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Goldberg vs. Reno: it is Goldberg for the Win!

 

Jonah Goldberg doesn’t need me to defend him, but since we had two posts on this subject already (found here and here), I thought it was worth my time to read the entire R.R. Reno review.

The review was terrible. Frankly, I expected Mr. Reno to hold himself to a higher standard than he achieved in his review of Jonah Goldberg’s book. Goldberg responded to the review on Twitter by laughing at it. I thought I might give a longer response. Let’s start right at the top.

Mr. Reno writes:

Goldberg believes that the Miracle exists beyond rational justification—and therefore beyond critique. “There is no dialectic, inevitability, teleology, or hidden algorithm that made human success a foregone conclusion.” We can’t explain it as divine Providence, nor can we justify the Miracle on the basis of human nature. Goldberg thus jettisons the foundations of classical political philosophy: God, human nature, reason, and history. Critics may imagine that there could be a better way. But Goldberg assures us they are mistaken. We are “standing at the end of history,” and there is no alternative other than reactionary regression.

Mr. Goldberg does no such thing. He merely adopts the Hayekian position that we should not pretend to have too much knowledge about how this great thing happened. Sure, many arguments about why this happened and where this happened have merit and serve as partial explanations. These answers remain partial. As Goldberg explains at length, no one knows completely why and how the mix of Enlightenment thinking, Christianity, English and Dutch culture, and geopolitical situation led to these last three centuries of jaw-dropping economic growth, the protection of individual rights, and the peaceful advancement of political and religious freedom. Since we have no certain formula for making this kind of society happen, Goldberg encourages us to not be cavalier in throwing away the achievements.

The wealth the “Miracle” creates allows for discontent. Hard work and thrift become despised, resentment of the standing order begins to eat away at the foundations of our success. Goldberg’s book is about wanting to fight the discontent, the resentment, the erosion of the moral foundations that make the Miracle happens. Goldberg says it’s a fight worth having because no known alternative to the Miracle is an improvement. Consequently, he spends a long time in his book addressing critiques of the Miracle.

Goldberg and Reno agree that “Critics can imagine a better way.” Where they disagree is that Goldberg points out no alternative has proven better than what we have now, while Reno seems to think such “better” alternatives exist, though Reno fails to identify any of them.

***

Reno writes,

Since there is no reasonable basis for criticizing what Goldberg calls the liberal order, the only explanation for dissent is psychological—a psychosis, a regression, an irrational fear. He dismisses various populist movements as irrational even though they have asked us to answer some very reasonable questions: Should there be limits to globalization? What is the future of the Pax Americana? What is the role of the nation-state in the twenty-first century? How should we respond to mass migration? Can we sustain global prosperity while ­reorienting its benefits toward middle-class voters in the West?

Actually, this is not Goldberg’s understanding at all. Goldberg doesn’t claim the Miracle defies all explanation and is therefore immune from criticism. Rather, he thinks the Miracle is better than any alternative actually offered. It is not psychosis but human nature which resists benefiting more than our own group or narrow interests. The fallen nature of men tends to bend more towards exploitation instead of beneficial co-operation with strangers.

Let’s take apart Reno’s series of very reasonable questions: “Should there be limits to globalization?” A question very much asked and answered in various ways by people within the classical liberal order of the Miracle. “What is the future of the Pax Americana?” A question that is not even part of Goldberg’s book and is not essential to the Miracle. “What is the role of the nation-state in the twenty-first century?” A question well asked by the defenders of the Miracle and detractors alike. “How should we respond to mass migration?” The legal, cultural, economic system that is Goldberg’s “Miracle” has no one answer to that. Mass migration is not a foundational question but a contingent one.

The first half of the last question in the series takes the existence of the Miracle for granted and means that Reno supports Goldberg’s thesis more than he knows. Reno asks, “Can we sustain global prosperity…?” Before the Miracle, the entire world would have found that premise to be insane. Who would care about “global prosperity”? Why would we care about that, rather than be concerned with just our own prosperity?

Reno claims the series of questions he poses to Goldberg are gifted to us by “populism,” but they were part of the conversation before populism’s recent rise. The real questions are, will we answer these questions in a healthy and useful way or in a way that’s harmful and counterproductive?

***

Reno writes,

For example, after 1945, a consensus developed that promoting free trade forestalls nationalist competition that leads to war. Free trade also unites America’s allies in common cause against communist aggression. It was a wise policy for a time, but it was not itself the liberal order. After all, in the decades before 1945, proponents of the liberal order in America pursued vigorous protectionist policies. Today, however, criticisms of economic globalization are denounced as anti-liberal, as if the post-1945 world order uniquely and finally realized the essence of liberalism—which is ­exactly what Goldberg implies.

