One of the persistent errors of the modern era, clearly apparent in Descartes and enthroned by the Enlightenment, is the concept of neutralism. Not without deep roots in Greek and scholastic thought, neutralism came into its own when philosophy began, with Descartes, to know man and the universe in terms of man. It was assumed that man can identify himself in terms of himself and that man and man’s autonomous mind is the ultimate standard of life. The point of reference is man, and man’s knowledge is independent knowledge. Man’s knowledge is tested by man himself, who is thus the final court of appeal.
Although this is a highly theoretical matter, it is one of intensely practical import. What are its implications?
The Myth of Neutrality
Politicians speak of a Protestant vote, a Jewish vote, and a Catholic vote, as well as of labor, Southern, pensioner, farm, whitecollar, and other voting blocs. In many major cities, as well as some states, a ballot ticket, to win, requires candidates drawn from particular groups, i.e., Catholic, Jewish, labor, Polish, Irish, Italian, or the like. The politicians are fully aware of the fact that there is no neutrality in voting and that no vote is a neutral vote.
In spite of this fact, it is regarded as an unforgivable political sin ever to admit this patent and open lack of neutrality. Any man who refers to the obvious fact that each and every one of these groups has deep personal commitments, beliefs, and hostilities, is guilty of a most dastardly sin, except perhaps if he accuses the Protestant majority of prejudice. All are, without exception, “good Americans.” All are interested, without exception, in the common welfare.
As a result, we have the major hypocrisy of American life, the assumption for all public purposes that all Americans share a common dedication to the general welfare, irrespective of race, color, or creed, together with the practice of political plunder by every group capable of committing it. With rank hypocrisy, politicians cater to race, color, creed, class, locality, and to age groups, as well as to professional groups, while refusing to admit that this is a major fact and problem of American life. We have, therefore, an ugly truth tearing at the very entrails of the Union going hand-in-hand with the hypocritical insistence that the situation does not exist!
So deeply is the myth of neutralism imbedded, that to deal realistically and honestly with it is tantamount to political suicide. Politicians must assure every last plundering faction of its sanctimonious neutralism while also insisting on their own. Each particular faction, of course, insists on its own impartial, neutral, and objective stance, while deploring the partisan and subjective position of its adversaries. All are equally committed to the great modern myth that such a neutrality is possible. This myth is basic to classical liberalism and to most schools of thought, conservative and radical, which are derived from it.
In part, a liberal myth is involved, namely, that the only true loyalty embraces the world, so that any “limited” loyalty is dishonorable and should not be ascribed to honorable men. A true statesman is a man of “world vision,” who sees things in terms of world politics rather than in terms of “limited” national concerns. Some would regard it as a catastrophe for an American president to be governed by American principles and interests.
Others are insistent on seeing a common faith in different heritages. Thus, it is insisted that Roman Catholics and Protestants are essentially agreed, except for minor differences, although every earnest Catholic and Protestant knows that the differences are not minor, but basic and vital. Judaism is also brought into the same generous tent, and reference is made to “our Judeo-Christian heritage,” again, an offense to earnest believers. The term “Judeo-Christian” is most commonly used by the adherents of the religion of humanity, who are insistent on reading their religion into both Judaism and Christianity. No doubt, if Buddhism were a factor on the American scene, we would hear references to our Buddho-Judeo-Christian heritage.
More basic to this problem than this unlimited world loyalty myth is the myth of man’s neutralism. It is assumed that all men are interested in the general welfare, and, if they are not, they are guilty of some fearful depravity.
This, unhappily, is the perspective of both liberals and conservatives alike. For the liberal, the conservative stands self-condemned because he so clearly reveals a limited loyalty and an obvious lack of neutrality. And the conservatives, who are so often the objects of this holy dismay, themselves reveal it as they deal with others.
But men are never more foolish nor more dangerous than when they delude themselves into believing that they act for the general welfare. It is then that they begin to play at being gods, assuming a lofty and godlike title of superiority to and transcendence of the normal human greeds and lusts. Men are never more susceptible to the sins which so easily beset humanity as when they believe themselves to be beyond them or immune to them. It is then that the good of mankind becomes readily equated with the fulfilment of man’s sin, and, blinded by their delusions, men grope for the wall in the noonday sun.
