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An essay
on the WESTERN WORLD

by Tage Lindbom


{If the Truth had been in accord with their desires, truly the heavens and the earth, and all beings therein would have been in confusion and corruption! Nay, We have sent them their admonition, but they turn away from their admonition.}
(The Quran, 23:71)


THE PARTING FROM THE NEAR EAST, which takes its conscious forms in about five hundred years before Christ and which is the embryo of what we today call the Western World, is primarily characterised by an individual consciousness, the positive implication of which is the parting from the Cosmic unity. As a second element to this “Greek wonder” comes the Judaic monotheism and the victory of Christianity in the late antiquity.

Early signs of a rationalism with profane-scientific elements is what the Christian Middle Ages attempts to avert with the so called scholasticism, a sacra scientia in antique forms, which did not survive the renaissance of the late Middle Ages. The way was thus opened for a profane-philosophy, which increasingly claimed to take the place of theology.

This primarily applies to the Christian Western Roman Church, and the Catholic papacy’s theological and moral decline that led to an opposition where we mainly discern the Lutheran and Calvinist reformations. It is above all the latter, which will have a significant influence on the continued development of the Western World.

The concept of individuality is what relates the Greek civilisation to the Christian teaching of salvation and thus makes Christianity the dominant religion of the Western World. In Christianity the notion of individual salvation puts a strong emphasis on the sin - the Fall of Man - as a concept of profanity that is associated with the “flesh” and the “world”. This notion of sin and sin-consciousness is intensified in the reform movements and then especially in Calvinism and its subsequent branches. While Luther solves the relationship between the Divine and the world by the so called “teaching of the dual Kingdoms”, not the least by allowing Christian everyday and work-ethics, the “world” to the Calvinist is merely a state of total sinfulness – according to Calvinism there is no holiness in the world. The individual’s salvation is then gained – in total loneliness, or if we like, in total individuality – a desert-walk through a totally sinful world.

This theological Calvinist world-view branches off as the Low Church in the Western World and particularly in countries engaged in commercial and industrial activities. In its Low Church branches the once theologically strict Calvinism becomes a way of life, conclusively the Puritan, which leaves its clear mark on the Anglo-Saxon countries.

England is a country, that early on becomes a trading-nation with demands for a freedom that the old feudal and semi-feudal Europe did not allow – already in the late Middle Ages calls for free-trade could be heard in the English parliament. In such a country it is very easy for Puritanism - the theological and the profane - to gain strength. For the Puritan - the believer and the secular - is an individualistic bundle of energy, who for his survival – the salvific and the financial – only can trust his own endowments.

The Puritan individualism is the foundation stone, and it is connected to an uncompromising condition: the personal freedom. Salvation is for me and no one else, just as the success of commercial and industrial life is due to my own personal achievements. But then there remains a basic theological question, Calvinism teaches that God has chosen some and rejected some – who those are, is hidden from us humans. But here Puritanism offers a comforting notion: God can already in our earthly life give us signs of whether we are the chosen ones: a certainty of salvation can come to our minds, and this can also be materialised not the least by materialistic achievement. This becomes a significant incentive in the commercial and industrial life.

The Puritan existence is a life in a world of sin, but also in a world of freedom, and it is in this freedom that the human salvation shall be realised and commercially and industrially utilised. What this state of freedom actually means to each individual human being is a struggle for survival – to be saved or rejected, or to be enriched or made bankrupt. What is needed for this is a self-discipline, a self-control, and here we stand before the Puritan morality.

The true Puritan is a warrior, his life is a constant readiness for battle within an absolute sphere of freedom, and this demands a self-control, a self-discipline, a planning and a calculating – all of which is within an individual sphere of freedom. The puritan is therefore the bearer of a moral self-control, which leaves its mark on his whole personality, in his spiritual life as well as in his daily actions. His life is a life of intrinsic norms and regulations – John Stuart Mill once said that the Puritan puts the rule in the place of nature. The Puritan is like a closed moral fortress.

When the Western World increasingly allows a growing individualistic consciousness not only to shape individual but also social life, the Puritan morality increases in importance. The Puritanisation of the Western World has begun. It chiefly concerns those areas that are subjected to a commercial and industrial development, and its true homeland is England. Here the Puritan sense of freedom and calls for freedom are proved to be life-necessities in the growing modern industrial and commercial society. At the same time the moral self-discipline, the rational calculating and planning become indispensable assets in an existence which is increasingly characterised by expansion, a constant opening of new spaces, “markets”, without which moral and social chaos would prevail.

The Puritan steps forth as the imperial conqueror, he acts under a clear moral guiding star, which tells him that his life’s achievements are signs of God’s pleasure, that his life is attached to a moralistic self-control, without which life would not be liveable. The Puritan's life is a life in freedom, not merely individually, but also socially. For the Puritan, we repeat, is a conqueror: the world is his battlefield, and the world shall be saved in the name of the Puritan freedom, whether this conquering is carried out by colonialism, Christian mission, the selling of goods or the spreading of Western values.

