The Protestant Cult of Cultural Marxism
We are used to thinking of social “movements” as secular or political, but prior to the movement to abolish slavery in the mid-19th century, American social movements were part of a Protestant religious tradition and, as such, were not secular or political in nature.
A salient feature of our American culture is the many “movements” that have been layered one atop the other historically, beginning after the anti-slavery abolition movement: woman’s suffrage, temperance, unionization, racial civil rights, woman’s liberation, then third wave feminism, and presently gender rights.
Before abolition, non-religious social movements were virtually unknown, so it is interesting to ponder the reasons for and genesis of secular social movements.
We will propose to answer the question: What in this American phenomenon of secular social movements is socialist or Marxist and what perhaps had other inspiration? To find out we should start at the beginning.
As Mark Noll explains, an American Evangelical “religion” of social and spiritual redemption slowly formed in the years following the American Revolution.
After the new America government was established, religious practice began slowly freeing itself from state and established church bureaucracies. Americans freed from these constraints tended to demonstrate their personal salvation by moral conduct rather than by following established church ceremony.
On the expanding western frontier, religion and belief were freed from the influence of established churches. Believers found outlets for demonstrating faith by involvement in personal moral action such as the abolition and temperance movements.
The last social movement that was purely an expression of Protestant religious sensibility, and thus unmoored from power politics, was the Second Great Awakening of the early 19th century. See here, here and here.
The Second Great Awakening strongly influenced the abolition movement. The woman’s suffrage movement emerged directly from the abolition movement.
The link between the abolition movement and the woman’s rights movement is explicitly acknowledged by suffragettes Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan Brownell Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage in their History of Woman Suffrage, “above all other causes of the Woman Suffrage Movement, was the Anti-Slavery struggle in this country.”
The end of the Civil War marks the transformation of American social movements originally rooted in American Evangelical Protestantism into something qualitatively different.
Although the abolitionist movement was deeply saturated with religious sentiment, the woman’s movement was primarily secular. The abolition movement catalyzed a trend that was building in the years before the Civil War. The war made it clear that henceforth, social movements would cease to be primarily suasive and religious. Instead, movements would seek political power.
The lingering influence of Protestantism in the movements of the early 20th century can be seen in the groups centered on ideas of the Social Gospel. The leading advocates of Social Gospel ideas frankly admitted that the political manifestation of the Social Gospel was socialism. The transformation from 19th century Protestant reformism to socialist collectivism is exemplified by Walter Rauschenbusch whose influence is summarized here.
Rauschenbusch’s Christianity and the Social Crisis (1907) sold 50,000 copies in five years and presaged his Christian collectivist manifesto, A Theology for the Social Gospel (1917). In this book he lays out the ideological arguments that progressives have used right up to the present time. Rauschenbusch believed that progress and collectivism were equivalent. “When co-operation has had as long a time to try out its methods as capitalism, the latter will rank with feudalism as an evil memory of mankind.”
Progressivism did not need Marx to school its collectivist world view; collectivism was inherent in the Protestant cult of “cultural Marxism” that became modern progressivism from at least Rauschenbusch’s time.
In Rauschenbusch’s collectivism perhaps we detect a Germanophile preference for efficiency and theory analogous to Marx’s clinical and ruthless intellect so opposed to the ordinary American taste for disorganized freedom and pragmatism. Whether this is true or not, we can conclude that there was more of Christ than Marx in early progressivism.
In the 1930s, FDR’s New Deal built on a previous 30 years of Federal legislation that took ever more control of the national economy away from private citizens. By the time the Second World War was over, the US was on its way to having a mixed economy.
After the War, and due in part to competition between the United States and the Soviet Union for the allegiance of Third World populations, the Civil Rights movement gained favor among establishment voices. This movement was qualitatively different from previous movements because the civil rights movement introduced the schema of intransient victim and victimizer identity groups.
When feminism followed civil rights the victim/victimizer schema followed along and is now a feature of what is pejoratively called identity politics. The logic of identity politics is that victim groups are intransient. Society is envisaged as groups of perpetual victims and perpetual victimizers whose fortunes are mediated by an impartial state.
Feminism is the most destructive form of this amalgam of abolitionist fervor and class struggle. Marx’s vision of class struggle was to end with the triumph of the proletariat, but the feminist “class” struggle is to be apparently endless.
Feminism and its enablers sent women into the workplace, eroding the male monopoly on many jobs — ending also the single bread winner family except where the family was now headed by a single female. Divorce rates rose, out of wedlock births sored, and single female headed families learned to rely on social welfare instead of a patriarchal household male.
The dynamics unleashed by feminism have eroded not only male wages and rates of employment, but even health. The victim classes have flourished as recipients of Federal social welfare preferences such as affirmative action, but “victimizers” such as white middle aged men are now dying earlier.
Progressivism acts like an acid, dissolving social consensus, communal and familial relations. Unless resisted, the final result will be an atomized conflict-riven population incapable maintaining a common political culture.
Even old Marx might disapprove.