February 12, 2020

1. Perry Miller on the Puritans

A. Nature

All of nature, said the Puritans, proclaims the power and glory of God. “Go into the world,” said Thomas Hooker, “and view the height of its glory, and then conclude, If the Creature be thus excellent, what must the Creator be?’”1 Who can behold the world, and doubt the existence of God? “The most ignorant man confesses there is a God,” said John Preston, “no nation denies it.”2 Everything in nature has a role to play, “every wheel in this curious watch moving aright... what less than infinite wisdom, could so contrive and compose this?”3 What we call “nature” is actually art, the art of God; the world is God’s art-work.4

Science isn’t in conflict with religion, the Puritans said; on the contrary, science strengthens religion. When we observe nature and study science, we learn the power and wisdom of God.5 It mattered little to the Puritan whether one subscribed to Ptolemy or Copernicus, Newton or Aristotle. What mattered was “to see God’s hand in events,” to see “the identity of natural order and divine decree,” and to believe in “the fundamental perfection of the plan of creation.”6

God governs everything, Puritans argued, but nonetheless man has freedom, man is morally responsible. This was a paradox that Puritans struggled with for generations, and used all sorts of verbal gymnastics to resolve. “God has contrived,” they argued, “that men ‘should act freely, and yet that they should accomplish his purposes by all their free actions.’”7 God “inclines” men through their dispositions and circumstances, but the final decision, the moral choice, rests with man.8 The Puritans rejected the Epicurean emphasis on chance, and they rejected the Stoic emphasis on necessity, they insisted that the world is a blend of divine control and human freedom.9

When they were exhausted by verbal gymnastics, the Puritans had recourse to “blanket assertions” that men are “fully responsible for their deeds.”10 Occasionally the Puritans would admit that they couldn’t understand how divine government could co-exist with human freedom. Samuel Willard admitted that it was “a great depth, and the particular and distinct manner of it is beyond our conception.”11

Puritans often viewed nature in terms of purpose, in terms of what Aristotelians called “final cause.” “All the creatures have an end,” wrote John Preston. “The end of the sun, moon, and stars is to serve the earth; and the end of the earth is to bring forth plants, and the end of plants is to feed the beasts.”12

Here’s a diagram of Aristotle’s four causes, showing the causes of a table:

B. Christian Synchronicity

Nature acts in a regular and consistent way. Throw a stone up 50 times, and 50 times it will fall back to earth. Note the location of the sun at the summer solstice, and it will be in the same place next year. One might say that nature follows laws. The lawful, orderly way of nature was called, by the Puritans, God’s “ordinary providence.”

An atheist might argue that we can account for natural happenings without God; an atheist might argue that nature rolls along with natural forces and efficient causes, and God has no role. Puritans would respond, “God is present everywhere. God made the rock, and God makes the rock fall to the earth.” And some Puritans would add, “God made the natural laws. The orderly way of nature is the work of God.”13

Puritans would also say, “Nature doesn’t always follow natural law. Sometimes God suspends the order of nature, and performs a miracle.” Jesus used miracles to show his divinity. The Puritans believed that miracles had ceased, but we can read about them in the Bible.

So Puritans divided phenomena into two types — lawful, orderly phenomena, and miraculous phenomena. But there was also a third type, which they called God’s “special providence.” A special providence wasn’t a smashing of natural law, like the parting of the Red Sea and other miracles. Rather, a special providence was God tweaking natural law, God arranging natural phenomena to make a point — similar to what Jung called synchronicity. We might refer to special providence as “Christian Synchronicity,” just as some scholars speak of “Christian Hermetism.”

I mentioned examples of synchronicity in an earlier issue. Here’s one example: “A female patient was telling [Jung] about a dream she had in which a fox was involved, just as an actual fox appeared on the forest path along which she and Jung were walking.” Synchronicity doesn’t smash natural law; skeptics will dismiss it as mere coincidence. Those of us who are receptive to synchronicity will say that it shows a kind of consciousness in the universe, it shows the connectedness of all things, it shows that the universe operates as if a God were managing everything.

