Everybody wants to be a victim. It pays psychologically, in our culture, to be a victim. But why? What value or virtue is there in being a victim?
Sometimes we admire people who really ARE victims in what they overcame. And that’s indeed a valuable, admirable and even a beautiful thing. But it’s the OVERCOMING that’s the value here. We didn’t look at survivors of Nazi Germany’s concentration camps and say, “Wow. That’s great. You were in a concentration camp”. We said, “You survived it. You lived to tell the tale. And you tell us what you learned”. Those things are valuable — although you surely don’t need such horrendous suffering in order to learn, grow and prove your worth.
Suffering is not the purpose of life. Happiness is.
America, despite all its issues, is — at this point in time — the most prosperous, comfortable and even rational place to be living in all of human history. Do YOU want to be living in any other place or time? I doubt it. Yet somehow suffering is now the standard of value. It makes no sense. Achievement ought to be the standard of value. Survival and overcoming are values.
People create crises and disasters — or exaggerate them — in order to prove they’re suffering. As if suffering is the only way to prove your worth. It makes no sense!
People lie about being victims when they’re not. They fabricate stories about being victims of racial slurs or “hate crimes” that never took place. Jussie Smollett comes to mind as one of the more grotesque examples.
Why can’t they focus on achievements? I don’t condone lying about achievements. But I can see the temptation. Achievement is a good thing. But what in the world tempts people to lie about having been a victim? Being a victim is a horrible thing. It’s not a shameful thing. If you’re truly a victim, something shameful was done to you. The shame is with the victimizer. But how did being a victim become such a point of pride?
Something is deeply wrong in the thinking of millions of people for victimhood to have become such a dominant theme — and implicit virtue — in our culture.
I suspect it all stems from the false belief that sacrifice is virtue. The degree to which you sacrifice, the thinking goes, you’re supposedly a good person. Victimization is the currency or proof of your sacrifice.
But sacrifice is NOT a virtue. Suffering is not a virtue. Yes, suffering is sometimes the price you pay for virtue or achievement. But actual virtue — integrity, honesty, competence — is the REAL thing to shoot for. At most, misery is an unfortunate side-effect that it’s admirable to overcome.
Our civilization has never been more prosperous and full of opportunity. Yet most agree we seem to be spiraling toward some sort of unthinkable disaster. The problem is in our minds. Our minds contain ideas — often toxic, irrational ones. We have to fix ourselves INTERNALLY. Medicare for all won’t fix us. Free college won’t, either. Rational thinking will.
It’s really very simple. Either you value the truth — or the narrative. Not just in politics — but in family, life, business…anywhere.
When an individual stops valuing objective truth — facts, logic — then there’s no other alternative, other than your feelings. Usually, there’s a narrative, something that a person WANTS to be true, or FEELS should be true, or MUST be true, to replace what used to be a devotion to truth.
When your mind stops operating in service to the truth and starts operating in service to some particular narrative, you become unhealthy, irrational and even bad. It’s the end of rationality. It’s the end of healthy psychological functioning. It’s the decline of serenity.
The same applies to a society. The same applies to an entire political party. When reason and devotion to truth get replaced solely by subservience to a narrative — often a “group think” or mob rule — then a society becomes unhinged.
There has always been some of this in American society, of course. But it has reached a bizarre climax under the presidency of Donald Trump. Not because of Trump, but in response to him. Democrats and leftists all but openly say (and some do openly say), “It doesn’t matter what the truth is. Get Trump. Get Republicans. Whatever it takes to eradicate and destroy them. That’s all that matters”.
We are in a very, very dangerous, sick and bad situation right now in America. I don’t know how or whether we turn back from it. Because once millions of people determine that the narrative — their feelings — are more important even than their own liberty, and the freedom of their children, we are all in trouble. Unless I’m wrong, and unless millions of Democrats exit their party and come out and vote for Trump unexpectedly in 2020, then we have got real serious problems.
Once a person — or political party/movement, such as the Democrats — decide that they don’t CARE what happens and they don’t CARE who’s in charge of the government, so long as it’s not Donald Trump (or any other Republican, by the way), then the stage is set and the way is clear for all kinds of goons and loonies to come along and be taken seriously.
Enter the goons and loonies: AOC, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Jefferson statue-smashing Pete Buttigieg and all the others. These are people who would never have stood a chance in hell of being nominated for PRESIDENT OF THE U.S. five years ago. They stand for things like nationalization of the means of production — the very things Mao, Stalin and Hitler stood for! In America? They literally and openly brag about coming to your house and, even if you’re a peaceful citizen, confiscating your guns. Democrats applaud this, gleefully. How did we fall so fast, and so decisively?
Decades ago, Ayn Rand warned that liberty and freedom are not the most basic things. The most basic thing, she insisted, is REASON. When we lose our reason, we lose our freedom. Not immediately, but it’s only a matter of time. She saw it happening back in the 1950s and 1960s. Most thought she was nuts. Today, you’d have to be nuts NOT to see the unraveling of the American psyche.
Not all of us have lost our reason. Millions, even the Democrats who don’t live at home in their parents’ bedrooms or basement, productively and reasonably pursue their lives and interests daily. And we still have much of our freedom. But Donald Trump — not even any other Republican, because most Republicans are so hapless — is the ONLY firewall we have left between the U.S. Constitution and Maoist-style socialism. How did this happen?
The “moderate” Democrat Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City, insists China is not a dictatorship. China, the one-party government where dissent is outlawed and people are jailed for having politically incorrect opinions. This is what a MODERATE Democrat is saying … that China doesn’t have a dictatorship.
And they say President Trump is a wild-eyed radical.
America, the extent to which it’s Democrat or left-leaning, has totally lost its reason. The good thing about reason is that you CAN get it back. But not on the course Democrats are going now.
Conservatives, Republicans, libertarians and others must remember: The only narrative that matters is objective truth. Facts. Logic. Those are all on your side. Cherish and foster them wisely.
Most of the time I live in my own little world, trying to understand and to build good things. But once in a while new pollutions seep in and require my attention. And so it has become with “white privilege.”
It is now common (and I can hardly believe I’m writing this, even though I know it’s true) to hear “I hate white people” in supposedly educated circles… among people with university degrees.
And so I’ll deal with this new barbarity and get it out of my way:
White privilege is a verdict. It is a conclusion, not a question and not an argument. It claims abuse on the part of the white person… on the part of all white persons.
The verdict is based wholly on skin color. Understand, please, that this is the same as any other ethnic slur, up to and including the so-called n-word. It applies directly to skin tone, condemning a billion individuals at once.
White privilege is absolutely divisive. It claims that white skin defines an individual as a recipient of stolen goods, as a thief, as an abuser, and as an unenlightened ignoramus. All white people are defined this way by the term. It is yet another in the long stream of us-them divides that foment violence. From petty crime to total war, this is the root.
