May 8, 2019

Monotheistic socialism will replace polytheistic identity politics and American imperial cult

This is a broad and intricate topic, so I'll be writing about it in more digestible pieces. I'm also just making these connections, based on some recent readings, so these ideas are all still inchoate, and I can't write down the entire thing all in one go.

Here's the basic outline, though.

America is not just an expansionist state but a transnational empire, so we look to earlier empires for clues about how things will go after ours enters its first major crisis or disintegrative stage.

The most well known example for general audiences is the Roman Empire. For the historical summary, I'm drawing on The Triumph of Christianity by Bart Ehrman. The structural-functional roles played by religion are my own views, though they're straightforward and must be mainstream enough in the sociology of religion (not being an expert there, I don't know the names of whom to cite).

As the Roman state expanded into a transnational empire during the first two centuries AD, it incorporated the gods of the peoples and nations that it subjugated. That made it easier for the imperial center to administer the periphery -- it's easier to extract whatever you want from it on a material level (tax revenue, food, minerals, babes) if you let them continue with autonomy on the non-material levels (language, religion).

At the same time, the subject peoples must also worship the civic gods of the imperial center, such as the Emperor himself. This does not conflict with worship of local gods -- it's an addition, not a substitution, just to make sure the subjects prove their loyalty to the empire, and not only loyalty to their own local group.

This polytheism did not mean everyone worshiped the same large number of gods -- it was mix-and-match, based on who you were loyal to at various levels of societal complexity. There were gods of the family or household, neighborhood, city or town, region, nation, and ultimately empire. And there were various gods who oversaw good fortune in various domains of life -- harvest, childbearing, war, travel, and so on. If your material subsistence was more dependent on travel, you focused more on the patron gods of travelers than other people did.

While this religious pluralism, headed by the imperial cult, served as a glue that held together the expanding empire for its first two centuries, that reversed during the Crisis of the Third Century. That's when Christianity starts to make major strides among Roman subjects, and it culminates in the 4th C., when the Emperor Constantine converted and later the Emperor Theodosius I made Christianity the official state religion of the empire. At the same time, the 3rd C. saw the only period of intense state persecution of Christianity, unlike the earlier practice of tolerance and pluralism.

Unlike the pluralist approach during the rise of the empire, Christianity, which took off during the empire's decline, was monotheistic and exclusivist -- you could only worship one god, and the other so-called gods did not even really exist. You could not be both a Christian and a devotee of the imperial cult, or of the polytheistic array of sub-imperial gods. That disloyalty made it a direct threat to the imperial powers, leading them to crack down on it, especially during the desperate climate of fragmentation during the 3rd C.

But no empire holds together forever, and the decline of the Roman Empire allowed for the flourishing of Christianity.

This seems to be a general feature: inclusive and pluralist during the rise of a transnational empire, to glue together the subjects of a newly united political-economic power, and then exclusivist and not tolerant during the empire's break-up. It allows for some kind of continuity during the disintegration at the material level -- we will still all be following the same exclusivist religion, despite belonging to now separate and smaller nations. Then sometime after that stage, the unity of the religion begins to fragment itself, and regional camps with their own idiosyncrasies evolve, bringing back a kind of pluralism, albeit not under the umbrella of a single polity as before (e.g., Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Catholic).

There's a parallel from the Ottoman Empire, which was religiously tolerant and pluralist during its rise (the millet system), and then saw the seeds of Islamism begin to grow during the empire's declining stage of the 19th C. Once the empire broke up circa 1920, exclusivist transnational Islamism took off in its former colonies (e.g., the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and by 1980 in Turkey itself), but not in places that the Ottomans failed to conquer (Iran, where a pluralist Shia council is in control, or Saudi Arabia, where the militant Salafi jihadism took root, rather than the peaceful political infiltration model of the Muslim Brotherhood, who are their bitter rivals).

