Bush precedent not Hitler, but Roundheads


Richard Moore

Date: Tue, 09 Nov 2004 23:12:50 -0800
To: •••@••.•••
From: Alan Rycroft <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Justice.int-- Monbiot: Return of the Roundheads-Religion of
  the Rich

Return of the Roundheads 
Posted by: lex on http://pej.org Tuesday, November 09, 2004 - 05:44 PM

It's been called fascist. It's been called Empire. But what is the
philosophical fuel for America's leaders? 

Religion of the Rich
George Monbiot

Tuesday, November 9, 2004 

There is a precedent for the Bush Project, but it's not

"If Bush wins," the US writer Barbara Probst Solomon claimed
just before the election, "fascism is possible in the United
States."(1) Blind faith in a leader, she said, a conservative
working class and the use of fear as a political weapon
provide the necessary preconditions.

She's wrong. So is Richard Sennett, who described Bush's
security state as "soft fascism" in the Guardian last
month.(2) So is the endless traffic on the internet. In The
Anatomy of Fascism, Robert Paxton persuasively describes it as
"... a form of political behavior marked by obsessive
preoccupation with community decline, humiliation or
victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy and
purity".(3) It is hard to read Republican politics in these
terms. Fascism recruited the elite, but it did not come from
the elite. It relied on hysterical popular excitement:
something which no one could accuse George Bush of provoking.

But this is not to say that the Bush project is unprecedented.
It is, in fact, a repetition of quite another ideology. If we
don't understand it, we have no hope of confronting it.

Puritanism is perhaps the least-understood of any political
movement in European history. In popular mythology it is
reduced to a joyless cult of self-denial, obsessed by
stripping churches and banning entertainment: a perception
which removes it as far as possible from the conspicuous
consumption of Republican America. But Puritanism was the
product of an economic transformation.

In England in the first half of the 17th Century, the remnants
of the feudal state performed a role analagous to that of
social democracy in the second half of the 20th. It was run,
of course, in the interests of the monarchy and clergy. But it
also regulated the economic exploitation of the lower orders.
As RH Tawney observed in Religion and the Rise of Capitalism
(1926), Charles 1st sought to nationalise industries, control
foreign exchange and prosecute lords who evicted peasants from
the land, employers who refused to pay the full wage, and
magistrates who failed to give relief to the poor.(4)

But this model was no longer viable. Over the preceding 150
years, "the rise of commercial companies, no longer local, but
international" led in Europe to "a concentration of financial
power on a scale unknown before" and "the subjection of the
collegiate industrial organization of the Middle Ages to a new
money-power". The economy was "swept forward by an immense
expansion of commerce and finance, rather than of industry".
The kings and princes of Europe had become "puppets dancing on
wires" held by the financiers.(5)

In England, the dissolution of the monasteries had catalysed a
massive seizure of wealth by a new commercial class. They
began by grabbing ("enclosing") the land and shaking out its
inhabitants. This generated a mania for land speculation,
which in turn led to the creation of sophisticated financial
markets, experimenting in futures, arbitrage and almost all
the vices we now associate with the Age of Enron.

All this was furiously denounced by the early theologists of
the English Reformation. The first Puritans preached that men
should be charitable, encourage justice and punish
exploitation. This character persisted through the 17th
Century among the settlers of New England. But in the old
country it didn't stand a chance.

Puritanism was primarily the religion of the new commercial
classes. It attracted traders, money lenders, bankers and
industrialists. Calvin had given them what the old order could
not: a theological justification of commerce. Capitalism, in
his teachings, was not unchristian, but could be used for the
glorification of God. From his doctrine of individual
purification, the late Puritans forged a new theology.

