Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Total Corruption and Total Determinism

Luther and His Progeny: 500 Years of Protestantism and Its Consequences for Church, State, and Society, edited by John C. Rao.

NB (and it will be really tough in this post): in my review of this book, I am presenting the case as Catholics see it; I say nothing of my views on theology.  My intent is not to get into the theology, but to examine the impact of the Reformation on society and what this meant (and means) for the growth of the state.

The period in Europe, before the Reformation, offers what I view as the longest-lasting and closest example of a decentralized, libertarian order we have seen in the west…ever.  What has come since has not come close, certainly in terms of longevity – no matter what one believes about the value of the Renaissance, Enlightenment, or Liberalism.  For this, the period is worth examining for anyone interested in libertarianism in this world.

The doctrine of total corruption constitutes the view that, subsequent to the fall of the first couple, man is not merely wounded by sin, but utterly ruined by it.

Total determinism comprises the view that God arbitrarily decides who shall be saved and who shall not before they are created….

So Sebastian Morello describes the Reformation doctrine.

This dual doctrine reduces man to a brute, and two forms of government follow from its anthropology.  One is that of draconian leaders, and the other that of liberal oligarchy which maintains that they are the peoples’ choice.

One is Hobbes, the other is Jefferson.

People are incapable of developing virtue therefore they abandon the life of virtue.  Therefore, to govern man, brute force was necessary.  For this role, the princes gladly took charge.  The princes realized that Luther offered a way to separate from the dual governance authority provided by the Church in Rome, and therefore consolidate government in their lands under one head – their own.

Citing Henry Sire’s synopsis:

[Thomas] More knew that “despite the Protestants’ claim to speak for the ordinary layman, their revolt was not a popular one.  There was no place in Europe where the peasantry, by far the largest part of the population, received the Reformation gladly, let alone instigated its entry.”

It was, instead, an elitist revolution.  Sire continues:

“Reformation was the work of kings, of the nobility, and of the urban plutocracies.  All the Reformers, notably Luther, Calvin, and Knox, relied explicitly on those elements and directed their main proselytic efforts at them.”

More viewed the doctrines as deeply pernicious, leading to an understanding of human action independent of concern for universal moral norms.  Instead, “what is right for me” became the standard.  From this, state law could be implemented without reference to what is called perennial law. 

Secular liberalism, then, is the direct heir to the Protestant heritage.  It is simple enough to trace liberal ideas to Enlightenment ideas, and those back to Reformation ideas; and, of course, these all, in a sense, belong to a single movement of abandoning heritage.

Law will come from somewhere.  I suggest that the choices are either from culture and tradition or fiat – man made, declared.  In the tradition of the European Middle Ages, this law based on tradition was tempered by what was deemed “good”; e.g., slavery was almost unknown during this time and place.

Which method provides the most assurance, certainty and consistency in law?  To ask the question is to answer it.  In case this isn’t clear to you:

…this has led to the invention of new laws and the changing of existing laws at a pace unknown before in any human community.  Of course, this in turn has brought about a certain justifiable contempt for the law, which has been increasingly been seen as something arbitrarily imposed.

I think that pretty well sums up today’s reality in the west.

The Reformation, having made the human will obsolete, leaves man free to act on his basest instinct – anything less (or more?) would prevent humans from living “authentic lives.”

…the more openly depraved one is, the less hypocritical one is.  The more a society celebrates expressions of degeneracy, the freer it demonstrates itself to be.

I think that pretty well sums up today’s reality in the west.

Liberalism deconstructs the tradition of the culture, and, as it deconstructs, it also rejects.  Liberalism only protests, denies, rejects, deconstructs, and never affirms or builds.

While such a society, in theory, can conform fully to the negative law of the non-aggression principle, is there any reader out there who can imagine that such a society will, in fact remain libertarian? 

We even trace this path in our history: one could argue that the nineteenth century in the west was, at least for the non-slave, the freest period for western man.  Yet look how quickly this was destroyed – the Great War shattered every illusion of freedom in the west.  Compare this to the more-or-less 1000 year period of Germanic law during the Middle Ages and prior to the Reformation.

More saw that the Reformation would tear Europe apart – a fragmented Europe.  In its place, today we have the European Union.  Instead of law by custom and tradition, Europe today has a monstrosity in Brussels.


Thomas More never fully experienced this thing called “the Reformation.”  He wrote about Luther and Calvin, and More offered his own view of the likely consequences.  In a period of five years, he wrote perhaps one million words on this matter.  One might call him a prophet…of some sort.