White privilege is anti-mind. It displaces observation, reason and balance. It barbarically shoves a billion people into a single mold and condemns the lot of them.
White privilege is dogma. The use of white privilege dances past reason and steps quickly past the slow and thorny process of trying facts and discovering justice. Rather, its user gets instant status by upholding the dogma that white people are inherently flawed, poisoned, stupid and inferior.
White privilege is full-blown arrogance. The user of the term claims to know everything relevant about you, your history and your soul. And this stands upon group-think and self-aggrandizement. The user surrounds him or herself with a chorus of fellow dogmatists, and jointly they undertake to praise themselves by degrading others.
White privilege is envy, sublimating into hate. White privilege is ultimately the slogan of people who hold painfully low opinions of themselves. Wishing to be free of those feelings is understandable, of course, but envy weaponizes the pain and freezes it in place. And what one envies, one soon enough hates.
Someone who thinks of himself or herself as a competent actor in the universe does not require the degradation of others (much less an entire race) to feel good about themselves. Rather they work, they build, and they seek to cooperate with other people of goodwill. Calling white privilege is an attempt to subdue people that its user sees as above them; to bring them down and to supplant them, ending up with their stuff. It is a crime very much like communism, and if left unchecked it will have similar results.
White privilege is a weapon. Make no mistake, calling out white privilege is an attempt to maim, to diminish and to inflict anguish.
Ultimately, white privilege is devolution. It is the road back to ritual slaughter and killing the other simply because he or she is other.
All Racism Is Poison
Racism is despicable wherever it appears. We are all individuals. Skin color, language, etc. are trivial differences. More than that, they are accidents.
One of the oldest civilizing truths is that justice should be blind. White privilege is precisely the opposite of that. As is any other flavor of racism.
All forms of racism are dark, degrading and devolutionary. This one included.
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After practicing psychotherapy professionally for over 30 years, one can’t help but notice patterns. Problems may take different forms, but the core issues often fall into just a few categories. Life doesn’t need to be as hard as some people make it, so I’ve come up with a Top Ten List of things people do to bring problems onto themselves:
Having kids without thinking. Some people have kids because it’s the thing to do, or because they feel it’s what they should do. Surprisingly few have carefully thought it out in terms of whatever else they might want to do with their lives.
Waiting for things to happen automatically. We live in an age where a lot of things get done quickly. This has created a sense that competence and achievement are to be expected. That’s OK, but it must be matched with the resolve to create your own achievements. Good things don’t just happen; we have to make them happen.
Expecting (or needing) to please others. It’s impossible to please everyone. And it doesn’t matter anyway. Most of the time others are too busy caring about their own lives to worry about what you’re doing. Sometimes the need to please others starts in childhood. Most kids aim to please, and some parents make themselves hard to please. This is fine for kids, but once you’re an adult it makes no sense. In your job or business there are standards to meet, but it’s not your duty to please people other than to do what your customer or your boss pays you to do. If you like what you’re doing, then you’ll like yourself. And when you like yourself, it’s easy to make others happy.
Trying to change others. This should really be #1! People insist that they don’t want to change others, but then they behave as if they can. This is particularly true with loved ones and co-workers. You can try to persuade, but only if you have first earned attention and respect. Use or abuse of power will never force anyone into lasting behavioral change.
Acting on impulse. In other words, acting without thought. If/when things turn out badly, you have only yourself to blame. “I had a bad day” doesn’t cut it.
Overestimating what thought can do. Some of us expect that thinking gives us certainty. You can be certain that one plus one equals two, but there are other things that require experimentation. You might think you’ll enjoy a certain thing, but you won’t know until you try. Thinking is great, but you also have to take action.
Expecting things to stay the same. Change depends in part on other people. Just because something works well for you doesn’t mean it will work well for others. One man’s comfort is another’s impediment. Always have a back-up plan in case something changes.
Expecting things to change. This is the reverse of #7 and is similar to #2. Imagine just passively waiting for something to happen. Sometimes waiting makes sense, but you need a back-up plan. Life goes on, and your “ship won’t come in” unless you make it come in.
Thinking that kindness and reasonable behavior will lead to the same from others. Sorry, but it’s a fact of life that people do what they choose. Kindness on your part may bring it out in those who are already kind, but if somebody is not reasonable, your behavior will make little difference. This expectation can make people resentful and angry. Save yourself the hurt by avoiding unrealistic expectations.
Don’t fall for the myth of “intrinsic value.” There is nothing wrong with you that corrected thinking can’t change. Your thinking might be flawed, but fundamentally you are not. We are all subject to error, but the good thing about errors is that they’re almost always correctable. And we live a better life by learning from them.
Democrats, NeverTrump Republicans, left-liberal celebrities, journalists, and academics all revile Donald Trump because he is trying and often succeeding to restore a conservative America at a time when his opponents thought that the mere idea was not just impossible but unhinged.
Joe Biden claims he wants to take Trump behind the gym and beat him up.
Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) jokes that she would like to go into an elevator with him and see Trump never come out alive. Robert De Niro has exhausted the ways in which he dreams of punching Trump out and the intonations in which he yells to audiences, “F—k Trump!”
The humanists and social justice warriors of Hollywood, from Madonna to Johnny Depp, cannot agree whether their elected president should be beheaded, blown up, stabbed, shot, or incinerated. All the Democratic would-be presidential nominees agree that Trump is the worst something-or-other in history—from human being to mere president.
Former subordinates like Anthony Scaramucci, Omarosa, and Michael Cohen insist that he is a racist, a sexist, a crook, a bully, or mentally deranged—and they all support their firsthand appraisals on the basis they eagerly worked for him and were unceremoniously fired by him.
The so-called deep state detests him. An anonymous op-ed writer in the September 5, 2018 New York Times bragged about the bureaucracy’s successful efforts to ignore Trump’s legal mandates—a sort of more methodical version of the comical Rosenstein-McCabe attempt to stage a palace coup and remove Trump, or the Democrats efforts to invoke the 25th Amendment and declare Trump crazy, bolstered by an array of Ivy League psychiatrists who had neither met nor examined him.
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Decorated retired U.S. Navy Admiral William McRaven wrote another New York Times op-ed blasting Trump and fretting that it is time for a new person in the Oval Office—Republican, Democrat or independent—“the sooner, the better.”
One wonders what McRaven meant with the adverb “sooner,” given that an election is scheduled in about a year and even retired officers are subject to the code of military justice not to attack, despite perceived taunts, their current commander-in-chief, much less wink and nod about his apparent removal (in what way?) from office. Do we really want a county in which retired admirals and intelligence officials publicly damn the current commander in chief over policy differences and advocate his removal, “the sooner the better”?