So the “special providence” of the Puritans is synchronicity with the addition of God (God as arranger). Or one might say that Jungian synchronicity is “special providence” with God subtracted (the universe itself has consciousness, intelligence, telepathy, the universe self-arranges). When Puritans talk about special providence, they mention the same things that I’ve mentioned as synchronicity — comets, thunder, earthquakes, etc.14 The Puritans believed that “Earthquakes have natural causes, but none the less they are also awful works of God: ‘There never happens an earthquake, but God speaks to men on the earth by it.’”15 Harvard Puritans noted that there was a total eclipse in 1672, the day before Commencement, and it foretold the death of the Harvard president in the next academic year.

John Winthrop argued that special providences proved that God had a special interest in the NewEngland colony. Winthrop mentioned a mouse that “gnawed the Book of Common Prayer [an Anglican work] but spared the New Testament,” and he mentioned “the profaner of the Sabbath whose child fell immediately afterwards into a well.” After reviewing these special providences, Winthrop concluded that “the Lord hath owned this work, and preserved and prospered his people here beyond ordinary ways of providence.”16

I regard synchronicity as one branch of the occult, but the Puritans wanted nothing to do with the occult. Both Catholics and Protestants were hostile to the occult; the occult could only survive outside the Christian churches. In the eyes of Puritans, the occult was an attempt to influence nature, but that was impossible for man, only God could influence nature. So the Puritans viewed the occult as both blasphemous and superstitious; their hostility to witchcraft was part of their general hostility to the occult.17

C. A Rational Being

In an earlier issue, I discussed Lovejoy’s work on “the Great Chain of Being.” The Puritans subscribed to the idea of a Great Chain. There were innumerable links in the Chain, innumerable species; “the multitude of them illustrated the divine plenitude.”18 At the top of the chain, furthest from matter and closest to God, was man, who possessed reason and free will. “The frequency,” Miller writes, “with which the preachers insisted upon an inherent rationality of man is truly startling.”19

Even a “natural man,” who hasn’t been introduced to Christianity and hasn’t graduated from Harvard, can discriminate between good and evil, and has an inclination toward good. As John Preston said, “There is in natural men not only a light to know that this is good, or not good, and a conscience to dictate, this you must do, or not do, but there is even an inclination in the will and affections, whereby men are provoked to do good, and to oppose the evil.”20 Even after Adam’s fall, man has the “remains” of reason and virtue.

A comparison between Preston and Calvin shows how Puritanism was gradually drifting away from Calvin’s teaching. Calvin wasn’t impressed with man’s “remains.” After the fall, in Calvin’s view, man had neither reason nor virtue, and could do nothing without God’s grace; even a carpenter or weaver couldn’t work without God’s grace. “What Preston says every man knows by nature, Calvin says can barely be guessed by the wisest philosophers.... Calvin was arguing, in short, for the total and complete incapacity of nature.”21

Preston was born in 1587, about 80 years after Calvin. As the decades passed, Puritans moved further and further away from Calvin. By the early 1700s, some Puritans were so confident of reason that they were ready to judge God by it. Jeremiah Dummer, for example, said that if God had “commanded anything contrary to reason, ‘it would have been an infinite stain and blemish on his unspotted purity.’”22 Miller says that Dummer “revealed the hidden rationalism in the Puritan doctrine” and therefore “no church would offer him a call to its pulpit.” Miller says that Dummer shows the Age of Reason emerging from the Age of Faith.

Growing confidence in reason led New Englanders to believe that morality could be based on reason, the moral teachings of the Bible were superfluous. Divine grace was also superfluous: “Education would achieve everything usually ascribed to grace.”23

New Englanders also used reason in an attempt to “prove the divine authority of Scripture.” They weren’t satisfied to prove this divine authority by “an inward conviction in the hearts of the pious,” they consulted reason and history, too, “never dreaming that they were taking the first faltering steps” toward Biblical criticism.24 In 1687, Samuel Lee argued that there were eight proofs of the divinity of the Bible, including “its antiquity, its style, the fulfillment of its oracles, and its miracles.”25 During the 1700s, these proofs were abandoned one by one, until only miracles remained. In the early 1800s, Emerson took aim at miracles in his Divinity School Address.

