There Is A Tide

In order correctly to understand the modern Left, it’s important to recognize it as a secularized religion. Tracing the development of this religion, from its origins in Protestantism, then Puritanism, then through its many transmutations in America — from sixteenth-century Massachusetts, through its northern and western Protestant expansion, through the “Awakenings” of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, through the secularizing influence of Univeralism and Unitarianism, through the sequential attachments of its “mission into the wilderness” to various sacred causes such as abolition, Prohibition, women’s suffrage, global government, desegregation, feminism, environmentalism, Blank-Slate biological universalism, open borders, LBGT-etc. activism, and global warming, to name some salient examples — has been a major project of the dissident and reactionary Right over the past couple of decades. I’ve written about it often.

The leftmost edge of the Left has accelerated sharply leftward in recent years. This has exerted tidal stresses on what was never a monolithic cultural bloc to begin with, and the laminae are starting to pull apart — with the result that many old-fashioned and relatively moderate liberals are beginning to see for themselves the unmistakable features of a fundamentalist and authoritarian religion beneath the contours of what they had previously imagined to be nothing more than a compassionate and humanistic political attitude. Given that many of these sorts pride themselves on their atheism, to see that they have been associated with a religion is immediately to declare apostasy.

Such a man is the essayist William Deresciewicz, who describes himself as “an atheist, a democratic socialist, a native northeasterner, a person who believes that colleges should not have sports teams in the first place—and … a card-carrying member of the liberal elite.” He is, however, appalled to detect a religion taking control of our academic institutions, and has written a good essay at The American Scholar to say so. You should read the whole thing, but I will offer a few excerpts.

Here’s the point, simply stated:

Selective private colleges have become religious schools. The religion in question is not Methodism or Catholicism but an extreme version of the belief system of the liberal elite: the liberal professional, managerial, and creative classes, which provide a large majority of students enrolled at such places and an even larger majority of faculty and administrators who work at them. To attend those institutions is to be socialized, and not infrequently, indoctrinated into that religion.

Some of us would say that he could be more specific — that in fact we are looking at a warped and camouflaged form of Calvinism here — but to see that this is very clearly and unmistakably a religion at all is the most important insight, and Mr. Deresciewicz has made it.

He continues (my emphasis):

What does it mean to say that these institutions are religious schools? First, that they possess a dogma, unwritten but understood by all: a set of “correct” opinions and beliefs, or at best, a narrow range within which disagreement is permitted. There is a right way to think and a right way to talk, and also a right set of things to think and talk about. Secularism is taken for granted. Environmentalism is a sacred cause. Issues of identity—principally the holy trinity of race, gender, and sexuality—occupy the center of concern. The presiding presence is Michel Foucault, with his theories of power, discourse, and the social construction of the self, who plays the same role on the left as Marx once did. The fundamental questions that a college education ought to raise—questions of individual and collective virtue, of what it means to be a good person and a good community—are understood to have been settled. The assumption, on elite college campuses, is that we are already in full possession of the moral truth. This is a religious attitude. It is certainly not a scholarly or intellectual attitude.

Precisely correct. And where there is religion, there is heresy:

Which brings us to another thing that comes with dogma: heresy. Heresy means those beliefs that undermine the orthodox consensus, so it must be eradicated: by education, by reeducation—if necessary, by censorship.

… “The religion of humanity,” as David Bromwich recently wrote, “may turn out to be as dangerous as all the other religions.”

Mr. Deresciewicz also notes the tip, at least, of the anti-white iceberg:

It has long struck me in leftist or PC rhetoric how often “white” is conflated with “wealthy,” as if all white people were wealthy and all wealthy people were white. In fact, more than 40 percent of poor Americans are white. Roughly 60 percent of working-class Americans are white. Almost two-thirds of white Americans are poor or working-class. Altogether, lower-income whites make up about 40 percent of the country, yet they are almost entirely absent on elite college campuses, where they amount, at most, to a few percent and constitute, by a wide margin, the single most underrepresented group.

He also looks at the relative powerlessness of university faculties:

In the inevitable power struggle between students and teachers, the former have gained the whip hand. The large majority of instructors today are adjuncts working term to term for a few thousand dollars a course, or contract employees with no long-term job security, or untenured professors whose careers can still be derailed. With the expansion of Title IX in 2011—the law is now being used, among other things, to police classroom content—even tenured faculty are sitting with a sword above their heads. Thanks not only to the shift to contingent employment but also to the chronic oversupply of PhDs (the academic reserve army, to adapt a phrase from Marx), academic labor is cheap and academic workers are vulnerable and frightened. In a conflict between a student and a faculty member, almost nothing is at stake for the student beyond the possibility of receiving a low grade (which, in the current environment, means something like a B+). But the teacher could be fired. That is why so many faculty members, like that adjunct instructor at Scripps, are teaching with their tails between their legs. They, too, are being silenced. Whether they know it or not, student activists (and students in general) are exploiting the insecurity of an increasingly immiserated workforce. So much for social justice.

The author’s apostasy from this cryptoreligion is incomplete: while its promise of Heaven may be false, he still fears its Hell. For example, there’s this:

Students have as much merit, in general, as their parents can purchase (which, for example, is the reason SAT scores correlate closely with family income).

The” reason? That there is a far more obvious one, grounded in simple and evident facts of human difference and heredity, makes this a museum-quality sample of cult-Marx Blank-Slatism. But I quibble: that a self-described “card-carrying member of the liberal elite” should write an essay like this at all is impressive, and heartening.

It is, also, just maybe, encouraging as well. Here’s why:

I (and others) have argued that because of the radical skepsis at the heart of the modern Left — the legacy of the Enlightenment, in which nothing is exempt from the most withering and critical scrutiny — that there is no limiting principle, no bedrock, upon which this implacably descending ideological movement can ultimately come to rest.

