Where Calvin Meets Mao

by Keith Preston

In this interview with Craig Bodeker, AltRight contributing editor Derek Turner provides what may be the most concise yet penetrating explanation of the origins and nature of political correctness I have yet to encounter. The full video is available on the website of the National Policy Institute.

Critics of PC have advanced several theses regarding its origins. Paul Gottfried has suggested that it is largely an outgrowth of left-wing American Christianity. Bill Lind considers it be a form of “cultural Marxism” derived from an inversion of orthodox Marxism advanced by the Frankfurt School. David Heleniak has an interesting thesis suggesting that PC is largely a derivative of the Christian doctrine of original sin that subsequently took on a secular form through the influence of the philosophy of Jean Jacques Rousseau. Still others regard PC as good old fashioned Communism wearing a different set of clothes. My own efforts to investigate the historical development of PC (which I prefer to call “totalitarian humanism”) have led me to a position that is something of a synthesis of these narratives.

Derek points out that political correctness has become the most deeply entrenched in historically Protestant countries, primarily the nations of Scandinavia and the Anglosphere. Presumably, this can be explained as a manifestation of the sense of Calvinist guilt that has been woven into the cultural fabric and historical memories of Protestant societies. That colonial American Puritanism was a rather extreme manifestation of the Calvinist ethos, and that American left-wing Christianity came about largely as an eclipsing successor of orthodox Calvinism in the American northeast, may help to explain why PC first took root in America and exported itself throughout the Western world the way that it did. If indeed Rousseau’s philosophy provided a secular transformation of the notion of original sin, then it is not improbable that such thinking would take root in a cultural milieu where orthodox Calvinism had once been virulent, but was in the process of shedding that history while retaining some of its residual influences, which would have been the case with northeastern American Protestantism during the developmental periods of this country.

It should not be surprising then that the Frankfurt School found a home for itself in northeastern American universities following its exile from Nazi Germany (and after an ironic stay in Geneva, the city most closely associated with the legacy of Calvin!). Some of the iconic figures of the New Left, such as Angela Davis and Abbie Hoffman, were personally students of the Frankfurt School’s most extreme left-wing advocate, Herbert Marcuse, and it is another irony that just as Marcuse eventually settled in California, it was at West Coast universities such as Berkeley that the leftist student rebellions of the 1960s began to emerge before spreading throughout the West and even elsewhere. As for the relationship between orthodox Communism and PC, in my efforts to trace the origins of the term, I have encountered phrases such as “correct politics” or “correct political line,” and references to persons being shunned or dismissed from organizations for “incorrect politics” in old radical literature from the late 1960s and early 1970s, particularly among Weather Underground-influenced groups or the most extreme offshoots of the “black power” movement. The Maoist influence on these groups is well-known, as is the fascination of some of the more extreme New Left radicals of the era with the Chinese Cultural Revolution. PC in many ways resembles a Maoist self-criticism session, so there is likely a connection there.

I actually grew up in part as a Calvinist fundamentalist myself during the 1970s. My family were adherents of old-style orthodox Calvinism of the kind represented by theologians like J. Gresham Machen and Cornelius Van Til, and for a time we were involved with a church associated with the theocratic “Christian reconstructionist” movement of R.J. Rushdoony and Gary North. All of my education up through and including my sophomore year of high school was done at a fundamentalist academy that adhered to dispensational Christian Zionism (think of Bob Jones University and you will get an idea what the atmosphere there was like). During the late 1980s and early 1990s I was a left-wing Chomskyite and it was during this time that I first began to personally encounter PC. Observing the psychology of PC and its behavioral manifestations up close and in an unadulterated form gave me a sense of déjà vu: “Where I have seen this kind of thing before?” Having long since abandoned my previous Christianity by that time, I came to realize that PC essentially amounts to Christian fundamentalism without a Christ (perhaps this explains the Left’s habit of elevating perceived progressive saints such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to the status of Christ-like semi-divine figures).