The House Democrats simply want him impeached first, and later will fill in the blanks with the necessary high crimes and misdemeanors.
Most of the prominent New York-Washington, D.C. insider Republican pundits abhor him. The creed of a NeverTrumper is that it is well worth the effort to see the current Republican president removed, and his administration imploded—even if that means four or eight years of an Elizabeth Warren, a Bernie Sanders, or a Joe Biden agenda as voiced in the debates. That would likely mean Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, slavery reparations, permissible infanticide in the case of late-term abortions, a wealth tax, and a generally socialist platform, from renouncing student debts to veritable open borders.
Only amid the ashes of Trump’s destruction do sober and judicious conservative intellectuals, writers, pundits, think-tankers, and establishment Republican grandees believe they can step in to rebirth the Republican Phoenix, nurturing the rising new party with its once hallowed traditions as exemplified by George H.W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney.
The Conservative Record
But what drives this unprecedented furor, given the economy has reached near-record low peacetime unemployment at 3.5 percent, resulting in millions of inner-city youth and poor being sought after by labor-needy employers? What is so evil about attracting the lower-middle classes to the Republican Party, and shedding its stereotype as a party of the golf links and corporate retreats?
Workers’ pay has risen to a net per capita gain of $5,000 since Trump took office. The U.S. energy industry is booming as the world’s largest producer of gas and oil, a fact that has likely saved more lives by rendering the death trap of the oil-rich Middle East increasingly irrelevant to American strategic interests.
By 2020, Trump will have remade the federal judiciary—when at an earlier moment in 2016, it looked as if an Obama-Clinton 16-year regnum would soon ensure a half-century dominance of left-wing activist judges.
Trump entered office with North Korean nuclear rockets allegedly pointed at the West Coast, and with China heralded as the inevitable new global hegemon. A petulant NATO insidiously refused to meet its promised contributions. ISIS ran amuck.
The border was wide open, and that had resulted in 20 million illegal aliens residing in the United States with de facto exemption from most consequences of violating U.S. laws. Trump at the outset has at least sought to address all those problems that sandbagged the prior administration.
So Why the Hatred?
Again, why the unadulterated hatred? For the small number of NeverTrumpers, of course, Trump’s crudity in speech and crassness in manner nullify his accomplishments: the unattractive messenger has fouled an otherwise tolerable message.
While they recognize in the abstract that the randy JFK, the repugnant LBJ, and the horny Bill Clinton during their White House tenures were far grosser in conduct than has been Donald Trump, they either assume presidential ethics should have evolved or they were not always around to know of past bad behavior first hand, or believe Trump’s crude language is worse than prior presidents’ crude behavior in office.
Trump is systematically undoing what Barack Obama wrought, in the manner Obama sought to undo with his eight years the prior eight years of George W. Bush.
But the NeverTrumpers are and remain a tiny segment of the electorate who have had zero effect in swaying Republicans and only marginal influence in persuading swing voters, in their new roles as occasionally useful naïfs of the hard Left.
Far more importantly, why do the media, academia, the entertainment and professional sports industries, the progressive Left, the administrative state, and most Democratic officeholders despise him so?
His brashness bothers them of course. His quirky tweets and name-calling certainly. His loud rallies, his public put-downs, and his feuding are certainly not matched by those of past presidents.
A Toxic Agenda
But the real source of their antipathy is his agenda.
Had Donald Trump in his first month as president declared that he was a centrist Republican —as many suspicious Never Trumpers predicted that he would, true to past form—and promoted cap-and-trade and solar and wind federal subsidies, tabled pipeline construction and abated federal leasing for gas and oil production, stayed in the Iran nuclear deal and Paris Climate Accord, appointed judges in the tradition of John Paul Stevens and David Souter, praised the “responsible” Palestinian leaders, pursued “comprehensive immigration reform” as a euphemism for blanket amnesties, then Trump would be treated largely as a George H.W. Bush or George W. Bush: hated, of course, but not obsessively so.
More importantly, had Trump just collapsed or stagnated the economy, as predicted by the likes of Paul Krugman and Larry Summers, he would now be roundly denounced, but again not so vilified, given his political utility for the Left in 2020 as a perceived Herbert Hoover-esque scapegoat.
Had Trump kept within the media and cultural sidelines by giving interviews to “60 Minutes,” speaking at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, bringing in a few old Republican hands to run the staff or handle media relations like a David Gergen or Andrew Card, Trump would have been written off as a nice enough dunce.
But Trump did none of that. So, the hatred of the media, the Left, the swamp, and the celebrity industry is predicated more on the successful Trump agenda. He is systematically undoing what Barack Obama wrought, in the manner Obama sought to undo with his eight years the prior eight years of George W. Bush.
But whereas the Obama economy stagnated and his foreign policy was seen by adversaries and rivals as a rare occasion to recalibrate the world order at American’s expense, Trump mostly did not fail—at least not yet. We are currently in an economic boom while most of the world economy abroad is inert. Had the economy just crashed as predicted, the Trump agenda would have been discredited and he would be written off a pitiful fool rather than an existential monster.
Again, hatred arises at what Trump did even more than what he says or how he says it.
But there is a final asterisk.
What made Obama unpopular with the public—until his last year when he ceded the spotlight to Clinton and Trump and then was liked in absentia the more he was neither seen nor heard—was his wide social, cultural, economic, and political assault on conservatism.
Obama ridiculed the tea-party movement with the obscene “tea-bagger” put-down. He told Latinos to “punish their enemies,” by whom he meant Republicans. His attorney general, Eric Holder, referred to blacks as “my people.” The EPA began making rather than enforcing laws.
Obama sought to promote Iran as a foil to the Gulf monarchies and Israel, an effort that explains much of the otherwise inexplicable Iran deal and Iran’s current adventurism. Rappers visited the White House, some with long histories of obscenity and anti-police rhetoric.
From “Cash-for-Clunkers” to Benghazi, the left-wing effort was 360 degrees, all-encompassing. Conservatives feared Obama was not so much changing politics as “fundamentally transforming America” as he had promised. Obama supporters bragged of a much-hailed new demography that had created a vast new constituency of the lockstep non-white voters supposedly now united not by class, or politics or culture, but by the mere fact of their appearance.
Trump has pushed a far more ambitious agenda, and one that is as conservative as Obama’s was progressive. He apparently had every intention of using the pen-and-phone model bequeathed by Obama to do it any way possible.
But more importantly, Trump’s lidless eyes never sleep. He is a 24/7 force of nature. No controversy is too trivial, too silly, too irrelevant to escape his Twitter commentary. Or rather Trump believes he is an existential war with the media, celebrities, elites of all sorts and the general status quo, or what we might call the American progressive project and its elite coastal architects.