Other examples from Muslim history include the pluralism of Al-Andalus during the rise of the Emirate of Cordoba (the Umayyad dynasty's branch that ruled Iberia), which gave way to intolerant and exclusivist waves during the decline (the non-Umayyad Almohads on the Muslim side, and the Catholic Kings on the Christian side). Then there was the pluralism of the Fatimid Caliphate, whose decline and replacement by foreign mercenaries (the Mamluks) saw the emergence of bitterly exclusivist schools of Islam led by, e.g., Ibn Taymiyyah (from the Hanbali school, and inspiration to today's exclusivists and fundamentalists within Islam). In fact, the founders of the Hanbali school themselves flourished during the declining stage of the Abbasid Caliphate, which during its golden age had been pluralist (to incorporate the newly subjugated Persian bureaucrats and administrators).

With that historical and sociological background, let's look at the current situation.

America has been an expansionist empire since its independence, and it began the unification of the 13 Colonies by upholding religious liberty, where various forms of intolerance of certain sects was permitted before. During our rise, an imperial cult grew up -- sometimes called the American civil religion. We worship our Constitution, flag, and supposedly temporal leaders as though they were partly or fully divine, unlike the other advanced nations.

Crucially, this is a distinct religion -- not Christian. We have never said, "In Jesus we trust," or "One nation under Jesus," our flag and other sacred national symbols do not feature a cross, and none of Jesus' or Paul's messages have been at the forefront of the attempt to "put religion back in society" (at best, it's the Ten Commandments from the Old Testament). When we say "God," we're using a weasel-word generic label, "god," but to refer to the patron god of our nation / empire, who provides for and protects us, his chosen people.

He only influences the lives of other people on Earth to the extent that we Americans bring our political-economic rule to them (whether we go over there or they come over here). By implication, other peoples have their own patron gods, who are not as badass as ours is, if they lose to us -- or who rely on tricks and cheating to block our patron god from helping us win, as we deserve to.

That is not the God-the-Father-of-Jesus from the New Testament -- or else there would be some connection to Jesus -- it is not Jesus Christ, and it is not the Holy Spirit. It's a standard patron god of a nation from any old polytheistic society.

The people we subjugate must worship our civil religion, whatever else they do or don't do in religious affairs. Muslim, Christian, Hindu, who cares? As long as you pay material tribute to the imperial center, and pay your symbolic respects to its patron god and imperial cult, our leaders don't give a damn what religious beliefs and behaviors you have. That's equally true for people we occupy and for immigrants here.

Conversely, if you refuse to submit materially to the empire, or if you blaspheme against its patron god and civil religion, you will get persecution and punishment, to coerce you into subject status.

Aside from our imperial cult, there's a wide variety of religious beliefs and practices that fall under the term "identity politics". Some of it is local patron gods for various ethnic groups under our control, some of it is gods who influence our fortunes in the different domains of life (love, sex, marriage, food, child-rearing, etc.). These come in left-wing and right-wing forms, but the polytheistic strand is strongest on the left.

There is a never-ending competition to add more and more gods to worship -- first it was just the pro-black god, then it was the pro-Hispanic god, perhaps generalized into an anti-racist god. Then it was the feminist god, and the gay god, and the tranny god, the vegan god, the environmental god. This is just like the inclusive, pluralist polytheism of the Roman Empire -- worshiping one does not preclude you from worshiping any combination of the others. In fact, most people do worship several of these divine forces.

They worship them to stay on their good side and receive good luck in their personal lives -- and to smite their enemies in their personal lives. These are like the capricious amoral gods of a pre-monotheist society, who can either act for good or for evil, and it just depends on how fervently you worship them, whether you'll be the recipient of their favor or the target of their destruction.

What is the fate of the American imperial cult and idpol-ytheism?

Our empire has been breaking up since our peak during WWII, after which we lost the Philippines and Cuba in short order (both of which we had won by conquest during the Spanish-American War), and we have lost our ability to control "our own backyard" of Central America (none of the right-wing death squads won during the 1980s, and the economic nationalists took over instead, not to mention our repeated failures right now to topple Maduro further south in Venezuela). Aside from losing what we used to have, we have failed at our endless attempts to gain new spheres of influence, all on mainland Asia (North Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, etc.).

As our empire declines and fragments on the political-economic level, the tolerant and pluralist tendency will go up in a puff of smoke. It will be replaced by an intolerant and exclusivist moral order -- one whose practitioners cannot worship any of the other gods that are around currently. That could take the form of a resurgence in Christianity, but that religion has been on the long-term decline since the Industrial Revolution.