But these developments still lay in the future, when Puritanism was declining. In its heyday, Puritanism didn’t rely entirely on reason. Though man was endowed with reason and virtue (according to the Puritans), he couldn’t grasp the deepest truths without revelation, he couldn’t grasp the mysteries of the incarnation, the atonement, the resurrection, etc. The liberal arts can be gathered from nature and reason, but “men must go to the Bible to learn theology.... ‘Let no man think to attain the knowledge of the covenant of grace, and find out the mystery thereof, by natural understanding.’”26

What exactly did the Puritans mean by “reason”? Miller says there are two kinds of reason, reason as an instrument, and reason as the fabric of the world. We can think of “instrument reason” as the tool that Sherlock Holmes uses to solve crimes; this is the Aristotelian conception of reason. We can think of the other kind of reason as the way of the world, what the Chinese called the Tao; this is the Platonic conception of reason. The Aristotelian conception uses reason to reach truth; the Platonic conception views reason as truth, and we reach truth by intuition or recollection.

Hegel exemplifies Platonic reason. Hegel viewed reason, not as man’s instrument, but as the fabric of the world. Hegel wrote, “To comprehend what is, this is the task of philosophy, because what is, is reason.”27 In the preface to his Philosophy of Right, Hegel said that his purpose was to “portray the state as something inherently rational.” The Puritans never clearly distinguished between the two kinds of reason; Miller calls this “the one glaring weakness in their otherwise perfect system.”28

If the Puritans followed Aristotle, they would say that the senses were the only guide to truth, universals were just a figment of the imagination, and the nominalist conclusion was valid (nominalists said that universals like justice were merely names, not realities). On the other hand, if the Puritans followed Plato, they would say that truth lay in innate ideas, intuition, recollection, and there was no need for revelation or grace (Miller compares this position to Antinomianism and Transcendentalism). Clearly, the Puritans couldn’t be loyal to Aristotle or Plato, they couldn’t reject universals or revelation. The Puritans argued that both Aristotelian reason and Platonic reason fell short, reason in general fell short, and “the particular Christian scheme of salvation, the atonement and resurrection, could be read only in the Bible.”29

* * * * *

One might compare the Boston theocracy to today’s Islamic governments. Radical Muslims often try to establish “Sharia law,” that is, they want to base their legal system on the Koran. Likewise, radical Protestants, like those in New England, Geneva, and Scotland, took at least part of their legal code from the Bible. In New England, adultery was punishable by death.30

2. Yuval Levin

Yuval Levin has made some constructive suggestions about reducing greed and increasing integrity. In the last issue, I discussed Levin’s essay on American institutions. Levin argues that Americans will trust their institutions if these institutions form their own members, teach their members to be trustworthy.

I recently listened to an interview with Levin. He says that conservatives believe individuals need to be formed, while liberals believe individuals should express themselves. “Be yourself,” colleges declare. Levin contrasted the conservative and liberal worldviews in his book, The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left.

Levin says that Protestant individualism, a key element in the American psyche, wants to break free from institutions, or undermine them. But we need institutions, Levin says, in order to perform cooperative tasks, tasks that individuals can’t perform.

In another interview, Levin said

3. Joseph Bottum

A. American Music

When Levin discusses American religion, he mentions Joseph “Jody” Bottum, author of An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America (2014). Bottum has been called the best writer on contemporary American religion. Bottum is Catholic, attended Georgetown, taught medieval philosophy, and was the editor of a religious periodical called First Things.

His full name is Joseph Henry Bottum IV, and he comes from a distinguished family. His great-uncle was a senator from South Dakota in the 1960s. Bottum himself has spent much of his life in South Dakota. His e-book Dakota Christmas was a bestseller. He writes poetry; his poetry is classified as New Formalist. Among his best-known essays are

I’ve often argued that we need a comprehensive worldview/philosophy, one that would unite people, and also unite the various branches of culture. Bottum seems to agree, but he uses the word “metaphysics,” rather than “worldview” or “philosophy.” His background in medieval philosophy enables him to see the importance of metaphysics, the importance of a comprehensive philosophy.

In 2011, I discussed Bottum’s essay on the decline of the novel, and the decline of culture in general. “Bottum concludes [I wrote] by saying that when people advocate defending Western culture, he wonders what culture we have to defend.” Bottum blames cultural decline on “a failure of nerve” in metaphysics, a failure of the novelist to depict the “deep structure of morality and manners.”

