Lind echoes Burch's Extro 5 address

From: J. Hughes (
Date: Sat Nov 17 2001 - 23:04:59 MST

Which civilisation?

November 2001

The idea of a liberal "west," standing out against fundamentalism, is a
fallacy. In America, religious fundamentalism is more powerful than
humanism. And the religious right and the romantic left in the west
share an
Arcadian, pre-modern vision similar to that of Muslim conservatives

Michael Lind

Since 11th september, political leaders have struggled to define the
in what is clearly a kind of war. Is it a war between radical Muslims
the US? Is it a war between the Christian west and Islam? Or is the
an even larger one-between secularism and fundamentalism around the

The most influential attempts to define the post-cold war world have
those of Francis Fukuyama in The End of History and the Last Man (1992)
Samuel P Huntington, in his essay "The Clash of Civilisations" (1993).
Fukuyama famously argued that liberal democracy is the final stage of
political evolution. Huntington emphasises the persistence of pre-modern
linguistic, cultural and religious divisions, like those between western
eastern Christendom and Confucian and Hindu Asia.

Each of these schemas captures aspects of reality. But an alternative
deserves consideration is one that defines "civilisations" in terms, not
technological development or culture, but of world view. This approach
us fewer civilisations than those listed by Huntington-but more than the
single end-stage civilisation proposed by Fukuyama.

>From this perspective, the most important civilisational divide-one that
seems even more important after the events of 11th September-may be the
between supernatural civilisations and secular civilisations. The divide
roughly, but not completely, correlated with the divide between
agrarian societies and industrial societies. Of the supernatural
civilisations, the most significant have been the Abrahamic (Judaism,
Christianity and Islam) and the Indic (Hinduism and Buddhism). The two
Abrahamic religions, Christianity and Islam, conquered most of the
territory and people, including south Asia and the Americas. Only China
Japan, among the major non-western nations, escaped Muslim or Christian
rule. Today Muslim theocracies like Afghanistan, Iran, Sudan and Saudi
Arabia are the most extreme examples of societies based on supernatural

On the secular side of the civilisational divide, there have been three
major traditions: humanism, rationalism and romanticism. These three
traditions originated in Europe but now have adherents around the world.
three are essentially secular worldviews which do not need to invoke the
authority of divine revelation or mystical gnosis (though some romantics
mystics or pantheists and some humanists have been religious believers).
respects other than their common secularism, the three traditions are
fundamentally different from one another.

Humanist civilisation crystallised in Renaissance Italy, before
spreading to
the Netherlands, Britain, and the US. This liberal, commercial,
democratic civilisation has spread to other nations by emulation
(Lafayette's France, AtatÜrk's Turkey, Yeltsin's Russia) and by conquest
conversion (post-1945 Germany and Japan). Humanists seek to ameliorate
problems of social life with the guidance of practical wisdom, derived
chiefly from history, literature and custom, with little or no reference
supernatural religion or natural science, with the possible exception of
emergent sociobiology. Humanists tend to be modest as philosophers and
cautious as reformers. Examples of great humanist thinkers and statesmen
Petrarch, Erasmus, Bacon, Montaigne, Voltaire, Franklin, Hume, Burke,
Hamilton, Jefferson and Madison.

Rationalism, a world view underlying a number of secular creeds, first
crystallised in 17th and 18th-century France. Rationalists reject the
humanist distinction between practical wisdom and natural science. The
of rationalists of all kinds is to devise a science of society, modelled
natural science, which can serve as the basis for the construction of a
"rational" social order. Stephen Toulmin makes a useful distinction
the "reasonableness" of Renaissance humanists and the "rationality" of
Enlightenment philosophes. The rationalist pantheon includes social
engineers like Condorcet, St Simon, Comte, Fourier, Bentham, Marx, Lenin
Ayn Rand. (The "secular humanists" who support world federalism and
social reform are really rationalists).