A false reading of history. Classical liberalism always valued free trade but the focus was first on eliminating tariffs and other barriers within a nation or group. This was a major way for regimes to tax their own people, and liberals wanted to end this harmful practice. Now the very thought of such a practice is so insane that Reno just skips over it. The principle of free trade was in fact part of the liberal order always but the why and the how of our implementation of the principle have changed over time as our knowledge, experience, and technology have changed.

This would be no different than saying free speech was not really part of our values at the founding of the United States because the founders allowed more censorship than we do today. The principle of free speech has been with America from the beginning but its implementation and its impact on our culture changes over time.

***

Reno writes,

This confusion of the present political consensus with the end of history is a constant temptation in the modern era. Modernity is whiggish. It seduces us into thinking that everything that comes before leads to the present, which finally realizes the true potential of earlier trends.

But as Goldberg writes on page 99 of his book,

None of this is to say that Hannan—a friend of mine—is wrong. It is to say that he was right when he said the English “stumbled” into modernity. The tradition of English liberty was a flame that could have been extinguished if the winds of history had shifted slightly at any one of a thousand different moments. We are fortunate that circumstances worked out the way they did. But at the most fundamental level, if you take providence or some other teleological theory of the purpose of history out of the equation, modernity happened in England by accident.

Hard for me see Goldberg the Whig here.

***

In the following passage, Reno basically agrees with Goldberg and joins with him in sounding the alarm for saving the miracle:

Peasants with pitchforks are dangerous, yes, but less so than our complacent political class. These people fail to recognize that while benefiting many, globalization has hollowed out the middle class in the developed West, thus imperiling liberal democracy. Our job is to rethink, readjust, and remediate so that the best of what has been achieved in recent decades can be preserved.

That Reno spends most of the review trashing Goldberg’s view, then pretty much joins in with Goldberg’s premise at the end, seems dishonest, lazy, or at the least sloppy. More charitably, perhaps Reno did not fully grasp the book I assume he read.

***

Reno takes a very strange turn when he writes,

In Goldberg, the habit of denunciation reaches absurd heights. He rehearses the tiresome conservative trope that Democrats are not true liberals but illiberal progressives. According to Goldberg, Trump voters are ingrates, moral hypocrites, and tribalistic “reactionaries.” So are Clinton and Sanders voters. He believes that ever since Woodrow ­Wilson, what goes by the name “liberal” in America has in fact been an anti-liberal form of reactionary regression from the Miracle. Anyone who defines ­Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt as enemies of the liberal order is a political propagandist, not a thinker concerned with understanding our populist-­driven challenges.

The fact that Wilson and FDR were hostile to the classical liberal order and sent the Democrat party into an illiberal direction is simply true: they were open about it and it is obvious. How this becomes a “tiresome conservative trope” for Reno is beyond me. I can hazard a guess that it may be rooted in a Conservative Catholic tradition that goes something like this:

First came Protestantism, which led directly to Liberalism, which descends naturally into Communism and only a return to a society ordered by the Catholic Church defends us from such horrors. I have heard of this view and read of it, but it never made much sense to me.

Catholic, Orthodox, and Pagan countries have all gone Communist or Fascist. Which Protestant countries have done that? (Germany of course did but it was a country with an enormous Catholic population). Protestants did become classically liberal first but not all Protestant countries did so or even remained classically liberal. I will just leave it with the thought that anyone claiming that Wilson and Roosevelt were not enemies of the classical liberal order as written down in our founding documents is not a serious thinker.

***

I will end with this: Although most of Reno’s essay was off-topic or misinformed, he finished with an insightful question:

One place to start is with Augustine, who defined a commonwealth as a body of people united by a common love. In a liberal society that prizes individual freedom and religious pluralism, can we identify our common love? ­Populism cannot answer that question, but it has shown that our public intellectuals and political leaders can’t either. [emphasis added]

For the last 300 years, we all answered this question with a resounding and surprising successful “Yes!” Before that the whole world would have said “No!” Goldberg thinks preserving the “Yes” is vitally important and it seems to me Reno is comfortably answering “No.”

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There are 45 comments.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  1. Coolidge
    Brian Wolf Post author

    I wanted to give a shout out to @pseudodionysius and @benjaminglaser who helped inspire this post and pointed toward the Reno review of Jonah Goldberg’s book.

    • #1
    • September 12, 2018 at 12:18 pm
    • 7 likes
  2. Member

    Good job. I’m sticking with Team Gold. 

    • #2
    • September 12, 2018 at 12:29 pm
    • 6 likes
  3. Coolidge

    It sounds like Reno took the first line of the book to mean that Goldberg was denying that God had any hand in creating the “Miracle” of our modern western civilization. That’s not the case at all. While I still think Jonah would have done better to not start the book by saying “There is no God in this book,” he was merely stating that he would be making an argument that many progressives and leftists wouldn’t object to on the grounds that they don’t share his belief in God. (Of course they have plenty of other objections.) I can understand the editor of First Things not thinking it’s possible to make that argument without God, but Jonah is just avoiding having his position rejected out of hand by people who disagree.