But, we close with Morello:

The Reformation gave concrete theological foundation to the astonishing pride and conceit of those who wished, in one great sweep, to toss away all of Christendom’s masters of the intellectual life, with the whole European educational enterprise and the civilizing tradition of the primary evangelized lands.  It has been permissible – and deemed admirable – to cultivate this attitude ever since.  This is of the utmost importance for understanding our political situation today, for the academy is where minds are formed, and what happens in the academy affects the future of the human community.

I think I need not mention to this audience what is taught in the academy today.


  1. This smells a bit of Catholic polemics (not from you, bionic).

    The Reformation happened when conditions were just right for it's adoption and spreading. The political landscape, technology, and population were all very different than the 1000 years prior. Could it be that the governmental practices of the past 500 years grew from a similar condition? Luther wasn't the first Christian leader to speak against Catholicism (e.g. Hus, Wycliffe). I'm making the old correlation ≠ causation argument.

    I'll leave the poor description of Reformed theology alone.

    1. Sherlock, there has been at least some minor recognition by one or two of the authors of these essays that there were wrongs in the Church that should have been addressed but were not.

      In any case, I know what is represented in this book is one side of the story. The string I am pulling on: had the Church properly addressed the wrongs, might the west have seen a more natural evolution, not revolution? What might this have meant for governance? Might we have ended up in the same place either way? I don't know.

      The other string: merely to use a factual case to support my view, that a commonly accepted culture and tradition makes for less government (as we use this term today). I think this is clearly demonstrated in this history. While Europe held to this tradition, polities were greatly decentralized; once the tradition was lost, centralization grew. Even this isn’t cut and dry: England and France began centralizing well before 1517.

      Correlation…causation? Maybe, maybe not. But setting aside any debates in theology, reasonable arguments are being made by the authors – or maybe I see these as reasonable merely because they support the view that I have grown to embrace?

      To your point, in some ways this commonly accepted culture began coming apart well before 1517. Luther has the good fortune (if you can call it this) of being seen as the symbol, maybe the fulcrum.

    2. Yes. I see your point. And I largely agree.

      A common culture and tradition, with all the natural healthy social controls that provides, is a condition that makes decentralized power more likely. The power to "enforce" tradition is ubiquitous throughout the culture, and thus decentralized.

      I'll leave the theology alone :). I accused John H of having a "freedom lens.". The log in my eye is the "theology lens" that may have blinded me to your larger point.

      My tactic for the growth of liberty is to move toward a more cultural control system (decentralized and voluntary) and away from fist control. I think cultural change is best achieved through the church... with sound theology :)...


    3. "I think cultural change is best achieved through the church..."

      I think the only necessary cultural change ("necessary" if one wants to move toward a more decentralized, and therefore more libertarian, society) IS the church. Which opens the door of the criminal job that most churches are doing in the west.

      ".. with sound theology :)..."

      Many religions around the world hold to some form of the Golden Rule. While the Silver Rule is more libertarian, it is a good start.

      What is lacking - in the way every religion is taught in most congregations - is to keep this Rule in focus, and to internalize it amongst the parishioners with proper understanding.

      With this said, I don't mean to imply that adherents of any and every religion can enjoy a common culture with each other. Just suggesting that within each religion there is some hope.

    4. "... The criminal job..." ABSOLUTELY.

      Yes! The church absolutely must change...

      Perhaps... another Reformation!

    5. "In condemning us you condemn all your own ancestors--all the ancient priests, bishops and kings--all that was once the glory of England, the island of saints, and the most devoted child of the See of Peter.

      "For what have we taught, however you may qualify it with the odious name of treason, that they did not uniformly teach?"

      ~St. Edmund Campion, speaking unassailable logic before the court that would hang him for treason.

      The Church always had her reformers. What happened in the 16th century was a *revolution*. The West--and therefore the world--is the poorer for it.

    6. I always say that the closer people come to Christ, then the closer they come to liberty.

      The church, since shortly after the resurrection, has sought to be the harlot that rides the beast rather than trust God to be the King of the Kingdom He just established, declaring it to be "in the world but not of the world".

      We forget that Adam and Eve "walked with God in the cool of the day". And the Kingdom is envisioned as a Kingdom of kings and priests. The Bible teaches that "where there is no law there is no trespass"...people shake their heads in assent to this but then fail to realize that God is creating a kingdom where the people do not trespass and therefore there is no law.

      The Catholic Church, and indeed many Protestant Churches only create a "cultural Christianity" that is not a real faith, only a said faith. This may produce a common culture and society that trends toward liberty for a time, but since the law is not "written on their hearts" truly then it will always tend to rot.

      You ask whether things might've been different had the Church fixed the "one or two things wrong"'s a moot point. It was already morphed into something it was never meant to be and was therefore always destined to fail.

      "Law will come from somewhere. I suggest that the choices are either from culture and tradition or fiat – man made, declared."

