Be sure to see the related-reading list at the end of this post.
If you pay much attention to the posturings of the left — and how could you not? — you probably have concluded that leftism is a quasi-religious* cult.
Leftism, as we know it today, is quasi-religious because of its strongly moralistic bent, given its readiness to condemn anything that can be associated (by leftists) with white supremacy/white privilege/racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, climate-change denialism, elitism, etc., etc., etc. (Condemnation of elitism, coming from leftist elites, epitomizes irony.)
Leftism of yore was aimed mainly at the realization of a material heaven on Earth through communism, socialism, and various forms of income and wealth redistribution. Today’s leftism, without having abandoned the objective of economic equality (or less inequality), has conjoined that objective to social equality.
In both cases, the left rejects the obvious fact that inequality is due mainly to innate differences that have deep roots in genetic inheritance, as influenced by eons of selection for traits deemed socially and economically desirable. It is possible to have equality under the law (though not when the law is written to favor certain groups), but that is the end of it. Leftists implicitly acknowledge this through their insufferably paternalistic words and deeds.
Leftists nevertheless try to impose economic and social equality because it is their desideratum. It is their religion-substitute, if you will. Why is this so? What drives leftists? I refer you to “Leftism” for at least some of the answers.
Force is necessarily required to attain equality, which is otherwise unattainable. The force wielded by government is supplemented by the power and influence of oligopolistic institutions controlled by leftists: public schools, universities, the “news” and “entertainment” media, and the information-technology industry. It has never been truer that knowledge (or, more properly, propaganda) is power.
The imposition of social and economic equality (or something nearer to it than is possible in a state of liberty), requires the abasement of those who are deemed superior (elite leftists excluded, of course). Leftism, in other words, embodies an inherently envious, vindictive, and destructive worldview. As a quasi-religion, leftism is in a league with militant Islam. The bombs and guns are at hand in the arsenal of the state, just not deployed on a massive scale — yet.
The rise of militant leftism eerily echoes the First, Second, and Third Great Awakenings, which were Protestant religious revivals. The Wikipedia article about the Third Great Awakening says that it
was marked by religious activism in American history and spans the late 1850s to the early 20th century. It affected pietistic Protestant denominations and had a strong element of social activism. It gathered strength from the postmillennial belief that the Second Coming of Christ would occur after mankind had reformed the entire earth. It was affiliated with the Social Gospel Movement, which applied Christianity to social issues and gained its force from the awakening, as did the worldwide missionary movement. New groupings emerged, such as the Holiness movement and Nazarene movements, and Christian Science.
The era saw the adoption of a number of moral causes, such as the abolition of slavery and prohibition.
The delineation of historical epochs is arbitrary, Movements such as the one described above don’t appear from nowhere, and don’t suddenly or completely end. Born-Again Christianity, which overlaps and parallels the Great Awakenings, has been around for at least 300 years, and was prominent in the U.S. in the latter decades of the twentieth century. It is still going strong, though less prominently than a few decades ago.
The same is true of the Progressive movement, which “officially” lasted from the 1880s to the 1920s. That version of Progressivism attracted many religious figures and personages of a strong religious bent. William Jennings Bryan, for example, was not just a politician who held high office and ran thrice for the presidency as a Democrat. He injected his religious fervor into his practice of politics, which set the stage for his late-life role as a Bible-thumping anti-evolutionist. (Movie buffs will remember Fredric March’s portrayal of Bryan as the “villain” of the Scopes trial in Inherit the Wind.)
The Progressive movement, though it seemed to end in the 1920s, never really died. Its agenda, has in fact been adopted wholesale, in law and by a vast majority of the populace. The New Deal had a lot to do with it, but not everything by any means. Politicians before and after FDR rose to power and held onto it by discovering “problems” and promising to “solve” them. These “problems” have ranged from the so-called trusts (monopolies and cartels) of the late 19th century — trusts that in fact made the lives of working Americans easier — to the so-called crisis of “climate change” to the seemingly endless litany of perceived “injustices” due to skin color, gender, place of birth, and so on. (Genetic inheritance and personal responsibility are of no account to a person who has the time and inclination to find injustice everywhere, except among groups that he condescends to see as oppressed.) Those few “progressive” causes that seemed to have failed, such as prohibition and eugenics, merely resurfaced in the anti-tobacco, anti-sex (of the normal kind), and pro-abortion movements.