    • #3
    • September 12, 2018 at 1:03 pm
    • 7 likes
  4. Coolidge
    Brian Wolf Post author

    Nick H (View Comment):

    It sounds like Reno took the first line of the book to mean that Goldberg was denying that God had any hand in creating the “Miracle” of our modern western civilization. That’s not the case at all. While I still think Jonah would have done better to not start the book by saying “There is no God in this book,” he was merely stating that he would be making an argument that many progressives and leftists wouldn’t object to on the grounds that they don’t share his belief in God. (Of course they have plenty of other objections.) I can understand the editor of First Things not thinking it’s possible to make that argument without God, but Jonah is just avoiding having his position rejected out of hand by people who disagree.

    I would have written the book differently from Jonah but I respect his choices for writing his book and he touched on nearly all the themes I would have wanted touched on. The differences I have with him are on emphasis I think. But when you want to convince someone to change their world view first you have to get into their worldview, accept their premise an then work your way back out to the truth. Attacking worldviews from the outside tend to harden them.

    • #4
    • September 12, 2018 at 1:15 pm
    • 7 likes
  5. Inactive

    Brian Wolf: For the last 300 years we all answered this question with a resounding and surprising successful “Yes!”. Before that the whole world would have said “No!”. Goldberg thinks preserving the “yes” is vitally important and it seems to me Reno is comfortably answering “no.”

    So…what is our common love?

    • #5
    • September 12, 2018 at 1:46 pm
    • 2 likes
  6. Coolidge
    Brian Wolf Post author

    Spin (View Comment):

    Brian Wolf: For the last 300 years we all answered this question with a resounding and surprising successful “Yes!”. Before that the whole world would have said “No!”. Goldberg thinks preserving the “yes” is vitally important and it seems to me Reno is comfortably answering “no.”

    So…what is our common love?

    I would say our common love is for the country we have built and ideas that lay behind the foundation of that country. However that is too theoretical. I think the hard core love for the country changes over time, in what makes up that love. Yet we have always found the common themes we needed to hold us together even after the Civil War.

    I would also say that this is not the first time we lost faith in our system or that our system did not seem to be working for everyone equally. One think that trips up Classical liberals of all ages is that their ideas over time, are nearly always right, but politics are made up of the now. Also if a policy will work out very well for everyone over the course of 25 years that is nice by staying the course for those 25 years can be nearly impossible. 

    I think the liberal project worked in America so well because we had the stress relief valve the frontier. Without the frontier we have to work a lot harder to relieve the stress of a life and system that stressed opportunity over assured outcomes.

    • #6
    • September 12, 2018 at 1:59 pm
    • 2 likes
  7. Inactive

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):
    I would say our common love is for the country we have built and ideas that lay behind the foundation of that country.

    What are the ideas? And do we all agree?

    • #7
    • September 12, 2018 at 2:20 pm
    • 1 like
  8. Coolidge
    Brian Wolf Post author

    Spin (View Comment):

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):
    I would say our common love is for the country we have built and ideas that lay behind the foundation of that country.

    What are the ideas? And do we all agree?

    Right at this moment do we all agree? No I don’t think that we do. Though we have kept our disagreement in the political arena which shows, that at least for now, our disagreements are not that deep. The ideas are the ones laid out in the founding documents and a Protestant based civic morality, I think bind us together. Our movies and stories almost always reflect a basic Protestant world view and that gives us a certain shared culture.

    One thing about a common culture that is made up of individuals. We seem like we do not have a lot in common but we really do. If you took a white Alabama boy dreaming of enlisting in a new army of Northern Virginia, a dual-spirit witch from New York, a Hispanic gang member from L.A., a survivalist from Idaho, a straight up “woke” woman from Austin, and a North Dakotan farmer and dropped them into the middle of Tehran Iran they would all feel very American, they would most likely bond quickly and they would all know the Iranians were not like them.

    In easy times we tend to build up our differences and make these points of difference far more important than they actually are. In times of hardship we emphasize solidarity and seek our common bonds and find our common moral language. 

    • #8
    • September 12, 2018 at 2:31 pm
    • Like
  9. Inactive

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):

    Spin (View Comment):

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):
    I would say our common love is for the country we have built and ideas that lay behind the foundation of that country.

    What are the ideas? And do we all agree?

    Right at this moment do we all agree? No I don’t think that we do. Though we have kept our disagreement in the political arena which shows, that at least for now, our disagreements are not that deep. The ideas are the ones laid out in the founding documents and a Protestant based civic morality, I think bind us together. Our movies and stories almost always reflect a basic Protestant world view and that gives us a certain shared culture.

