Thursday, October 02, 2003

Zorak links to a fascinating essay titled The Progressive Era and the Family, by Murray N. Rothbard. It outlines the influence of pietistic Protestantism on the progressive movement. Not only were public schools, prohibition, women's suffrage, and the eugenics/birth control movement choice examples of the moralizing pietistic impulse, they were also intensely nativist. Public schools, of course, were means of subduing the Popish menace, attempting to convert Catholics' children. The birth control movement was a similar means for reducing Catholic and other immigrant influence. Women's suffrage was a key blow struck by the pietists, for the women in more ritualistic forms of Christianity tended to leave politics to the menfolk. And where did the men gather for political association and argument? In the saloons, of course--which was another reason why Prohibition was implemented. This last fact makes me so mad I'm tempted to start up a political saloon of my own--which of course would promptly fail, the old ethnic neighborhoods having been destroyed by suburbanization. And suburbanization itself, some would argue, was an intended result of desegregation.

A few excerpts:
The pietist doctrine was essentially as follows: Specific creeds of various churches or sects do not matter. Neither does obedience to the rituals or liturgies of the particular church. What counts for salvation is only each individual being "born again"—a direct confrontation between the individual and God, a mystical and emotional conversion in which the individual achieves salvation. The rite of baptism, to the pietist, therefore becomes secondary; of primary importance is his or her personal moment of conversion. But if the specific church or creed becomes submerged in a vague Christian interdenominationalism, then the individual Christian is left on his own to grapple with the problems of salvation.

[...] In contrast, the Northerners, particularly in the areas inhabited by "Yankees," adopted a far different form of pietism, "evangelical pietism." The evangelical pietists believed that man could achieve salvation by an act of free will. More particularly, they also believed that it was necessary to a person's own salvation—and not just a good idea—to try his best to ensure the salvation of everyone else in society.

[...]Specifically, it was clear to the pietists that the role of women in the liturgical "ethnic" family was very different from what it was in the pietist Protestant family. One of the reasons impelling pietists and Republicans toward prohibition was the fact that, culturally, the lives of urban male Catholics—nd the cities of the Northeast were becoming increasingly Catholic—evolved around the neighborhood saloon. The men would repair at night to the saloon for chitchat, discussions, and argument—nd they would generally take their political views from the saloonkeeper, who thus became the political powerhouse in his particular ward. Therefore, prohibition meant breaking the political power of the urban liturgical machines in the Democratic party.

But while the social lives of liturgical males revolved around the saloon, their wives stayed at home. While pietist women were increasingly independent and politically active, the lives of liturgical women revolved solely about home and hearth. Politics was strictly an avocation for husbands and sons. Perceiving this, the pietists began to push for women's suffrage, realizing that far more pietist than liturgical women would take advantage of the power to vote.

[...]A laboratory test of which women would turn out to vote occurred; in Massachusetts, where women were given the power to vote in school board elections from 1879 on. In 1888, large numbers of Protestant women in Boston turned out to drive Catholics off the school board. In contrast, Catholic women scarcely voted, "thereby validating the, nativist tendencies of suffragists who believed that extension of full suffrage to women would provide a barrier against further Catholic influence.”

[...]One way of correcting the increasingly pro-Catholic demographics was to restrict immigration; another to promote women's suffrage. A third way, often promoted in the name of "science," was eugenics, an increasingly popular doctrine of the progressive movement. Broadly, eugenics may be defined as encouraging the breeding of the "fit" and discouraging the breeding of the "unfit," the criteria of "fitness" often coinciding with the cleavage between native, white Protestants and the foreign born or Catholics—or the white-black cleavage. In extreme cases, the unfit were to be coercively sterilized.

[...]Many observers, indeed, reported in wonder at the strongly religious tone of the Progressive party convention. Theodore Roosevelt's acceptance address was significantly entitled, "A Confession of Faith," and his words were punctuated by "amens" and by a continual singing of Christian hymns by the assembled delegates. They sang "Onward, Christian Soldiers," "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," and finally the revivalist hymn, "Follow, Follow, We Will Follow Jesus," except that "Roosevelt" replaced the word "Jesus" at every turn.

[...] Thus the foundations of today's massive state intervention in the internal life of the American family were laid in the so-called "progressive era" from the 1870s to the 1920s. Pietists and "progressives" united to control the material and sexual choices of the rest of the American people, their drinking habits, and their recreational preferences. Their values, the very nurture and education of their children, were to be determined by their betters. The spiritual, biological, political, intellectual, and moral elite would govern, through state power, the character and quality of American family life.

[...]It has been known for decades that the Progressive Era was marked by a radical growth in the extension and dominance of government in America's economic, social, and cultural life. For decades, this great leap into statism was naively interpreted by historians as a simple response to the greater need for planning and regulation of an increasingly complex economy. In recent years, however, historians have come to see that increasing statism on a federal and state level can be better interpreted as a profitable alliance between certain business and industrial interests, looking for government to cartelize their industry after private efforts for cartels and monopoly had failed, and intellectuals, academics, and technocrats seeking jobs to help regulate and plan the economy as well as restriction of entry into their professions. In short, the Progressive Era re-created the age-old alliance between Big Government, large business firms, and opinion-molding intellectuals—an alliance that had most recently been embodied in the mercantilist system of the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries.

Other historians uncovered a similar process at the local level, especially that of urban government beginning with the Progressive Era. Using the influence of media and opinion leaders, upper-income and business groups in the cities systematically took political power away from the masses and centralized this power in the hands of urban government responsive to progressive demands. Elected officials, and decentralized ward representation, were systematically replaced either by appointed bureaucrats and civil servants, or by centralized at-large districts where large-scale funding was needed to finance election races. In this way, power was shifted out of the hands of the masses and into the hands of a minority elite of technocrats and upper-income businessmen. One result was an increase of government contracts to business, a shift from "Tammany" type charity by the political parties to a taxpayer-financed welfare state, and the imposition of higher taxes on suburban residents to finance bond issues and redevelopment schemes accruing to downtown financial interests.

[...]In every case, we see the vital link between these intrusions into the family and the aggressive drive by Anglo-Saxon Protestant "pietists" to use the state to "make America holy," to stamp out sin and thereby assure their own salvation by maximizing the salvation of others. In particular, all of these measures were part and parcel of the long-standing crusade by these pietists to reduce if not eliminate the role of "liturgicals," largely Roman Catholics and high-church Lutherans, from American political life. The drive to stamp out liquor and secular activities on Sundays had long run into successful Catholic and high-church Lutheran resistance. Compulsory public schooling was soon seen as an indispensable weapon in the task of "Christianizing the Catholics," of saving the souls of Catholic children by using the public schools as a Protestantizing weapon. The neglected example of San Francisco politics was urged as a case study of this ethnoreligious political battle over the schools and hence over the right of Catholic parents to transmit their own values to their children without suffering Anglo-Saxon Protestant obstruction. Women's suffrage was seized upon as a means of increasing Anglo-Saxon Protestant voting power, and immigration restriction as well as eugenics was a method of reducing the growing demographic challenge of Catholic voters.

Of course, Pietism found its international expression in the form of Wilsonian diplomacy. It's not a suprise that today's neo-Wilsonianism walks hand in hand with pietism.

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