Trump senses that the more he offends them, and the more so they pronounce him a dunce, a nut, a boor, a criminal, an ogre, then all the more they reveal what many had suspected about them but had no hard evidence to substantiate those suspicions. Trump believes his checkered social life is now transparent and serves as a sort of armor when he jousts with the sober and judicious whose pretense of civility is ripped away leaving them hypocritical when they foam, swear, and damn the current president.
Media bias? The hatred for Trump manifests itself in 90 percent negative coverage, according to reputable media watchdogs.
Trump’s war with the Colin Kaepernick take-a-knee fad and the NBA-China nexus reminds us that hypocritical multimillionaires who grow rich throwing, catching, and bouncing balls are not by that fact to be looked up to as either moral or wise, but mostly remain clueless and hypocritical.
The bipartisan Washington establishment? If an outsider Manhattan wheeler-dealer without military or political experience can at last call an appeased China to account, can avoid a Libyan fiasco, can acknowledge that America is tired of a 18-year slog in Afghanistan when others would not, or believes ISIS thrived as a result of prior arcane restrictive U.S. rules of engagement—and he is proven largely right—then what does that say about the credentialed experts who dreamed up the bipartisan conventional wisdom that with a few more concessions China would eventually become Palo Alto or that Libya would bloom at the heart of the Arab Spring?
The Left detests Trump for a lot of reasons besides winning the 2016 election and aborting the progressive project. But mostly they hate his guts because he is trying and often succeeding to restore a conservative America at a time when his opponents thought that the mere idea was not just impossible but unhinged.
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In 1984, Ross Perot purchased a copy of the 1297 reissuance of the Magna Carta from the Brudenell family who had held the document for centuries. In 1988, it became a permanent fixture of the National Archives Museum where it stayed in the rotunda along with the American charters of freedom for several years. Nearly two decades later, in 2007, Perot sold the copy for twenty-one million dollars to David Rubenstein who also placed it again on long-term loan at the Archives as well as giving a generous donation for renovations to the rotunda. The Archives re-encased the charter and placed in a new exhibit in 2010. The 2500-word Latin document is a remarkable sight. In many ways it is in better condition on vellum than the parchment copies of the Declaration of Independence and United States Constitution.
The Magna Carta, and how the American founders viewed it, is fundamental to any Whig interpretation of the period. While economic interpretations are valid, it would be wrong to dismiss the founders’ vision of the Magna Carta as a foundational text and patrimony, and its power in propaganda and legal argumentation. For patriot or loyalist, the Magna Carta took on a covenantal role to which all else was subordinate.
Nevertheless, the centuries-long history of the document before the Revolutionary War complicates the history for those in the present. It is difficult to draw a very straight of a line from 1215 to 1776 without losing focus and winding up in a thicket of legalese or mentioning every single colonial and founding figure who even once mentioned the charter in speech or letter. Yet despite unforgiving contemporary views of the charter’s significance, and those in the Revolutionary period who saw it as a wellspring of everything it meant to be of English descent, we can see that the path may be quite tortuous but one can look backward from 1776 and see a clear beginning in the distant past.
Histories of what occurred at Runnymede in 1215 can begin as early as the 900s with others starting after the Norman Conquest of 1066 under William I (the Conqueror). This was the ascent of the Norman and Angevin Kings in England. William the Conqueror’s second son, Robert, was rightful heir to the throne because his older brother, William II, had died in 1100. Younger brother Henry, however, swiftly united the barons behind him and assumed the throne. This was accomplished with some conditions from the barons, which Henry outlined in a bilingual Charter of Liberties. Such promises were not unknown before this, but Henry’s was the first of such great length. His charter was reaffirmed by his successors not only as originating with Henry but as a continuation of the rights and liberties of the English since before the Norman Conquest.
Henry made his promises to the Church first but then promised to ease the reliefs paid by the baronage that were required to “buy” back the lands they had inherited. He remitted debts owed to his predecessor and restored the “Law of King Edward.” Two generations later, in 1199, Henry II’s youngest son—the infamous King John—rose to the throne. This was not an expected outcome throughout most of John’s life. John spent much of his kingship at war with regions of France. War was costly and, as the story goes, John’s barons had little patience with his fiscal policies to fund these massive campaigns. A new agreement was reached at Runnymede in 1215, called the Runnymede Charter for decades before the term Magna Carta became the standard.
Stephen Langton, then Archbishop of Canterbury, has long been considered the primary author of the charter, although it is unclear which provisions are his and which are not. Langton had the background to have crafted such a text. His education was primarily French and heavily influenced by his colleague Pierre Chanter or, Anglicized, Peter Cantor. Both held that monarchy was an element of Original Sin and, while there were duties one owed to a monarch in the temporal realm, there were limits on what a monarch could exact from his subjects. Langton conditioned this obedience on a technicality: whether or not judges had ruled the king’s actions to be just. Disobedience was not permitted if there was an affirming judgment. If, on the other hand, the king acted in his own will, that was another matter.
These types of debates, including the boundaries between ecclesial and political authorities, were commonplace in the academic world in medieval Paris. During the generation before Runnymede, English legal theory was dominated by the likes of John of Salisbury who was of Anglo-Saxon descent but educated, like Langton, in Paris under Abelard and who was a friend of the first and only English Pope, Adrian IV. In his Policraticus, Salisbury affirmed that kings were bound by the law and advanced his own somewhat unique solution of regicide in addition to mere disobedience. Lawful kingship, however, was not a novel point of view during this period but a fairly commonplace one; the Magna Carta, far from being a watershed, reflected ideas that had already been long in place by 1215. In 1291, Edward I declared the charter to have statutory force and it continued to do so for centuries.
1300-1600: An Interlude
The long-established narrative has been that the Magna Carta vanished from the English imagination from the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries. Although many of the articles declined in relevance as laws changed during these three “dark” centuries, a seventeenth century writer asserted that the Magna Carta’s mind was great even if the body was small. Recent research on court documents of this era, long obscured by the archaic and inconsistent language they used, shows that many of these cases did cite the Magna Carta in some form or another. More formal treatises appear in the sixteenth century as well.
This dispels the notion that the charter grew irrelevant during the Late Middle Ages and disrupts another prevalent narrative, that Edward Coke democratized the meaning of the Magna Carta beyond what it could have possibly meant in its time. It is now evident that the charter’s villiens tenementum, those subject to a feudal lord, were partially included in the chapters concerning free men. To be fair, there was probably little recourse that a peasant would have against his lord. However, it did not necessarily imply a lack of parity when acting outside the geographic bounds of his feudal domain. Rights were certainly limited, weighed against one’s lord, but peasants nonetheless had rights under medieval readings of the Magna Carta particularly following the vast societal changes brought about by the Bubonic Plague of the fourteenth century. When writing about the Magna Carta’s immemorial influence, recent discoveries have been a huge boon to those who look to the charter for its influence on American law and the founders’ understandings of rights.