Romanticism, the third major secular world view, has spread widely from
original homeland, late 18th and early 19th-century Germany. Romantics
reject both reasonableness and rationality, they exalt the inspired
of the artistic genius, the child, the primitive uncorrupted by
civilisation. Rousseau, Emerson, Wagner, Nietszche and Frantz Fanon
be on a list of romantic prophets, and idealist philosophers like Kant
Hegel arguably are closer to romanticism than to humanism or

The American revolution, and the French revolution in its constitutional
phases, were humanist. The French terror and the Bolshevik terror were
rationalist. The second world war was a struggle of three secular
civilisations: humanism (Roosevelt and Churchill), rationalism (Stalin)
romanticism (Hitler). The war by Islamic radicals against the US, Europe
Israel is, among other things, a conflict between religious and humanist

My claim is that the civilisation shared by most Prospect readers is
humanist, a relatively young global civilisation based on the
Italian-Dutch-Anglo-American tradition of the constitutional, commercial
society. Needless to say, this definition of humanist civilisation
dramatically from conventional catechisms about the "rise of the west."

For example, the familiar idea that there is a unitary liberal "west"
is defined by the RRE tradition-Renaissance, Reformation and
Enlightenment-is untrue. Renaissance humanism is incompatible with
Reformation Protestantism, while Enlightenment rationalism is alien to
The fact that these three traditions have coexisted in Britain, the US
other countries does not mean that they are three phases of the same

Another version of the "rise of the west" story, more sympathetic to
Catholicism than the RRE approach, holds that the "west" is a synthesis
the "Greco-Roman" and "Judaeo-Christian" traditions. In fact, the
"Judaeo-Christian" tradition has little to do with the tolerant,
individualist, commercial society.

Consider the claim that Christianity is responsible for the liberal
ideal of
political equality. In reality, early-modern liberal republican
derived this from Cicero and the Stoics. Christians and Muslims believe
the equality of believers before God, a conception which was not
until recently to mandate equality. Indeed, Paul admonished slaves to
to their spiritually-equal masters. The Christian churches only turned
against chattel slavery after secular philosophers like David Hume had
denouncing it. Southern Protestants in the US defended slavery
the civil war, and the Catholic church defended it until it was
decades later in Catholic Cuba and Brazil.

Popular sovereignty, republicanism, democracy, the rule of law rather
the rule of men, the idea of a natural law transcending the conventional
of nations-these, too, are part of a pre-Christian, Greco-Roman heritage
familiar to educated Europeans and westerners from the Renaissance until
19th century. Credit for these concepts can no more be given to Moses
Jesus than to Muhammad.

But didn't Protestantism produce capitalism? The intellectual historians
vulgarise Max Weber's nuanced discussion of the affinities between
Protestantism and capitalism into a cause-and-effect relationship are
refuted. Commercial capitalism, in a remarkably familiar form, evolved
Catholic Europe, particularly in northern Italy, for half a millennium,
between the 1100s and the 1500s. Only the political repression of Italy
counter-Reformation Spain gave the lead to northwestern Europe-and there
capitalism and industry burgeoned in pluralist Holland and in Britain
the invasion of "Dutch William" in 1689. It did not happen in Puritan
societies like Calvin's Geneva or Cromwell's England or the Scotland
tyrannised by the kirk. In the US, the centre of capitalism has been not
Puritan New England or the Southern Bible Belt, but polyglot, secular,
permissive Manhattan-formerly known as New Amsterdam.