    One thing about a common culture that is made up of individuals. We seem like we do not have a lot in common but we really do. If you took a white Alabama boy dreaming of enlisting in a new army of Northern Virginia, a dual spirit, witch from New York, a Hispanic gang member from L.A., a survivalist from Idaho, a straight up “woke” woman from Austin, and a North Dakotan farmer and dropped them into the middle of Tehran Iran they would all feel very American, they would most likely bond quickly and they would all know the Iranians were not like them.

    In easy times we tend to build up our differences and make these points of difference far more important than they actually are. In times of hardship we emphasize solidarity and seek our common bonds and find our common moral language.

    You are still dancing around the question! What are the “ideas laid out in the founding documents and a Protestant based civic morality?”

    • #9
    • September 12, 2018 at 3:29 pm
    • 2 likes
  10. Member

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):
    Our movies and stories almost always reflect a basic Protestant world view and that gives us a certain shared culture.

    What is the Protestant world view?

    • #10
    • September 12, 2018 at 3:35 pm
    • 1 like
  11. Moderator

    Could Be Anyone (View Comment):

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):
    Our movies and stories almost always reflect a basic Protestant world view and that gives us a certain shared culture.

    What is the Protestant world view?

    Though I’ve heard about distinctions between Protestant and Catholic culture, I am not sure myself what necessarily distinguishes the Protestant worldview from the Catholic. I infer the Protestant worldview likely excludes this, though:

    Brian Wolf:

    a Conservative Catholic tradition that goes something like this:

    First came Protestantism, which lead directly to Liberalism, which descends naturally into Communism and only a return to a society ordered by the Catholic Church defends us from such horrors. I have heard of this view and read of it, but it never made much sense to me.

    I don’t think the view Brian describes is one which all Catholics must share — and certainly not all Catholics do — but I’ve heard similar arguments from some Catholics, too.

    Still, the physiocrats were French, thus from a predominantly Catholic country.

    If various branches of Christianity are associated with different countries’ cultures, which they have been in Europe, it’s hard to tell whether the differences between the branches caused the differences in culture, or whether different cultures, perhaps largely for political reasons, found it easier or harder to adopt this or that branch of Christianity, making the relationship more coincidental.

    • #11
    • September 12, 2018 at 4:26 pm
    • 4 likes
  12. Inactive

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    Though I’ve heard about distinctions between Protestant and Catholic culture, I am not sure myself what necessarily distinguishes the Protestant worldview from the Catholic. I infer the Protestant worldview likely excludes this, though:

    Agreed…

    • #12
    • September 12, 2018 at 4:27 pm
    • 1 like
  13. Inactive

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    I don’t think the view Brian describes is one which all Catholics must share — and certainly not all Catholics do — but I’ve heard similar arguments from some Catholics, too.

    I was raised in a conservative Catholic home and never heard Brian’s formulation, ever. I heard more complaining about the liberal American bishops than I did about protestants…

    • #13
    • September 12, 2018 at 4:28 pm
    • 3 likes
  14. Member

    Could Be Anyone (View Comment):

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):
    Our movies and stories almost always reflect a basic Protestant world view and that gives us a certain shared culture.

    What is the Protestant world view?

    Well, . . . a thesis that might be wrong, but this is how I think it goes sometimes:

    Historically there is an elevation of the contemplative life in Catholicism that Reformation Christians tend to shy away from. Not that Catholics don’t recognize farming, plumbing, having and raising babies, and so on as spiritual activities when done with the right attitude. But there’s a tradition there of distinguishing between different kinds of spirituality, and the better spirituality is the kind where we love G-d and neighbor more directly by, e.g., being a monk or nun instead of a father, mother, plumber, etc.

    But Reformation Christianity has a strong emphasis on the value of this world and life therein. Monkishness ain’t a bit more spiritual than parenthood or more spiritual than farming. That helps to motivate the “Protestant work ethic” in particular.

    • #14
    • September 12, 2018 at 4:33 pm
    • 3 likes
  15. Member

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Could Be Anyone (View Comment):

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):
    Our movies and stories almost always reflect a basic Protestant world view and that gives us a certain shared culture.

    What is the Protestant world view?

    Though I’ve heard about distinctions between Protestant and Catholic culture, I am not sure myself what necessarily distinguishes the Protestant worldview from the Catholic. I infer the Protestant worldview likely excludes this, though:

    Brian Wolf:

    a Conservative Catholic tradition that goes something like this:

    First came Protestantism, which lead directly to Liberalism, which descends naturally into Communism and only a return to a society ordered by the Catholic Church defends us from such horrors. I have heard of this view and read of it, but it never made much sense to me.

    I don’t think the view Brian describes is one which all Catholics must share — and certainly not all Catholics do — but I’ve heard similar arguments from some Catholics, too.