Rather, the monotheistic replacement will be "socialism" -- in quotes because, like early Christianity, it encompasses several strains and is not a mature ideology or program for structuring society. But unlike all of the forms of identity politics, it makes an exclusivist demand on its adherents -- notwithstanding the fleeting heresy of "intersectionality," everyone understands that socialism is "class-first" (technically henotheist, worshiping one god above other gods) or "class only" and "economic reductionist" (strict monotheism). Marx and other materialists hold material conditions to be the base, and social-cultural features to be the superstructure that stems therefrom.

Again, there will be some diversity of opinion, as with any new religion, but it's clear to see that socialism is not tolerant of elevating other gods to equal status with its own, if it even holds those other gods to exist in the first place. That is unlike all the other leftist, or rightist, forms of identity politics -- being an antiracist allows you to be a feminist, a pro-gay, and a pro-tranny activist. They all have equal standing. Even when identity politics elevates one over the others (henotheism), it does not deny the existence of the others, let alone try to stamp them out, blaspheme against them, and so on.

Socialism makes everything in the moral ordering of society about material conditions, primarily economics. And now, beyond denying equal status to the other gods, it blasphemes them as false gods altogether -- tools of the ruling class to perpetuate the elite material dominance over the masses. This insight of the socialists became especially clear when presidential candidate Hillary Clinton barked back at the class warriors: What is breaking up the big banks going to do to end racism, sexism, and homophobia?

Identity politics serves as a glue to hold together an overly complex empire, which has already begun to come apart. You can't glue it back together, so going forward fewer and fewer people will see any point in trying to enforce identity politics. Nations and ethnic groups under the empire's rule will fragment, and identitarians will be out of business.

As socialism delivers a superior result for people's everyday lives (likely beginning with universal free healthcare), relative to antiracism, feminism, etc., people will start to ignore those impotent gods and only worship the one true socialist god. The one who alone can deliver the goods.

But that also means that socialism is an existential threat to the imperial cult and to idpol-ytheism. Socialists do not revere the patron god of the American empire, and they deny the power or existence of the identitarian gods. So, just as the establishment severely cracked down on Christians during the Crisis of the Third Century, so will ours crack down on socialists as the seams of the empire really start to come apart. There were occasional persecutions of Christians during the rise of the empire, just as there was an occasional Red Scare here during our rise (circa 1920 big-time, and less so during the McCarthyite 1950s). But they will really ramp up during the next pronounced stage of imperial collapse.

Christians could not persecute pagans during the Roman Empire, and socialists cannot persecute the civil religionists or the identity politics people today. Antiracists, feminists, etc., are mainstream and dominant, though not for a whole lot longer. But for now, it's clear who can get their lives ruined -- those who blaspheme the identity gods, not those who blaspheme the materialist / class / economics god.

After we get through the collapse of the American empire, and its former constituent nations and/or regions of the US gain political-economic autonomy, there will be a flourishing of exclusivist socialism. You didn't need to belong to the Roman Empire to be a Christian, and you don't need to be a subject of the American empire to be a socialist and enjoy its superior benefits. Maybe then the socialists will persecute the identity politics heretics, but that's way off in the distance for now.

And after the initial wave of united socialist zeal, it will eventually fragment into regionally appropriate camps, much like the regional camps of Christianity. "Socialism in one country".

And of course, there will be left-wing and right-wing forms of socialism, depending on which coalition is the dominant or opposition for its phase in the regime cycle. During the proto-socialist Mid-20th C., some nations were left-wing socialist (UK, US) while others were right-wing socialist (the Mediterranean). At a bird's-eye-view, they were the same -- populist economic nationalists, only with the military more in control for the right-wing version, and the finance sector in control of the left-wing version.

Left-wingers will have to accept that de Gaulle's France was not a fascist Nazi nightmare, nor was Christian Democrat Italy, both nations whose left-wing party (the Communists) were in the opposition status. They were (proto-)socialist, just run by conservative military types rather than liberal financier types as in the US and UK.

