son of God, now reigning at his Father’s right hand. In the end, Christians need to realize that America is not fighting for truth, but for neutrality as the highest god. We can be wise enough to let it conduct this battle as a necessary precursor for the spread of the Gospel, but we cannot think that this equates with the Great Commission. And if we embrace the RAND way of thinking about religion, we will see this same logic turned on us – keep your religion in your head and you will be fine, but if it makes claims on the State, woe betide you!

Leithart on American Christians

From Credenda:

Christians in the modern age have often ridden the wave of sacrificial politics, and American Christians have shown as little resistance as any. Christians are among the most patriotic Americans. So seamless is our union of American ideals with Christianity that it is difficult for us to consider even the possibility that our nation is a sacrificial system competing with God and the church for our loyalty. It is virtually unthinkable that God might call us to the sacrifice of martyrdom in opposition to America rather than to sacrifice in defense of America. No wonder activist Christians are so readily folded back into the system. Until we get sacrifice straight, until there are actual martyrs, our resistance to statism will remain anemic.

His article describes nation states as transformed churches, demanding ultimate loyalty.