    Yes, I believe I’ve seen at least the first step mentioned on Ricochet. And heard it on Michael Knowles’ podcast. Seems a terrible argument to me inasmuch as Protestant liberalism is by definition a rejection of the authority of the Bible and Reformation Christianity is by definition an adherence to that authority.

    • #15
    • September 12, 2018 at 4:35 pm
    • 2 likes
  16. Coolidge
    Brian Wolf Post author

    Spin (View Comment):
    You are still dancing around the question! What are the “ideas laid out in the founding documents and a Protestant based civic morality?”

    I like your question and all but is there a point behind the questions? You are asking me to answer a question that could be answered at book length, any answer I give in 500 words or less can be nitpicked apart as not complete. Could you give me some guidance as to what you are looking for?

    • #16
    • September 12, 2018 at 5:14 pm
    • Like
  17. Coolidge
    Brian Wolf Post author

    Could Be Anyone (View Comment):

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):
    Our movies and stories almost always reflect a basic Protestant world view and that gives us a certain shared culture.

    What is the Protestant world view?

    Not really a theological world view but a Protestant world view is individualistic in orientation, strong on education, has a basic redemptive idea of morality and heroism, has a strongly favorable view to personal morality and integrity, a strong work ethic, a sense of fair play being the idea that if you do the work you should get paid! Few things make American angrier faster than a little guy denied what is rightfully his.

    I could write a lot more about and books have been written about it. Paul Johnson in Modern Times and his history of Christianity spends a lot time describing American Civil Religion. People need not agree with any Protestant theology to hold it. Its origin is just in the Protestant colonists in America.

    • #17
    • September 12, 2018 at 5:19 pm
    • 2 likes
  18. Moderator

    In light of this:

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):

    Could Be Anyone (View Comment):

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):
    Our movies and stories almost always reflect a basic Protestant world view and that gives us a certain shared culture.

    What is the Protestant world view?

    Not really a theological world view but a Protestant world view is individualistic in orientation, strong on education, has a basic redemptive idea of morality and heroism, has a strongly favorable view to personal morality and integrity, a strong work ethic, a sense of fair play being the idea that if you do the work you should get paid! Few things make American angrier faster than a little guy denied what is rightfully his.

    I could write a lot more about and books have been written about it. Paul Johnson in Modern Times and his history of Christianity spends a lot time describing American Civil Religion. People need not agree with any Protestant theology to hold it. Its origin is just in the Protestant colonists in America.

    this makes a lot more sense now:

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):

    Though we have kept our disagreement in the political arena which shows, that at least for now, our disagreements are not that deep. The ideas are the ones laid out in the founding documents and a Protestant based civic morality, I think bind us together. Our movies and stories almost always reflect a basic Protestant world view and that gives us a certain shared culture.

    One thing about a common culture that is made up of individuals. We seem like we do not have a lot in common but we really do. If you took a white Alabama boy dreaming of enlisting in a new army of Northern Virginia, a dual-spirit witch from New York, a Hispanic gang member from L.A., a survivalist from Idaho, a straight up “woke” woman from Austin, and a North Dakotan farmer and dropped them into the middle of Tehran Iran they would all feel very American, they would most likely bond quickly and they would all know the Iranians were not like them.

    In easy times we tend to build up our differences and make these points of difference far more important than they actually are. In times of hardship we emphasize solidarity and seek our common bonds and find our common moral language.

    By “Protestant”, you do seem to mean a civil religion rather than specifically that branch of Christianity which split off from Catholicism. For Americans, you mean American Civil Religion.

    I agree that if you dropped that motley assortment of Americans off in Tehran, they’d likely end up feeling rather American rather quickly.

    • #18
    • September 12, 2018 at 5:30 pm
    • 3 likes
  19. Coolidge
    Brian Wolf Post author

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    Though I’ve heard about distinctions between Protestant and Catholic culture, I am not sure myself what necessarily distinguishes the Protestant worldview from the Catholic. I infer the Protestant worldview likely excludes this, though:

    I refer you to comment 17. The Protestant world view is held by many American Catholics and affects how Catholicism is practiced in America, I think. But that does not make anyone less Catholic. The name Protestant for the world view is primarily a historical artifact.

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    I don’t think the view Brian describes is one which all Catholics must share — and certainly not all Catholics do — but I’ve heard similar arguments from some Catholics, too.

    Still, the physiocrats were French, thus from a predominantly Catholic country.

    I strongly endorse this comment!

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    If various branches of Christianity are associated with different country’s cultures, which they have been in Europe, it’s hard to tell whether the differences between the branches caused the differences in culture, or whether different cultures, perhaps largely for political reasons, found it easier or harder to adopt this or that branch of Christianity, making the relationship more coincidental.

    Yes I agree that it hard and political, cultural and religious history re-acts with each other in unique ways.