That is the major project for the short-to-medium term -- reach out to normies and right-wingers to unite around monotheistic socialism. Downplay the American civil religion, at least in its imperial cult form, and banish identity politics as false gods preserving the empire. Christianity, Islam, and other major exclusivist religions were missionary and evangelist, converting most of their members from outside the original group. Socialism will never materialize if it is restricted to left-wingers, even those who reject identity politics. As in the New Deal, it needs support from normies and conservatives (the American South consistently voted for New Deal liberal presidents). Socialist mayors did not preside over entire cities during the Progressive Era by only turning out left-wingers on election day.

The monotheist appeal of socialism allows it to transcend all other ideological barriers, unlike antiracism, feminism, etc. It is the only moral vision to unite enough of a society around it to transform it for the better.

12 comments:

  1. Insightful analysis. Time will tell if capable people can effect something like what you describe in the US.

    ReplyDelete
  2. ConantheContrarian5/8/19, 12:35 PM

    Socialism sucks. A populist, protectionist free market would work better. Oh, and with the presence of Islam in America, and it seems to be growing and spreading, Muslims will never be subdued into a socialist religion, and if TPTB try to subdue them, they will react with violence.

    ReplyDelete
  3. At present, the socialists at least pretend that socialism is compatible with antiracism, feminism etc. Why do you think this will stop?

    ReplyDelete
  4. The intersectional heresy is pretty recent in the history of socialism -- the New Left of the 1970s, signaling its relationship to the libertarian "Right turn" of the same time. It was a reaction against the proto-socialist societies of the Midcentury.

    The libertarians wanted to completely undo the system and go back to laissez-faire, while the New Left wanted to add all the identity politics stuff onto (proto-)socialism.

    Since its emergence, intersectionality has never been popular, even among leftist activists who come into its orbit during college. It quickly burns them out, and they will have nothing to do with it after they become 30 years old. The general public hates it even more -- they'd be willing to put "free healthcare for all" in the political program, but not "hunt down all people who said the N-word on social media or Xbox Live".

    If antiracism, feminism, pro-homo, etc., delivered real tangible benefits, then perhaps the activists and the public would put up with how excruciatingly tiresome the whole intersectional discourse is. But it has given them nothing -- not a thing of real value, in over 40 years.

    Only socialism can give you universal healthcare. Antiracism cannot. Feminism cannot. Gay right cannot. Open borders cannot (the opposite).

    I don't know how long the intersectional heresy will drag on for, but I do know that it will be a historical aberration. Activists and the public simply cannot look at an approach that has delivered zero benefits and cost a ton of energy, time, and money, and then conclude we must keep doing things that way.

    Nope -- back to the Midcentury approach, where they were not wasting political capital pursuing antiracism, feminism, etc. The US did have the Civil Rights movement, but that was due to its unique history of having imported the African slaves. Other rich countries, or for that matter the Soviet Union, did not waste time on identity politics to any degree.

    That doesn't mean they spent a bunch of political capital taking the reactionary stance on identity politics. That's what the clueless left-wingers are worried about -- silencing identity politics will lead to genociding minorities, throwing acid in the faces of women who go out in yoga pants, a new federal law enforcement agency devoted to fag-bashing, etc. They're hysterical and retarded.

    But it was a more socially conservative climate, both in the left-wing version (US and UK) and the right-wing version (France and Italy, not to mention Spain, Portugal, and Greece).

    Left-wingers have a choice -- accept socialism and a more conservative culture, or continue on with free market-ism and liberal culture. Of course the general public will be only too happy to choice a more wholesome and egalitarian society like we had back in the 1950s.

    ReplyDelete
  5. It's incorrect to see leftists as gatekeepers of socialism. If they don't offer a purely material version, and insist on it being intersectional, then they're just opening the door to a competitor offering a right-wing version, or a version that is silent and neutral about identity politics.

    In a way, that's what Trump ran as during 2016. He attacked the American imperial cult, said we should have free healthcare for the poor, and ought to punish the elites who remove good-paying manufacturing jobs from our country and decimate the working class. He was right-wing on some social issues, but left-wing on others (like gay rights). Overall, he gave minimal emphasis to those issues, though, and it was purely about unwinding the American empire politically and economically, and rebuilding our nation for the improvement of our left-behind working and middle classes.

