The Tale of Two Wars

With the growth of liberaliism, socialism (also called “Progressive”) on both sides of the ocean, 1940 saw Europe in the midst of war as Germany, led by the Socialist Party (NAZI) moved toward world domination. It was hoped that war wouldn’t come to our shores but that all changed on December 7, 1941 when Japan launched a stealth attack on Pearl Harbor. America awoke to the news that either they would take a stand and enter the war or give up to be governed by another. Although there were signs and indicators of an impending attack, they didn’t seem to be picked up or if they were, they weren’t taken seriously. After all, America was a great nation and seemed invulnerable. As it turns out, that was its greatest vulnerability. The sleeping giant began to awaken and chose to enter the war.

The dawning of 1940 witnessed another arousing from slumber, the Conservative Intellectual. A number of individuals were concerned at what the universities had become and were producing in terms of worldviews and philosophies. Dewey’s plan to use the universities to administer social change was in full swing and working rather well in shifting the students into collectivism and socialism. Like Japan’s attack, the signs of this attack on the mind were there for the previous four decades but were largely ignored or those who could have made a difference retreated into the foxhole of fundamentalism to watch as the non-believers self destructed. Through the 1940s the number of conservative intellectual thinkers was growing but was not well organized nor taken very seriously by those in academic power.

There is no doubt, then, that in the mid-1940s the resources for a nonliberal intellectual revival were present. Yet it would be wrong to claim that in 1945 a coherent, explicitly conservative movement was flourishing in America. So barren did the Right side of the intellectual landscape seem to many in those years that one observer actually contended in 1950 that “the American conservative has yet to discover conservatism.” And in 1950, in a famous comment, Lionel Trilling complained of the absence of conservative ballast in American intellectual life:

In the United States at this time liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole Intellectual tradition. For it is the plain fact that nowadays there are no conservative or reactionary ideas in general circulation. This does not mean, of course, that there is no impulse to conservatism or to reaction. Such impulses are certainly very strong, perhaps even stronger than most of us know. But the conservative impulse and the reactionary impulse do not, with some isolated and some ecclesiastical exceptions, express themselves in ideas but only in action or in irritable mental gestures which seem to resemble ideas. (George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America: Since 1945, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, (Wilminton, Delaware: 1996) p 51)

While intellectual conservatism was in the beginning throes of awakening, Abraham Maslow was working on his motivational theory of hierarchy of needs which he began publishing in article form in 1943. It is apparent in his theory that he regarded humans as basically good but environmental causes brought them to develop in selfish ways but this could be changed if humans environmental needs were satisfied. He argued that:

An inborn “instinctoid drive” will lead them to grow into loving, unselfish adults provided they are first able to satisfy four basic levels of needs 1) physiological needs, such as food and shelter; 2) security needs; 3) belonging needs, for love and acceptance; and 4) self-esteem, which implies both actual accomplishment and recognition from others. Only after the “defiency needs” have been satisfied are human beings free to begin the potential process of self-actualization and the maximization of creative potential – “to become everything one is capable of becoming.” Of that group, he estimated that perhaps 2 percent of the population achieve the ultimate goal and become fully self-actualized – or, as he sometimes preferred to put it, “fully human.” Though Maslow never expressed it in quite those terms, fully actualized men and women were the living equivalent of religious Scripture. (Joyce Milton, The Road to Malpsychia: Humanistic Psychology and our Discontents, Encounter Books (San, Francisco, CA; 2002) p 49)

In a very real sense, Maslow was moving psychology into the arena of being a religion and in his atheism it would become the one and only true religion. It is in fact, a religion which would work very well with the current of Darwinian thought since “self-actualizers” were more advanced than ordinary human beings and thus did not have to be constrained by cultural mores unless they found them useful in a particular circumstance.