    • #19
    • September 12, 2018 at 5:41 pm
    • 1 like
  20. Coolidge
    Brian Wolf Post author

    Spin (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):
    I don’t think the view Brian describes is one which all Catholics must share — and certainly not all Catholics do — but I’ve heard similar arguments from some Catholics, too.

    I was raised in a conservative Catholic home and never heard Brian’s formulation, ever. I heard more complaining about the liberal American bishops than I did about protestants…

    To be clear I was mocking the view. Though if you held the Catholic view I described you would think that Woodrow Wilson, while he hated the Constitution, was a product of the Constitution and the liberal order in enshrined.

    • #20
    • September 12, 2018 at 5:43 pm
    • 3 likes
  21. Coolidge
    Brian Wolf Post author

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Could Be Anyone (View Comment):

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):
    Our movies and stories almost always reflect a basic Protestant world view and that gives us a certain shared culture.

    What is the Protestant world view?

    Well, . . . a thesis that might be wrong, but this is how I think it goes sometimes:

    Historically there is an elevation of the contemplative life in Catholicism that Reformation Christians tend to shy away from. Not that Catholics don’t recognize farming, plumbing, having and raising babies, and so on as spiritual activities when done with the right attitude. But there’s a tradition there of distinguishing between different kinds of spirituality, and the better spirituality is the kind where we love G-d and neighbor more directly by, e.g., being a monk or nun instead of a father, mother, plumber, etc.

    But Reformation Christianity has a strong emphasis on the value of this world and life therein. Monkishness ain’t a bit more spiritual than parenthood or more spiritual than farming. That helps to motivate the “Protestant work ethic” in particular.

    I also strongly endorse this comment!

    • #21
    • September 12, 2018 at 5:44 pm
    • 2 likes
  22. Coolidge
    Brian Wolf Post author

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    Could Be Anyone (View Comment):

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):
    Our movies and stories almost always reflect a basic Protestant world view and that gives us a certain shared culture.

    What is the Protestant world view?

    Though I’ve heard about distinctions between Protestant and Catholic culture, I am not sure myself what necessarily distinguishes the Protestant worldview from the Catholic. I infer the Protestant worldview likely excludes this, though:

    Brian Wolf:

    a Conservative Catholic tradition that goes something like this:

    First came Protestantism, which lead directly to Liberalism, which descends naturally into Communism and only a return to a society ordered by the Catholic Church defends us from such horrors. I have heard of this view and read of it, but it never made much sense to me.

    I don’t think the view Brian describes is one which all Catholics must share — and certainly not all Catholics do — but I’ve heard similar arguments from some Catholics, too.

    Yes, I believe I’ve seen at least the first step mentioned on Ricochet. And heard it on Michael Knowles’ podcast. Seems a terrible argument to me inasmuch as Protestant liberalism is by definition a rejection of the authority of the Bible and Reformation Christianity is by definition an adherence to that authority.

    To clarify even further. I find Reno’s remarks I quoted to be nearly incomprehensible when FDR and Wilson were so explicit in rejecting America’s liberal origins. However if he is coming from that certain school of Catholic thought that connects Protestantism as the first step down the road to Communism then his remarks make sense in that context. Otherwise I just don’t know what he is talking about.

    • #22
    • September 12, 2018 at 5:47 pm
    • Like
  23. Coolidge
    Brian Wolf Post author

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    In light of this:

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):

    Could Be Anyone (View Comment):

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):
    Our movies and stories almost always reflect a basic Protestant world view and that gives us a certain shared culture.

    What is the Protestant world view?

    Not really a theological world view but a Protestant world view is individualistic in orientation, strong on education, has a basic redemptive idea of morality and heroism, has a strongly favorable view to personal morality and integrity, a strong work ethic, a sense of fair play being the idea that if you do the work you should get paid! Few things make American angrier faster than a little guy denied what is rightfully his.

    I could write a lot more about and books have been written about it. Paul Johnson in Modern Times and his history of Christianity spends a lot time describing American Civil Religion. People need not agree with any Protestant theology to hold it. Its origin is just in the Protestant colonists in America.

    this makes a lot more sense now:

     

    By “Protestant”, you do seem to mean a civil religion rather than specifically that branch of Christianity which split off from Catholicism. For Americans, you mean American Civil Religion.

    I agree that if you dropped that motley assortment of Americans off in Tehran, they’d likely end up feeling rather American rather quickly.

    Yes, exactly. Protestant still makes sense as a label because our country would simply be different if the original settlers had been less influenced by Puritanism and had been Roman Catholic instead. No need to make a value judgement about which would have been better my point is made if we agree that we wold be different. The American Civil Religion’s origin is Protestantism but the American Civil Religion embraces more than just Protestants and part of a bedrock culture that Atheist, Catholics, Jews, Muslims and our whole motley diverse crew of people and beliefs can embrace.

