Blame the Beechers and That Fanatic Finney

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I have long believed that some adventurous and audacious scholar could well make the case that the two persons (not political office holders) who did the most substantial, long-lasting damage to the United States of America were the clergymen Lyman Beecher and Charles G. Finney.

Perhaps historian David Goldfield, author of America Aflame! How The Civil War Created a Nation, is that person as this incisive review of his new book details. Goldfield backgrounds the ethnocultural/ethnoreligious dynamic that contributed to the outbreak of this horrific conflict. This exciting volume is at the top of my must-read list.

Beecher, co-founder of the temperance movement, supporter of the Second Great Awakening, help spread the rabid anti-Catholic contagion throughout America with his book, A Plea For The West. His brood of thirteen children included Charles Beecher, Catharine Beecher, Edward Beecher, Henry Ward Beecher, Harriette Beecher Stowe (and her noxious husband Calvin Stowe), the motley crew responsible for compulsory government schooling, prohibition, anti-Catholicism, women’s suffrage, abolitionism, and the Civil War.

Finney was the key proponent of the Second Great Awakening and hence of the postmillennial pietistic Protestant intervention into public affairs in compulsory government schooling, prohibition, anti-Catholicism, women suffrage, abolitionism, “blue laws” and other anti-sex legislation such as censorship of birth control information and pornography, the Civil War, and the spawning of the welfare state.

In the last decades of Murray Rothbard’s life, he developed an important interpretative framework in understanding American history. This was prodded on by his careful study of the emerging “new political history” which was reinterpreting the dynamics of the ebb and flow of ethnocultural and ethnoreligious groups. This bold synthesis became the central focus of some of his greatest scholarly endeavors, particularly when it came to understanding progressivism as a secularized version of this postmillennial religious zeal.

“Doing God’s Work,” by Murray N. Rothbard

And so to every sailor, soldier, airman, and marine who is
involved in this mission, let me say you’re doing God’s work.

~ President George Bush, December 1992

“In his scintillating article on the Somalian incursion, Harper’s editor Lewis Lapham, one of the few left-liberals who remains staunchly anti-foreign intervention, quotes the above words from our recent president.(Lewis H. Lapham, “God’s Gunboats,” Harpers Magazine, February) Lapham notes that Bush issued his “prelate’s benediction” to the troops even though lacking “both the miter and the shepherd’s staff.” He also notes — in a timely reminder to those conservatives who have not yet re-examined their devotion to the preceding president — that on that very same December day Ronnie Reagan, speaking at Oxford University, urged the United Nations to develop “an army of conscience” to confront the “evil (that) still stalks the planet” even after the death of the Soviet Union. Since it is difficult to imagine evil stamped out from the world very quickly, this presumably implies a permanent standing world army to vanquish and keep down evil and sin in whatever quarter of the globe they might raise their ugly heads. In short, a permanent global Crusade.

“The real evil — this crusading spirit itself — first swept over America in the late 1820s in the form of what is technically called “post-millennial pietism” (PMP).

“In the dominant “evangelical” form that PMP assumed in the “Yankee” communities of the North (New Englanders and their transplanted kin in upstate New York, northern Ohio, northern Indiana, etc.), this meant that every man had the bounden and overriding duty to maximize the salvation of his fellowmen, by stamping out sin and the temptations thereto. In short, he was bound to work his darndest to establish a Christian Commonwealth, a Kingdom of God on Earth. It very quickly became clear that sin was not going to be stamped out very quickly by purely voluntary means, and so the PMPers rapidly turned to government to do the stamping out and the creating and the uplifting. In short, as one historian perceptively put it, for the PMPers, “government became God’s major instrument of salvation.”

“This turn to government was facilitated by the “pietist” part of the PMP doctrine, for this meant that the old Puritan emphasis on creed and God’s Law, much less the Catholic or Lutheran emphasis on liturgy or the sacramental Church, was swept aside. Christianity became totally focused in a vaguely pietist, “born again,” mood on the part of each basically creedless and Church-less individual soul. Shorn of Church or creed, the individual PMPer was necessarily forced to lean upon government as his staff and shield.

“Slowly but surely over the decades since 1830, this mainstream Yankee Protestantism became secularized into an only vaguely Christian but passionately held Social Gospel. After all,with this sort of mindset, it was easy for God to gradually drop from sight, and for government to assume a quasi-divine role. It was left to the monster Woodrow Wilson, a PMPer to his very bones and a Ph.D. as well, to take this domestic creed and extend it to foreign policy. It was essentially a “today the U.S., tomorrow the world” credo. Once the PMPers took over the U.S. government and imposed a Kingdom of God at home, their religious duty got raised to the planetary level. As the historian James Timberlake put it, once the Kingdom of God was being established in the United States, it became “America’s mission to spread these ideals and institutions abroad so that the Kingdom could be established throughout the world. American Protestants were accordingly not content merely to work for the kingdom of God in America, but felt compelled to assist in the reformation of the rest of the world.” (James Timberlake, Prohibition and the Progressive Movement, 1900–1920, New York, Atheneum, 1970, pp. 37–38)

“Since Woodrow Wilson, every American president has followed faithfully in the footsteps of the Wilsonian creed. The content of the Kingdom of God to be imposed on other nations may have changed slightly (from alcohol prohibition and coerced global “democracy” in Wilson’s day to smoking prohibition, free condoms, and global democracy in our own) but the form and the spirit remain all too much the same. . .”

“Just War,” by Murray N. Rothbard

Rothbard examines the ethnocultural/ethnoreligious dynamic behind the Civil War.

“The Progressive Era and the Family,” by Murray N. Rothbard

The Progressive Era was the incubation period of the welfare-warfare state — and of all the malevolence that follows.

 

“World War I as Fulfillment: Power and the Intellectuals,” by Murray N. Rothbard

The Great War was not the end of Progressive “reform” but its fulfillment.

 

“Origins of the Welfare State in America,” by Murray N. Rothbard

Here Rothbard provides the Rosetta Stone to understanding the orgins of the welfare state in America: the role of postmillennial Protestant pietistic intellectuals and activists born in the crucial decade surrounding the events of the Civil War who, because of the seductive influence of the evolutionary naturalism of Darwinism, came of age increasingly secularized, but who did not forsake their faith in statism and elitist social control.

 

Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, is a key text to understanding progressivism as both statist impulse and pseudo-religious movement.

 

 

 

 

7:26 pm on June 9, 2011