      I think this is a false notion - at least the two choices. Law will come from somewhere: God or man. Whether the law is declared from a dictator, warlord, king, prime minister, president or congress doesn't matter really. If their culture is "good" then one would think their society would be as well. But what's the definition of "good"? If you are saying culture is the social working of the God given laws...then I suppose I could agree, but then you'd have a true theocratic system which is what the Kingdom of Heaven is that Christ instituted...we've chosen Rome and its' laws over Christ's laws ever since.

    7. "If you are saying culture is the social working of the God given laws...then I suppose I could agree...."

      I have said something like this too many times to count. I also suggest - for those who are phobic of any talk of religion - that culture and tradition serve a similar role.

      Given that the culture and tradition of the Germanic Middle Ages was consonant with "good" law ("good" in its most traditional meaning), I see these as one and the same.

    8. Bionic -

      I've been away for a few days.

      I come back and see your discourse with A Ware all over Lew Rockwell and am immediately intrigued.

      I really think what's going on is that, as your earlier posts with regards to Kerns' work suggest, that the "Dark Ages" are kept that way so as to not shine light on the post-empire period after Rome fell.

      I'm assuming many people, including myself, are assuming late middle-ages here and thinking about the "long train of abuses" perpetuated by the monarchs of various Western European nations and of the abuses made by the Catholic Church under various Popes...

      Reading your past posts and seeing the scholarship out there relating to this has spurred me on to read more about this part of history that, like you were, I am apparently lacking in real learning on.

      I stand by my general statements regarding the church and government in general and also with regards to the bigger question: How did we get to where we are now? With regards to centralized nation states? I think the short life span and memories of man have had a lot to do with it. I've been pondering if the technology of today and the internet would be a way to change that in the future as the current empires fail...or will authoritarian regimes or corporations just dump the data down the "memory hole"? Something to ponder...

  2. I occasionally read the writings on contemporary culture and politics by Pastor Chuck Baldwin who politically seems to be a libertarian constitutionalist. He is of the opinion that the failure of modern pastors, who fear losing their churches' tax exempt status, to speak out against Washington's criminal wars and the burgeoning unconstitutional domestic police state is the major reason why our liberties are rapidly dwindling.

    Baldwin is appalled that American churches openly worship the military as enforcers of the will of God abroad while at the same time, in a misapplication of giving unto Caesar what is Caesar's, discourage their parishioners from resisting the predatory state at home. Baldwin recounts how, unlike today, many pastors during the American war of independence rallied their parishioners against the tyranny and injustices of the Crown. Baldwin observes that he has more in common with freedom loving nonbelievers than he has with his fellow state idolizing pastors.

    Considering that tens of millions of Americans are active church goers, one would think that the pastors of American churches, have the power of the pulpit, if they were inclined to use it, to encourage and stand together with their congregations to roll back the state. If only they had a grounding in the NAP and the will and courage to urge civil disobedience and general strikes, American pastors could do more to challenge Washington's hegemony and to promote a decentralization of power than any political movement to date.

    1. Too much military worship, and too much belief in a false and deadly understanding of the meaning of "Israel" today.

    2. I should add, I also read and enjoy many of Baldwin's pieces. Another author of a similar type - while not a pastor (that I know of) - is Laurence Vance.

    3. I am reading my Catholic diocese newspaper now; they are too schizophrenic. Salute the veterans on one page and pope on other page walking through military cemetery on another saying "This is the fruit of war: death." Even my liberatarian priest sympathetic to my anarchy flies a huge American flag.

      Eric Morris

  3. Great Post BM! There's a lot to think about/unpack in it.

    "NB (and it will be really tough in this post): in my review of this book, I am presenting the case as Catholics see it; I say nothing of my views on theology.  My intent is not to get into the theology, but to examine the impact of the Reformation on society and what this meant (and means) for the growth of the state."

    I have to be honest in that I'm genuinely curious on your theological beliefs- I guessed that you were perhaps a Messianic Jew based on some of your writings and other "clues".

    Don't feel the need to respond to that- I'm just putting it out there.


    1. HA!

      For a different blog under a different nom de plum...One I haven't started and have no intention of starting!

  4. Wonderful post. My understanding of the Reformation was that Luther was right on most of his 95 theses. Many of those issues have in fact been corrected, especially the horror of simony that was so destructive.

    However, Luther, Knox, Calvin, etc. were captured by the princes of various locales, and made use of for their own political ends, as you said.

    As for the "criminal job" being done by the churches, much of this has to do with the usurping by government of charitible and other functions that are truly proper (and original) with religious and ethical organizations, thereby weakening the churches. Government actively destroys all natural institutions: the family, churches, mutual aid associations, etc.

