The View From 1776

Disquieting Parallels

Old Testament tribulations of Judah and Israel, the 19th century events that set the stage for British decline as a world power, and the current state of affairs in the United States have worrisome similarities.  All three peoples turned away from God and vaunted their own intellectual powers.

In the Old Testament books of Judges and 1st and 2nd Kings, as well as the numerous books of the prophets, the repeated message to rulers and to the people is that turning away from God to worship idols, whether of man-made gods or of wealth and power, always led to disaster at the hands of foreign aggressors. 

A society in which individuals and rulers failed to deal justly with the poor, the widows, and the orphans, a society in which the rulers failed to pray to God for guidance, was a society that disintegrated from internal rot.

England, while it was a united Christian nation, became the greatest commercial power on earth and the nation with the greatest degree of individual political liberty.  That began to fall apart by the middle of the 19th century, when the materialistic doctrines of atheism and agnosticism began their rise to dominance in intellectual and political life.

Following the same pattern, while still a nation united under God, the United States grew rapidly, both in population and industrial production, to eclipse England by the end of the 19th century.  Only a couple of decades later, the Godless doctrine of socialistic materialism had completely infected our major universities, ultimately corrupting our youth. 

Today we have a nation unified by little other than selfish pursuit of sensual gratification, one whose entertainers’ and politicians’ stock-in-trade is ridicule of the Judeo-Christian founding traditions of our nation.  President Bush is pilloried as a dangerous, evangelical nut, because he seeks guidance and peace of mind in prayer to God.

Just as England began to decline from its world dominance in the late 19th century, essentially giving up the struggle by the end of the First World War, the United States is poised for decline into the fecklessness of the old Western European powers.  Unless God grants us a new Great Awakening of religious consciousness, and we turn back to personal morality and individual responsibility, we will continue to rot and become easy prey for foreign aggressors.

The history of 19th century England is, in spiritual terms, a close parallel to 20th century events in the United States.

After the American War of Independence, before 1870, English statesmen viewed overseas empire as something to be disposed of as quickly as practicalities allowed.  However naive it seems to us today, Englishmen in the 17th century saw the Royal Navy’s opening trade to the world as a way to bring the benefits of civilization to backward peoples and to spread the Word of God through missionary societies.

Historian Paul Johnson’s A History of the English People gives us an excellent, comprehensive overview of this period.  Around 1800 the four great overseas Christian missionary societies had been formed.  In 1833 England became the first nation to outlaw slavery, and the ban applied throughout the British Empire.  Johnson notes, Indeed, it was possible, at that time [1838], to foresee the culmination of the Empire in universal self-government not in a remote future, but in a matter of decades.  The Empire was cultural, not military.”  After the Indian Mutiny of 1857, “[Historian Thomas] Macaulay predicted that the moment when the Indians, ‘having become instructed in European knowledge….demand European institutions’ would be the proudest day in English history.”

Those noble sentiments began to change.  The doctrine of atheistic materialism which imbued socialism and Auguste Comte’s Religion of Humanity began its insidious seduction of England’s intellectuals and ultimately its politicians. 

An opening wedge was Jeremy Bentham’s works on the philosophical doctrine of Utilitarianism, among the first of which was published in 1789, the year of the French Revolution.  After being taken up by his disciple James Mill in the 1820s and 30s, Utilitarianism become widely influential.

Utilitarianism was based on the wholly materialistic hypothesis that humans are merely mechanical receptors of pleasure and pain.  Judeo-Christian morality played no part in Utilitarian calculations.

Government administrators, according to the hypothesis, were able to structure regulations that would employ pleasure and pain to channel human activity into patterns that would produce the greatest good for the greatest number.  Intellectuals, of course, would be the ones to calculate what constituted the greatest good for the greatest number.  One glaring problem was that Utilitarians, rejecting God and the dimension of human spirituality, measured societal good only in terms of material goods.  In these respects, Utilitarianism is essentially indistinguishable from socialism.

One of Bentham’s early collaborators was Robert Owen, who generally is regarded as the founder of English socialism.  Owen organized socialistically-managed communities in the UK and in the United States.  The latter, New Harmony, Indiana, was a complete failure and was abandoned by its first residents.  Owen’s A New View of Society (1813) espoused the materialistic thesis that human character is entirely a product of physical environmental factors, a doctrine that Karl Marx was to adopt twenty years later.

Along with James Mill in the 1830s, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels began their voluminous writings to support the communistic version of socialism.  Their Communist Manifesto was published in England in 1848.