Whatever the true historical trajectory of PC may be, its obscurantist and totalitarian nature is obvious enough. It is ironic that eccentric religious subcultures such as the ones I came from are as dangerous theocratic fascists about to carry out an Taliban-like coup any minute now (a view that wildly exaggerates the influence and degree of extremism of such subcultures), while a form of obscurantist totalitarianism that has actually has the support of elites, intellectuals, academics, journalists, and others of genuine influence continues to entrench itself in Western cultural and political institutions.

7 responses to “Where Calvin Meets Mao

  1. Well this is basically the conclusion I’ve come to as well. “Christian fundamentalism without a Christ” would sum up my assessment in a nutshell. I think there is an easily traceable direct ideological line right back to Calvin’s Geneva via the English Puritans, the Methodists/Quakers/Evangelicals, to Victorian Social Reformers and, in the States, Rothbard’s “Post-Millennialist Evangelical Pietists”, to a secularisation (switch of focus from God to Works sans God) to the Progressives, sweeping up socialist, technocratic etc ideas like a snowball. So the movement as it is now is strongly syncretic, but the driving underlying motivation is a belief in Man’s place and duty in the world derived from a particular stylee of Protestantism.

    I think it’s important to get a correct analysis. Many libertarian/conservative Christians I know find this analysis troubling, not least because they don’t feel comfortable acknowledging a totalitarian tendency in some manifestations of their faith. But I think such Christians need to look at this from another perspective; what could be more unsettling to a rabidly secularist anti-Christian hard-left PC wallah than to have to confront the idea that their own moral certainty is derived directly from the thing they despise? That they are simply Victorian era pious moralists, sans God? I think that’s a profoundly powerful meme in our toolkit.

  2. Personally the sooner we get away from PC the better. Where does it stop, now we have the revamping of our children’s story books, think about Huckleberry Finn and even our Enid Blyton’s Famous Five had to be revamped. Who pays these people to go through literature and replace sensitive words (unbecoming to our society) with politically correct words? Some words in the books are historical and make sense for the era of the book, we lose our history if we keep pcing (I know that is not a word) and replacing words deemed at this moment in time not politically correct.

    It is kind of off putting to think that politically correctness stems from a totalitarian Christian background. I did think it was from a bunch of sociologists and administrators who had nothing better to do. There is one thing being polite but another thing rewriting historical words in novels, and history books next no doubt, to appease sensibilities. Get real, what will people think we were like when they look back and say according to this historically based novel there were class challenged people who were suppressed from an over challenged class to fulfill their lifestyle choices. What were the race riots about, and anti slave laws then, I mean gosh, does not seem bad a world those people lived in then.

  3. PC “ism” is not a mystery.

    At the end of the First World War there was a Marxist revolt in Germany.

    However, most workers sided with the “Majority Socialists” (in the name of course) who were Marxist in name but not really in practice – rather than the Minority Socialists (who really did want to nationalize everything down to, and including, the corner shop).

    The Frankfurt School of Marxism was deeply irritated by this “failure” of most workers to turn into Darleks (“exterminate the capitalists”, “exterminate, EXTERMINATE…..”) and so tried to come up with an alternative to classical Marxist “workers revolt – led by ….” stuff.

    They came up with cultural politics – reaching out to various groups (ethnic, gender, sexual orientation……..) and preaching that they were in trouble (in various real and false ways) because of “the system”, the most “advanced” members of these groups were to be “educated” into understanding that this meant “capitalism”. The very term “political correctness” was come up with – all back in the 1920’s

    Theodor Adorno was a big cheese at the New York School of Social Research (note they dropped the word “Marxism” although not the objective) when they decamped there from Frankfurt (their socialists brothers the Nazis not likeing the rival Marxist faction of socialists – especially as so many of the rival faction were Jews).

    Adorno was the guy who spread the doctrine that foes of Marxism (sorry “Progressive” politics) were insane – “the authoritarian personality” (of course Karl Marx, V. I. “Lenin” and so on certainly did not have “authoritarian personalities” oh dear no).