Stephen Langton, speaking for the barons, had attributed these rights to a very likely source: God. The barons, however, probably had a more terrestrial origin in mind: immemorial custom.
Indeed, if there is a word which could contextualize the sentiments about English law during this period, particularly as it applied to the rights of individuals, the best choice would be immemoriality. A word to describe something that exists beyond memory. The Magna Carta had not been “forgotten” in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. However, a “revival” of its origin and meaning, especially of the twenty-ninth article, came during the seventeenth century. Its primary expositor, Edward Coke, is likely recognizable to most readers of American constitutional history. Its primary exporter was another name even more familiar to students of American history: William Penn. Penn, like Coke, would primarily concern himself with Article 29.
In terms of immemoriality, Coke connected the Magna Carta to twelfth century origins, namely the coronation texts of Kings Henry I, II, and III. From there, Coke and his successors extended this law to Edward the Confessor, the last of the Anglo-Saxon Kings of the early eleventh century. An example of Coke’s rendering of the Magna Carta, and one that would prove very important for his American acolytes in the next century, was the writ of Habeas Corpus. The notion itself predated the Magna Carta by nearly a half-century under Henry II. The modern concept of Habeas Corpus is not clearly connected with the Magna Carta, rather, Habeas corpus ad subjiciendum had been a royal prerogative to have a prisoner called to the King’s court. While Article 29 established that freemen cannot be imprisoned or dispossessed without some sort of due process, Article 28 of the Magna Carta established that no one (aliquem), not merely freemen (liber homo), could be charged without reliable witnesses presented in front of some sort of tribunal. From this, Coke extrapolated what many would consider a more contemporary notion of habeas corpus.
Parliament passed the Habeas Corpus Act forty-five years after Coke’s death in 1679 during Charles’s reign. This was not understood as creating habeas corpus but, rather, strengthening it to prevent any arbitrary or capricious behavior from Charles’s likely successor, his brother James. The act passed in a humorous back-and-forth between the Lords and Commons and Charles gave his assent.
During the Stuart restoration in Britain, King Charles II and James were typically supportive of religious toleration. Unfortunately, the Parliament of the time did not share this sentiment and William Penn, as the story goes, found himself so at odds with supporters of the Church of England that he eventually fled to North America. With this background, Penn printed the Magna Carta in the North American colonies, expounding on the natural rights of Englishmen with particular reverence toward the ninth and twenty-ninth articles.
Most of Penn’s commentary on the Magna Carta centered on the rights that it granted to all Englishmen. His introduction smacks of a warning and a call for all of the colonies, not just Pennsylvania, to pass resolutions affirming the rights of men, more akin to a call for a bill of rights than a constitution. With one exception in Maryland in the 1640s, key government documents like the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut (1639) were simply about governance and not about rights.
Marylanders had a stronger record of attempting to delineate their rights as Englishmen in addition to the marginally effective 1639 Petition of Right. The settlers asserted “the Inhabitants of this Province shall have all their rights and liberties according to the Great Charter of England.” In a 1728 pamphlet, Daniel Dulany the elder re-asserted that these rights had their origin not only in the Magna Carta but also in other acts including the Bill of Rights of 1689 and the aforementioned Habeas Corpus Act of 1679. His son, Daniel Dulany the younger, though a loyalist, would nevertheless argue in a similar vein concerning taxation without representation decades later.
In same decade as Penn’s printing, comity between the colonial governments and the British Crown withered. Colonists had wearied not only of King James II’s pro-Catholic power plays, but also of his royal governors in the colonies. Moreover, James used royal prerogative to dump the colonial charters that provided the later foundation for the patriot’s argument that the North American colonists maintained the same rights of mainland Britains. The result, while not on the scale of war, did involve rebellion in a few of the colonies: Leisler’s Rebellion (New York), Gove’s Rebellion (New Hampshire), and the Boston Revolt of 1689.
Great Britain faced a two-front upheaval from the Dutch Low Countries against the Stuart Dynasty as well as discontent and revolt from its own North American colonies who were already rebelling to assert their rights nearly a century before the American Revolution. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 upended the Stuart Dynasty and began the rule of the House of Hanover under the William of Orange, a Dutch prince and stadtholder, and his first cousin Mary II.
Americans and the Rights of Englishmen
The Founders’ view of the Magna Carta was largely based on such idealism of English law and identity. Far from its origins as a baronial document, the Magna Carta had its own mythos by the 1700s. In this high-minded idealism, the charter represented the rights of all Englishmen rather than just the peerage. As a legal matter the charter’s relevance was far less clear.
Colonial grievances were against the policies of Parliament, not the monarchy, and rebelling against the British monarchy was not a focal point of protests before 1776. If anything, during the protests against Parliament, colonial political leaders remained deferent to the King. Historian Eric Nellis questioned the sincerity of the Olive Branch Petition in his book The Long Road to Change because it asserted allegiance to the King while rejecting Parliament’s authority in the colonies. However, its sincerity and logic is not as incoherent as it seems when taking into account the legal arguments of the 1760s and the appeals to the Magna Carta above any other major text of English history. Having resorted to outright rebellion in 1776, the complaints of the Declaration of Independence could be addressed directly to the King. In fact, at that point, the Declaration seems to go out of its way to avoid acknowledging that Parliament owned any of the abuses cited therein.
In 1764 Parliament passed the Sugar Act to resolve the longstanding issue with American merchants evading import duties on molasses. While in the short run the act had some unpopularity with merchants, it failed to excite anti-parliamentary passions. The Stamp Act of 1765 was another matter: it was a new revenue tax that affected almost everyone. Here began the decade of discontent leading to secession.
The Glorious Revolution of 1688 had established greater parliamentary supremacy. This was a supremacy that would naturally have extended to the British colonies. While that revolution lessened the power of the British monarch to act in the absence of a convened parliament, and gave rise to the English Bill of Rights, it still occurred during a period of greater centralization of power throughout Europe. The absorption of Scotland into Great Britain under a single crown and parliament in the 1707 Act of Union was a natural consequence of this. Caution was taken in later colonial charters not to be as generous as in those granted in the earlier seventeenth century. Georgia, for example, entitled its colonists to the rights of Englishmen but no right of local governance.
These matters came to a head during the Stamp Act Crisis in 1765. This was when the legal aspects of the charter came into question. Benjamin Franklin traveled to London to represent the colonies. Other recorded testimony came from Isaac Barre, an Irish soldier and member of Parliament supportive of the Americans, and Joseph Galloway, a lawyer and friend of Franklin’s yet nevertheless an ardent loyalist pledged to defend the mother country.