We’ve seen how the Puritans who arrived in Boston in 1630 were brimming with confidence because they had a comprehensive philosophy that they really believed in. When we look at contemporary America, we see a society enjoying a high level of peace and prosperity, but a society that lacks confidence, that’s deeply troubled, perhaps because it lacks a comprehensive philosophy that people really believe in, it lacks what Bottum calls a “metaphysics” that makes sense of the world.

I recommend Bottum’s essay “The Soundtracking of America.” It’s lively, readable, even funny. Bottum realizes that all the arts exist within the frame of philosophy/religion. He realizes that our society lacks a philosophy, hence the arts wander aimlessly. But he fails to realize that we need a new philosophy, and that a new philosophy is possible. Bottum writes,

Everyone I know adores music, as I do. But our elevation of a secondary art costs us something. Music cannot build a culture, and in America today music is in the way — keeping us from the higher arts that could aim at a unified idea and a public metaphysics, a purpose and meaning for our all-encircling noise.

Bottum thinks that fiction is a higher art than music, because fiction can present ideas, can convey meaning/purpose, whereas music stays at the level of feeling. Bottum doesn’t consider the possibility that a philosopher in our time could present ideas more effectively than a fiction-writer, he doesn’t see that philosophy is the foundation of fiction as well as music.

Bottum calls our age “an age without a public philosophy.” He says that in our age, “all sophistication is purposeless and all complexity decadent.” Since our culture is meaningless, our attitude toward it is ironic:

How could we not become ironic when so much of our public knowledge consists of thousands of lines of song lyrics written for the most part after the collapse of a common metaphysics that might have given them a purpose and an order? We share an enormous amount of information, and we know it doesn’t mean anything, and we smile wryly at one another as we sing along.

We have no sense of purpose, no shared goal, so our music expresses “nostalgia and concupiscence.” Our music expresses feelings, feelings devoid of meaning or purpose. Bottum laments “the emotivism that Alasdair MacIntyre pointed out in After Virtue. We translate everything, even morality, from a system of ideas to be judged true or false to a set of emotions to be judged only pleasant or unpleasant.”

Should emotion be an end in itself? “Something peculiar happens to emotion,” Bottum says, “when it has no coherent purpose except to be felt.” I’m reminded of Proust’s remark that “the search for happiness for its own sake brings nothing but boredom, because happiness can only be found by seeking something other than happiness.”33 As the pursuit of happiness for its own sake brings nothing but boredom, so the focus on emotion (“emotivism”) weakens emotion. Bottum says we may be “stunted” emotionally: “The emotions of public America seem to have grown poorer and sadder, as though we were no longer fully capable of feeling what we feel.”

As emotion should be part of a purposeful life, so too knowledge should be part of something larger, part of a philosophy/religion. E. D. Hirsch is a well-known champion of Cultural Literacy and Core Knowledge. Bottum points out that knowledge is pointless without meaning, the meaning that only philosophy/religion can provide:

Hirsch’s mistake lay in forgetting that the old cultural knowledge was not meaningful because it was shared; it was shared because it was meaningful. It all fit into a frame, a generally accepted public system of belief about the way God and history and the world work. And when that frame at last broke, the old knowledge drifted out of public awareness, like the carefully organized contents of filing cabinets dumped in a pile and left to blow away sheet by sheet.

Bach, Mozart, Beethoven — they all created out of some sort of worldview. Occasionally a “rebel artist” would criticize the prevailing worldview. But now, Bottum says, there’s no shared philosophy, and nothing to rebel against. He speaks of, “the disappearance of the shared, Beethoven-esque belief in the intellectual coherence of human beings and the world — a belief so faded that even much possibility of rebelling against it has disappeared. Music used to have a purpose: to express and, indeed, to perpetuate this shared sense of coherence.” Bottum speaks of, “the subordination of music to an intelligible account of human purpose,” and he says that this subordination is now “thoroughly lost.”

The arts are wandering aimlessly. We need a philosophy/religion to give some sort of theme, some sort of unity, to our society/culture.