The zombie-like nature of Progressivism is openly (if unwittingly) acknowledged by leftists. Having rejected “liberal” as a besmirched label, most of them now proudly call themselves “progressives”, albeit uncapitalized ones. So-called progressives are distinguishable from overt socialists only in their wise refusal to embrace all-out socialism, inasmuch as they are mostly from the upper echelons of the income and wealth distributions. But as affluent children of capitalism, they are willing to embrace some amount of income redistribution, just as long as their huge homes, gas-guzzling vehicles, and gross consumerism aren’t jeopardized.
The standard-issue progressive is nevertheless indistinguishable from a socialist in his unextinguishable faith in the power of the state to create heaven on Earth. Thus we have the Fourth Great Awakening.
It is, however, an Awakening with a decidedly anti-theistic ethos, and an especially anti-Christian one. The anti-Christian, neo-Pharisees of the left believe that it is right for the state to impose Christian charity, Christian “love” for one’s neighbor (as long as the neighbor is gender-confused or of another land, race, or ethnicity). Coerced “charity” is not charity, of course, but the contradiction that is lost on “progressives”.
There’s a lot more to “progressivism” than “charity”, of course. But all of its causes have the same thing in common: the worship of Power to attain the nirvana of social and economic equality (as long as the elites remain more equal than the rest).
* I say “quasi-religious” because of my respect for Bill Vallicella’s arguments about the misuse of “religion” as a descriptor of a secular worldview. Vallicella rejects “religion” as a label for a worldview that doesn’t satisfy his seven point definition of religion, which begins with this:
The belief that there is what William James calls an “unseen order.” (Varieties of Religious Exerience, p. 53) This is a realm of absolute reality that lies beyond the perception of the five outer senses and their instrumental extensions. It is also inaccessible to inner sense or introspection. It is also not a realm of mere abstracta or thought-contents.
A religion, in Vallicella’s view, must be founded on a belief in a supernatural being — a being that is, if nothing else, responsible for the creation and design of the sensible (material) order. All else, in Vallicella’s view, flows from that belief; thus:
[T]here is a supreme good for humans and that “our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves” to the “unseen order.” (Varieties, p. 53) …
[W]e are morally deficient, and … this deficiency impedes our adjustment to the unseen order….
[O]ur moral deficiency cannot be made sufficiently good by our own efforts to afford us ready access to the unseen order.
[A]djustment to the unseen order requires moral purification/transformation.
[H]elp from the side of the unseen order is available to bring about this purification and adjustment.
[T]he sensible order … is ontologically and axiologically derivative. It is a manifestation or emanation or creation of the unseen order.
Graham Dennis, “Pawns in Tabloid Kingdom of Likes“, The Public Discourse, November 19, 2018
Ross Douthat, “The Huxley Trap“, The New York Times, November 18, 2018
Jim Goad, “Talking Down to the Blacks“, Taki’s Magazine, December 3, 2018
Thomas Jackson, “The Religion of anti-Racism“, American Renaissance, April 1999
Arnold Kling, “Social Justice and Moral Tribalism“, askblog, January 7, 2019
Theodore Kupfer, “What’s the Matter with White Liberals?“, National Review, November 29, 2018
Gerald J. Russello, “Our New Religion“, City Journal, December 6, 2018
Gilbert T. Sewall, “Pitrim Sirokin Revisited“, The American Conservative, January 8, 2019
Andrew Sullivan, “America’s New Religions“, New York, December 7, 2018 (the springboard for Vallicella’s post referred to above)
Joanna Szurmak and Pierre Desrochers, “The One-sided Worldview of Eco-Pessimists“, Quillette, December 3, 2018