Book Review: The WASP Question, Part 2

June 5, 2017 Book Reviews Comments (0) 655

Having examined Dr. Andrew Fraser’s analysis of the English ethnoculture, we now turn across the Atlantic. The Anglosphere we know today – the bastion of the liberal world order – is not an island nation, but a global force. To make this leap in history, we must land on American shores. The last two sections of Fraser’s work reflect on the theological withering and current state of the Anglo psyche.

Fraser begins by contrasting the current “de-sacralized” nature of the Anglo world with the religious underpinnings of the English colonization of the New World. As we saw in part I, Fraser traces the English psyche as moving from a magico-religious “enchanted” worldview, to a tradition-directed hierarchical one with clear distinctions between the religious and political worlds, and finally to an inner-directed model based on individual conscience and participation. The social equivalent to this was the development of a proto-scientific worldview that saw the religious and worldly realities as minimal in their interaction, rather than infused with one another.

At the time of English expansion into the Americas, the tradition-directed order had firmly taken hold. However, the religious impulse continued to inform worldly affairs. Fraser emphasis the militant nature of the English perception of their mission. At one end, the Puritan culture took an attitude which Fraser compares with mission-oriented warfare, a system defined by a clear goal with freedom of action by those on the ground. The literature of the period sees the will of God and the establishment of His Kingdom as fundamental. The nature of this varies across the populations of the New World, although they share a common radical Protestantism. The pilgrims are suspicious not only of Rome but also the Church of England. This religious order is mirrored in the nature of the economic ventures, with the Virginia Company rapidly moving from a centralized to a decentralized model for reasons of profit.

Fraser notes that this Protestant diversity was communal and not individual: the colonial town shared a covenant of a particular Protestant faith, within which all took part in the great mission. The free man was granted his rights not as citizen, but as father of a household. Fraser puts forward that the fact of covenant is problematic for the narrative that America was proto-liberal and individualist from the start. To find oneself outside a defined covenant to family, community, and God was to be outcast and alien to the social order.

The development of the proto-Southern (Fraser calls it “Anglo-Virginian”) culture differed in its attitude to work and the emphasis on religious covenant as the source of community. Apart from maintaining a more aristocratic attitude to work as a necessary evil, the Virginia community saw the household displace the role of the church in many social rituals.

Despite these variations, settlers would find their differences minimized by their contrast with the realities of colonial existence. Slavery was a phenomenon seen across the Americas, not just practiced by the various European colonial powers but also by the indigenous peoples themselves. Moreover, the material condition of many European indentured workers would have hardly differed from the experience of slaves: facets of such a life could include wearing a collar with the employer’s name, being sold together with a mine, and being forbidden to marry without permission. However, the racial dynamic of black slavery would bring the biological element of racial and ethnocultural identity to the fore. This impetus continued the stripping down of the English as a cohesive religious, cultural, and ethnic people, to the benefit of the racial element. The realities of black and native interaction forced cohesion between differing religious covenants and regional cultures.

This process is, in fact, more or less complete when we come to the American rebellion. By this time, the only criterion for citizenship laid out is the extension to “free white persons of good character”. Rather than an English covenant community, the political order is a white republic. The republic itself would ultimately create the social and religious infrastructure of these free white persons. Ultimately, the philosophy of freedom would triumph over the remnants of ethnocultural covenant still present in the republican founding. First, whiteness itself would find itself expanded as a concept, and then ultimately done away with. Homo Americanus would be a bloodless citizen. Fraser cites the words of the Union’s staunchest representative, President Lincoln, in the year 1838:

Let reverence for the laws…become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and young, the rich and poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.

At this point, Fraser takes pause from his broad study of American development. The above is a sweeping account of the American story, and benefits from a more precise analysis. To do so, Fraser examines a particular social technology of the American landscape: the corporation. In this structure, Fraser sees a history and theology at play, changing with each generation and altering the nature of the corporation in political life.

First, we must take note of American religious life around the 1740’s. At this time, the phenomenon later known as the First Great Awakening began to sweep the American landscape. While previously the official clergy had maintained the dominance of the established parish churches, a new generation emphasized individual religious experience. This demand for individual agency in their tie to the greater community would see its political reflection in the rhetoric of the colonial rebellions a generation later, culminating in the democratic and populist character of Jeffersonian democracy. The classes from which many of the founders themselves came would accurately perceive a growing threat to ordered stability.