    His pal Richard Hofsadter (native born American) also used medical language – anyone who was worried about Communists was “Paranoid” (hence the “Paranoid Style in American Politics”) do not REFUTE THE ARGUMENT of anti Communist – just say they are crazy (“paranoid”).

    Believeing in Communists was like believeing in witches (hence A. Miller’s plays – who could possibly believe that Americans went to Communist meetings, that was like believeing in witches in Salem, of course Mr Miller himself went to Communist meetings….. SHUT UP, PARANOID AUTHORITARIAN PERSONALITY).

    It is a bit like a old hag with a wort on her hooked nose, comming through the window, on a broomstick, and turning your family into toads – and then turning to you and saying “I bet you believe in witches – you LOONY!”

    Communists going around saying there was no such thing as Communists – and getting the “respectable” media (and academia) to act as their echo chamber ,and as their indoctrination instument (with “Progressive” politics turing out to be Marxist politics – but only once a young person has got to the most “advanced” level of their indoctination, sorry “education”).

    Of course the various branches of Marxism had their own imput.

    A. Gramsci – with his belief that (in some circumstantces) the cultural superstucture (education, the media and so on) could lead to a fundemental transformation of the economic base (classcial Marxism – turned on its head). The “long march through the institutions” is not a direct Gramsci line – but it is what he was about.

    Herbert Marcuse with his desire to create a new revolutionary class – not industrial workers (they had “failed” remember) but rather various types of person taught to – turn on, tune in and drop out.

    Fine if you want a rabble – but not if you want to produce a President (of course the student, and other, rabble can be led to support him – but the candidate himself has to be more Gramsci like than Marcuse like).

    Actually it all goes back to Karl Marx himself.

    His “science” was skin deep – as the early manuscripts show, his objectives (the advanced communism on a globel scale….) came first, all the “scientific theories” long after (as window dressing -means to an end).

    So the downplaying (even contradicting of) Marxist economics need not (and does not) tend to bother Marxists.

    It is the POWER you see (the objective) – nothing else really matters, and anything (cultural polirtics P.C. – anything) that gives the chance of power to get their heart’s desire, is fine as far as they are concerned.

    Christian link?

    I guess so – in that Karl Marx seems to be thinking in vague heaven-on-earth terms.

    He will not even clearly describe what his objective of advanced communism would be like (other than to say it will be wonderful – with people “hunting in the morning, fishing in the afternoon, being critical after dinner, without ever being a hunter, a fisherman or a critic, for society will organize production”) partly because he was worried that “economists” (real ones – not modern Paul Krugman style toss pots) would refute his perfect society – but also (perhaps) for another reason.

    Perhaps he thought it would be sacrilege to actually rationally describe the objective. A violation of the reverence with which this heaven-on-Earth-and-with-no-God should be treated.

    Just kill, kill, kill, (and lie, and cheat, and plot, and scheme, and……) and kill, kill, kill some more.

    All for an objective that I am not going to describe (it would be “unscientific utopean socialism” to actually descibe it) just trust me – and carry on killing (and so on).

    I rather dislike these people.

    It should also be noted that the “interlectual vanguard” do not actuall give a toss about the various “victim groups”.

    No more than “Lenin” gave a toss about industrial workers – “if, for the purposes of Communism, we must sacrifice nine tenths of the population – we should not recoil from these sacrifices”.

    If “for the purposes of Communism” homosexuals (for example) are useful – all well and good. And, if purposes of Communism, it would be tactically better to turn all homosexuals into dog food – well that is O.K. as well.

    Ditto for any other group of human beings.

    Did I mention I really do not like the Comrades?

  4. By the way I really do not like Calvin as well.

    He was treacherous – inviting an opponent to a debate (and then burning him alive).

    His theology was drivil – ultra predestination, yet he preached a lot (not noticing the contradiction – unless the preaching was predetermined as well).

    And he wanted to destroy virtually all art and music – unlike Luther (who contrary to what many British people think, liked art and music in church).

