Friday, December 23, 2016
This bizarre book acutely, perceptively traces the Puritan lineage of what the author describes as Americanism, from the founders up through Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. In that journey, Puritanism is transmogrified into Americanism, or 'American Zionism', which is a new biblical religion.
Americanism is Christian, but with a particular emphasis on the Old Testament and ancient Israel, its adherents seeing in America a new Israel, a new chosen people.
Standing athwart the secularist framing of America's history, Gelernter shouts 'stop!' America's origins were deeply religious, Puritan more specifically, and that seed remains--if in an altered form--today. The founders advocated freedom of religion, not indifference to it, and the framing that casts them as avid, intentional secularists is misleading.
Gelernter's analysis of America's traditions of liberty, equality, and democracy, as well as the desire to spread this American Creed to the world, being deeply rooted in its Puritan founding is profound and illuminating. As is his persistent insistence that this American religion is a neo-Judaizing form of Christianity (applying Scriptures to America that ought to apply to the Church.) What is strange is his belief that this is a good thing. And not only believing that, but exalting this American Zionism in the most lofty tones.
While, to someone of a reactionary (and Orthodox) bent (like myself), his accurate analysis should not inspire praise but utter horror. From the founding, to Lincoln, to Wilson, what Gelernter singles out as highlights in his reading of American history, and the almost religious reverence he holds for these figures and their devotion to the American Creed, is downright creepy.
Noting the religious, biblical character of the founders, and other crucial persons in American history, like Lincoln, is all well and good, but Puritanism with its "zeal not according to knowledge" is a profoundly dangerous force. And the judaizing which Gelernter (himself a Jew) praises so highly is literally the first Christian heresy, one that arises during the timeframe of events recorded in the New Testament. That these forces formed the basis of the nation is telling, and not something to be celebrated unequivocally (if at all).
Also, while Gelernter perceptively traces the transformation of Puritanism into Unitarianism, and later Americanism, he eventually loses the plot. He casts contemporary secularists and leftists as having abandoned this Puritan-based Americanism of the founders, Lincoln, Wilson etc., but that is not exactly correct. Americanism always had the seeds of Universalism within it, and it has since transformed into this. The desire to spread the American Creed to the globe, which he recognizes, especially with Woodrow Wilson, is the basis of this Universalism. This is the global progressivism, the secularism, that Gelernter sees as simply antithetical to Americanism, rather than a new mutation of it.
But that's precisely what it is. As Puritanism became, eventually, post-Puritan, so too did Americanism become post-Americanist in its globalist, universalist incarnation.
Near the end of the book (published in 2007) Gelernter writes presciently that "the next great American religious revival will start, my guess is, on college campuses--and it will start fairly soon. The need is great." And indeed it has! The fervor with which campus SJWs are, in a manner of speaking, excommunicating heretics, burning witches, and demanding fidelity to a set of dogmas is quite religious indeed. They also act in the name of the same gods of the Puritan-American Creed: liberty (or liberation), equality, and democracy (though one might add 'progress'). And they still have a sacred belief in a chosen people, in a new Israel, but it's not Americans. It's the global oppressed.
When Americanism, with its liberal Creed, ultimately begins to look eerily like Marxism, reactionaries are not surprised in the least. Neocons like Gelernter, on the other hand, are poised to miss the deep continuity between the Americanism they love and the post-Americanism they think they hate.
Posted by Nathan Duffy