What about natural science? Christian apologists nowadays claim that
Christianity cleared the way for natural science by demythologising the
world. This would come as news to Pope John Paul II, who in September
performed a 30-minute exorcism on a 19-year-old woman who began shouting
him during a public audience. Evangelical Protestants, as well as
believe in demons and engage in exorcism. The conservative Protestant JF
Cogan says that the growth in the human population, relative to the
number of fallen angels, means that some overworked demons are forced to
commute among a number of possessed individuals at "the speed of
electricity." Even more innovative is the Rev Jim Peasboro of Savannah,
Georgia, who in his book The Devil in the Machine: Is Your Computer
Possessed by a Demon? explains that "any PC built after 1985 has the
capacity to house an evil spirit." All this is justified by reference to
Jesus whose many successful exorcisms are recounted in the New

Modern natural science was built in the last several centuries on the
surviving foundations of ancient Hellenic science-the atomism of
and Democritus in the 5th and 4th centuries BC, and the heliocentric
of Aristarchus (310-230 BC). Like Muslims, Christians repeatedly have
to repress science when it threatened their dogmas, from the days of
until the present, with Protestant fundamentalists in the US still
waging a
campaign to ban discussion of Darwinian biology from classrooms or to
it with Biblical "creation science." According to Stephen Hawking, who
attended a 1981 Vatican conference on cosmology, "the Pope told us that
was fine to study the evolution of the universe after the big bang, but
should not inquire into the big bang itself because that was the work of

So, does liberty of conscience have Christian roots? It was only after
failed to create theocracies on the territories that they controlled in
wars of religion that Catholics and Calvinists resigned themselves to
idea of a secular state (to this day, ultramontanist Catholics and
Protestant theologians dream of theocratic government). After Mussolini
to power in Italy, Pope Pius XI declared: "if there is a totalitarian
regime, it is the Church regime, given that man belongs wholly to the
Church." (The Vatican did not make its peace with liberal democracy
the 1960s.) The major Protestant reformers were just as tyrannical.
who object to the punishment of heresy are like dogs and swine," Calvin
thundered. Martin Luther was moderate by comparison, writing in 1528: "I
in no way admit that false teachers should be put to death: it is enough
that they should be banished." Of the Jews, the relatively tolerant
wrote: "Burn down their synagogues... force them to work, and deal
with them, as Moses did in the wilderness, slaying 3,000 lest the whole
people perish... There it would be wrong to be merciful."

Apart from maverick Christian minorities like Quakers, Anabaptists and
Jehovah's Witnesses, the major champions of freedom of thought and
tolerance have been secular thinkers and statesmen like Voltaire and
Jefferson, who wrote, "our civil rights have no dependence upon our
religious opinions more than our opinions in physics or geometry."
stated that the legislators who passed the Virginian statute protecting
religious freedom "meant to comprehend within its protection the Jew and
Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo and infidel of every

Far from being the source of humanist civilisation, then, Christianity
its traditional forms is incompatible with a liberal, democratic,
society that has an economy based on applied science and commercial
exchange. Indeed, conservative Christianity, in both its Protestant and
Catholic forms, has always had far less in common with humanist
than with orthodox Islam. Both orthodox Christianity and orthodox Islam
intolerant religions which divide humanity into believers and infidels.
Christianity and Islam hold that reason must be subordinated to
faith. "Reason is the Devil's whore," Luther declared. Paul said, "the
wisdom of the Greeks is the foolishness of God." The true source of
civilisation, including natural science, democracy and the spirit of
inquiry, can be traced back through the Romans to the ancient Greeks,
first replaced mythological thinking with reasoning about humanity and

In the interest of social peace, political elites in the
world, as well as in continental Europe, have abandoned intellectual
consistency by assigning each of these three rival secular traditions
authority in a different sphere. When discussing politics, Americans use
language of Renaissance humanist republicanism; when discussing
science and technology, they are Cartesian rationalists; when discussing
morals and religion, they tend to speak a Calvinist language of public
confession and repentance; and in the arts, they use the German romantic
categories of genius, originality and inspiration. Now and then there
collisions as when, every year or two, an exhibit of "blasphemous" art
illustrates the conflict between Christian and romantic conceptions of

Even before 11th September, this uneasy compromise showed signs of
down. In the US, the number of secular and only nominally religious
individuals has been steadily growing, while the number of active
has slowly declined. But as a proportion of the shrinking religious
population, fundamentalist Protestantism, conservative Catholicism and
orthodox Judaism have been expanding, while mainline Protestantism,
Catholicism and reform and conservative Judaism are losing adherents,
to non-belief. The collapse of liberal denominations promises an
polarisation between consistent secularists and devout believers.

