The Real Name of the Progressive God
If the contemporary progressive is a religious cultist, then who is the god he adores? We can immediately identify who that god is not by enumerating certain possible attributes of the divine that would be anathema to the Left.
1) This deity does not have a reality independent of the human agencies who “serve” him. In a dizzying sort of way, they—the progressives—are god in becoming: divinity is the destination of their common and ongoing effort to elevate material reality beyond its present bounds. A god who already existed beyond these bounds would obviously not need creating by heroic human achievement. His sublime stasis, overlooking and embracing all the feverish struggles of humanity, would indeed reduce puny mortals to a relative comedy of benighted self-importance. No, we can’t have that!
2) As a non-entity apart from the creative endeavor of human will and genius, this god cannot bestow any sort of immortality that does not flow through the progressive project. Indeed, he might be said to objectify (if not personify—but his face may be quite inhuman, since present conditions must be surpassed) the cumulative achievement of progress at its ever-receding climax.
3) That ever-recessive quality deserves to be emphasized. This cultic divinity cannot quite be said to exist only in the humans who construct him, because his reason for being is precisely to represent all the deeds not yet done, the perfection not yet accomplished. Nirvana will be a human-made perfection, to be sure—but it must remain always not-quite-finished. (Literary types will recognize the ghost of Deconstruction, a restless projection of progressive ideology into their own remote castle.) A progressive who might somehow have blundered into a truly perfect world would have to kill himself, because there would now be no more lands to conquer and the resulting boredom would become a living hell. The ever-retreating asymptote allows him to delude himself in a manner constantly threatened by genuine thought and hence requiring steady rituals of irrationalism.
4) Hence the progressive god cannot be fundamentally rational. As much as his faithful identify him with “science”—i.e., empirical truth from which every visible trace of initial supposition has been chased out—an insurmountable problem awaits the intellectually honest: supposition cannot be chased out of science. At its roots, then, this Dionysiac faith calls for votaries to drive deep reflection from their heads with orgy and ecstasy.
5) This god can have no association with a fixed, immutable goodness—not, at any rate, beyond the paradoxical quality of bestowing moral value on everything that transforms the present. If certain changeless principles governing conduct were recognized, then a system within which the good life must be lived would have to be imagined as already existing. The essential motive of the “faith”, however, is precisely that its devotees subscribe to a system-in-becoming. Man can make or break conventional rules, as “progress” requires. Whatever catalyzes the next step up the staircase is, by definition, the rule.
6) This god is not knowable in the sense that he can harmonize and somewhat reconcile the many “stress points” where human nature wars with itself; for instance (as was just stated in no. 5), he cannot speak through any sort of inner categorical imperative that might be known as conscience. The “inspiration” that comes to his “prophets” takes the form of some grand design that a) differs from the present state of things, and b) reduces human diversity to a more efficient and hive-like coherence. Yet because this coherence pops into the “prophet’s” head as randomly as a tune might wander into a composer’s, it is guided by no more than subjective whimsy and cannot be said to hint at any facet of some objective influence.
7) Love and wrath, salvation and punishment, are as incoherently determined in this god as is any other source of passionate energy in the design revealed by the charismatic leader. Everyone will be happy if everyone conforms to the vision: to that extent, love reaches out to all and salvation awaits. However, those who refuse cooperation are viewed as undermining the promised heaven and hence fit only to be hated by all virtuous people. Damned and excommunicate, they have no right or claim to any standard of decency in their handling; for it cannot be repeated too often that right and wrong, good and evil, emanate entirely from the vision of the omega point, where all will be made whole and perfect. To resist that vision is indefensible, and punishment of resistance should not stop at half-measures.