In 1859, both John Stuart Mill and Charles Darwin published their works advocating moral relativism. 

J. S. Mill’s On Liberty rejected the idea that society should have common standards of decency and morality emanating from Christianity.  All ideas and modes of behavior ought to enjoy equal tolerance by society, Mill opined.

Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was, as he wrote in his autobiography, motivated by a desire to discredit the"damnable” doctrine of Christianity.  His great intellectual champion Thomas Huxley preached that evolution proved that there was no such thing as sin, no such thing as right or wrong.  There was merely the struggle for survival.

By 1870, when premier art critic John Ruskin gave his inaugural lecture at Oxford, Darwin’s hypothesis had been taken up by materialists under the rubric of Social Darwinism, one implication of which was that the stronger races of humanity deserved to rule the world.  Ruskin earlier had abandoned his Christian upbringing and become a promoter of the misnamed Christian Socialism, which aimed to change traditional Christian charity from a personal moral obligation into a political responsibility of state planners.

Paul Johnson quotes Ruskin’s lecture: There is a destiny now possible to us, the highest ever set before a nation….We are still undegenerate in race; a race mingled of the best northern blood….[England] must found colonies as fast and as far as she is able…and their first aim is to be to advance the power of England by land and sea…

This sentiment obviously is a complete reversal of the Christian missionary view of England’s role only forty years earlier.  No longer was the aim to bring the benefits of civilization to more primitive societies and equip them for enlightened self-government.  It was to be political and economic domination of those societies for the economic benefit of a supposedly superior English race.

England’s declining economic fortunes gave political impetus to Ruskin’s widely read and influential views.

After our Civil War, which coincided with Bismarck’s creation of the German Empire, American and German manufactures were increasingly cheaper and often of better quality than those of England’s small and, by then, outmoded factories.  Our vast network of railroads opened Midwest farm production to world markets, decimating English farming.  A large portion of England’s population found themselves unemployed as a result, much as is true with American manufacturing today, for the same reasons of international competition.

Creation of an overseas empire appeared to English politicians to be a handy economic solution.  The new empire was to create a self-contained trading universe, insulated from American and German competition, in which the colonies would have no choice but to buy English manufactures.  In the United States today, many urge the same sort of solution via high tariff walls.

In this, one can see an example of the inherent vulnerability of atheistic socialism to tyranny.  As early as 1870, but for the enduring common sense of the English people, the world might have witnessed a first run of Lenin’s liquidation of millions of dissidents “for the benefit of humanity.”  The same drive towards economic insulation via territorial dominance was to appear in the 1930s with Hitler’s National Socialism.

With English intellectuals and politicians increasingly under the sway of the atheistic materialism of Continental socialism, and Christian morality correspondingly in decline, few people raised scruples against the need to employ military force to acquire and to dominate the new colonies.

Unforeseen was the extent of foreign policy consequences.  In the past, the British Isles had been untouched by endless Continental border skirmishes among contending national powers, having no common boundaries with any of them.  This enabled England to stand apart from those nationalistic wars and to throw its military and economic weight to the weaker powers whenever one nation threatened to dominate the Continent.  England’s foreign policy traditionally had been to maintain a balance of power to deter military aggression.

But after the late-Victorian creation of the new British Empire, covering roughly a quarter of the entire globe, England had common frontiers everywhere with competing European empires. 

The old England would have had no need to become a direct participant in the First World War with Germany.  By 1914, however, the British Imperial General Staff had for many years established military coordination plans with the French.  When Germany attacked Belgium, England was unable to play her independent foreign policy role of past decades.  She was committed to declare war against Germany, a war that killed and maimed more than a million young Englishmen, along with comparable numbers of young men from all parts of the Empire.

England emerged from World War I deeply in debt, having sold off much of her assets to fiance her participation in the catastrophic war.  She never fully recovered economically or militarily.  The way was opened for takeover of the government by the socialists.  By the 1950s, England, once the greatest power in the world, was condescendingly dismissed as the “sick man of Europe.”  Not until Margaret Thatcher’s government, with its reemphasis upon individual responsibility, did England begin to climb out of the socialistic swamp.

In retrospect it’s clear that England’s fall from Grace resulted from its abandonment of God and its turning to worship of the political state exalted by the atheistic and materialistic religion of socialism.

The path of the United States since the beginning of Franklin Roosevelt’s administration in 1933 has followed the same course.

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