    • #23
    • September 12, 2018 at 5:52 pm
    • 2 likes
  24. Coolidge
    Brian Wolf Post author

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):

    Midget Faded Rattlesnake (View Comment):

    In light of this:

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):

    Could Be Anyone (View Comment):

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):
    Our movies and stories almost always reflect a basic Protestant world view and that gives us a certain shared culture.

    What is the Protestant world view?

    Not really a theological world view but a Protestant world view is individualistic in orientation, strong on education, has a basic redemptive idea of morality and heroism, has a strongly favorable view to personal morality and integrity, a strong work ethic, a sense of fair play being the idea that if you do the work you should get paid! Few things make American angrier faster than a little guy denied what is rightfully his.

    I could write a lot more about and books have been written about it. Paul Johnson in Modern Times and his history of Christianity spends a lot time describing American Civil Religion. People need not agree with any Protestant theology to hold it. Its origin is just in the Protestant colonists in America.

    this makes a lot more sense now:

     

    By “Protestant”, you do seem to mean a civil religion rather than specifically that branch of Christianity which split off from Catholicism. For Americans, you mean American Civil Religion.

    I agree that if you dropped that motley assortment of Americans off in Tehran, they’d likely end up feeling rather American rather quickly.

    Yes, exactly. Protestant still makes sense as a label because our country would simply be different if the original settlers had been less influenced by Puritanism and had been Roman Catholic instead. No need to make a value judgement about which would have been better my point is made if we agree that we would be different. The American Civil Religion’s origin is Protestantism but the American Civil Religion embraces more than just Protestants and part of a bedrock culture that Atheist, Catholics, Jews, Muslims and our whole motley diverse crew of people and beliefs can embrace.

     

    • #24
    • September 12, 2018 at 5:58 pm
    • Like
  25. Member

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Well, . . . a thesis that might be wrong, but this is how I think it goes sometimes:

    Historically there is an elevation of the contemplative life in Catholicism that Reformation Christians tend to shy away from. Not that Catholics don’t recognize farming, plumbing, having and raising babies, and so on as spiritual activities when done with the right attitude. But there’s a tradition there of distinguishing between different kinds of spirituality, and the better spirituality is the kind where we love G-d and neighbor more directly by, e.g., being a monk or nun instead of a father, mother, plumber, etc.

    Work that has a spiritual source (I want to imitate God’s will) rather than one of the flesh, or coinciding with it (I want to be a father or I want to be a father and I want to imitate God), would by definition be more in kind with God and bear greater sacrifice wouldn’t it? But that does not preclude, nor does it incentivize against, temporal concerns.

    But Reformation Christianity has a strong emphasis on the value of this world and life therein. Monkishness ain’t a bit more spiritual than parenthood or more spiritual than farming. That helps to motivate the “Protestant work ethic” in particular.

    How many monks were there when the Reformation occurred? What was their share of the total population? I don’t think monasticism incurs negative effects on material improvement. In fact, a fair number of monks historically contributed to the improvement of the sciences and arts, the domesticated chicken being one example, because such efforts were fruit of the contemplative intellect (in the image of God and his stewardship to life).

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):

    Not really a theological world view but a Protestant world view is individualistic in orientation, strong on education, has a basic redemptive idea of morality and heroism, has a strongly favorable view to personal morality and integrity, a strong work ethic, a sense of fair play being the idea that if you do the work you should get paid! Few things make American angrier faster than a little guy denied what is rightfully his.

    Protestantism may be more critical of authority but I don’t see how that makes it more individualistic than the Catholic faith. Just to counter your accusations the university system of Europe was established by the Catholic Church. Saints and Martyrs are pretty big examples of personal morality, redemption, integrity and heroism. Natural rights and the idea of justice were fairly contemplated ideas within Catholicism prior to the Reformation.

    I could write a lot more about and books have been written about it. Paul Johnson in Modern Times and his history of Christianity spends a lot time describing American Civil Religion. People need not agree with any Protestant theology to hold it. Its origin is just in the Protestant colonists in America.

    I don’t think the idea of a pluralistic civil conventions originated with the Protestants. There have been numerous cases of pluralism within Catholic nations/states prior to the Reformation, and within other non-christian nations too.

    But to be more to the point I don’t think most of these ideas originated with Catholicism either. The virtues have been contemplated and exercised for quite a while and the historical record attests to this. Trade has been going on since at least 10,000 BC.

    This argument that somehow Catholicism or some Protestant version (as there are numerous differing Protestant takes) was the originating or necessary ingredient in the secret sauce of liberal democracy and free trade is somewhat pointless and can be refuted with examples of pluralistic ancient states, like the Roman Republic.

