Friday, November 20, 2009

Societies of friends in England and New England

There can't be many as uplifting and as hopeful stories in our dark human history than the turn of a large part of the Anglo-Saxon dissenters towards liberalism and progress. I was long amused by Tory cynicism, their wallowing in the gutter that is human nature, but I have grown less and less amused as I have grown. Of course these earliest of reformers were absurdly, unreally highminded, rigid, only too often lifeless. But the ills they fought against (being most often the first to fight, the first to organize) were of such awful nature - slavery, aggression, cruelty, unequality - that surely we can excuse these flaws?

All those various denominations: Quakers and Unitarians, Congregationalists, Presbyterians and Methodists, forming in later generations such an aristocracy of intelligence and culture, opposed fanatically by their unchanged once brethren, the absolute worst of fundamentalism (as witnessed today in the USA). It makes one wonder about Calvinism, what was there, in that grim credo, to ignite such a flowering of human progress? Coming from a Lutheran background, more staid, but in some ways more comprehensive (thinking of our Nordic societies with all our enlightened structures and impulses) this moral fervour and burst of energy seems very remarkable. I suppose it is the Protestant in me that makes one think that absolutely none of this could have been left for Rome...

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


It is hard not to see the present mania for the most bizarre and impossible conspiracies (Obama drinking baby blood in an orgy in a Californian mansion or whatever à la Alex Jones etc. etc.) as related to a general cynicism and lack of faith towards liberal democratic structures and belief in reason and progress. Perhaps we are losing our nerve. And so need comfort: it surely is a comforting thought to think that history is controllable even if only by the CIA or the NSA or the Elders of the Nation of Zion or whatever you currently have. But it is not, no-one controls this bloody, chaotic mess. Our tragedy is in that you don't need to hide the worst things - the worst things are in plain view, and you still can't change them. To a large degree they are the result of our human nature - we don't need an ancient world wide conspiracy to keep us from achieving a just, rational and safe society, we do it ourselves. One sign of this is this present angry credulity cynically used to promote reactionary ideas and to counter all attempts towards progress and understanding.