    Tucker Carlson has gone even further in that direction, although if he held office as a Republican in the Reagan era, he'd be subject to the same cockblocking that Trump is.

    That competition from the cultural moderates (Trump) and conservatives (Tucker) has begun to scare the shit out of culturally liberal socialists, like Amber Frost from Chapo Trap House. She is responding by amping up her attacks on ID politics and intersectionality, so that the left can be the ones who provide socialism instead of the right. It's spurring her and fellow thinkers into action.

    The intersectionalists don't care if Tucker offered culturally conservative socialism. He's an atheist against the identity gods, and he wants a controlled demolition of the US empire rather than a catastrophic explosion if we keep letting it go on. Those are both cardinal sins, so it doesn't matter what he offers on a material level.

    The intersectionalists are only concerned with maintaining the cohesion of the transnational, diverse US empire. But since that cohesion is already coming unglued, it doesn't matter what they try to do. They're destined to lose, and either Tucker or Amber is going to survive over the centuries.

    Like I said, though, in the meantime while the empire really goes through a crisis stage, expect the intersectionalists and the power centers to really slam down on socialism. They will say that socialism is a luxury for well-off societies to consider, or even enact. But not during an imperial crisis -- stamp out socialism, dial up worship of the identity gods, or else the empire will continue to implode!

    After we're over that major bump, it will be easy. But yes, there will soon come a time when the left will really come for the socialists, when the US empire enters its own Crisis of the Third Century.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Martyrs against identity politics will also convert tons of normies to socialism, and destroy the appeal of the intersectionalists.

    You get elevated, not stricken down, if you're an antiracist, feminist, pro-gay, open borders advocate.

    You get de-platformed, canceled, fired, and mobbed in other ways, if you blaspheme against the identity gods.

    Now, some of those are just "performatively anti-woke" right-wingers, who get kicked off Twitter for saying the N-word. Nothing productive comes of that, no one is helped, and so normies don't feel like it was worth it.

    The real martyrs are those who get hounded, doxxed, fired, canceled, etc. for socialism. They're helping to bring free healthcare to everyone, and normies will appreciate the personal sacrifices that the martyrs make for that greater cause.

    Intersectionalists cannot claim the same altruistic behavior. They have been in control for 40 years, and have NOT delivered free healthcare for all. When forced to choose, they pick economic brutality and cultural wokeness -- and they bark at those who make the opposite trade-off, a la Hillary's line about how breaking up the banks won't end racism, sexism, and homophobia.

    Normies look at the intersectionalists and see people who have enjoyed immense power, wealth, status, and influence for nearly half a century -- and have failed to deliver the goods, from the normie perspective. (Getting a badass STEM chick onto a prestige cable crime-solving drama does not count as a real tangible benefit to the masses.)

    Worse, normies will soon see that these same intersectionalists who have proven totally ineffective are also using their wealth, power, and influence to destroy those who want to advance material conditions and say "who cares?" about worshiping the identity gods and/or imperial cult. That's doubly disgusting!

    These battles on the left are just starting to open up, but they will become more pronounced, frequent, and visible to normies. There is no chance that normies will look at those battles, and side with the intersectionalist persecutors rather than the socialist martyrs.

    It'll take awhile for these things to play out, but it's inevitable which side will win.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Seems like you assume that socialism delivers the goods. But I would argue all it's doing is dissipating the rents earned for over a century of Anglo-American republican capitalism. The contradictions built up means that at some point authoritarians who call themselves socialists but are really fascistic like China will take advantage of what they say as US weakness and will provoke military expansionism. At that point all bets are off. If there is a war and the US survives, it would shift the support for socialism dramatically and might result in a return to more patriarchy. But don't assume that socialism will manage the crisis of insupportable welfare states and hungry upstarts especially well. Europe is already struggling with their stagnation. Moreover I predict that fascism will return most strongly to high immigration Euro states with leftist welfare policies, such as Germany and Sweden.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Antiracism, feminism, pro-homo, etc., never delivered real tangible benefits to the general public, but it did pay for the SJWs. Careers were made by SJWs. Tenure for a gender-studies professor, a well paying job in human resources or an NGO. The activist never were interested in tangible benefits for the general public, so they have no reason to stop when there are no benefits to the general public.