In response, men of these classes saw a need for institutions of business and political enterprise which could guard their work and resources from democratic usurpation. Fraser recounts the US Supreme Court decision of the Dartmouth College case; the court upheld that the private nature of the resources involved in corporate endeavours granted them autonomy and constitutional protection. It is important to emphasize that the conception of these bodies was not purely one of profit, but of the public good. The corporation was defined by a specific end. The notion of a corporation changing its mission and work at will was alien to the understanding of the time. Fraser recounts the infusion of republican political philosophy into these ventures, with corporations becoming little republics within the body of the great American republic. Many such corporations found themselves in religious endeavours, upholding the legally backed commitment to public Protestant religious worship. For Fraser, this reveals the theology of the early corporation:

In clothing their religious, charitable, educational, and business activities in the corporate form, propertied and professional elites were adapting the federal theology of covenanted communities to a secular crisis of authority in a modern republican polity…The deep-rooted and contining contest between “evangelical” and “legal” Christianity had its exact parallel in the struggle between radical advocates of free and general incorporation and conservative proponents of incorporation by special act of the state legislature.

This theology would find opposition in a more explicitly religious response: the Second Great Awakening. Fraser notes that the general anti-institutional attitude towards the corrupt “worldly” order especially took issue with the linking of the corporation to public virtue. Fraser cites an 1853 piece from the Presbyterian Quarterly Review. The modern reader may note how eerily familiar it would read in any modern progressive activist publication:

…revolutions will occur as light increases marked with more or less violence, in proportion to the resistance offered, or the wisdom employed till human rights are properly guaranteed and wrong principles and institutions are swept away.

And yet, the result was not the end of the corporation. Rather, Fraser outlines the decoupling of economic endeavours from public virtue. First economic ventures could function as a sign of God’s favour on an individual level; later, the economic and the spiritual were severed entirely. He further cites Marx as one of the first to see this decoupling of property owner and investment. Property and the capitalist morphed into capital and shareholder. In Marx’s words: “he is a function of his own capital, and direct expression of his private property.” While Fraser criticizes Marx’s failure to understand the connection between this development and the culture from which it came, the emptying out of religious content from the corporation reflects the disenchantment of the broader English world, and the final cementing of the inner-directed paradigm.

The corporation would go on to be a microcosm of the most recent shift in the English world as well: the rise of the culture of critique, and the cult of the other. Fraser recounts the spread of the corporate mentality across the institutions. Scholars became researchers, governors became technocrats, and virtue was displaced by “expertise”. This was the rise of the managerial class. Fraser furthermore sees disembodied speech as fundamental to this new mode of governance (or better: management). Rather than reflecting the authority of the speaker, speech had to become disembodied, reflecting expertise and the voice of the corporate reality. In addition to the religious and cultural disembodiment, this mode of social order required an ethnic disembodiment and the embracing of a universalist mentality, reflecting the international nature of the U.S. population and the American world order. Fraser details how this ethnic disembodiment required an active embracing of the “other” in intellectual life and broader culture. This was enthusiastically forwarded both by WASP intellectuals and an ascendant Jewish intellectual class.

The history of the corporation reflects the history of the republic itself. Fraser draws parallels with each stage of the corporate theology to the surrounding American culture. He sees the political theology of the country as moving from a republic of liberty, to one of equality, and finally to one of fraternity. After the revolution, republican liberty is seen as the result of Providence itself. Thus, as we have seen, the republic replaces the covenant church as the institution of American destiny. For many of the founders themselves, this is already stripped of English particularity. The republic was championed most strongly by the federalists. However, its unifying character still acted through a variety of institutions: courts, parties, and churches. In particular, Fraser discerns that the churches were a force of “conversion” to revolutionary values.

