I have never been persuaded by Max Weber’s thesis on capitalism and Protestantism. Certainly many Protestants made good capitalists, but Weber neglects the issue of marginality. English Quakers did not make good capitalists because of their creed. They made good capitalists because they were outsiders. As with immigrants, for those excluded from the establishment hard commercial work was the only option. They had a stark choice: If all you have are lemons, you can make lemonade or you can sit and stare at them and slowly starve to death.
Ironically, this phenomenon gives me hope for the future, for if marginality can motivate hard work and effort, then being utterly dominant can foster laziness and dissipation. After all, you only need to answer arguments when there is a genuine balance of power. Once you are in control, you can ignore, demonize, and marginalize dissenters.
The cultural left is a great example of this. Today it is enjoying the fruits of its former marginality. Exclusion from the mainstream drove it to organize itself and to work hard for many decades. The result is that it has finally seized control of the instruments of influence and power, leading its defeated foes in triumphal procession.
Yet we should take note of how it now conducts itself. As I have pointed out to students many times, we traditionalists have not lost the argument on sexuality. On the contrary, we have the best arguments. We have lost because our opponents have come to control the corridors of cultural power and can now ignore counterarguments. And they were able to do so precisely because we were complacent and lazy, assuming that the wider world would always reflect the basic values of the white, liberal Protestant establishment.
There are two dangers for traditionalists at this juncture. One is that which Dietrich von Hildebrand noted as he analyzed how Nazism had managed to take such firm control in Germany: Opposition to organized totalitarianism is hard, tedious, and brings little by way of immediate reward. People get bored of resisting and simply return to business as usual, allowing those in power to act without contradiction. The second is that we can be paralyzed by pessimism when faced with defeat after defeat and apparently overwhelming odds. Both of these are ultimately rooted in the idea that nothing can be done. They are forms of despair.
Yet the power of the new establishment should be a cause only for short term pessimism, not for total despair. The current sexual totalitarianism may be politically dominant, but it is built on an unstable foundation of emotivism, hedonism, radical voluntarism, and individualism. From the AIDS crisis to transgenderism, it has assumed that medical technology and government activism will pay the mortgage on the debts—physical and social—created by behavior which exalts personal desire while eschewing personal responsibility. But does anyone really think that they can build a viable long-term society which sees no insanity in law courts adjudicating which school restroom LGBTQ children (sic) can use?
Indeed, this new establishment is arrogant and thus very vulnerable in the long term. It exhibits a stubborn refusal to acknowledge merit in any sociological, historical, philosophical, medical, psychological, ethical, or biological arguments which might challenge and chasten its pet orthodoxies. Indeed, it is built on the kind of overconfidence that breeds laziness. It has also committed the most fatal of political fallacies: Believing its own propaganda that it has the power to determine reality. Of that folly it will eventually be disabused.
Of course, totalitarianisms do a tremendous amount of damage, both as they rise to power and as they disintegrate. And they can last for a terribly long time. But we heretics should not despair. Our task is to work hard, master the arguments (scientific, ethical, philosophical, social), understand the history of how we arrived here, defy the temptation to give up through boredom, build a coherent movement of defiance, and thereby prepare if not ourselves, then at least the next generation, for the moment when the revolution collapses under the weight of its own delusions and contradictions. Marginality is uncomfortable but our response to it is key. I will not engage in the lazy arrogance of claiming history is on our side; but I will go so far as to say that in the long term all past evidence suggests that it is certainly not on the side of those who brook no dissent, ignore all counter-evidence, and demonize all opposition.
Carl R. Trueman is Paul Woolley Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary. His previous posts can be found here.
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