Sunday, July 31, 2011

Progressivism as a Religion

People often raise the question as to why progressives support failed ideas.  As well, many conservative non-Jews are aghast that left-wing Jews continue to support progressives like Barack Obama, who has been threatening the Jewish state. 

The answer is that progressives are neither Jew nor Christian nor any other religion save one. They are Progressives. In his tour de force Between Literature and Science: The Rise of Sociology* Wolf Lepenies outlines the rise of sociology as an attack on literature, but from the beginning sociology was posited not just as a science, but as a religion. Progressivism perpetuates the sociological tradition.

Central to Lepenies's thesis are the sociologies of Auguste Comte and Beatrice Webb. Comte was the author of the terms sociology and positivism.  His early work was an attempt to locate a social physics or sociology at the apex of the sciences.  To do so Comte traces the development and relationships among the sciences.  In his later work Comte attempts to structure a religion based on science.  In the case of Comte the aim is explicit: science not only displaces religion but becomes the basis for a new religion.

Lepenies argues that a parallel development occurs in the work of the Fabian socialist Beatrice Webb.  Sidney and Beatrice Webb began as advocates of  a gradually evolving socialism.  But they discarded their Fabian approach with the advent of Soviet communism.  Toward the end of their lives in the 1930s the Webbs became advocates of Soviet communism just as Stalin was butchering millions.The reason the Webbs adopted communism is clear from an excerpt from Beatrice Webb's diary that Lepenies quotes (p. 136):

In the Soviet Union the Communist Party had become a religious order:

It has its Holy Writ, its prophets and its canonized saints; it has its Pope, yesterday Lenin and today Stalin; it has its code of conduct and its discipline; it has its creed and its inquisition.  As yet it has no rites or modes of worship.  Will it develop ritual as did the followers of Auguste Comte?

The same may be asked of American progressivism.  It too has its saints, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, its pope, Barack Obama, its prophets and its bible, The New York Times. Despite progressivism's failure, its adherents remain committed as would the faithful of any religion.

*Wolf Lepenies, Between Literature and Science: The Rise of Sociology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

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