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By Luke Kusick

In order to trace the origins of the modern left, one has to look into history. To start, let us define what is meant by the term right and left. In the context of this article, the right will be concerned with maintaining the traditional culture, hierarchy, and social order. The left is characterized by tearing down the traditional culture, being anti-hierarchical and anti-authoritarian. Defining the left and right in this manner, rather than the modern sense of capitalist/socialist, relates to the historical understanding of left and right and how the two groups are different. With the definition of left and right established, we can jump into the Protestant Reformation.

HereticLet’s start with the heretic Martin Luther. Martin Luther was a monk obsessed with knowing whether he achieved salvation or not. His obsession with his own personal salvation, which is evident in his early works, consumed him. His visit to Rome didn’t help, wherein he found corrupt bishops and clergy using their political and religious power to make financial gains. Evidentially, instead of trying to reform or attack corruption from within, he began to attack the very nature of the Church. He tried to overhaul the hierarchy of the Church and create a group against what he viewed as the authoritarianism of the Church.

This movement, this anti-authoritarian streak in Protestantism that began in October 1517, would eventually lead to an anti-authoritarian nature in all successive governments. At the time of the Reformation, religion and politics were intertwined; therefore, an attack on the Church was an attack on the very government as well. Princes and noblemen used this justification in order to start revolutions, seize land from the Church for personal profits, and ultimately to score a huge blow against both the Catholic Church and the Kings across the land. This anti-traditional rhetoric of the Protestant Reformation can be summed up by their claim of sola scriptura, or “Scripture alone.” What does this phrase mean and why is it so leftist? Well, the Catholic and Orthodox Church believe to this day that it is through Faith and sacred Tradition that one finds himself saved. This tradition is inherently a conservative or right-wing position, as defined before. Attacking tradition is an attack on the social order, so sola scriptura, which means scripture alone, means that tradition has no place in one’s faith. Since religion was tied strongly to the governments of the age, the traditions of the governments themselves would also be attacked. We would see this climactic attack on tradition again during the French Revolution.

How does the French Revolution play into Protestantism? The answer comes from Enlightenment thinkers who are now regarded today very highly amongst Republicans in the United States. These “classical liberals” were not classical in any sense, rather they were simply liberal. They were anti-authoritarian, anti-tradition, anti-social order, anti-hierarchy. Their political and philosophical arguments were deep into the individualistic nature that the Protestant Reformation held. The Protestant rationale was simple: an individual can determine whether or not they were saved, and therefore did not need the Church to guide them. The Protestant Reformation can be seen in the modern sense as an Objectivist, Ayn Rand-like movement. The focus is on the individual. The focus is on whether or not an individual is saved and how the individual interprets the Bible. There is no emphasis on an opinion of hierarchical structures. Who needs a learned clergy and theologians who have devoted their lives to studying sacred texts when I can simply pick up the Bible and figure it out for myself? Who cares if I am repeating the same mistakes that heretics from across the years have? In short, the Protestant emphasis on the individual and individualism lead to an attack on any sort of hierarchy. The Church was seen as unneeded because the individual could do everything for himself. In the same sense, the Enlightenment thinkers fell for this trap that the individual is greater than the community around him. They believed that the individual is greater than not only his country, but also those of a higher status than him. The common peasant was the same as the learned noblemen. This dangerous philosophy lead to quite possibly the bloodiest conflict of the 18th century, the French Revolution.

1The battle cry of the French Revolution was Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite. Of course these proto-communists would not only kill the King of France, but would expand upon this Reign of Terror much more violently. The mass hatred of the Catholic Church and hierarchy in general was a huge part of the revolution that often goes unnoticed. The revolutionaries attempted to change the calendar so people would no longer know what day Sunday fell on, murdered clergy in mass numbers, and violently killed people across France. No amount of blood could satisfy this liberal demon that was the intellectual heir to the Protestant movement. Hierarchy bad! Tradition bad!

While Martin Luther had an extensive role to play in the French Revolution, or more accurately planted the intellectual roots of the first Proto-Communist revolution, many interesting Protestant reformers have had a part to play in the liberalization of our politics. As we are approaching the 500 year anniversary of the great Protestant heresy, let us remember that if one considers themselves on the right wing side of politics one must understand that that means being inherently hierarchical, inherently traditional, and at least tolerant of authority. The Protestant Reformation is a total rejection of that. We see this in the modern day, as modern Baptists, Pentecostals and Evangelical Protestant groups openly defy tradition and hierarchy within their churches, yet can never unify with one another. It is similar to that of the far left. Everyone on the far left is a socialist or communist of some sort; however, they quarrel over whether Trotskyism, Stalinism, Anarcho-Communism, Anarcho-Syndicalism, or whatever currently  popular communist ideology is the true communist ideal is similar to the divisions amongst the Protestant tradition.

Ultimately, it is hard for this message to disseminate across America. From its inception, America had this anti-authoritarian streak that screams of the liberalism of the French Revolution. However, the left in America has begun to eat itself just like the Protestant groups have. Mainstream Protestantism is in total collapse in this country as Americans are turning their backs to this reformist message. A rise in Traditional Catholicism and Orthodoxy is growing in this country, which is a good thing. If we want to get back to the roots of right wing politics than we must restore the roots of the right. Those roots stem from tradition, hierarchy and a respect for authority. A healthy respect for authority is a sign of maturity. One can protest against authority all you want, but in the end you will be running back to it when you find the world without it empty and dark. The world in France without the monarchy was full of bloodshed, terror, and pain. The world without the Tsar of Russia was full of blood, hunger, terror, and pain. A world without tradition will be a world with only blood, terror and pain. In October, with the 500 year anniversary of the great Protestant heresy, let us come to grips with ourselves as a people and stop protesting, stop resisting tradition and come back to the right side of victory.  



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