B. Christians and Postmoderns

I read Bottum’s essay “Christians and Postmoderns,” hoping to learn something about the Postmodern school. The Postmoderns never attracted me, and still don’t. So I think I’ll continue to ignore them, and they’ll continue to ignore me.

Bottum begins by saying that modern civilization is in a bad way. We have no ideals, no high purpose, no drive to attain that purpose.

The ending all around us has no logos and no science. There is no one to blame, no explanation, and no knowledge. Modern times is collapsing, and all we have left are ironic juxtapositions: looters with cellular telephones, Van Gogh paintings in insurance company boardrooms, crucifixes in vials of urine.

We can’t explain why our culture is moribund. Once we could point to the danger of the atom bomb, but now that danger is diminishing. The only current explanation is “environmental pollution,” Bottum says (we would say “climate change”). But even without the danger of nuclear war, pollution, and climate change, we would still feel that we lived in a moribund culture.

The Christian has a handy explanation for this sad state of affairs: we’ve lost God, lost faith. (A non-Christian, like myself, would say that we lack a philosophy that makes sense of the world, and gives a direction to life.)

Bottum likes the postmoderns because they reject reason, rather like the man of faith. Bottum sees a kinship between the medieval thinker and the postmodern thinker. The medieval thinker sought God “beyond rational knowledge,” while the postmodern says we can’t reach knowledge by rational means. So both the medieval and the postmodern take a dim view of reason.

Bottum says that modernity tried to destroy the church and exalt reason. Bottum is grateful to the postmoderns for showing that the modern project failed, reason can’t reach true knowledge. So we can return to good ol’ faith.

Modernity was the effort to destroy the claims of the medieval church to authority in order to put its own conceptions of human rationality at the center of human thought. And it is the mocking deconstructive critique of the postmoderns that shows the bankruptcy and the will to power of modern times. Freed from modernity, we can resume faith’s interrupted search for understanding.

I reject Bottum’s view that “knowledge depends upon the existence of God.” As I wrote in an earlier issue, “Unlike the French postmoderns and deconstructors, I believe in Truth — objective, absolute, universal Truth.” I stand with Nietzsche in what Nietzsche called a “repudiation of skepticism.” Neither for Nietzsche nor for me does knowledge depend on the existence of God.

I also reject Bottum’s view that modernity is about exalting reason. In my view, the leading modern thinkers are Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Freud, and Jung — all of whom de-emphasized reason. I have little use for reason, I respect intuition, the unconscious, etc.

4. Posterity

Walter Scott, the Scottish novelist, asked “What is the value of a reputation which probably will not last above one or two generations?” Scott thought that the only reputation worth having was one that lasted for ten or twenty generations — the kind of reputation that Shakespeare or Homer had. Today’s writers, unlike earlier writers, think about the present generation, and rarely think about posterity.

We’re beginning to wonder if there will be a posterity, if civilization will last, if literature will last. Earlier writers always assumed that there would be a posterity; even the most pessimistic said that civilization would lie fallow for a few generations, then revive. Now, however, we’re beginning to wonder if civilization will be permanently extinguished.

Our political life, like our cultural life, is going downhill. It could be argued that Trump is the worst President we’ve ever had. But he might represent the “new normal,” he might even be better than most future Presidents. In politics, as in culture, we don’t think much about posterity. Will there even be a posterity?

We should acknowledge the situation we’re in, and make the best of it. There are as many reasons for optimism as for pessimism. Philosophy seems to be reaching a new height, and the arts may follow in its train. Technology is developing, and there’s a new appreciation for the environment. Even if civilization is headed for collapse, why not make the best of the time we have?

5. Trump

A conservative columnist for the New York Times, Bret Stephens, recently published a column entitled “Anyone but Trump? Not So Fast.” The column was subtitled, “Let’s not exchange one reckless president for another.” Stephens isn’t a fan of Trump; he calls Trump “a lawless president and revolting person who richly deserved his impeachment.” But Stephens says that Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders represent “a frontal and highhanded assault on American capitalism.”