With the end of the war between the states, the republic establishes itself as the source of sovereignty. This is most evident in the fourteenth amendment, which saw the source of citizenship as lying in the republic, and not in the states. These United States, became the United States. This was the age of individualist liberalism and the overthrow of institution. However, this pretence ignored what was clear to both the historic black populace and new entrants to the country: the dominance of the Anglo-Saxon Protestant ethnicity and culture. Thus, the republic of fraternity sought the purposeful and final overthrow of this culture and the final universalization of American revolutionary values. Today, the historic American population – one might even say the ethnic American population – retains little if any memory of this history. And yet, it feels the alienation of the liberal order as clearly as anyone. The language of universalism disguises a powerful and increasingly global elite class devoid of history or duty.

Fraser turns at this stage to a man we met in Part I of this review: Bolingbroke, speaking from the 18th century to a country where a new class was in its turn increasingly usurping the place and duties of the old order. In particular, he draws on Bolingbroke’s invocation of a Patriot King as necessary to restoring the English world. Surveying various critical and literary studies which have been made of Bolingbroke by later scholars, Fraser encourages a reading of his ideas which seek their application in our context – one radically alien to Bolingbroke himself, and knowingly so. While Bolingbroke admired Queen Elizabeth I, Fraser instead looks to King Alfred the Great, who played a pivotal role in creating the Christian Anglo-Saxon commonwealth.

Fraser invokes the image:

Church and crown would work hand-in-hand to lead a people grown corrupt back onto the path of righteousness blazed by the King of Kings.

The triumph of republicanism is Anglosphere countries need not be reason to despair; these events cannot erase the ties of faith and blood which bind the descendants of English Christendom to one another, and to a future monarch who may choose to invoke such ties.

There is an obvious charge against choosing such an archetype: larping.  Not only is it unclear how such a figure would carry out their project, but there is in fact no claimant at hand to rally around. In fact, the invoking of such archetypal figures does two things. First, it creates a mantle which a future flesh-and-blood patriot king may one day take up. Second – and more immediately – it begins the process of palingenesis: the rebirth. In a sense, Fraser is not concerned with every blood descendent of England living today; he is writing for that number which will take part in the beginning of a new cycle. Discussing palingenesis in the final section of the book, Fraser makes clear that the full recovery of the faith which birthed the English people will be fundamental.

Fraser notes several theological strains of interest: kinism (which sees ethnic boundaries as Divinely ordained), preterism, and covenant creationism (which have nothing to do with questions of evolution, but rather see Genesis and the Apocalypse as addressing the Old and New Covenants). These particular examples will not be satisfactory to may readers, as they emerge from particular strains of American (often Calvinist) Protestantism. However, the broader point that a spiritual and not merely reductionist view of kin must be recovered is something familiar to those not only in reformed, but in the historic Catholic and Orthodox traditions. The question of patriotism has been recently addressed, for example, by the Russian Orthodox patriarchate. More immediate to the question of English Christendom is the state of the English Christian patrimony. In addition to the efforts of many Anglicans to preserve the English patrimony, some have sought a path of communion with the broader Catholic world.

Of course, these events are only of immediate interest to those who are still retaining the faith. For much of the English world, it has been generations since Christendom collapsed as a reality. This brings an element of strangeness into play. Though Fraser does not reference them, the literary mission of the Inklings – Lewis, Tolkein, and others – delved into the mythos of old England precisely for its alien nature in the era they were now in. The archetype of the patriot king seizes on this strangeness. It takes the essence of English kingship found in the historical great monarchs and prepares it to be taken up once again. Many who are rootless seek out alien heritages. One can consider the leftist love of foreign traditions such as yoga or Islam, but also the affinity of many Anglosphere rightists for continental Germanic, Nordic, or Slavic traditions.

Though the patrimony of England shares much with its European brethren, it is also unique. If the toxic extreme of its individualism leads to ethnic amnesia, its positive end created some of the most durable, independent, high-trust, and cooperative societies known to man. Its roots in seafaring island races led it to forge a global empire. Its common association with pragmatism lives beside a deep religious cosmology and an ancient ethos of myth and holy rite. Though it finds orientation in its great monarchs, it is the common man – be he in farm or city, on the isles or in the New World, under the first Elizabeth or the second – who upholds the law and the faith. That law and faith must be recovered in the hearts of men before it can be reforged in the world.

Only then does the palingenesis become possible. Let us take up the endeavour, lest the king Bolingbroke hoped for should come forward and find himself alone.

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