Most of Franklin’s associates agreed with Barre. Franklin combined his associates’ Declaration of Rights and Grievances, undoubtedly written by John Dickinson, along with other municipal declarations to the House of Commons. In the course of questioning, the Magna Carta appears to have come up in a flurry of confusion between Franklin and the Prime Minister, Lord Grenville. The back-and-forth between Grenville and Franklin tested Franklin’s patience and, as the ministers persisted in their interrogation, Franklin grew weary and testy.
Q. Don’t you know there is, in the Pennsylvania Charter, an express reservation of the right of Parliament to Lay Taxes there?
A. I know there is a clause in the charter, by which the King grants that he will levy no taxes on the inhabitants, unless it be with the consent of the assembly, or by act of parliament.
Q. How then could the assembly of Pennsylvania assert, that laying a tax on them by the Stamp Act was an infringement of their rights?
A. They understand it thus; by the same charter, and otherwise, they are intitled to all the privileges and liberties of Englishmen; they find in the great charters, and the petition and declaration of rights that one of the privileges of English subjects is, that they are not to be taxed but by their common consent. . . .
Q. Are there any words in the charter that justify that construction?
A. The common rights of Englishmen, as declared by the Magna Charta, and the petition of right, all justify it.
While it had been a pretty standard argument to invoke the older colonial charters, Grenville stood on firmer ground than Franklin here. The Pennsylvania Charter, ironically William Penn’s own Frame of Government, stipulated exactly what Grenville had spoken. Franklin’s rebuttal hyperextended a six hundred year old document that bore little relevance to the matter at hand.
Notions of “inherited rights” get bandied about loosely in contemporary discourse but it is essential to understand how strong notions of “Englishness” existed for nearly a millennium before the American Revolution. Saint Bede the Venerable wrote a well-known history of England in the seventh century that formed the basis of an English identity apart from the fragmented continent in the post-Western Roman Empire realms. Englishness, and later Britishness, was extended generationally and, as far as the colonists were concerned, across all distances. In London, Edmund Burke made the same case for the colonists although he, like Joseph Galloway, would never claim colonial legislative supremacy over the Parliament.
Many British politicians, as well as many notable Americans, disagreed. Distance was a cause for differential treatment. Thomas Hutchinson was among the Americans who agreed that the colonies were not necessarily part of the British community insofar as rights were concerned. Here it is important to recall an important point in the chronology of the debates over “taxation without representation:” several colonies argued for their right for their representatives to tax themselves. That would put colonial legislative bodies on par with the British Parliament. If that seems like an unpalatable notion, also bear in mind that the Glorious Revolution was as close to their national memory as World War II is to ours. And from the ashes of the Glorious Revolution was the final subordination of the crown to the prerogatives of Parliament in most matters. One must keep this in mind when understanding the opprobrium of Parliament and American Tories. In sum: claiming rights of all post-1688 Britain while claiming further rights to autonomy from an inheritance from the 1215 charter frankly seemed absurd.
In 1776, in the spring preceding the Declaration of Independence, Chief Justice William Henry Drayton of South Carolina delivered a riveting address to a grand jury in Charleston. Drayton invoked the Magna Carta as a foundational document of justice in the English colonies and charged that George III’s government had treated it with contempt. In this decade after the taxation crises, Parliament was no longer the main enemy and charges were increasingly made against the King signifying not only the offenses against the Americans—which Drayton and many others outlined—but the state of rebellion for which Englishness was no longer a sufficient bond to prevent. Drayton drew on numerous historical precedents including South Carolina’s shedding of proprietary rule in a bloodless revolution in 1719.
While drawing parallels with King John would have been insult enough, Drayton took the approach of comparing George III to the final Stuart monarch, James II, who had been ousted during the 1688 Glorious Revolution. It was in these later years before 1776 that the colonial charters—which had been tampered with also under James II—were dissolved by George III. Other states, including New York, had their legislatures suspended. James II had broken the original contract between the Crown and Englishmen, and now George III had done so with the colonies; the response would be no different.
While Drayton still paid some lip service to reconciliation, David Ramsay avoided any pretense in his July 4, 1778 address, also in Charleston. The language was extravagant and optimistic despite the state of war. In Ramsay’s address one can see the beginnings of an “American Dream” in which even the lowest-born could succeed. “Whereas, in our present happy system, the poorest school-boy may prosecute his studies with increasing ardour, from the prospect, that in a few years he may, by his improved abilities, direct the determinations of public bodies, on subjects of the most stupendous consequence.” Ramsay’s speech clearly wanted to boast of America’s own glorious revolution. Naturally, it may be pointing out the obvious that the Siege of Charleston was still two years in the future from Ramsay’s grandiloquent speech.
It is on this point we can return to 1776 when the Olive Branch Petition and other documents for reconciliation were addressed to George III. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams appealed to the rights that they believed extended from the pre-1688 Britain and tethered their loyalty to the King rather than to Parliament. However, taxation alone did not propel the colonists to outright rebellion. Rhode Island formally declared independence a month before the signing of the Declaration in 1776, citing the lack of trial by jury and habeas corpus. Harkening back to the Magna Carta: the fight was to remain free, not to become free.
But where the Declaration of Independence reflected ire over suspension of colonial charters and legislatures, and the Constitution’s more immediate focuses were of habeas corpus and due process, the Bill of Rights owed a massive debt not only to the English Bill of Rights but to the very wording of the Magna Carta:
Fifth Amendment: “No person shall be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime . . . nor to be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. . .”
Chapter Twenty-Nine: No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, or disseized . . . or in any way destroyed, nor will we . . . prosecute him, except . . . by the law of the land.”
Fifth Amendment: “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
Chapter Nineteen: “No constable or other bailiff of ours shall take anyone’s grain or other chattels . . . without immediately paying for them in money”
Sixth Amendment: “In all criminal prosecutions the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed”
Chapter Fourteen: “A freeman shall not be [prosecuted] . . . except by the oaths of lawful men of the neighborhood”
During the eight-hundredth-anniversary of the Magna Carta in 2015, British jurist and medieval historian Jonathan Sumption—Lord Sumption—took on legal and historical interpretations of the charters. “Its practitioners have a natural tendency to legitimise their ideals by asserting their antiquity. But they have, on the whole, been bad historians.” Sumption assailed Coke and the exceptionalist mythos that persisted until the early twentieth century. “But I do have a problem with the distortion of history to serve an essentially modern political agenda. Claims like those which I have just cited are high-minded tosh.” There is little to nothing wrong to be found in Lord Sumption’s analysis. However, even if much of the tradition that the Founders saw was a cooked-up historical fiction it would be foolish to deny the power of the idea and how it came to shape the political thinking of the period. In that sense, the Magna Carta’s placement with the charters of freedom is reasonable even if the ultimate, parallel truth is much more complicated. However, there is some reason to believe that it is uncomplicated. The recently-translated court documents from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries cast doubt on the idea that Coke’s—and the American Founders’ —views of the Magna Carta and the rights of Englishmen were mythical. Exaggerated, perhaps, but far from baseless. As Justice Felix Frankfurter put it in 1953, the Magna Carta “was the beginning, not the end, of the struggle for the principles it enunciated.”