Trump makes a lot of noise, but “for the overwhelming majority of Americans, life is pretty much the same under Trump as it was under Obama.”34 In my view, Trump isn’t an agent of American decline as much as a symptom of American decline — he exemplifies the vulgarity and coarseness of American culture, the fraying of our social and political fabric. On the important question of war and peace, Trump has shown that he can be restrained, and he can also strike boldly; the killing of Qasem Soleimani was a bold and (so far) successful operation.

“Democrats can,” Stephens concludes, “and hopefully will, nominate a candidate capable of attracting middle-of-the-road support.... What they can’t do is nominate a reckless candidate of their own and insist it’s the only moral choice. For some of us, none-of-the-above is a viable option. For far too many others, it’ll be the devil they know.”

Trump is behind in polls, but ahead in prediction markets. In the past, Helmut Norpoth and Allan Lichtman have accurately predicted election outcomes. Norpoth asks, Which candidate has fared better in the primaries, especially the early primaries? It seems clear that Trump will fare better in the primaries than his Democratic opponent. Norpoth also says that an incumbent like Trump usually wins a second term.

Lichtman looks at 13 keys, and counts how many are false, how many are against the incumbent. While Norpoth’s system makes Trump a clear favorite, Lichtman’s is ambiguous. Several of Lichtman’s keys are false — that is, against Trump:

  1. Party mandate: After the midterm elections, the incumbent party holds more seats in the U.S. House of Representatives than after the previous midterm elections.
  2. Scandal: The incumbent administration is untainted by major scandal.
  3. Foreign/military success: The incumbent administration achieves a major success in foreign or military affairs. [The killing of Soleimani and Baghdadi probably doesn’t qualify as a “major success.”]
  4. Incumbent charisma: The incumbent party candidate is charismatic or a national hero. [Trump has some fans, but in general he’s disliked; one might say he has “reverse charisma.”]

Other keys are ambiguous:

  1. Long-term economy: Real per capita economic growth during the term equals or exceeds mean growth during the previous two terms.
  2. Challenger charisma: The challenging party candidate is not charismatic or a national hero.
  3. Policy change: The incumbent administration effects major changes in national policy.

If 6 or more keys are false (that is, against Trump), then Lichtman would predict a Trump defeat.

Given the broad and intense dislike of Trump, it’s surprising that he still has a decent chance to be re-elected, if we look at the prediction markets, and at Norpoth’s system.

© L. James Hammond 2020
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1. p. 208. When Pete Buttigieg was an undergrad at Harvard, he wrote his thesis on Perry Miller — more specifically, on how the Puritan mind (as described by Miller) influenced American foreign policy. His thesis was entitled “The Quiet American’s Errand Into the Wilderness,” a reference to Miller’s book Errand Into the Wilderness, and also a reference to Graham Greene’s novel about Vietnam, The Quiet American.

Buttigieg, whose father was born in Malta, might be compared to Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Bernie Sanders; all four are immigrant sons who pursued the Presidency. It seems that recent-arrivals have more ambition, and more enthusiasm about America, than people who have been in the country for many generations. (Obama’s father was also born abroad (Kenya), but since he didn’t settle in the U.S., he’s considered a foreign student, rather than an immigrant.) back

2. p. 209 back
3. p. 226. This is a quote from Samuel Willard, who was born in Concord, Massachusetts in 1640. back
4. p. 226 back
5. p. 211. “Every single fact was a symbol,” Miller writes, “not only of the law governing things, but of the laws of the spirit. It is truly strange that the generation of Emerson and Alcott should have had to go to Emmanuel Swedenborg for a doctrine of ‘correspondence,’ since something remarkably like it had been embedded in their own tradition for two hundred years.”(p. 213) back
6. p. 216 back
7. p. 233 back
8. p. 225 back
9. p. 224. The Puritan worldview has some interesting parallels with my own worldview. For example, the Puritans found it difficult to reconcile God’s government with man’s freedom. I see the clash between fate and freedom as one of the basic contradictions of human existence, but I don’t try to resolve the contradiction (as the Puritans did), I simply accept contradiction. The Puritans believed in “the correspondence between mind and matter,” (p. 214) and I often emphasize the links between the animate and the inanimate, the links between particles and people. back
10. p. 232 back
11. p. 233. Though it’s “beyond our conception,” we should keep working to conceive it, we shouldn’t take it on faith. Puritans always worked toward rational explanation, they never stopped trying to reconcile reason and faith, even when confronted by paradox. “Belief without reasoning [Puritans believed] was a virtue in stones and animals, but a sad defect in humanity; Puritanism professed to regret that man had eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but admitting that he had so eaten, it was certain that now he would triumph over Satan only after he had gorged himself.”(p. 182) Puritans had an intellectual bent, a bookish bent, and they enjoyed arguing. “Our Savior Christ,” they said, “hath taught us how to argue.”(p. 206)