    If times are hard, SJWs might even increase their activism as there are no interesting careers outside activism.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I don't think most people mind if the administrators of some system make a living from its administration -- provided that the people get real benefits from it.

    Under any functioning socialist system, there will be a hierarchy just as there are in all complex societies. Some people, as a class, will do better than others, and have more influence or power. But the people will accept that, if the system has improved their lives compared to the old system, where the elites in the hierarchy were pure parasites rather than members of a symbiosis with the common people.

    That's why SJW-ism (today's heretical "socialism") is destined to fail over the medium-to-long term. They're only parasites, whereas the elites of the New Deal were making real improvements for the common people.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Socialism has already delivered the goods -- social security and universal healthcare, which are so robust that they have survived even through this anti-socialist era we've been in since 1980 (neoliberalism). Not even the most bitterly anti-socialist generations -- the Silents and Boomers -- want to get rid of those programs.

    In the US, we don't have fully universal healthcare -- only if you're 65 and older. Delivering those benefits to the rest of society, like the other modern countries do, is a game of catch-up for us. But it will happen sooner or later.

    And no one will deny that the broader society was superior back in the Midcentury compared to today. Income, job security, workplace democracy, marriage, child-rearing, kinship, home ownership, cultural cohesion, wholesomeness, etc. Not that it was a utopia, but no one expects that.

    I think the main appeal of socialism will be healthcare and mental health -- not provision of mental health services or drugs, but making people less on-edge psychologically by making them less on-edge economically.

    Those were the two strongest appeals of Christianity when it was growing -- miraculous accounts of healing the sick and curing mental illness (exorcising demons).

    Whining about sexism, stewing in racial resentment, obsessing over which of the 256 genders you are -- none of those will make a sick person healthy, or a crazy person sane. Just the opposite. Only the moral order of socialism can deliver those goods in a modern industrial society.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Usury laws are a socialist re-invention of Christian morality, now being pushed by Bernie and AOC (who's trying to get back on our good side with material issues instead of idpol).

    Some of the problems that complex societies faced before the Industrial Revolution remain with us -- here, socialist morality will recapitulate Christian morality.

    Another big example: ending prostitution. Only libertarian idpol-ers see selling sex for money, and its derivative pornography, as no big deal, possibly even liberating.

    But other major problems are new, like how a managerial class and an owner class treat their workers, off-shoring of industries, open borders to haul in cheap labor, etc. There were parallels in pre-industrial societies, but the vast scale of an industrial economy gives these a qualitatively different importance. Here, socialist morality will have to blaze its own new trail, although showing parallels to earlier moral systems.

    ReplyDelete
  12. A fatal weakness of idpol is blindness to (de-)industrialization. No matter what combination of identity gods you make sacrifices to, say prayers to, or ask for guidance from, there is never anything specific to the Industrial Revolution and the economies that developed from it.

    Their gods have no solutions to any of the big problems that our societies have faced after 1850.

    But then neither does Christianity, which is a cultural adaptation to a pre-industrial society. It offers more parallels and helpful suggestions than identity politics -- whose sole purpose is imperial maintenance by suppressing hostilities among the empire's subjects -- but there's all of the Industrial-era stuff that it had no awareness of.

    Only socialism is working out a moral framework for how complex societies ought to be structured in the Industrial era. That's why the moderate-to-right-wing quasi-socialism that Trump was offering in 2016 blew Hillary Clinton's idpol-ytheism out of the water.

    She effectively said, What is bringing back our off-shored manufacturing going to do to end racism, sexism, and homophobia? (It was about busting financial trusts, but that too is an Industrial-era problem -- banks were never this big, all-encompassing, and large as a share of GDP in pre-industrial societies.)

    Idpol is blind to the major problems of our age, and anyone who specializes in them will be steadily discredited in the decades and centuries to come.

    ReplyDelete

You MUST enter a nickname with the "Name/URL" option if you're not signed in. We can't follow who is saying what if everyone is "Anonymous."