By the 1990s, right-wing Protestants, Catholics and Jews were setting
their differences to wage political war on secularism and humanism. The
extension of the political alliance of "people of faith" to reactionary
Muslims, who share their opposition to feminism, gay rights, abortion,
contraception and freedom from censorship is the logical next step.
Pressured by fundamentalist Christians, US delegations to international
family-planning conferences have found themselves allied with Muslim
theocracies and the Vatican against European and east Asian delegations
issues of contraception and abortion.

In the past two decades, many conservative Christians in the US and
elsewhere have expressed sympathy for aspects of reactionary Islam. In
when a caller to Larry King Live asked then-drug czar William J Bennett,
"Why build prisons? Get tough like Arabia. Behead the damned drug
We're just too soft," Bennett replied, "morally, I don't have any
with that," and went on to call for more executions in the US. Another
conservative Catholic, Patrick Buchanan, denounced Salman Rushdie for
writing "a blasphemous assault on the faith of hundreds of millions." In
1998, as the Taleban in Afghanistan was banning women from working, the
Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution declaring that wives
"submit graciously to the servant leadership of their husbands."

Two days after 11th September, Jerry Falwell, founder of the Moral
told Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson (on the latter's
show), that "God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of
America to give us probably what we deserve." They agreed that the
was God's punishment for American toleration of pagans, abortionists,
feminists and gays: "I point the finger in their face," said Falwell.
helped this happen."

Some conservative Christian intellectuals in the US now openly flirt
sedition. In 1996, the Catholic priest Richard John Neuhaus hosted a
symposium in which religious right activists, including Judge Robert
argued that the US government was so immoral that revolution might be
legitimate. Two years earlier, at a religious conference in Florida
to "Reclaiming America," ex-Vice-President Dan Quayle joined the
audience in
reciting a theocratic parody of the Pledge of Allegiance: "I pledge
allegiance to the Christian flag, and to the Saviour, for whose Kingdom
stands. One Saviour, crucified, risen and coming again, with life and
liberty for all who believe."

Today the Christian right is far more powerful in American politics than
was in 1800 or 1900. In 1787, Jefferson wrote to his nephew Peter Carr,
"question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there
one, he must approve the homage of reason rather than of blindfolded
fear..." Jefferson, who edited a version of the gospels without the
supernatural parts, reassured his nephew that belief in God was not
necessary for virtue. Such sentiments did not prevent him from serving
terms as president. Of Jefferson's rival Alexander Hamilton, the
Karl-Friedrich Walling writes, "nothing distinguishes Hamilton from
Cromwell more than his hatred of Puritanism, religious and political.
Largely because of the humanity he absorbed from the atheist Hume, he
less worried that Americans would become decadent or corrupt than that
would become exceedingly self-righteous."

By contrast, in 2000, both the Republican and the Democratic
candidates claimed to be evangelical Protestants who had personally
Jesus." Al Gore's vice-presidential candidate was an orthodox Jew who
refused to work or travel on the sabbath and claimed that non-believers
could not be good citizens. That claim by Joseph Lieberman would have
surprised George Washington, who emphasised the religious neutrality of
US government in a letter to a Jewish community in Newport, Rhode
written in 1790: "for happily the government of the United States, which
gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires
that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as
citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support."