    • #25
    • September 12, 2018 at 7:36 pm
    • 2 likes
  26. Member

    Could Be Anyone (View Comment):

    Saint Augustine (View Comment):

    Well, . . . a thesis that might be wrong, but this is how I think it goes sometimes:

    Historically there is an elevation of the contemplative life in Catholicism that Reformation Christians tend to shy away from. Not that Catholics don’t recognize farming, plumbing, having and raising babies, and so on as spiritual activities when done with the right attitude. But there’s a tradition there of distinguishing between different kinds of spirituality, and the better spirituality is the kind where we love G-d and neighbor more directly by, e.g., being a monk or nun instead of a father, mother, plumber, etc.

    First, I emphasize that I’m not quite sure that thesis is even correct!

    Work that has a spiritual source (I want to imitate God’s will) rather than one of the flesh, or coinciding with it (I want to be a father or I want to be a father and I want to imitate God), would by definition be more in kind with God and bear greater sacrifice wouldn’t it? But that does not preclude, nor does it incentivize against, temporal concerns.

    Why a dichotomy of worldly desires and spiritual?

    And no–I don’t think it would be by definition more spiritual, if that’s what “in kind with G-d” means. That depends on what G-d wants us to do. If he commanded me to “Enjoy life with the wife of your youth” and “Be fruitful and multiply” and “Let her breasts satisfy you at all times,” that might be a perfectly G-dly activity.

    But Reformation Christianity has a strong emphasis on the value of this world and life therein. Monkishness ain’t a bit more spiritual than parenthood or more spiritual than farming. That helps to motivate the “Protestant work ethic” in particular.

    How many monks were there when the Reformation occurred? What was their share of the total population? I don’t think monasticism incurs negative effects on material improvement. In fact, a fair number of monks historically contributed to the improvement of the sciences and arts, the domesticated chicken being one example, because such efforts were fruit of the contemplative intellect (in the image of God and his stewardship to life).

    Sure they did. This bit may well be a myth. I get the impression Luther accepted it, but I don’t have the historical knowledge or the knowledge of the monkish writings of the era to evaluate his view.

    • #26
    • September 12, 2018 at 8:58 pm
    • 1 like
  27. Member

    Could Be Anyone (View Comment):

    Brian Wolf (View Comment):
    Our movies and stories almost always reflect a basic Protestant world view and that gives us a certain shared culture.

    What is the Protestant world view?

    Well Catholics (in general) and protestants (in general) have radically different relationships with time which has a number of social and political consequences.

    • #27
    • September 13, 2018 at 4:39 am
    • 1 like
  28. Member

    President John Adams on a moral and religious people …

    “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

    Os Guinness on the Golden Triangle of Freedom ….

    Guinness advocates a return to what he calls a self-reinforcing Golden Triangle of Freedom, which he describes as “the cultivation and transmission of the conviction that freedom requires virtue, which requires faith, which requires freedom, which in turn requires virtue, which requires faith, which requires freedom and so on.”

    • #28
    • September 13, 2018 at 8:11 am
    • 2 likes
  29. Member

    I agree with your review of Reno’s review. I usually like RR Reno, especially when he’s criticizing moderns and post moderns, but he almost always conflates libertarians with libertines or other extreme libertarians of the left or the right. I think Reno simply lacks the economic background ( his doctorate from Yale was in theology) to understand the issues and probably hasn’t read the Austrians enough to distinguish among those we call libertarians. Goldberg’s book was balanced and thorough right up to the end when he moved into contemporary politics for which the only information is media and conflicting personal accounts which is different from research where a lot of error and contemporary furor has been burned off by history and history’s critics.

    • #29
    • September 13, 2018 at 8:47 am
    • 2 likes
  30. Member

    Goldberg’s book would have made more sense to the idiot reviewer if he had bothered to notice and pursue Goldberg’s express heavy reliance on McCloskey’s utterly brilliant Bourgeois Virtues and Bourgeois Dignity which explored in detail every possible alternative explanation for the economic explosion that arose in the 17th century in England and Holland. What is left is clearly a cultural change. It is a “miracle” precisely because the usual array of materialistic or ideological causal explanations fail. It was a cognitive, cultural change that led to an explosion of innovation that drove (and still drives) unprecedented rates of economic and technological growth.

    If you don’t grasp Goldberg’s starting point as to what it is that is threatened by the return of tribalism or romanticism, you can’t understand the book.

    Also, it is the lazy, shallow, kneejerk reviewer who misses the point regarding Goldberg’s characterization of modern “liberals” as having completely departed from classical liberalism. And anyone who read Liberal Fascism would understand how well grounded Goldberg’s critique of Wilson was.

    Trying to review a book by simply asking where and how the book departs from the average second-rate zeitgeist regurgitation on Huffpo –and even getting that wrong–is deeply pathetic.

    • #30
    • September 13, 2018 at 8:52 am
    • 8 likes
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