A provocation from Mencius Moldbug

Lefalcon seems to be interested in “political theology,” the notion that all political ideologies are really religious doctrines in disguise.  Below, Mencius Moldbug of the “Unqualified Reservations” blog tries to identify the religious doctrine behind the liberal internationalism that animates supporters of things like NATO, the UN, etc.


If you don’t want to follow the link, I’ll put the key paragraphs after the jump:

As UR readers have been reminded ad nauseam, one of my many eccentric opinions is that the tradition to which most sophisticated Westerners of 2007 conform is best seen as a sect of Christianity. Since this tradition sees itself as a pure product of science and reason, neither sectarian nor Christian nor even traditional, my perspective is heretical in the strict sense of the word. We can’t both be right.

My argument is that though the tradition is theologically atrophied, its moral and political positions, and its personal and institutional patterns of transmission, identify it as the legitimate modern successor of mainline progressive Protestantism. Since this is only the most powerful branch of Christianity in the most powerful nation on the planet, swallowing its claims of dewy-eyed innocence is a little difficult for me.

This heresy implies a substantial qualitative revision of reality as we know it. For example, Richard Dawkins considers himself a follower of something he calls “Einsteinian religion,” which appears to differ not at all from the aforementioned tradition. From Dawkins’ perspective, he is defending reason against superstition. From my perspective, he is prosecuting one Christian sect on behalf of another. Doh.

It’s simply unrealistic to expect to be able to make this revision, or even evaluate it fairly, without adjusting the language we use to “frame” the problem. To this end I’ve field-tested some neologisms, such as ultracalvinism and cryptocalvinism, and also satisfied myself that existing names, such as liberalism, are just as useless and confusing as they seem.

The problem with the neologisms is that they prejudge the argument. It’s impossible to make them nonpejorative. Perhaps this tradition-to-be-named is a bolus of ancient, benighted lies, and perhaps its followers are either deluded zombies or unprincipled opportunists who need to be stopped. But the whole point of naming it is to synthesize a “red pill” that we can feed to the former, and no such pill has any reason to be bitter.

So I’ve decided I like the name Universalism, with a capital U.  


  1. cymast

     /  November 10, 2009

    I thought the name “Universalism” was already taken.

  2. acilius

     /  November 10, 2009

    If memory serves, Mencius Moldbug argues that the tradition he finds so objectionable is found in its purest form among Unitarian-Universalists. That’s why he chooses “Universalism” as its name.

  3. cymast

     /  November 11, 2009

    That makes more sense.

  4. acilius

     /  November 11, 2009

    Uh-oh. If it makes sense, it can’t be an accurate interpretation of Mencius Moldbug. I’ll have to take another look at it sometime and see where I went wrong.

  5. cymast

     /  November 12, 2009

    I think I know what the discrepancy is. You’re a Quaker* with a non-Universalism background, and I’m a heathen with a Universalism background.

    *For all practical** purposes.

    **Symbolically practical; within a mystical context.

  6. acilius

     /  November 12, 2009

    Well, I do have something of a Universalist background. My mom’s family were among the founders of our local Universalist church in the late 1800s, and she went to that church in her youth. My dad’s family was unchurched; they called themselves Protestants, but that was just their way of making it clear that they disliked Catholics. Mom and Dad did have their wedding in her family’s church, and I suppose he went there when my brothers and sister were christened, but his Sunday morning ritual has always been sleeping as late as possible, then reading the newspaper.

    Mom stopped going after the Universalists were absorbed by the Unitarians in 1961. In our town, the Unitarians had the numbers and the money, while the Universalists were a small group, mostly consisting of retirees. The Universalist pastor had been wanting to retire for some time, and was able to do so when the Unitarians took over. The Universalist church building had long been in very poor repair; after the merger there was no need to fix that building, since the richest family in town were Unitarians, and they had donated land and funds to build the fine prairie-style structure where our local UU Association meets today. So the Universalists found themselves feeling like outsiders in the new group. Making matters worse, the Unitarian pastor’s idea of making my mom feel at home was to speak from the pulpit about how attractive she was. Since my dad wouldn’t go, this did not in fact put her at ease. She tried talking Dad into going with her, but the more time they spent on the subject of religion the more obvious it was that he held the whole business in contempt. So she decided to sleep in on Sundays too.

    Still, they kept sending my siblings to the Uni-Uni Youth Group (precursor of today’s Young Religious Liberals.) My sister was very active in that group, and in fact she continued to be active in the UU church until quite recently. She was teaching a class on feminism there when she met her partner. For a time she was president of the UU Association in her city; in the late 90s, she even toyed with the idea of going to seminary and becoming a UU pastor. And when I was three in 1973-1974, Mom and Dad sent me to the preschool at the same UU church. I hated every second of it, but I can’t call that a reaction to Unitarian-Universalism. I just wasn’t ready to leave home at three.

  7. cymast

     /  November 12, 2009

    You must have extremely strong ties to your family to identify with their background as much as you do.

    I have what I would call “no ties” to what some would call “my family.” And as you know, I went to UU Sunday school K – 12, more or less. I didn’t hate it, but always felt extremely out of place. But then again, I had that feeling most of the time.

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