The first contours of the Puritanisation of the Western world can be seen during the 19th century – modern commercialism and industrialisation is brought forth in accordance with the moralistic Puritan way of life. The Western World is Puritanised, even if the heading is not used. Though at the same time there is a significant shift in the balance of Power: a new, future Super Power is about to be formed, the United States of America.

By the forming of a Super Power, Puritanism is now not only developed as a great moral, commercial and industrial centre, but the United States of America also turns Puritanism into a political-ideological power factor. That freedom, without which the moralistic conduct would be meaningless, is a by nature given absolute right, is not only a product of revolutionary French minds in the 18th century, but absolute freedom is also expressed as an inviolable human right in the Puritan footsteps of English Cromwellism, and in the American revolution. By the forming of a United Empire in the vast "New World”, Puritanism takes on the role of a political-constitutional character that can step forth claiming not only to represent the Puritan parts of the Western World – with the Anglo-Saxon peoples as its core – but also that Puritanism is a by all peoples embraced universal, political-constitutional way of life.

The Puritan man, this autistic-moralistic bundle of energy can only live his earthly life and attain salvation by being given an absolute freedom and thus be free to exploit the sinful world in which he lives. But this freedom is to be given to all without distinction and therefore even the absolute equality must be affirmed. This is what is declared in the American constitution. Democracy is declared - the individual man as a in freedom and equality born, inviolable creature, and in its collective form as the free and equal humanity, whose sovereignty is expressed by the Will of the Masses.

The 20th century has experienced two World Wars, which to their ultimate purposes have been struggles for or against the democratic way of life. In the year 1916 America enters the First World War, and its President Wilson formulates the intention: “To make the world safe for democracy.” It is not for the sake of particular nations or peoples that there is a struggle, but for the sake of humanity, and humanity shall be saved. The victory of the First World War was not total, but then so much more was the victory of 1945. The certainty with which the great Super Power, the United States of America, declares the universal validity of the democratic way of life, the certainty, with which “Americanism” shall dominate the lives in the most distant corners of the world – of all this no more needs to be said.

We have here described the Puritan man in his “classic” orthodoxy, well conscious of the fact that reality always has to be modified. To the orthodox Puritan the world is a sterile desert, to the secular Puritan the world is a field of exploitation. Puritanism has to a more or less extent and in secular forms spread across the whole Western World – it has continued to act even when the actions have seized to be related to the concept itself. Nonetheless it would be a grave simplification to equate the “classical” Puritanism with today’s “Americanism”. The former, a strictly personal stance with its roots in a theological orthodoxy, and the latter, an increasingly superficial, to the simplest and most shallow sensuous experiences appealing state - a through modern media permanently upheld state of sensuous stimulation.

However this increasingly predominant state is a fruit of the two World Wars - that is something we have to remember. The freedom the Western World praises itself to have saved for humanity, and the equality, which endows this state its sense of legitimacy has led the Western World into a situation that borders on total Godlessness. Though paradoxically, there are still in this Kingdom of Man remains – and this mainly in the homeland USA – of an old-fashioned Puritan faith. Even though banality, shallowness and neurotic self-satisfaction characterises this civilisation, there still remains a perception that the self-deification in their praise of democracy is justified by the perception that it can ultimately be given a theological explanation, whose short credo reads as follows: “God is a Democrat.” We are witnessing the swan song of Puritanism.



Here Lindbom points at the fact that the British monarchy not only faced Puritan revolt in their own country (by the likes of the Calvinist Oliver Cromwell and the subsequent beheding of King Charles I) but later on also by Puritans in their colonies, which resulted in what is commonly known as the United States of America. It should not be forgotten that both these Puritan revolutions occurred before the French revolution of 1789.

Lindbom's analysis of the Puritan mind sheds a new light on much of the American history. In the wars between the Native Americans and the Puritan settlers the real conflict was between their different world-views. To the natives the world was nothing but Divine Symbolism, while to the settlers the world was nothing but an exploitable desert of sin. It was the exploitation of what the Indians regarded as holy that forced them to fight a war with a Puritan enemy who in reality lacked any notion of "holiness". The killing of the Buffalo is a too good example. When the Indians took to arms to stop the expansion of the American state, they were not only in the way of America's ability to utilise its vast natural resources but also in the way of the individual American's spiritual salvation. To the Puritan there is no salvation without exploitation, and exploitation can only be maximised in a state of total freedom and equality. The American settlers regarded themselves as Israelites that had been called to the New World in order to save it from the native Philistines in the name of freedom and equality. This pseudo-religious American narcissism was not only an incentive to kill off the natives but in order to fully exploit the conquered lands it also justified the enslaving of millions of black Africans. This narcissism is clearly seen in everyday American life where the USA is referred to as "God's own country" or "The land of the Free" and their President as "The Leader of the Free world".

 

 

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from: Thu, Jan 27, 2005

 

 

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