A personal account of the auction can be found at David Rubenstein, “The Magna Carta Returns to the Archives,” Prologue Magazine 42, no. 4 (Winter 2010).
Charter of Liberties of King Henry I, A.D. 1100.
John of Salisbury, “The Statesman’s Book” (Policraticus in the original Latin), in Great Political Thinkers, 3rd edition, ed. William Ebenstein (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964), 187-209.
John W. Baldwin, “Master Stephen Langton, Future Archbishop of Canterbury: The Paris Schools and Magna Carta,” The English Historical Review 123, no. 503 (2008): 811-846. See also Lord Sumption, “The Magna Carta Then and Now,” an address to the Friends of the British Library, March 9, 2015.
Richard H. Helmholz, “The Myth of Magna Carta Revisited,” North Carolina Law Review, 94, (2015): 1475-92.
Some peasants were willing to claim the rights of the charter against their lords. See John F. Nichols, “An Early Fourteenth Century Petition from the Tenants of Bocking to Their Manorial Lord,”Economic History Review 2, no. 2 (January 1930), 300-7.
Sumption, “The Magna Carta Then and Now.”
George Garnett, “Sir Edward Coke’s Resurrection of the Magna Carta,” in Magna Carta: History, Context and Influence (London: School of Advanced Study, University of London, Institute of Historical Research, 2018), 51-60.
A terrific account is available in J. Enoch Powell, Great Parliamentary Occasions (London: Queen Anne Press, 1966), 65.
From the text of the 1297 charter, Article 28: Nullus ballivus ponat decetero aliquem ad legem manifestam vel ad juramentum simplici loquela sua, sine testibus fidelibus ad hoc inductis, “No bailiff is henceforth to put any man on his open law or on oath simply by virtue of his spoken word without reliable witnesses produced for the same.” Article 29: Nullus liber homo decetero capiatur vel imprisonetur aut disseisiatur de aliquo libero tenemento suo vel libertatibus vel liberis consuetudinibus suis, aut utlagetur, “No freeman is to be taken or imprisoned or disseised of his free tenement or of his liberties or free customs.”
The two most commonly cited authors for those who oppose this reading are Edward Jenks who wrote his “Myth of the Magna Carta” in 1904 and William McKechnie whose own commentaries were published a decade later. Jenks declared false any claim that the document could apply to anyone outside of freemen who made up about one-sixth of the population. However, Richard Helmholz pointed out that much of the criticism of the Magna Carta rests on anachronistic assumptions about law and, although he doesn’t use the word himself, a progressive view of English law’s formation must be borne in mind to put it in its proper context. Helmholz, “The Myth of Magna Carta Revisited.”
The ninth article forbade land seizure for the payment of debt if there was sufficient money or property, or a willing surety, to cover the debt.
Charles A. Rees, “Remarkable Evolution: The Early Constitutional History of Maryland,” Baltimore Law Review 36, no. 2 (2007), 217-70. Dulany the Elder’s Pamphlet The Right of the Inhabitants of Maryland to the Benefit of English Laws is difficult to locate but is reprinted in St. George Leaking Sioussat’s “The English Statutes in Maryland,” Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical & Political Science (1903), 81-104. Dulany the Younger’s pamphlet “Considerations on the Propriety of Imposing Taxes in the British Colonies, for the Purpose of rasing a Revenue, by Act of Parliament” was better known because of the revolutionary context in which it was written. An excerpt is available at www.let.rug.nl/usa/documents/1751-1775/daniel-dulany-considerations-october-1765.php.
For an easy-to-read transcription of the Olive Branch Petition see Steven Thomas, “The Olive Branch Petition,” America’s Homepage (Georgia Tech), January 2009, ahp.gatech.edu/olive_branch_1775.html.
Eric Nellis, The Long Road to Change: America’s Revolution, 1750-1820 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007).
“Judge Drayton’s Address to the Grand Jury at Charlestown, South Carolina,” April 23, 1776, digital.lib.niu.edu/islandora/object/niu-amarch%3A92538. Thomas Paine probably took the most radical approach of all: that the rights of all human beings derived not from statute but through their humanity. His notion of rights nearly had the same divine origination as Langton’s. Paine went to great lengths in the early chapters of the first part of Rights of Manto dispose of any attempt to tie American rights to English rights via statute. Paine took Edmund Burke to task throughout the entire volume but never appeared to direct his ire toward Americans who espoused the statutory view.
“If someone calls it socialism,” said Rev. William Barber at the August meeting of the Democratic National Committee, “then we must compel them to acknowledge that the Bible must then promote socialism, because Jesus offered free health care to everyone, and he never charged a leper a co-pay.”
Barber’s statement brought secular progressives to their feet in thunderous applause. That included DNC chair Tom Perez, who says that democratic socialists like Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez represent “the future of our party.” That’s a party once headed by men like John F. Kennedy, who warned of the “fanaticism and fury” — the “ruthless, godless tyranny” — of the “communist conspiracy.”
Describing the U.S. Constitution and the Bible as “socialist documents,” the Rev. Barber exhorted the faithful: “If you want to have a moral debate, bring it on, baby!”
A moral debate on socialism and Christianity, pastor? Sure, let’s have it.
But there’s no need to pick on Rev. Barber. He’s interchangeable with any number of “social justice” proponents on the Religious Left. His statement actually pales to what was published in the Jesuit-run America magazine a few weeks ago — a stunning piece titled “The Catholic Case for Communism.” The column, which was written by an America staff writer named Dean Dettloff, came with a defense and explanation by America’s editor-in-chief, Fr. Matt Malone, S.J., called “Why we published an essay sympathetic to communism.”
The spectacle prompted one reader to comment, “What will America publish next, ‘The Catholic Case for Atheism’? or ‘The Catholic Case for Satanism’?”
That’s no laughing matter. The Roman Catholic Church in the 1937 encyclical Divini Redemptoris referred to communism as a “satanic scourge,” a “truly diabolical” instrument of the “sons of darkness.”
Can you imagine a publication in 2019 defending such an ideology? What did communism produce in the interim, between 1937 and 2019? Only 100 million corpses or so.
What Did Lenin Think of Religion?
But back to this democratic-socialism infatuation by many on the modern Religious Left. I dealt with this not long ago in a recent piece laying out at length what the Catholic Church has taught about socialism and even its alleged more “democratic” variants. Here, too, this article could run thousands of words with endless examples, including some from the very founders of socialism, Marxism, Marxism-Leninism, and past democratic socialists and Social Democrats refuting this stuff. Socialism is, in Marxist theory, the final transitionary step to communism.
