Jonah Goldberg's most recent "Goldberg File" comments at length, and
with several good points, on the maddening way that modern liberalism
presents itself as an objective, secular belief system above the
superstitious, backwards fray of traditional (and non-traditional) religions:
Speaking of Liberal Fascism, one of its core themes -- and mine -- is that modern liberalism is a political religion.
why I've been so intrigued and frustrated by the discussion around Rick
Santorum and his various comments, including: His ham-fisted remarks
about wanting to vomit after reading JFK's church-state speech, his
defense of religious freedom, his insistence that Obama's environmental
theology is "not a theology based on Bible. A different theology," his
claim that David Axelrod is the reincarnated snake God Thulsa Doom.
These have all sparked controversy, save for the last one, which I
simply wish Santorum said.
I basically agree with the substance
behind everything Santorum has said in this regard, even if I think his
phrasing, timing, tactics, tone, tenor, and emphasis leave something to
be desired. How's that for an "I agree with you in principle but . . . "
The idea that liberalism is a political religion is
not an obscure contention of crackpots -- even if I do hold it. As I've
argued -- some would say incessantly -- the Progressives saw their
political movement as a fundamentally religious one.
The 1960s have been seen by many liberal and leftist intellectuals as a religious awakening. As I wrote in LF:
religious character of modern liberalism was never far from the
surface. Indeed, the 1960s should be seen as another in a series of
"great awakenings" in American history -- a widespread yearning for new
meaning that gave rise to a tumultuous social and political movement.
The only difference was that this awakening largely left God behind.
Paul Goodman, whose 1960 Growing Up Absurd helped launch the
politics of hope in the first part of the decade, came to recognize in
the second half how insufficient his original diagnosis had been: "I . .
. imagined that the world-wide student protest had to do with changing
political and moral institutions, to which I was sympathetic, but I now
saw [in 1969] that we had to do with a religious crisis of the magnitude
of the Reformation in the fifteen hundreds, when not only all
institutions but all learning had been corrupted by the Whore of
And a bit later:
In 1965 Harvey Cox, an obscure Baptist minister and former Oberlin College chaplain, wrote The Secular City, which turned him into an overnight prophet. Selling more than one million copies, The Secular City
argued for a kind of desacralization of Christianity in favor of a new
transcendence found in the "technopolis," which was "the place of human
control, of rational planning, of bureaucratic organization." Modern
religion and spirituality required "the breaking of all supernatural
myths and sacred symbols." Instead, we must spiritualize the material
culture to perfect man and society through technology and social
planning. In The Secular City "politics replaces metaphysics as
the language of theology." Authentic worship was done not by kneeling
in a church but by "standing in a picket line." The Secular City was
an important intellectual hinge to the transition of the 1960s (though
we should note that Cox recanted much of its argument twenty years
"Man is homo religiosus,
by 'nature' religious: as much as he needs food to eat or air to
breathe, he needs a faith for living," wrote the late Will Herberg. As
the Chestertonian line goes, if man stops believing in God, he won't
believe in nothing he'll believe in anything. You can make a religion
out of anything. That doesn't mean it won't be a stupid religion.
could go on. Really. ("Please, no more about Immanentizing the
Eschaton, please." -- The Couch.) I honestly think that today's liberals
have little to no conception of how liberalism has become a religion
unto to itself. Indeed, modern politics could be seen as "a chapter in
the history of religion."
This is a huge, fundamental, first-order point about the state of
contemporary life that we don't have nearly the vocabulary to discuss
adequately. And that's why Rick Santorum's discussion of this stuff is
so frustrating: because he's right, and yet neither he nor the rest of
us have the vocabulary to discuss it easily.
If you clear the public square of what we traditionally call religion --
Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Mormonism, Buddhism etc. -- we will not
have a public square free of religion. We have a public square full of
religion fighting under the false flag of "secular values" -- with no
opposing sources of moral authority to resist it.The utopianism,
millenarianism and radical egalitarianism at the emotional core of
liberalism are fundamentally religious in nature. That doesn't mean
liberalism is evil or totalitarian. But it is less than totally
self-aware. The nice thing about traditional religion is you know where
it comes from. The unwritten faith of liberalism masquerades in the
costumes of modernity, progress, social justice and the like without
recognizing that liberalism requires leaps of faith, too.
Liberalism's lack of self-knowledge about its nature makes it very
powerful and very dangerous. Liberals can simply claim -- without
seeming like they're lying, because they actually believe it -- that
they are cold, rational presenters of fact and decency. Comte's
"religion of humanity" has forgotten that it is a religion at all. But
forgetting something doesn't make it any less real. Wile E. Coyote
forgets there's no land underneath him. His ignorance doesn't keep him
Goldberg's point about the lack of vocabulary is a very
significant one, and evidence of it is all around us, if we are paying
attention. One example from my own experience is that trying to
explaineven to serious Christians or those who consider themselves
politically conservativethat modern liberalism is essentially religious
in nature often evokes either blank looks or even knee-jerk dismissals.
People are even prone to saying, "Hey, we all really want the same
thing; we just disagree on how to get there." Really? What, exactly, is
that "thing"? Justice? Peace? Equality? Happiness? And what, exactly, do
those words mean and upon what basisphilosophically, metaphysically, politically, otherwiseare they rendered, defined, and
These are issues that James Kalb, author of The Tyranny of LIberalism, has been and will continue to address in his CWR column, "Ecclesia et Civitas". His first column was titled, "The tyranny of misunderstood freedom", and his next column, "God and Liberal Modernity", which will be posted soon, will investigate some of the points above, but in a more systematic way, beginning with this question: "What
lies behind the radically anti-Catholic form of society to which we are
tending, one in which Catholic beliefs count as patently delusional and
Catholic moral doctrine as an outrage that must be suppressed?"