I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea. In fact, the god of progressivism is so sweepingly a negation of all that self-contained, rational, humble, civil people associate with God that he looks very like what our Western tradition denominates “Satan”. He is the non-god, the anti-god: God in nullifying caricature. Whatever limits the true god has placed upon sane human beings—suppression of selfishness, submission to objective reason, repugnance at harming the weak or defenseless, recognition of the just rule that one moral standard should apply to all—are ruptured and trampled by the progressive cultist. “Evil, be thou my good!” cries Milton’s Satan. Even so does the horizon-chasing cultist refuse to be hemmed in by stale, bourgeois notions of what’s acceptable and what isn’t. Indeed, we may generalize that to shatter any behavioral expectation is always, to him, a good in itself, because the ever-readiness to annihilate convention is required of those who would build a brave new future.
All sorts of specific contradiction in contemporary Leftist politics are direct extensions of this antinomian irrationalism. Among the most rigid taboos in any society are those governing sexual behavior: hence the Left seems obsessed with breaking down “sexual barriers” on every front. Of course, at the bottom of our conventions about sexual conduct, secured (at one time) as if by a fortress, nestles the nuclear family. Bigamy, polygamy, promiscuity, and adultery erode the family unit; so does the youthful glorification of and indulgence in sexual experimentation (which, at the very least, postpones the average age of marriage and thus reduces the probability of producing several children). The progressive machine’s task of getting all the helots and minions to pull in the same direction on command becomes vastly easier if individuals have no heritage of values transmitted through parents that competes with Peerless Leader’s will. The “joy of sex” has therefore proved an extremely potent crowbar in prying society away from its traditional fount of stable morality—and the useful idiots recruited for the work of sabotage have received their wages from the work itself, without understanding (or even imagining) the annihilating consequences of what they were doing.
Here’s the contradiction. In an academic setting, the subversion of sexual convention has always been promoted as advancing the rights of women—and now of homosexuals, and transgenders, and (in Europe) pedophiles. On this issue as on so many others, the evidence proves that a doctoral degree is no guarantee of intelligence; for at no time since the decadence of late antiquity have women been more objectified, all thanks to the Sexual Revolution. Men and women have been “freed” to enjoy sex whenever and however they wish… with the result that incidental emotional attachments are unwanted and despised, the focus being entirely on “cutting to the chase”. Since human nature is in fact not completely (or even particularly) malleable, the Seventies lifestyle of non-stop debauch played into a flight of either sex from the other by the Nineties, the quest for erotic satiety having grown indistinguishable from a feasting of ruthless carnivores on a carcass. The rite of killing natural human sentiment, over and over, fed into a new rite of seeking sentimental reward in unnatural and grotesque places. The sense of stable referents disappeared, trust in one’s near relatives and “significant others” took hit after hit, various acts of “killing” (killing urges, killing memories, killing affections) imported a panoply of drugs into the orgy… and frustrated yearning turned ever more insistently to the far horizon: the farther, the better. Now young volunteers crop up everywhere who want to go to Mars as robotic hybrids!
No discussion of our era’s perverse ritual sacrifices, even of this thumbnail variety, would be complete without mention of abortion. With Roe v. Wade, the killing became real. Like a gang initiation where the novice has to gun down an innocent while driving by, abortion sealed the deal. The act as much as said to the initiate, “Now you’re really in. Either you are the vilest scum of the earth—the murderer of a defenseless baby clinging to you for its fragile life—or else there was no baby and no life, and all that you’ve been told on the subject is a load of crap. Here, I’ll relieve you of that guilt. Take my yoke: it’s light. I am the real god!”
Allow me to mention one other Leftist contradiction that has grown highly observable in contemporary life: the professed regard for cultural diversity. Again, the endgame of the elite “designers” is clearly to pulverize any surviving fragments of mainstream culture, thus producing a directionless mass that may be readily led. Again, too, most of the footsoldiers participating in the subversion are mere useful idiots who have no idea what they’re doing. Their ancestral culture told them that tolerance was good… so why not tolerate other ways? Their ancestral culture taught that all of us sin and should seek forgiveness… so why not admit to having bullied this or that rival culture and surrender riches and privileges to it in penance? The ancestral, time-honored culture whose particulars they have mostly forgotten also instructed them (as they vaguely believe) that strife is always wrong and love always right… so why not let the others, the “intruders”, have their way in a spirit of acceptance that will win them over, in the long run?
