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Anniversary
Political Consequences of the Protestant Reformation, Part I

Five hundred years on, assessing the impact of the Reformation on the state, identity, and liberalism.

Published on: October 31, 2017
Francis Fukuyama is chairman of the Executive Committee of The American Interest. This article was based on a speech given at Aarhus University, Denmark, on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, May 21, 2017.  The author would like to thank Michael Boss for organizing the event and stimulating this article.
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  • Anthony

    Are we foreshadowing a beginning framework to the story of Western development (post sixteenth century). That is, Part I initiates outline of change in human societies over time – by way of the Protestant Reformation. Part I implies that political institutions emerge, evolve, and here owe much to the Protestant Reformation. Indeed, Fukuyama implicitly notes that if we are to understand the fast changing political and economic developments of our contemporary world, appreciating context long-term gives insights. Perhaps, Part II will clarify further my speculation: we are privileged to an update to “The Origins of Political Order” as well as to the idea “that before a polity could be democratic, it had to provide basic order” i.e., the state, the rule of law, and accountability.

  • FriendlyGoat

    It is a curious matter that many Protestants claim every word of the Bible to be true, but are not particularly enamored with Matthew 16:18—–wherein Jesus is quoted as saying “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

    There wasn’t even any such foretelling of Luther or Calvin, after all.

    • Anthony

      Blessed are you… (16:17)

      But in a related matter: “Republicans politicians and freelance propaganda ministers feed the voters lies, the voters happily swallow them, and then the politicians shrug their shoulders, claiming to lack the public support to act against the lawless president. It’s the kind of self-reinforcing political corruption that forms the basis for authoritarian governments around the globe.” (Damon Linker) theweek.com/articles/734064/real-republican-collusion

      • FriendlyGoat

        Thanks. The story right now is and should be the coming crock of tax “reform”. I don’t believe we have any mechanism for reversing the election, so the impeachment stuff is just theater. Pence is not better and Ryan is not better if they somehow impeached Trump and Pence together because they were elected together in a smelly election. That doesn’t mean I think Mueller shouldn’t dig at every nook and cranny. It’s just that the only possible result will be sullying the entire Republican brand and even that is only a “maybe”. The prospect of a real fix doesn’t exist.

        As for the article subject, Catholicism was in “excess” before Luther, and then there was the mess of Calvinism which may be as bad or worse. I really do think it odd, though, that Protestants dance around 16:18 while swearing up and down that every word is true.

        • Anthony

          Hypocrisy, FG, Hypocrisy is man’s curse (or at least one of them). On the other matter, I think what Fukuyama is doing relative to Reformation is providing context to his (and Huntington’s) reasoned position that political development was a separate process from economic and social growth (Part II will probably add more clarification).

          And then, the thought comes that we are watching an important marker for the GOP (what kind of party is it): “The G.O.P. policy agenda of rewarding the wealthy at the expense of the poor and working class would be vile even if tax cuts would make the rich ecstatic. The party’s willingness to turn a blind eye to corruption with a hint of treason would be horrifying whatever the motivation. Still, there seem to…be an extra dimension of awfulness to the whole situation once you realize that all this betrayal (tax cuts) serves no real purpose, not even a bad one.” Over and above that, you’re welcome.

        • Anthony
          • FriendlyGoat

            Thanks. I would agree that “people like to be asked” and they weren’t enough. But when 53% of white women went for Trump and 81% of white evangelicals went for Trump (including, presumably, white female evangelicals at least in the seventies) there is more to this than blue-collar economics. There is a misinformation problem in these blocs. Women are supposed to have discernment that doesn’t melt to Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Huckabee Sanders. At the moment, the white ones don’t have it.

          • Anthony

            Oh, yes, we know there’s certainly more than “blue collar economics’ but argument ( in Nation) is an attempt to highlight both neoliberalism and Obama/Clinton democratic establishmentarian sway – the other “identitarian” variables you raise are not in dispute as neither import of discernment (I intend to utilize the slogan on caption of another TAI piece: Make America Think Again).

          • FriendlyGoat

            One argument is that Democrats improperly ignored its historical working-class base.
            Another argument is that Democrats cannot pretend in the future to ignore or completely demonize the business community. That won’t work either and it explains why Bill Clinton, then Obama and then Hillary Clinton didn’t do it. They sought a middle ground.

            The theory circulates that Sanders would have won if nominated and bad ole Hillary stole it from him and from us. I don’t subscribe to that theory.

          • Anthony

            The theory is speculative and counterfactual anyway. Still, the neoliberalism argument has merit and it really post dates both Clinton and Obama administrations, though both hewed to its democratic party fine tuning.