Miller’s picture of Adam and Eve gorging themselves on knowledge exemplifies Miller’s skillful use of metaphor. Here’s another example of Miller’s use of metaphor: “Puritans were confident that whenever they sallied forth onto the plain of reason the fortress of revelation remained as an impregnable refuge to which they could retreat in case they were worsted in the field; consequently they ventured boldly, and felt that they had done God a particularly valorous service when they defended a truth by their own wit without being forced to take shelter behind His ramparts.”(p. 197) back

12. p. 218. Modern science emphasizes efficient cause, and laughs at the idea of final cause. I suspect, though, that we’ll come back to the idea of final cause, we’ll come back to the idea that a giraffe has a long neck because it wills a long neck, it wills survival. back
13. God’s presence in every event was called “concursus.” All our actions, our very being, depends on God’s constant participation, God’s will. “The earth, a vast and heavy body, hangs in the air: ‘How is this done? It hath no pillars to hold it up, but the decree and word of that mighty God.’”(p. 224) back
14. Shakespeare depicts an organic world, a synchronistic world, and he generally doesn’t bring in God, so I believe Shakespeare depicts Jungian synchronicity, not “special providence.” back
15. Perry Miller, The New England Mind: the Seventeenth Century, Ch. 8, p. 231.

As the 1600s wore on, and scientists like Kepler and Newton gained adherents, there were “apprehensions lest the all-conquering science result in a theory of blind mechanism or endorse the blasphemies of Thomas Hobbes. Therefore the renewed insistence upon special providences in late seventeenth-century New England is the most noticeable response of its theologians to the new science.”(p. 229) back

16. p. 229. Another Puritan writer, William Stoughton, said “God sifted a whole nation to bring choice grain into the wilderness.”(Ch. 15, p. 432) But this “choice grain” wasn’t scattered randomly around England. “A large number of those who ultimately became leaders of the colonies were known to each other. Many of the clergy were united by friendships formed at the universities, or by their common allegiance to a few great theologians, particularly Ames and Preston.”(p. 432) Miller says that these personal connections were important motives for coming to New England, as important as “hostility to the personal rule of Charles I or the depressed state of the wool industry.” back
17. “New England divines never had any tolerance for astrology, the philosopher’s stone, or incantation, for any device by which men sought to escape the rules of nature or to circumvent the settled order of things.... Witchcraft was a crime, not merely because it lost the witch his soul and brought distress upon his victims, but because it was an attempt to tamper with the law of nature. The Puritan theory of nature voiced the Puritans’ intense loathing for what they called explicitly ‘superstition.’”(pp. 227, 228)

One could argue that Christianity itself is akin to the occult, that prayer is a form of magic, that Jesus was a healer who used magical methods, etc. (One of the themes of Frazer’s Golden Bough is the kinship between Christianity and primitive magic.) One could argue that the occult is a cousin of Christianity, a cousin whom Christianity pretends is completely unrelated. Or one could use a business metaphor, and say that the occult is a competitor of Christianity, and Christianity wants to have a monopoly. back

18. Ch. 7, pp. 181, 182 back
19. p. 184 back
20. p. 186 back
21. pp. 186, 187. back
22. p. 200 back
23. p. 202 back
24. p. 202 back
25. p. 203 back
26. p. 188 back
27. Philosophy of Right, preface. One might compare Hegel’s reason to the Chinese Tao or to Anaxagoras’ nous; Hegel viewed Anaxagoras as an important thinker. back
28. p. 191 back
29. p. 194. Aristotelians (also known as Peripatetics) were known for the maxim, Nothing is in the intellect that wasn’t previously in the senses (Nihil est in intellectu quod non sit prius in sensu). Aristotle and his school had an empirical bent, Plato and his school a mystical bent.(p. 269)

The scholastic approach, which followed Aristotle and Aquinas, had ended in nominalism, skepticism, even atheism, so in the early 1600s, there was a turn toward Plato, “a metaphysic of the intelligible, scornful of the sensible, a science of intuition and innate ideas.”(p. 272) The turn toward Plato was reinforced by Descartes, Protestantism, and Ramism.