I can scarcely sketch out the parameters of this issue without letting shards and shivers of the Christian catechism leak through in very mutilated—but, I’m sure, recognizable—form. The mouthpieces of organized religion have done for the subversive energies of diversity what the academy has done for those of the Sexual Revolution. I omit the contribution made by corporations seeking out illegal, sub-minimum wage labor and by the affluent who want a nanny or a gardener as devoted as a slave. That’s a hefty portion of the pie, I admit: but its squalid self-interest at least absolves it of the crime of serving progressivism’s satanic cult. There’s something comforting about a good old-fashioned crook!
In sheer volume, however, I persist in believing that most of diversity’s support comes from a kind of Christian-lite community. Thanks to the irrationality consequent to their being ever and always guided by “feelings”, these would-be do-gooders cannot see that a guest-culture “won over” to the mainstream will no longer be the original culture, and hence must be viewed as destroyed: I believe the dreaded word is “assimilated”. In this scenario, then, there’s no real preservation of culture taking place… so why the pretense? On the other hand, by tolerating the presence and proliferation of an intolerant culture resistant to any melding effect, our little saints are assuring the obliteration of tolerance from the lives of ensuing generations. Naturally, they cannot see their way to the bottom of such complex matters as how a beleaguered minority-culture may be said to survive when the dominant culture creates for it an utterly artificial, tightly circumscribed box (e.g., Native Americans); and far, far beyond their kin is the fundamental question of how we call any kind of cultural fusion “good” unless our moral standard is itself culturally transcendent… in which case, shouldn’t we be trying to draw nearer to absolute goodness and not just wearing sombreros with suits or learning to love curry powder?
The stupidity of these “monkey shines” (as my wife’s cultural tradition designates them) makes a show of sacrifice without undergoing any true personal hardship. The “believer” imagines that one world where everybody moves freely and holds planetary citizenship would be a really nice place; he or she offers as evidence of sacrifice the effort made to eat different food or wear different clothing for “diversity day”; and since Useful Idiot does not live in the more dicey sections of town, he or she runs for earplugs when talk of “no-go zones” or of appalling rises in violent crime rudely circulates. “Faith requires that we cling to a vision,” simpers the Idiot. “Yes, it may seem crazy at this very moment to suppose that things will all work out… but if we simply throw up our hands and cry, ‘Things aren’t working out!’ then the world will never get any better. That’s why we must have faith.”
Well, not exactly. That’s why cults have faith, no doubt; but the Christian faith, for instance, has never taken the mainstream position that this world can be made better. On the contrary, Jesus reiterates few points more plainly than that a man cannot serve two masters, and that this world will account you a fool and an enemy if you refuse to live for secular rewards. There is something to be said, certainly, for the faith of a man who dedicates himself to improving the hygiene or education of illegally resident children; but that man is sacrificing his own time and resources—and he crosses the line, in fact, once he engages in political lobbying to force similar sacrifices from others. The representatives of the Christian faith among us, as a group, have scuffed that line up so badly that they can no longer find it. Their position may even be mainstream now, from a statistical perspective. Doctrinally, however, a sacrifice must be freely given, not extorted—and the objective must be to elevate one’s own soul and perhaps to touch another’s, not to put a chicken in every pot.
How very sad, that a degenerate species of Christianity has groomed approximately as many converts to the cult of progressivism as have the rotted Halls of Ivy!
I will conclude this discussion by dredging up some material that I published a decade ago about French novelist Jules Romains. I fell in love with some of Romains’s shorter works, like Les Copains and Donogoo Tonka; from there I stumbled into the epic series of novels that probed the twentieth century’s first few decades (the most famous of which—Verdun—handles World War I at its height). Romains might be called the granddaddy of a movement styled “unanism”. His literary method was intended to promote the conviction that all of humanity is constantly moving forward—in a very clumsy fashion, admittedly, with one step back for two steps forward. Objective historical events are elusive in his texts. What we see, instead, are dozens and dozens of individual perspectives that somehow, eventually, fuse into a collective experience. Since I believe that such is precisely the way a historical consciousness grows upon us, and since the method privileges the individual, I found myself initially attracted to it.