            Secondarily, I’m not sure Bill, Barack, or Hillary even considered ignoring capitalism or whether a middle course was triangulated. Equally, the commitment that Dems since 1980s have not focused on working class voters has currency in some political circles (regarding electoral strategy nationally). But it’s not an argument without nuances (as is most of real life).

          • FriendlyGoat

            Dems have to consider where they will raise money in the future. We want to think “Mr. Smith goes to Washington” (or something) and that small donors are enough—–even with emasculated unions. I’m inclined to think that will never work against the mountain of money now assembled on the right. We can criticize the candidates of past or future, but all of them know they are going to need to sound “reasonable” in a boardroom in order to get out of the gate.

          • Anthony

            I don’t think any sane strategist wanting to win an election (at level we’re writing about) disagrees with your perspective. Money in politics is, as they say, a biggie. No one seriously engaging at that level thinks otherwise. I think Nation article does not overlook that import in light of Dems reviewing their electoral failures. More importantly, I think you and I can agree that Boardrooms are part and parcel of, not only America, electoral politics.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Yes. We have to admit some realities. One of them is that there are not enough far lefties to win middle America without centrists. Ralph Nader discovered this and there is no need to believe “this time it’s different”.

          • Anthony

            FG, leftist, middle America, et al are functional categories to facilitate banter among the relative powerless; but, Americans are going (hopefully sooner than too late) to have to decide what kind of country “we” are and who comprises it entirely. Perhaps, some candidate gets to that and the categories become if not superfluous then at least tertiary – as you well know, ideologies are distinguished by their usefulness, not their veracity.

          • FriendlyGoat

            For the time being, we have already decided what kind of country we are. Mr. Trump is the national spokesman on every subject.

          • Anthony

            WOW! much work, much work…

          • Tom

            Yes, that is a reality, so why do you constantly act like it’s not?

    • Tom

      I’m trying to decide if you’re abysmally ignorant or just mendacious, but anyone with a even a smidgen of knowledge could tell you that Christ was talking about the church invisible, not the RCC.

    • Jim__L

      How long has Peter been dead for?

      It’s a legitimate matter of debate whether any of his successors inherit that blessing.

  • At the very least, it weakened the dominant power of the Catholic Church and its Pope over society and politics, which in turn helped pave the way for greater European enlightenment and technological progress, as well as the eventual establishment of democratic ideals in the West.

    In fact, I somewhat doubt the American Revolution would have been possible had it been organized predominantly by Catholics. America needed to be free from as much of Europe’s influence as possible at the time.

    No single religious organization should have a final say in one’s government, and the Vatican as we know now all too well was never free from internal corruption.

    • Fred

      The view of the Catholic Church in your initial paragraph is largely mythical. The Medieval university was a Church institution wherein the foundations of modern science were laid in the study of what they called “natural philosophy.” Advances were made in agriculture, optics, mathematics, navigation, and astronomy. Copernicus was a Catholic clergyman. Roger Bacon, Robert Grosseteste, Nicholas Oresme and others investigated the physical world in a manner that prefigured the scientific method and did so with no interference from the Church. See James Hannam’s God’s Philosophers and the work of French scientist and historian of science Pierre Duhem, among many others. And don’t forget, despite his conflict with the Church (which was in any event more about politics and personality than science or religion), Galileo was a believing and practicing Catholic*. Later, Descartes, Pascal, and Leibniz (indispensable figures in the 17th century scientific and philosophical revolution) were devout Catholics. The bugbear of tbe ignorant, superstitious “dark ages” presided over by a Church that enforced that ignorance and superstition is a self-serving myth created in the 18th century by anti-clerical Enlightenment figures like Hume, Voltaire, and the Philosophes and given its fullest expression in the bogus, and long-debunked, “conflict thesis” by figures like John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White in the late 19th century.

      *I have read an article suggesting that at that time powerful elements of the Church hierarchy were beginning to come to the realization that Scripture would have to be re-interpreted in the light of Copernican cosmology, but doubled down in the Galileo case in part because of pressure from the mass appeal of Protestant Biblical literalism. I don’t have access to the article at the moment, but if you’re interested, I can give you the bibliographical information when I have the opportunity.

      • Jim__L

        Wasn’t the Galileo case one of church tradition — Aristotle being adopted as holy writ, in addition to the Bible?

        • Fred

          Not really. There was a history in the church of controversy over Aristotle. In 1270 his work was banned for fear it would encourage heresy. In one of the great ironies of history, less than 20 years later the ban was rescinded because the Church found Aristotle’s logic indispensable for arguing against heresy. The main issue was that several passages in Scripture state or imply that the sun goes around the Earth. In the battle of Jericho, for instance, God stops the sun, not the Earth. The fact that Aristotle backed up Scripture gave philosophical support to what was already revealed in Scripture.

  • Bankotsu
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