    In politics he thought he could get rid of sin (or something like that) – by the use of force and fear. The classic “saving souls by coercing bodies” error (accept he did not believe he was actually saving souls, see above).

    And, in M.J. Oakeshott’s words “beneath the surface Geneva remained one of the most libertin cities in all Europe” – so much for “the Elect”.

    I suppose there are some simularities between the Comrades and the Calivinists – even though the Comrades were famous (from the 1960’s anyway) for their moral degeneracy.

    As P.J. O’R is fond of saying “we were joyless in our decadence – it was political”.

    Sex (and drugs and …..) simply to attack “capitalist society” is rather “joyless” (listen to the recordings of the young Comrades disrupting things everything from universities to courts – there is lots of laughter from them but it is always forced, FALSE laughter).

    However, there are massive dissimularities as well.

    For example, John Calvin was not really keen on money makers (so much for “Protestantism and the Spirit of Capitalism”), but he did not really care about trading or getting rid of private property and so on (if he had cared the citizens of Geneva would have shoved him on one of his own fires).

    Whereas Marxists (all the various mutant gangs) do care – indeed they care very much. In fact all the “cultural politics” and “politics of literature” (and on and on) is just a means to an end – and the attack on “capitalism” (the private property based free market) is the end.

    They will use businessmen (if the businessmen are particularly greedy -0r just very stupid) but they will not tolerate them in the long term. “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them” (“Lenin”) and they will lend you the money to pay for the rope as well (if you bribe the salesman).

    Whereas Calvinists – as they showed in Scotland had no great problem with private farms, manufacturers, traders (etc) on whatever scale and over whatever time period.

    Very different – even I have to admit that, and I do not like either group.

    Lastly the Calvinists do seem to have changed over time – really changed, not changed as a tactic.

    The development of a sense of personal honour is marked – as is their own sort of tolerance.

    For example, even when they had overwhelming advantage in force they came to tolerate their foes (at least by the late 18th century) they still dispised other folk (of course) but they did not tend to hurt them anymore – even when they could.

    No Marxist group when faced with a much weaker foe would ever show mercy even of the “be off with you, you bugger, I will not waste my time with you” sort. It is not the nature of the beast.

    Marxists only show mercy (or rather, talk of it) if they are outnumbered (or at least do not outnumber their enemies greatly) – or are at some other disadvantage.

    Particularly if they fear they are up against a foe who has anything like their own taste for cruelty.

    This is very unCalvinist – the old Kirk (and so on) had its faults (many of them) but a large yellow streak down the back, was not one of them.

    The natural environment for the Marxist is the committee room – that is why they are so good at taking over institutions, they are very good at “office politics” (indeed I suspect they could enter an office without opening the door – just by sort of flowing through the crack under it).

    The natural Calvinist is a bit of a loner (even in a crowd) – he may preach to thousands of people (if he preaches at all), but he would rather be building a dry stone wall (or whatever) or even just cleaning out the drains. He does really enjoy preaching (the Marxist loves the reflected love he hopes to generate in the crowd – he may be preaching for the cause, but the emotion he wants is for himself) – the stuff the Calvinist enjoys (and Calvinists do enjoy things) is work he tends to do alone.

  5. There’s no hope then? Thanks Paul for the information. The sooner PC is abolished, or at least subdued, the better. When did it take hold in the UK, as a political thing so to speak?

  6. There is hope.

    Expose the swine – and when they attack you (“paranoid…..”) just treat the attacks with contempt.

    But also remember the difference between leaders and followers.

    The average follower knows nothing about the origins of P.C.ism.

    He or she thinks that being P.C. just means “treating others with respect” and that if you are anti P.C. it means you want to gas black people and beat up homosexuals (and so on).

    The average follower really is that innocent.

  7. Not this crap again! I have seen more Calvinist bashing lately, and I am perplexed as to why. Every one I have read is long on prejudice and short on facts.

    Look, there are not that many of us around, so is it too much to ask for you to pick on somebody else? Or at least, could you read some genuine Calvinist writings rather than rely on knee-jerk opinions about what it is? Thanks!