The problem, for me, comes with the conception that all these millions of individuals are inexorably canceling out retrogression and trundling ahead into a better life. Toward the end of the series, and almost in epilogue, the author allows himself a rare editorial comment upon his characters’ lives:
The only way to embark them upon this journey toward a future equality of rights, toward this ideal communion of equals, was to teach them–a little rudely if necessary–the ways and procedures of a civilization which all the evidence proved to be no longer just one among many, but the supreme result and convergence of the human spirit’s efforts, the highest attempt of the species to distance itself from its primitive beginnings… (Le 7 Octobre, v. 4, 1079)
Of course, today such progressivism smacks of “cultural imperialism”, just as the dogma of a Bernard Shaw sounds more than a little like Victorian jingoism to our ear. Progressivist stages do not age well under the highly critical eye of the movement’s intelligentsia, for the old must always be the benighted. In fact, a poem that Romains wrote and read over the air to Occupied France during the Second World War’s first year, reminding the French of their mission to educate African children, not-so-subtly invokes the notion of the White Man’s Burden. Yet what is our Left’s present insistence upon racial quotas, adjusted admission standards, and so forth if not a continuation of the White Man’s Burden ideology? All a matter of labeling….
One may even ask why Romains, like so many Leftists of his generation (including FDR), found Hitler to be such a monstrosity but Stalin the kind of chap you could trust and reason with. Was not the sole significant difference between National Socialism and Stalinist communism the former’s attachment to a mythic past and to racial/tribal allegiance? But that’s a crucial distinction for a progressive; for how can we create one great planetary nation that sends the Starship Enterprise to other solar systems if we all have to be Aryans?
I wanted to like Romains’s stuff, I repeat. I do like it. He must have been a charming man, and in fact he left a little book—Amitiés et Rencontres—detailing his various encounters with famous people from Debussy to Freud to James Joyce (whom he found to be rather a creep) to Einstein. I think he was probably a good man. But there are scenes like the following in his epic series where a character intended to come across as very sympathetic just doesn’t smell right. The scene is one of those very private rooms that certain French restaurants of the time featured, where service is by dumb-waiter only and seating is… shall we say, quite ample enough for a vigorous lie-down and probably crammed with human DNA:
A little later, she said to me as her fingers played with the creases of her napkin, “Why did you ask me if I had been here before… in this room?”
I answered, trying to handle the question as a sort of tease, “”Oh, no reason! Maybe because you would have every right to have been here… and because I would find that entirely natural. It doesn’t seem to me that anything very terrible goes on in this room.”
“No,” she said without the faintest smile, “I’ve never been here. I’ve never done what you think I have.”
She had said this with such a calm gravity! I was astonished by it. I caught her by the elbow.
“My sweet Antonia–come on, now! Why do you think that you have to defend yourself from any charge? As if I had the slightest right in the world to interrogate you about anything! If I made that remark just now–which I regret since it has caused you pain–it was simply as a joke, with no importance attached. Right? We’re good pals, right? We go around together for the fun of it, and not to give ourselves grief.” (La Douceur de la Vie, v. 3, 564)
Pals? Really? No, that’s not quite what the cute young florist whom our man Jallez has seduced was necessarily looking for… and copain sounds about as odd in French when used of someone with whom you’ve had sex as “pal” or “buddy” does in English under the same circumstances. No doubt, Jallez wants them to be “just friends”, for Antonia’s social position and education are not such as would make her the kind of bride he could present to his friends. (So much for the progressive contempt of class distinctions!) Jallez apparently finds the girl’s grim resignation to her situation’s hopelessness “astonishing”—but no, he rather appears to be astonished that she might suppose herself diminished in his eyes by having sex with him in a discreet restaurant booth. He rushes to reassure her that he has no right to judge. In effect, he offers the protest, “My dear, you can take a toss with any man you like—I’d never think less of you for that!” as a way of soothing her. To me, it seems like a hard slap in the face. The girl’s in love with you, stupid… and you call her your “pal” and recite Gloria Steinem’s creed for her to memorize?