Conservatives would not be prone to this delusion of neutralism if they were consistently and theologically Christian. One of the privileges of being a Christian is that a Christian can accept the fact that he is a creature, and, moreover, a sinful creature, and that he stands before God, not in his righteousness, but in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
Neutralism is a myth. Man cannot transcend himself to view the human situation with a godlike objectivity. He will always view things from his perspective, as a Protestant, Catholic, Jew, Buddhist, or the like, as a farmer, laborer, professional man, or an educator. He can approach others with charity and with justice, assuring them of their God-given rights to life, home, property, and immunity from false witness, even as he expects to receive these immunities himself. He must always be aware of his limitations as a creature and find in them his liberty, for to seek a liberty beyond our capacities is to ask for slavery.
Factions: An Inescapable Concept
Thus, the concept of the bland American, neutral and objective, is a dangerous myth. Faction must be recognized as a reality, and factions must be identified as factions, the white Protestant majority no less than the Jewish minority. It must be accepted that each will reflect his perspective. What must be required of all is the common structure and restraint of law.
The Biblical law of love for neighbor and enemy is repeatedly cited in Scripture (Lev. 19; Mt. 19; Rom. 13) as a summation of the second table of the law. As Frederick Nymeyer has shown, in Progressive Calvinism and First Principles, the second table of the law is the basic charter of man’s Godgiven liberties and rights, to life (“thou shalt not kill”), to the sanctity of his home (“thou shalt not commit adultery”), for his property (“thou shalt not steal”), for the integrity of his reputation (“thou shalt not bear false witness”), and for their protection from intent as well as deed (“thou shalt not covet”).
The factional American must therefore live under God and under law because he is not capable of a godlike neutrality. The concept of the bland American is thus an anti-Christian ideal and a denial not only of the reality which the Constitution recognized, but also of that order which God created.
The bland scholar and the bland university are similar myths, as is the apparent United Nations ideal of the bland man. No person or institution possesses the ability to be neutral and objective, to transcend itself and its historical context. This is no less true of science. Some would claim for the instruments of science, if not for scientists, this capacity for neutrality. But do scientific instruments make for objectivity? They are the refinement of a perspective, namely, that thetruth or utility of a thing rests in measurement, a highly debatable proposition. Scientific instruments are helpful towards accuracy for a perspective, but they do not thereby give it truth, objectivity, or neutrality.
It is an inescapable fact that, if final and absolute judgment be denied to God, it will be exercised by men to the death of all liberty and social order. Damnation is not escaped by being “withdrawn” from God; it is simply transferred to man and made the instrument of total tyranny. This is the implication of ascribing neutrality to man. It is an ascription of transcendence and of divinity, and its consequences are tyranny and hell on earth.
A civil order which rests on the assumption that factions are real, and that they are “sown in the nature of man” by “the diversity in the faculties of men” which it “is the first object of government” to protect, is a civil order which assumes as a first premise the sovereign and transcendental nature of God as the only objective source of judgment, the only ultimate ground of fraternity, and the only objective mind which exists. It will therefore be a civil order which will ascribe to itself only limited functions, claiming added powers only when in pride and self exaltation it seeks to be as god. This it can do only if its citizens are themselves deluded into believing that they and their institutions can transcend faction and become neutral and objective powers.
The alternative to “In God we trust” is “In man we trust,” or in reason, science, the experimental method, an elite, or some like entity. In any and every case, it is a religious affirmation. The presuppositions of all of man’s thinking are inescapably religious, and they are never neutral.
(The foregoing article is an abrigdged version of the chapter by the same name in the author’s The Nature of the American System, recently reprinted by Ross House Books. In the full chapter, the author points out how James Madison, in The Federalist number ten, saw factions as a healthy and necessary outgrowth of liberty and the purpose of republican government’s checks and balances to be their co-existence, not their elimination. The book may be ordered at chalcedonstore.com.)