The rise of the "progressive" totalitarian

Pastor (and later Father) Richard John Neuhaus was fond of quoting what he called "Neuhaus's Law." It goes like this: "Where orthodoxy is optional, it will sooner or later be proscribed." An essay on that theme by the twice reverend gentleman can be found here.

Actually, the thought is not original with Neuhaus. It should really be called "Krauth's Law." The great American Lutheran theologian Charles Porterfield Krauth originated the idea, and expressed it this way:

But the practical result of this principle [of the church tolerating within her bosom those who claim she is teaching error] is one on which there is no need of speculating; it works in one unvarying way.

When error is admitted into the Church, it will be found that the stages of its progress are always three. It begins by asking toleration. Its friends say to the majority: You need not be afraid of us; we are few, and weak; only let us alone; we shall not disturb the faith of others. The church has her standards of doctrine; of course we shall never interfere with them; we ask only for ourselves to be spared interference with our private opinions.

Indulged in this for a time, error goes on to assert equal rights. Truth and error are two balancing forces. The Church shall do nothing which looks like deciding between them; that would be partiality. It is bigotry to assert any superior right for the truth. We are to agree to differ, and any favoring of the truth, because it is truth, is partisanship. What the friends of truth and error hold in common is fundamental. Anything on which they differ is
ipso facto non-essential. Anybody who makes account of such a thing is a disturber of the peace of the church. Truth and error are two co-ordinate powers and the great secret of church-statesmanship is to preserve the balance between them.

Those with experience of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America- and especially those traditions within the ELCA which come from countries which had a Romanizing understanding of the nature of the Church- will recognize stage two as one of the most deeply held convictions of many ELCA partisans. Two consecutive bishops of the Southeastern Iowa Synod and a retired pastor in my last ELCA congregation all expressed essentially this viewpoint to me. It's the justification for the ecclesiolatry which tends to characterize the more conservative folks who have remained within that errant and purely human organization even after the apostasy of Minneapolis on matters of human sexuality, and constitutes their primary excuse for sticking around.

From this point error soon goes on to its natural end, which is to assert supremacy. Truth started with tolerating; it comes to be merely tolerated, and that only for a time. Error claims a preference for its judgments on all disputed points. It puts men into positions, not as at first in spite of their departure from the Church’s faith, but in consequence of it. Their recommendation is that they repudiate that faith, and position is given them to teach others to repudiate it, and to make them skillful in combating it.

(From The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1872, pp. 195-96.)

As Neuhaus recognized in the essay linked to above, this principle holds as true for society and the body politic as for religious denominations (see the remarkable evolution of both the rhetoric of the "gay rights" movement over, oh, the past decade or so, and the state of politically correct discourse on the issue). Jonah Goldberg's remarkable book Liberal Fascism exposes the essentially totalitarian nature of "progressive" politics and embarrasses "progressivism" by documenting its early historical romance with a movement its political theorists would, after World War II, labor mightily to define as a movement of the Right. The infatuation of American liberals with Benito Mussolini and his brand of Fascism is an embarrassment by now almost completely forgotten, most of all by the American Left! Those ironically called "liberals" come by their characteristic impulse not so much to refute their opponents as to personally discredit and by all possible means silence or even destroy them quite honestly; it has an extensive background and history on the Left. The process is essentially the one Krauth and Neuhaus describe: first, tp claim the right to toleration as a minority viewpoint for what at the time may seem to most to be a rather outrageous position; then- briefly- to grudgingly tolerate those with whom they disagree; and finally, having secured and consolidated power, to suppress all viewpoints other than their own. The "march through the institutions" which has turned American universities from havens of free inquiry and unfettered thoughts into institutions of political indoctrination has taken place in virtually every influential arena of North American and European society and has followed the same three steps. Can the concept of political correctness itself be better expressed, or its essentially fascist nature more clear, than by its characteristic adherence to the final stage in precisely the process Krauth described?

Here is John Williamson's NRO article on the Hobby Lobby case. And here is a brief excursus on the theme by Scott Johnson at Powerline. Make no mistake: the battle being waged right now against the Obama administration and its war on religion is not just about religion.

In the last analysis, it's about whether we are a free people, free to dissent as individuals from the convictions of the majority (and of those in power) , or denizens of a socially totalitarian nation whose only legal option is to conform.