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.