(Two years ago I likened this to the collapse of massive stars. We might also borrow a different astronomical metaphor: it’s as if the Left, as it approaches its own singularity, is now crossing its Roche limit, where tidal forces begin to tear it to pieces.)

If, as the process accelerates, the Left continues to delaminate and disintegrate, perhaps only a smaller and smaller core will tumble into the abyss — as others, such as Mr. Deresciewicz, find bedrock, at last, below which they cannot descend.

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  1. I would have identified him as a cuck for the SAT comment and stopped reading. The denial of human inequality is the basis of Leftism.

    Alas, unlike yourself and Nietzsche, I cannot attribute Leftism to Protestantism. Perhaps it comes from living in an area where Catholic means Italian or Mexican, and asserting my own WASPy identity elsewhere, but more likely it is that I do not trust centralized power structures which compete inevitably with existing leadership such as the kings. That is a formula for accelerated entropy. But even more, Leftism seems to me to have pre-dated all of these things, and to actually be unchanging rather than accelerating.

    Leftism is a single idea, equality, designed to abolish the differences between humans, which is as much class warfare as an attempt to dethrone kings. It occurs in varying degrees from moderate Democrat through Communist, but these degrees reflect how much power or concentration it has, not a choice by those involved to hold back for decency’s sake.

    If we want to defeat Leftism, the only way is to have a better goal than “equality,” and this leads us to the root of Leftism: human individualism, the same hubris the Greeks wrote about and that is featured in the story of the Garden of Eden in the Bible.

    Posted March 12, 2017 at 11:03 am | Permalink
  2. Rick says

    It is a religion. But most importantly it is a false religion.
    A true or valid religion (whose center or foundation or source is Truth) does not delaminate. False ones always do. True religions expand the mind, not close it. And so forth..
    So in one sense (I say, an important one), it is a mistake to call it a religion without the qualifier: false.

    Posted March 12, 2017 at 12:12 pm | Permalink
  3. Rick says

    Brett — leftisim derives its power from envy. Whose potential preexists in all of us naturally and is exploited by the leftist. So it doesn’t truely believe in equality.

    Posted March 12, 2017 at 12:17 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says


    …this leads us to the root of Leftism: human individualism…

    Richard Weaver pinned it on nominalism, and William of Ockham. And we should note that Leftism has also manifested itself in radically collectivist and anti-individualist forms.

    But I wasn’t looking for ultimate origins here. The point I’m trying to stress in this post is that through Massachusetts, and then throughout America and on to the rest of the West, Protestantism (which is by definition individualist, levelling, and anti-hierarchical) has been the natural channel through which Leftism has flowed relentlessly downward — first above ground, and now, in its cryptoreligious form, below.

    Posted March 12, 2017 at 1:04 pm | Permalink
  5. Malcolm says


    It is a religion. But most importantly it is a false religion.

    As opposed to…? Buddhism, perhaps?

    Posted March 12, 2017 at 1:11 pm | Permalink
  6. Rick says

    I know next to nothing about Buddhism.

    Posted March 12, 2017 at 6:05 pm | Permalink
  7. JamesG says

    “It is, also, just maybe, encouraging as well.”

    That it appeared in the American Scholar may also be encouraging.

    That journal took a sharp turn to the left some years ago.

    Posted March 12, 2017 at 6:09 pm | Permalink
  8. Whitewall says

    “that a self-described “card-carrying member of the liberal elite” should write an essay like this at all is impressive, and heartening.” No doubt Deresciewicz will be savaged for writing the truth. Truth is poison to the Left. They must organize a protest against him!

    Posted March 13, 2017 at 8:55 am | Permalink
  9. Whitewall says

    Very timely:

    Posted March 13, 2017 at 9:07 am | Permalink
  10. guy says

    What you find as “…impressive, and heartening.

    It is, also, just maybe, encouraging as well…”

    For some reason it just reminded me of the tale of the man who after murdering his parents begged for mercy because he was an orphan.

    ‘The road to Damascus’ is a bible story that occurs as often in real life as the dead miraculously coming back to life. People like Mr. Deresciewicz who been so *fundamentally* wrong for so long never truly recover.

    Posted March 14, 2017 at 11:48 am | Permalink
  11. Malcolm says


    Well, right. I did come across as rather uncharacteristically cheery there.

    What’s encouraging is simply the partial fragmentation. Discord in the enemy’s ranks is always welcome.

    Posted March 14, 2017 at 2:12 pm | Permalink
  12. As I recall, that tale of “mercy for being an orphan” is traditionally cited as an example of flagrant chutzpah (Yiddish for shameless audacity). Another one is taking a dump on somebody’s doorstep and ringing the doorbell to ask for toilet paper.

    Posted March 14, 2017 at 3:44 pm | Permalink
  13. imnobody says

    “And we should note that Leftism has also manifested itself in radically collectivist and anti-individualist forms.”

    I think leftism (from the Enlightenment on) is both individualist and statist. It wants to free the individual from God, church, tradition, family, neighborhood, tribe, nation and other natural groups. It creates an atomized society.

    But a State is needed to rule this atomized society so it doesn’t collapse immediately. Rousseau was clear about that: the individual had to be free from everything but subject to the General Will.

    So leftism is both individualist and statist. Different flavors have different proportions. Smith is more individualist, Stalin is more statist.

    Posted March 14, 2017 at 4:12 pm | Permalink
  14. Malcolm says


    Quite so. (See, for example, my comments here.)

    Posted March 14, 2017 at 4:18 pm | Permalink