Self-actualizers, moreover, “tend to be good animals, “at home with the earthier sides of their natures. They are spontaneous and relatively free from anxiety or guilt. “Very few of them are religious.” They can make an effort to follow conventional rules of behavior when necessary, but when they are absorbed in what they are doing, these rules are likely to be dispensed with. As highly evolved individuals living in an imperfect society, self-actualizers “resist enculturation and maintain a certain inner detachment from the culture in which they are immersed.” Indeed, “the unthinking observer might sometimes believe them to be unethical, since they can break down not only conventions but laws when the situation seems to demand it. But the every opposite is the case. They are the most ethical of people even though their ethics are not necessarily the same as those of the people around them.” (Joyce Milton, The Road to Malpsychia: Humanistic Psychology and our Discontents, Encounter Books (San, Francisco, CA; 2002) p 52)

So, the more evolved “self-actualized” person has high self esteem (#4 on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs), has very little problem with guilt, can easily flaunt the rules which society around them holds as important and therefore would appear to the lesser evolved and unactualized to be unethical or perhaps even evil. But in this new religion of self-esteem and self-actualization, these individuals are nearly god-like.

The Neo Harold

By the late 1940s a few Christian fundamentalist came to realize that the previous two decades of an increasingly narrow brand of fundamentalism had produced a very rigid, inflexible and academically poor church. Not only hadn’t they reached the world for Christ, the Church had steadily lost influence. Eventually, as many fundamentalists publicly identified themselves with questionable issues such as opposition to new Bible translations, or became vocal supporters of racial segregation, tensions began to rise within fundamentalism. Many who originally identified with the movement either abandoned it or kept very quiet about their affiliation. The promising start fundamentalism exhibited at the beginning of the 20th century had become intellectually backward and academically ingrown as the movement steadily marginalized itself within society.

Many conservative Christians felt there were only two choices: stay where they were and endure parochialism and even paranoia, or compromise their convictions on Scripture by joining a liberal church.

In 1947 Harold Ockenga, Pastor of Park Street Church in Boston proposed a third alternative and preached a sermon titled A New Evangelicalism. His desire was to bring the Church out of the fortress mentality in which they were now trapped by recovering the spiritual dynamic of the evangelical movements of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Even though these new evangelicals, which included the young evangelist, Billy Graham, still considered themselves fundamentalists along the lines of the original turn of the century founders of the movement. However, fundamentalist hard-liners almost immediately began accusing this group of compromise and disdainfully labeled them “neo-evangelicals.” At the same time there did appear to be an increase of religious fervor:

Of the many aspects of the recovery of tradition in the decade after Hiroshima, one of the most pervasive was the renewal of interest and belief in Christian orthodoxy. On a popular level, signs of this “return to religion” were everywhere. Some might doubt its sincerity or profundity; some might jibe at “foxhole religion”; none could doubt that religiosity, at least, had come back into favor. In 1940 fewer than 50 percent of the American people were church members; by 1955, 60 percent had joined. These years witnessed the spectacular rise of Billy Graham, the addition of “under God” to the “Pledge of Allegiance,” and the printing of “In God We Trust” on certain postage stamps. President Eisenhower unexpectedly opened his inaugural address with a prayer, joined the National Presbyterian Church (and attended it often), gave a nationally broadcast speech on the need for religious faith, and supported the American Legion’s “Back to God” Campaign…. Nor did trends abroad go unnoticed. The brilliant Christian apologetics of C.S. Lewis were becoming popular in America. And when, in 1948, C.E.M. Joad, a British philosopher and hitherto agnostic, wrote a defense of Christianity, Time was quick to take note. The horrible evils of World War II, Joad explained, had “hit me in the face…. Human progress is possible but so unlikely.” Time also quoted Joad as saying: “I see now that evil is endemic in man, and that the Christian doctrine of original sin expresses a deep and essential insight into human nature.” ( George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America: Since 1945, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, (Wilminton, Delaware: 1996) 51-52)

Some of the intellectual conservatives saw the reemergence of religion as at least useful and a good antidote to totalitarianism and Marxism.

Writing in Partisan Review in 1950, Ernst van den Haag, a émigré sociologist from Mussolini’s Italy then teaching at the New School for Social Research, conceded that religious faith could not be “logically justified.” Still,

Religious sanction is required – just as the police force is – for any society which wishes to be stable without being totalitarian…

Religion is useful, even a necessary opiate – a sedative protecting us from excessive anxiety and agitation and from those who, like Marx, thrive on agitation and therefore hate the sedative would replace it by the murderer’s hashish. (George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America: Since 1945, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, (Wilminton, Delaware: 1996) p 52)


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