    1. Amen! Here is a link to a pretty good book about the US using religion

  5. My reply was a bit too lengthy for a comment entry:

    Thing is that their is too much credit given to the dual allegiance idea. The Reformation introduced ideas of individual responsibility. And properly applied, "sola scritura" leads directly to "stateless freedom". Thou shalt not steal.

    The Amish are the best example of a sort-of thriving "culturally libertarian" society, much as possible in today's "West". Switzerland is MUCH closer than Europe during the Reformation times too. (More points at the link to my blog post on the subject)

    1. I offer a period that lasted a thousand years (depending on the region of Europe), you offer a handful of people in the upper mid-west or a Switzerland that is a relatively modern creation.

      Take time to understand the law of the time. Once you do this, tell me what other construction of law you find that offers a better possibility of a decentralized world.

  6. I disagree with the points raised by John Rao and the other authors you referenced. Their arguments are so lacking any basis in fact that I would characterize them not only as preposterous but laughable. For example, the point about WWI being somehow a result of Protestantism. Huh? I think it would be good for those authors to crack a history book, they would learn that the countries that precipitated WWI, namely France, Germany, Russia, and Serbia, none of them were Protestant countries. And the point that the pre-Reformation Catholic Church was a liberal, decentralizing force in society. What? The Church was the State and the State was the Church, and the Church/State was universal and all-powerful. It allowed no dissent or opposition. The officials of the Church regularly hunted down people whose opinions threatened their absolute power and murdered them. I can sum it up like this: If there had been no Protestant Reformation, then European Civilization would look like Saudi Arabia.

    1. You really lack any understanding of the time or the law of the time, Mr. "Anonymous"

  7. BM,

    I don't know if you have seen these yet, but I think you will enjoy both of them as they touch on many of the issues you discuss here on the blog,



    D. G. WHITE

  8. I resisted commenting but here goes.

    I admire your writing and mostly agree with your analysis, though I am an anarchist rather than libertarian.

    I cannot make the reason for your agreement with this thinly veiled Roman apology masquerading as historical/political commentary.

    Even a superficial knowledge knows of the Inquisition. If there was some kind of "common" culture it was the result of violence and severe repression of any dissenting views. Suggested reading: A History of the Inquisition in the Middle Ages by Henry Charles Lea.

    If the Roman church is the giver of this commonality, it did so just as the Communist Party did in the Soviet Union, with violence and terror.

    One has to ignore real history(and many papal bulls) to think this institution is ever been a friend of the average man. That common culture was serf and noble with very little in between.

    The wars of the 20th century had nothing to do with religion, they were ideological wars primarily with the German Succession question complicating matters. I fail to see Protestant fingerprints on them.

    Theologically, something is wrong with a religion that at one time would kill you if you possessed that religion's holy writings. Think about that!

    I respect the partisans of the Roman church to defend it however they wish, but I still cannot understand your affinity with point of view.

    1. You claim to be a long time reader, yet I have never claimed that the Roman Church was perfect.

      If you want to have a conversation, proceed as follows:

      1) Look to the top of this page.
      2) Click on the "Bibliography" tab
      3) Read every post under the author "Fritz Kern"
      4) Read the post under Regine Pernoud
      5) Read selected posts under RHC Davis (the titles of the posts will indicate the relevant posts)
      6) Read the first post under Jacques Barzun

      After you have done this, please reply in a manner that makes clear that you have some understanding of the law and culture of the time.

    2. I don't believe I said you claimed any such thing. The issue is about the author's claim that the Reformation caused the destruction of some "common culture". You have not addressed any of my points about THIS particular subject.

      The Roman church of the Middle Ages operated exactly as Rothbard describes the State, entity with a monopoly on legal violence over a territorial area. How can a culture be "organic" with a powerful entity enforcing a so called commonality? How is it different from a king or State doing the same?

      Now I could take the same condescending attitude by saying you show little understanding of the actual history of the Middle Ages, but I just ask where I am wrong about this history.

      As for Morello's contention about academia(which I suppose you support),I wonder how Georgetown fits since almost all of our rulers pass through it and it is a Jesuit institution.

      I have been very specific in my post about THIS article but you reply with generalities and straw-men which is certainly not conducive to any kind of conversation. I really expected better.

    3. you ask "but I just ask where I am wrong about this history."

      I have written a few hundred thousand words on this topic, and instead of re-writing all of them in response to your query, I ask you to read a small fraction of these.

      We are wasting each other's time if you won't even read my answer to your question.

    4. Let me make this as simple as I can: How can a libertarian be supportive of an institution that has used repression and violence on dissenting views?

    5. No! Please let me make this as simple as I can: