Auguste Comte (1798-1857), a French thinker, believed the evolution of society to be founded on three laws or stages of historical progress: theological, metaphysical, and positivism (observation and experiment). The early stage, theological, identified a time when man’s place in society and society’s restrictions upon man were referenced to God, where the family is the prototypical social unit and priests and military leaders hold sway. The metaphysical is about the justification of universal rights as being on a higher plane than the authority of human rulers to contemplate, but not referenced to the sacred beyond mere metaphor. The purpose of the scientific or positive phase was for people to find solutions to social problems and bring them to force despite the proclamations of “human rights” or the prophesy of the “will of God.” Comte calls this last progressive phase of humanity positivism – being something definite, something beneficial.1
Puritans played an important role in the historical progress of America. Winthrop et al., whose movement to and brutal “civilizing” of the New World, including their “creative destruction” of the native Indians and other “impure”, “ungodly”, and “evil” groups as exemplified by witch trials, is better understood if considering their vision in creation of a theocratic Bible Commonwealth in spite of, rather because of their failure to permanently institute such a theocracy in the Old World. Puritanism not just tends to establish political-moral tyranny, but also is unprecedented in terms of the intensity and totality of authoritarianism. By definition, the political-religious tyranny of Puritanism comprises, generates, or eventually escalates into some degree and kind of terror or methodical war on humans to be punished for or prevent from recommitting the original sin – hence the crusade against evil. At the time of the 1776 Revolution two-thirds of Americans were Puritans.
Puritans and Calvinists introduced thorough going regulation of private and public life. This supports the outcome of Puritan political extremism as intolerance in politics as well as society overall. Puritanism generates fanatical political as well as moral-religious intolerance rooted in and expressing Puritan radicalism, reactionary conservatism, and absolutism in politics, morality and religion. The sociological effect of this lack of tolerance in American politics is Protestant puritanical morality – the propensity to see all political life in terms of all black and all white. There are tremendous social costs today with such ideas. The fact is freedom is threatened by both the over reach of the law and by the arbitrariousness of its enforcement. The tough on crime conservative judicial system creates ominous and lethal consequences for human liberty, dignity and life. The opportunity costs of the war on drugs occur through deflecting societal resources from arguably more effective crime-control strategies rather than a system of morality by law.2
In the 19th century Alexis de Tocqueville observed; “It must not be imagined that the piety of the Puritans was merely speculative, taking no notice of the worldly affairs. Puritanism … was almost as much a political theory as a religious doctrine.” In addition, he documented “the ‘servitude of thought’ characteristic for Anglo-Saxon lawyers, including US supreme-court members defending the “conservative spirit of stability against the fickleness of democracy.” Puritanism spread to the South via fundamentalist revivals in America. The new justice, Neil Gorsuch, has delivered key votes backing Trump’s travel ban on people from several Muslim-majority countries and on the death penalty, and embraced certain kinds of public funding for churches. During arguments in one of the court’s biggest cases of its current term, Gorsuch signaled sympathy for a conservative Christian baker who contends he was within his constitutional rights to refuse to create a wedding cake for a gay couple.
The 21st century Puritans, or neo-Puritans are people who are passionate about their causes, almost obsessed with them at times to the point of rigidity, ready at the drop of a hat to eviscerate those who disagree with them and pronounce them not just mistaken, but bad people whose opinions must be silenced. Neo-Puritanism suppresses or threatens political democracy and a free civil society through its renewed authoritarianism. A neo-Puritan is a person with a limited outlook who is unwilling to consider alternative ideas, perspectives or thought, on new age ideas leading to racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and climate-change denialism. The authoritarianism of evangelical churches encourage ongoing “creative destruction” of non-Puritan ungodly or liberal social changes as well as the reactionary restoration of a “pure Christian community.” Neo-Puritans can be as narrow minded as were witch-burning Puritans of the 1600s.
The neoliberal state is the extension of the economic elite and the consequence of restructuring of class power in favour of the economic elite. It has no vision of the good society or the public good and no mechanism for addressing society’s major economic, political and social problems. Today neoliberal ideology defines the social relationships of poor people and the attitude towards them that supports an economic system that creates inequality. Neoliberal capitalism is associated with increasing income gradient between the rich and the rest of society. Austerity is backed by the belief that too much state spending preceded it. Austerity, understood as a social-historical force, is the tool of the neoliberal state to subvert democracy and promote authoritarianism. The drive towards a market society and the social engineering required to maintain that society are further expressions of the de facto authoritarianism of neoliberalism and the neoliberal state.3
Narcissism, along with extreme individualism and problems of self-tolerance, has been on the rise over the past four decades. Narcissists associated with extreme individualism focus on short-term relationships and activities correlated with risk taking and sensation seeking. Entitlement is part of their belief system – they believe they deserve special treatment. They lack empathy for others and selfishly take advantage of others. There is lack of respect for authority. Rules do not apply to them – they are special. This person is addicted to the attention of others for admiration, applause and affirmation. They are driven by a need to uphold and maintain a false self projected to the world. Behind this façade they only care about appearances. They feel omnipotent; there is nothing he/she cannot achieve, rarely admit to ignorance and regard his/her intuition and knowledge as superior to objective data, are impervious to the consequences of their actions; and have an ability find scapegoats.
Narcissists are excellent at manipulation – typically they share personal information about themselves to make people feel sorry for them. Initially this may appear that they are sensitive and perhaps vulnerable, but this only part of their system. The truth is irrelevant; its what ever works as they play for the reaction they want. This activity makes them extremely observant and perceptive; they can even appear to be smart. They will tend to agree with people, that is, tell them what they think they want to hear, then find subtle ways to undermine it. As narcissists think highly of themselves, they will seek out leadership positions and take charge. They tend to exaggerate their abilities and, not surprisingly, group members see them as people who can really run the group. Corporate narcissism occurs when the narcissist becomes the leader and recruits co-dependents into his/her bubble. It is necessary to recognize its existence and measure the effect of extreme individualism in daily activities.4
The axis of authoritarianism in America is supported by three belief systems: neo-Puritanism, neoliberal economics, and corporate narcissism. Despite the standard libertarian rhetoric of ‘freedom and individualism’ the dual trend of American Puritanism and other religious conservatism is toward suppressing political freedom and civil liberties while wielding power, and yet to demanding them, for themselves solely, when placed in anti-government opposition or marginality. Poulantzas notes neoliberals need to ensure their own survival by bending civil society, political institutions and democracy to its will. Donald Trump, a ‘world class narcissist,’ delivered his most authoritarian remarks to date on February 5, 2018 during a speech he gave at a factory near Cincinnati, Ohio in which he casually accused Democrats of ‘treason’ for not expressing enthusiasm for his agenda during the State of the Union address. Corporate narcissism has led to dysfunction of the US government. Narcissists profess company loyalty but are really only committed to their own agendas, thus organizations’ decisions are founded on the narcissists’ own interests rather than the interests of the organizations as a whole, the various stakeholders, or the environment in which the organization operates.
Comte’s cardinal position was: “The greatest problem, then, is to raise social feeling by artificial effort to the position which in the natural condition is held by selfish feeling.” Ordinary people can provide this solution. It is necessary to recruit American voters who have been turned off by the inability of the basic machinery of government to serve their interests, to address the shrinking and disappearing public institutions. This will require two waves of voting. The first wave consists of voting out Republicans who are Trump’s enablers and the main supporters of neoliberal tyranny. Once the neo-Puritans and the neoliberals are marginalized in opposition, then it would be necessary to turn out a second wave to vote out Democratic party representatives embracing identity politics or trapped in the world of the elite. These actions will counter the axis of authoritarianism – neo-Puritanism, neoliberalism, corporate narcissism – that is at the root of America’s problems.
1 Auguste Comte. www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Auguste_Comte
2 Zafirovski, Milan. from a review of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Authoritarianism: Puritanism Versus Democracy and the Free Civil Society. (2007).
3 Nightmare on Main Street: the Neocon and Neoliberal Failures. (1 November, 2017) http://questioningandskepticism.com/nightmare-main-street-neocon-neoliberal-failures/
4 Horsman, Greg. (2011) The Narcissist’s Vocation and the Economic Debacle p. 36-43.