This scene reminds me of so many progressive “nice guys” I’ve known in my life that I find it really quite depressing—and the more so because, again, I’m very certain that Romains wishes us to view Jallez as a thoroughly good fellow. He’s not. He is, but… he’s not. He’s sensible, sensitive, notably free of crude prejudices, receptive to other people and other ways… but he’s also rather a jerk. To have this girl fall in love with him would be immensely inconvenient at a practical level and quite compromising to his self-image, so he does not even entertain the possibility. Or if he does, then he feeds himself the slop about how a little pain will make her grow and understand that sex is just sex, great fun while it happens and great memories when it’s over. I claimed in my previous article that progressives hate sex. They do, if I may use the word in a broader sense. They fear and hate the profound emotional bond that the sex act is uniquely suited to forge and to express. To murder the potential spirituality of intimacy, they repeat a purely carnal kind of relationship over and over (again, think of ritual) until the bond’s possibility is permanently ruptured. Then they patronize or condescendingly smirk at those of their conquests or victims who have not yet scaled to that lofty evolutionary plateau, and they flatter themselves that they have done their little bit to let enlightenment shine through the oppressive veil of convention.
On the balance, I’d say that Jallez is a jerk. Like the rest of his brethren.
This isn’t the way to progress; for the only real progress in this terrestrial life is the spiritual sort that we may make as individuals… and the cult of progressivism is toxic to any kind of self-discovery. Romains titled his series of novels Les Hommes de Bonne Volonté: “men of good will”. At some point, having good intentions isn’t enough. When you throw gas on a fire in the mistaken belief that it’s water, you may be culpable if the bucket reads “gas”, if your nose was fully functional as you bent over, or if you have just observed the fate of the previous would-be helper who picked up a similar bucket. It is irrational to keep repeating the progressive experiment and expecting different results. Any system that deracinates lengthily tested values and rejects the possibility of transcendent moral imperatives is not designed to bring out the best in individuals. Rather, it destroys the one basis upon which progress might be constructed—the individual—and substitutes the prospect of a future pyramid that will stand glistening once all the slaves’ bodies have been swept away. Is that progress, even if the pyramid is solid gold?
Yet the young Romains (in another hideous little poem) had caught the infection, as do so many of the young. Rationality is clearly not the target of these lines:
And yet, I’m in a hurry. Let’s go. My heart is starved,
Not for ideas–it sickens me, The Ideal; what I need
Is Being. A real god. We must have gods that work!
Not spirits lost in clouds who shape insipid forms.
We need gods made of flesh, alive–who are ourselves!
Whose substance pulses strongly beneath our fingers; gods
Who suffer for our bodies and look out through our eyes,
Respiring creatures for whom nose, lungs, hands are us!
Mission accomplished. M. Romains: we got those gods, with a vengeance. And now that we’ve learned the name of their leader, we wish he’d take them all back; but the sex, the drugs, the fantasy, the delirium of human sacrifice—they’re all highly addictive, it turns out.
Charles Baudelaire, who knew a thing or two about wine and opium, once composed a poem about a pair of Lesbian lovers which mired him in legal problems for its having addressed a strictly illicit subject. Nowadays, the way he actually treated that subject would draw much more severe censure from the EU… sometimes a poet just can’t win! For despite his reputation as the scribe of inebriation, hallucination, and escapist fantasy, Baudelaire never lied to himself: he always knew that it was all a fraud—that our flights into vice are pitiful self-delusion. The final stanza of “Delphine et Hippolyte” is indeed an exquisite epitaph for frenzied bacchantes everywhere who forever chase the far horizon:
Far from life-breathing cities, condemned and made to wander,
Across an empty desert, run wild like panting wolves.
Your destiny accomplish, you enemies of order,
And flee the infinite that travels in your souls.