The turn toward Plato was also reinforced by Lord Herbert, father of English Deism. Herbert “asserted that human knowledge did not flow inward from the senses but outward from the soul.”(p. 273) Miller compares Herbert’s philosophy to theosophy. Herbert’s emphasis on the power of the mind led him toward mysticism and occultism, and led him away from orthodoxy.

Herbert said that, because of innate ideas, we’re afraid of animals like snakes and bees even if we have no experience of them. The moment we see them, our innate knowledge warns us against them. “We do not imbibe meanings from sensation, but the sensation stimulates our faculties to ‘unfold and expand’ meanings out of themselves.”(p. 274)

According to Herbert, innate ideas don’t come from “the remains of a divine image,” but rather from a “natural instinct, a vital urge, suffusing the body, carrying with it all ideas.”(p. 276) Herbert was an enemy of orthodoxy insofar as he downplayed divine revelation. On the other hand, he was an enemy of skepticism insofar as he insisted that there were certain universal beliefs, certain common notions, and the universality of a belief was a sure sign of its truth. Herbert argued that there were five universal beliefs:

  1. that there is a supreme Deity
  2. that this Deity ought to be worshipped
  3. that virtue combined with piety is the chief part of divine worship
  4. that men should repent of their sins and turn from them
  5. that reward and punishment follow from the goodness and justice of God, both in this life and after it back
30. p. 197 back
31. Does the President also “put on a show”? Ross Douthat wrote recently, “There is a virtual Trump presidency whose depredations terrify liberals, one that airs on Fox in which Trump goes from strength to strength.... Trump’s recent State of the Union, with its theatrics and premature declaration of victory over decadence, was a particularly striking case in point.” back
32. In an earlier issue, I discussed Paul Cantor’s essay on The Simpsons (a popular TV show): “Cantor argues that The Simpsons is ‘based on distrust of power and especially of power remote from ordinary people.... This is a view of politics that cuts across the normal distinctions between Left and Right.’” back
33. Marcel Proust: A Biography, by George Painter, Ch. 14, quoting Proust’s work John Ruskin.

Bottum has a gift for metaphor, as when we says that music is evocative, music is “chess drenched with perfume.”

An article about Bottum says that he owns 10,000 books. His essay on music has some learning, but his learning is sometimes shallow. His strength isn’t learning but rather observing.

Bottum completely misunderstands Nietzsche. He speaks of “Nietzsche’s call for ecstatic irrationality.” Now listen to Nietzsche himself: “Thucydides as the grand summation, the last manifestation of that strong, stern, hard matter-of-factness instinctive to the older Hellenes. Courage in face of reality ultimately distinguishes such natures as Thucydides and Plato; Plato is a coward in face of reality — consequently he flees into the ideal; Thucydides has himself under control — consequently he retains control over things.”(Twilight of the Idols, “What I Owe to the Ancients,” #2)

Nietzsche doesn’t praise irrationality as an ideal, he only praises it as an antidote to excessive rationality. Consider what Nietzsche says about Goethe: “What he aspired to was totality; he strove against the separation of reason, sensuality, feeling, will... he disciplined himself to a whole, he created himself.... Goethe conceived of a strong, highly cultured human being, skilled in all physical accomplishments, who, keeping himself in check and having reverence for himself, dares to allow himself the whole compass and wealth of naturalness.”(Twilight of the Idols, “Expeditions of An Untimely Man,” #49)

Clearly, Nietzsche doesn’t “call for ecstatic irrationality,” as Bottum asserts. Nietzsche calls for balance, wholeness. back

34. As Ross Douthat wrote, “Trump’s first term has actually been much like Obama’s second, with failed legislation and contested executive orders, and policy made mostly by negotiation between the bureaucracy and the courts.” back