Against the Ultracalvinists

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Reguar GNXP reader Mencius has an interesting post titled The ultracalvinist hypothesis: in perspective. Mencius is one of those rare bloggers who focuses on occasional essays where he develops his own ideas as opposed to a barrage of links and responses to the thoughts of others. Here’s his introduction:

The “ultracalvinist hypothesis” is the proposition that the present-day belief system commonly called “progressive,” “multiculturalist,” “universalist,” “liberal,” “politically correct,” etc, is actually best considered as a sect of Christianity.

Update: Cryptocalvinism slight tweaked, follow up post.



  1. That was great.

  2. I have always maintained that the government monopoly on education is a violation of the separation of church and state. I did so from first principles (i.e. the fact that people object on religious grounds is proof that it is religion), but now I have a better understanding of things.

  3. It’s a pretty amazing read. Mencius appears to dig around used book stores finding obscure (for today) political theorists who have incredibly interesting things to say, because they attack ‘modernity’ at its foundations. Eg. his post about John Burgess, who I’d never heard of before. His own posts could eventually be cobbled together into a rather fascinating book.

  4. The writer traces commitment to equality, peace, social justice and the active state back to lefty 19c. New England post-Calvinist circles – but isn’t this an Americanocentric view of things? After all these ideals in all of the west. There are no Calvinists in Scandinavia! 
    I remember reading a bit about HG Wells, and I remember thinking that he is the fount of much bien-pensant thinking today. But I guess he took of his ideas from somewhere else.

  5. I always knew it was all just a plot to convert catholics to protestantism ;)

  6. There are no Calvinists per se in Scandinavia, but there are certainly quite a few Lutherans – and maybe even a few crypto-Calvinists proper. 
    If you want to really, really boil the thesis down, my basic point is that Protestantism is leftism and leftism is Protestantism. Once you look at the evolution of European Christianity in a way that is not hitched to paranormal doctrinal controversies, like the nature of salvation or the existence of God, this pattern becomes very apparent. 
    For example, there are also nominally Catholic forms of leftism, such as “liberation theology.” Quasi-protestant “low church” movements have been creeping into the Catholic world for quite some time – see, for example, Jansenism
    The coincidence in the US is that our mainline Protestant Establishment is both a lineal descendant of Calvinism according to the standard Christian genealogies, and (through “political correctness” in institutions like the press and the universities) strikingly similar to Calvin’s Geneva. 
    Apropos of nothing, a really, really great book about the Social Democratic system in Sweden, written in the ’70s by a British reporter, is Roland Huntford’s The New Totalitarians.

  7. Thabet, back before he vanished into, used to argue the (British) secularism was just new variety of Christianity — “Post-Christian Christianism”. I think I remember Razib disagreeing. 
    Has he come around to Thabet’s view?

  8. My understanding was that pc/multicult was a product of the Frankfurt School which peddled Marxist social theory. I don’t think the school was very supportive of Judeo-Christian concepts.

  9. Certaionly a thought provoking post of Mencius’s. I disagree even before I am quite sure why? (Is that prejudice — or intuition?) 
    Anyway, why stop with ultra-Calvanism or crypto-Christianity and call it radical Judaism? These themes are all found in the old testament as well as in the new, after all, in Catholicism as well as Protestantism. 
    The problem, I think, is that every idea and every ideal in this long biblical tradition is capable of being understood, and misunderstood, in more than one way, and often in two, diametrically opposite ways. 
    For example, violence is bad (“the whole world was filled with violence” according to Genesis after the Fall) and we look forward to the day when swords shall be beaten into plows and pruning hooks; but, meanwhile, neither Jews nor Christians are pacifists: the children of Israel must defend themselves, and the followers of Jesus will be crucified and abused in the most violent ways as part of the divine economy or so it would seem. 
    Certainly, the Englightenment thinkers did not invent the great triad of liberty, fraternity, and equality, though their anti-clericalism blinded them from its true source in our Biblical religious traditions. Ditto for Marx, the multi-culturalists, etc.. 
    In any case, the trick — some would say the impossible trick — is to realize these disparate ideals in the real world without undermining the very civilization from which they arose. Clearly it is not hopelessly unrealistic, since modern Western liberal democracy is, at its best, a good first approximation. But can it last? Or will the attempt to perfect and extend, say, the simultaneous realization of political and economic liberty with social justice, cause the whole shebang to come down in a giant, flaming crash? 
    Of is today’s pc multi-cultism a case of good, though very difficult, ideas being wrongly understood and ignorantly applied? 
    It would be naive to expect any final consensus on this question before, and until, such a grand apotheosis or synthesis is acheived, which is no where in sight. 
    Such is the drama — the tragi-comedy — of Western civilization. Personally I am an optimist, based on the incredible progress that has been made to date. But that is like a string theorist being optimistic that a final theory will be realized based on how far science has come already in unifying the forces of nature. (I am less optimistic about the success of the latter project, btw, but would not be unhappy to be proven wrong!)

  10. Thabet, back before he vanished into, used to argue the (British) secularism was just new variety of Christianity — “Post-Christian Christianism”. I think I remember Razib disagreeing. 
    1) i recall getting into an argument about whether atheism & secularism were fundamentally western concepts. i rejected that. there were atheistic schools in all major civilizations, and some non-western movements were pretty against the religious customs and traditions of the day. 
    2) i have asserted that the anti-catholic biases of some secular atheists, like richard dawkins, are pretty clearly cultural relics of their protestant origins. some of the anti-catholic literature that comes out of atheist circles comes close to resurrecting radical protestant motifs from the reformation.

  11. Razib wrote: 
    i recall getting into an argument about whether atheism & secularism were fundamentally western concepts 
    I thought he said “christian concepts”. See here 
    The “secular” has its roots in a form of Christianity  
    Thabet has a different argument than Mencius, but seems to wind up in the same place.  
    (That was a great comment thread. And I still don’t understand it.)

  12. Well, it is somewhat difficult to avoid noticing how heresy laws are creeping back into effect, after a lull during the transfer of power from the old protestants, to the new (secular) ones.  
    While thinking of the new order as another branch of intolerant, utopian protestantism might have some drawbacks, limitations and pitfalls, it is rather difficult to avoid the seeing the parallells sometimes…  
    “A local politician in southern Sweden has been fined 18,000 kronor for writing a motion claiming that 95 percent of all heroin brought in to Sweden comes via Kosovo. 
    Dahn Pettersson, a councillor for the local Alliance Party, presented the motion to Burlöv council last year. The main subject of the motion was homelessness in the town.  
    He said that drugs were a major reason for homelessness, adding: “Is it surprising that rough sleepers are growing in number when we import this drug, due to the fact that [former immigration minister Birgit ] Friggebo gave 46,000 Kosovo Albanians permanent residency? After this mistake, heroin has flooded Sweden and Europe.” 
    Prosecutor Mats Svensson told the court Pettersson had used tactics that pitted different societal groups against each other and deliberately spread wounding statements about Kosovo Albanians. 
    “It is never ethnic groups that commit crimes. It is individuals or groups of individuals,” Svensson told the court.”