At its heart was an "idealization of personal responsibility"
before God. This rapidly turned into "a theory of individual
rights" in which "the traditional scheme of Christian virtues
was almost exactly reversed". By the mid-17th Century, most
English Puritans saw in poverty "not a misfortune to be pitied
and relieved, but a moral failing to be condemned, and in
riches, not an object of suspicion" but the blessing which
rewards the triumph of energy and will."(6)

It wasn't hard for them to make this leap. If the Christian
life, as idealised by both Calvin and Luther, was to
concentrate on the direct contact of the individual soul with
God, then society, of the kind perceived and protected by the
medieval Church, becomes redundant. "Individualism in religion
led "to an individualist morality, and an individualist
morality to a disparagement of the significance of the social

To this the late Puritans added another concept. They
conflated their religious calling with their commercial one.
"Next to the saving of his soul," the preacher Richard Steele
wrote in 1684, the tradesman's "care and business is to serve
God in his calling, and to drive it as far as it will go."(8)
Success in business became a sign of spiritual grace:
providing proof to the entrepreneur, in Steele's words, that
"God has blessed his trade". The next step follows
automatically. The Puritan minister Joseph Lee anticipated
Adam Smith's invisible hand by more than a century, when he
claimed that "the advancement of private persons will be the
advantage of the public".(9) By private persons, of course, he
meant the men of property, who were busily destroying the
advancement of everyone else.

Tawney describes the Puritans as early converts to
"administrative nihilism": the doctrine we now call the
minimal state. "Business affairs," they believed, "should be
left to be settled by business men, unhampered by the
intrusions of an antiquated morality".(10) They owed nothing
to anyone. Indeed, they formulated a radical new theory of
social obligation, which maintained that helping the poor
created idleness and spiritual dissolution, divorcing them
from God.

Of course, the Puritans differed from Bush's people in that
they worshipped production but not consumption. But this is
just a different symptom of the same disease. Tawney
characterises the late Puritans as people who believed that
"the world exists not to be enjoyed, but to be conquered. only
its conqueror deserves the name of Christian."

There were some, such as the Levellers and the Diggers, who
remained true to the original spirit of the Reformation, but
they were violently suppressed. The pursuit of adulterers and
sodomites provided an ideal distraction for the increasingly
impoverished lower classes.

Ronan Bennett's excellent new novel, Havoc in Its Third Year,
about a Puritan revolution in the 1630s, has the force of a
parable.(11) An obsession with terrorists (in this case Irish
and Jesuit), homosexuality and sexual licence, the vicious
chastisement of moral deviance, the disparagement of public
support for the poor: swap the black suits for grey ones, and
the characters could have walked out of Bush's America.

So why has this ideology resurfaced in 2004? Because it has
to. The enrichment of the elite and impoverishment of the
lower classes requires a justifying ideology if it is to be
sustained. In the United States this ideology has to be a
religious one. Bush's government is forced back to the
doctrines of Puritanism as an historical necessity. If we are
to understand what it's up to, we must look not to the 1930s,
but to the 1630s.


1. Quoted by Quico Alsedo, 27th October 2004. "El Fascismo Es Posible Si
Gana Bush" Dice Probst Salomon(sic). El Mundo.

2. Richard Sennett, 23rd October 2004. The Age of Anxiety. The Guardian.

3. Robert O. Paxton, 2004. The Anatomy of Fascism. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

4. RH Tawney, 1998 edition. Religion and the Rise of Capitalism.
Transaction publishers, New Brunswick.

5. ibid.

6. ibid.

7. ibid.

8. Richard Steele, 1684. The Tradesman's Calling. Cited in Tawney (ibid).

9. Joseph Lee, cited in Tawney, ibid.

10. Tawney, ibid.

11. Ronan Bennett, 2004. Havoc in its Third Year. Bloomsbury, London.

George Monbiot is the author of the best selling books The Age of Consent:
a Manifesto for a New World Order and Captive State: the Corporate Takeover
of Britain; as well as the investigative travel books Poisoned Arrows,
Amazon Watershed and No Man's Land. He writes a weekly column for the
Guardian newspaper.

© 2004 Monbiot.com

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Richard Moore (rkm)
Wexford, Ireland

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