During the 2000 presidential campaign, George W Bush made the
assertion that "on the issue of evolution, the verdict is still out on
God created the earth." One of his predecessors in the White House,
Wilson, asked 78 years earlier about his views on evolution, replied
of course like very other man of intelligence and education I do believe
organic evolution. It surprises me that at this late date such questions
should be raised." Ex-president Theodore Roosevelt, in a speech
delivered to
the American Historical Association in 1912, referred to "the great
In "My Life as a Naturalist," published in The American Museum Journal
May 1918, Roosevelt wrote of his childhood education: "Thank Heaven, I
at the feet of Darwin and Huxley."

Although Christian conservatives now control the national Republican
ensuring that no supporter of evolutionary biology, most forms of
research, abortion or gay rights can be nominated for president or
vice-president, they are not powerful enough to impose their vision on
society as a whole. The Christian right is finding new allies, however,
the environmental left.

Dan Quayle's former chief of staff William Kristol, a crusader against
abortion and gay rights and editor of Rupert Murdoch's Washington
The Weekly Standard, has teamed up with leftist Jeremy Rifkin to
Congress to ban therapeutic cloning, which is legal in Europe and East
Under pressure from the religious right, Bush has crippled US stem-cell
research, causing research projects to move to Britain and other
Rifkin has also joined the Southern Baptists in an effort to outlaw the
patenting of plant and animal genes.

Will Protestant and Catholic abortion-clinic bombers soon be
comrades-in-arms of Greenpeace activists who destroy the
genetically-modified? The fundamentalist-green alliance against
and scientific research is not surprising. After all, for the past
century, Darwinian evolutionary psychology has been attacked by the left
(which believes that human nature is infinitely malleable) and by the
religious right (which believes in the Hebrew creation myth). Both the
religious right and a large part of the romantic left share an Arcadian
vision, similar to that of secular fascists and Muslim conservatives, of
static, pre-modern, rural community of spiritual people who have not
alienated from nature and God by secularism and capitalism.

The fundamentalist-green alliance has already found a spokesman in
vice-president Al Gore. Gore, a divinity school student and born-again
Baptist whose desk had a sign with the motto WWJD (What Would Jesus
fused Christian and environmentalist clichés in his 1992 bestseller,
in the Balance. Calling environmental problems an "ungodly crisis," Gore
echoes both the religious right and the Luddite left when he declares,
froth and frenzy of industrial civilisation mask our deep loneliness for
that communion with the world that can lift our spirits and fill our
with the richness and immediacy of life itself." Praising ecological
activists as "resistance fighters," Gore predicts "a global civil war
between those who refuse to consider the consequences of civilisation's
relentless advance and those who refuse to be silent partners in the

The greatest villain in history, according to Gore, is none other than
Francis Bacon, philosopher of the scientific method. "Bacon's moral
confusion-the confusion at the heart of much modern science-came from
assumption, echoing Plato, that human intellect could safely analyse and
understand the natural world without reference to any moral principles
defining our relationship and duties to both God and God's creation."
According to Gore, science must be returned to supervision by religious

The dismissal of Charles Darwin by George W Bush and the denunciation of
Francis Bacon by Al Gore show how far the US has drifted from the
enlightened humanism of the founding fathers. Jefferson's three greatest
heroes were Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, and John Locke. Hamilton's was
Julius Caesar. Neither Jefferson nor Hamilton considered listing either
Moses or Jesus. That oversight was remedied during the 2000 presidential
campaign, when George W Bush, asked to name his favourite philosopher,
replied, "Jesus Christ."

Humanist civilisation, then, is threatened today both from beyond its
borders and from inside them. Liberal democracies may be able to resist
Muslim terrorism, but the greatest long-running threat to secularism,
democracy and science could come from within, from the emerging
coalition of
the religious right and the romantic left brought together by a loathing
open society that they share with each other-and with Osama bin Laden.

James J. Hughes Ph.D.

Producer, Changesurfer Radio

Associate Editor
Journal of Evolution and Technology

71 Vernon St.
Public Policy Studies, Trinity College
Hartford CT 06106

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