Here today, I’ll offer merely a snapshot from Vladimir Lenin himself — who, for the record, was a Social Democrat. Yes, you heard that right. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union began life in 1898 as the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party. In 1903, at the party’s 2nd Congress, Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin split their Bolshevik faction from their rival Mensheviks. The Bolsheviks were self-professed Social Democrats.
And what did Lenin say about religion? “Religion is opium for the people,” wrote Lenin in December 1905, echoing his hero, Karl Marx. “Religion is a sort of spiritual booze.” That was a mild assessment from a man who wrote that “there is nothing more abominable than religion,” and “all worship of a divinity is a necrophilia.” Yes, necrophilia.
In Lenin’s Soviet state, the Party was the supreme, infallible authority, and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union would relentlessly pursue what Mikhail Gorbachev called “a wholesale war on religion.”
Sticking to this 1905 statement, Lenin saw socialism as incompatible with religious belief: “Everyone must be absolutely free to … be an atheist, which every socialist is, as a rule.” He declared: “Complete separation of Church and State is what the socialist proletariat demands of the modern state and the modern church.” Sounding like a 21st-century secular progressive in America, Lenin insisted that “religion must be declared a private affair.”
Of course, once Lenin and his Bolsheviks took over a decade later, they refused to tolerate religion even as a private affair. In fact, even in that 1905 letter, Lenin conceded as much: “We demand that religion be held a private affair so far as the state is concerned. But by no means can we consider religion a private affair so far as our Party is concerned.” In his Soviet state, the Party was the supreme, infallible authority, and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union would relentlessly pursue what Mikhail Gorbachev called “a wholesale war on religion.”
Lenin continued, stating that in order “to combat the religious fog … we founded our association, the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party, precisely for such a struggle against every religious bamboozling of the workers.” Lenin wanted a political system “cleansed of medieval mildew.” He wanted to halt “the religious humbugging of mankind.”
‘Religion is the Opium of the People’
Other examples from Lenin? I could go on and on. These are tame examples taken from a decade prior to when Lenin came to power and began murdering by the thousands. This is the restrained Lenin. Still, one can see the absolute repudiation of religion vis-à-vis communism, socialism, and democratic socialism.
Four years later, in May of 1909, Lenin repeated: “Religion is the opium of the people—this dictum by Marx is the cornerstone of the whole Marxist outlook on religion.” Here, Lenin was writing explicitly on behalf of fellow “Social Democrats.” What he wrote is worth quoting at length, given what our Christian “democratic socialist” brethren now assert:
It is the absolute duty of Social-Democrats to make a public statement of their attitude towards religion. Social-Democracy bases its whole world-outlook on scientific socialism, i.e., Marxism. The philosophical basis of Marxism, as Marx and Engels repeatedly declared, is dialectical materialism—a materialism which is absolutely atheistic and positively hostile to all religion. … Marxism has always regarded all modern religions and churches, and each and every religious organization, as instruments of bourgeois reaction that serve to defend exploitation and to befuddle the working class. …
Marxism is materialism. As such, it is as relentlessly hostile to religion. … We must combat religion—that is the ABC of all materialism, and consequently of Marxism. But Marxism is not a materialism which has stopped at the ABC. Marxism goes further. It says: We must know how to combat religion.
This combat must be waged in order to reverse religion’s hold on the “backward sections of the town proletariat” — that is, the town idiots.
No Place for Religion in Socialism
Could a pastor (perhaps the Rev. Barber) or a priest who subscribes to America magazine be a fellow Social Democrat and member of the Party? Apparently, even in Lenin’s day, a peculiar priest or two must have occasionally considered hooking up with Lenin and his Social Democrats. Lenin himself reflected on the absurd thought:
The question is often brought up whether a priest can be a member of the Social-Democratic Party or not, and this question is usually answered in an unqualified affirmative, the experience of the European Social-Democratic parties being cited as evidence. But this experience was the result, not only of the application of the Marxist doctrine to the workers’ movement, but also of the special historical conditions in Western Europe which are absent in Russia … so that an unqualified affirmative answer in this case is incorrect.
It cannot be asserted once and for all that priests cannot be members of the Social-Democratic Party; but neither can the reverse rule be laid down. If a priest comes to us to take part in our common political work and conscientiously performs Party duties, without opposing the program of the Party, he may be allowed to join the ranks of the Social-Democrats; for the contradiction between the spirit and principles of our program and the religious convictions of the priest would in such circumstances be something that concerned him alone, his own private contradiction. … But, of course, such a case might be a rare exception even in Western Europe, while in Russia it is altogether improbable. And if, for example, a priest joined the Social-Democratic Party and made it his chief and almost sole work actively to propagate religious views in the Party, it would unquestionably have to expel him from its ranks.
If a left-wing priest was foolish enough to join the Party, Lenin and the boys would accept his help (Lenin is infamous for allegedly referring to such people as “useful idiots”). But if the strange priest ever tried to share his faith with the fellas, well, he would be shown the door and the boot.
Lenin knew better. So, too, did Marx: “Communism begins where atheism begins,” he asserted.
The Antithesis to Religion
Once the Bolsheviks took over Russia, atheism was required of Party officials. Any lingering religious sentiment by the Party member must be purged. This was likewise true for the American communist apparatchiks. “Many workers join the Communist Party who still have some religious scruples, or religious ideas,” conceded William Z. Foster, head of the Communist Party U.S.A., in testimony to Congress, “but a worker who will join the Communist Party, who understands the elementary principles of the Communist Party, must necessarily be in the process of liquidating his religious beliefs and, if he still has any lingerings when he joins the Party, he will soon get rid of them.”
This is why religious people generally have historically understood communism and socialism to be antithetical to religion: the communists and socialists told us they were.
You know you’re in spiritual darkness when not even the religious can be counted on to refute the anti-religiousness of communism and socialism.
I know that some Religious Left Christians will take issue with this article focusing on the likes of Lenin and William Z. Foster. Fair enough. But that’s my focus here in this article (just one of numerous I’ve written on socialism and communism), and it isn’t irrelevant. These things have been thought about for a long time. This isn’t new.
This is crucial history that the modern Religious Left surely doesn’t know, no doubt because it was never learned. Our universities have failed to teach this material, instead criticizing anti-communism and anti-socialism. We are now reaping what we’ve sown. You know you’re in spiritual darkness when not even the religious can be counted on to refute the anti-religiousness of communism and socialism.
Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science and chief academic fellow of the Institute for Faith and Freedom at Grove City College. His latest book (April 2017) is A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century. He is also the author of 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative. His other books include The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor and Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.