I learned a new thing today. I learned about the most successful Third Political Party in the USA ever—except, of course, for Lincoln’s Republican Party (arguably, the Party of Lincoln no longer exists, just the name does): the Know-Nothings. It was a party established to champion the rights and values of White Protestant [male] voters who were feeling threatened in the face of immigrants who might overturn their comfortable applecart. Sound familiar?
Ok, and I learned a new thing yesterday: the word fideism. Dictionary.com’s definition is tame enough, at first blush: “Reliance on faith alone rather than scientific reasoning or philosophy in questions of religion”. Neat, tidy, and most importantly, well-applied solely to religion. Good so far.
You’ll see around the web all this claptrap about the so-called Party of Lincoln. Back then it was about bringing freedom to those who didn’t have it. It was about course-correcting the country in favor of the spirit of the United States Constitution so that later this revised, more splendid spirit could be codified into the letters of the document itself. The Republicans of that day were responsible for the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, which abolish slavery, guarantee civil rights and also suffrage, respectively. Nice job, guys.
And especially nice job, Mr. Lincoln. Which brings me back to the Know-Nothings. Of them, he wrote:
Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except Negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except Negroes and foreigners and Catholics.’ When it comes to this, I shall prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.
This was written before the Civil War, mind you. This was President Lincoln’s worldview—regardless of the law. There’s an irony here, in that a certain Martin Luther said the exact same thing, only far more tersely: “Sin Bravely.”
For you literalist, right-wing moonbats out there, of course the father of Protestantism wasn’t advocating sinning. At the least, he was cautioning against claiming self-righteousness. At best, I like to think he was insisting that one not compound a sin by also refusing to take responsibility for the sin in the first place.
The Know-Nothings were not brave in their sinning. They hid behind a curtain of public fear; they undermined good will and individual security just to accomplish their fevered, self-involved goals.
Today’s version of the Know-Nothings are, sadly, the Republicans. This is what has become of the Party of Lincoln.
The general populace who support the Republicans these days not only volunteer victimhood to the Republicans in power, they have become their footsoldiers. Look at the arguments those people have made for choosing ineptitude for four more years: “moral values”, “I just know he’s a good guy” and “he’s one of us”. All considerations that have nothing to do with, well, consideration. Or with thinking or with reasoning or even with philosophy. They are today’s fideists.
They argue that their faith alone is valid to any argument. They don’t argue, come to think of it, they merely state. And there is no disagreement, because there is nothing to agree with. You are simply wrong and they’re right because Jesus told them so. Jesus also apparently has told President Bush he’s doing good work. Hard work.
I cannot underestimate the damage that fideism can do once it has taken root in bureaucratic bodies. Even the Catholics understood this, still understand this:
Fideism owes its origin to distrust in human reason, and the logical sequence of such an attitude is scepticism. It is to escape from this conclusion that some philosophers, accepting as a principle the impotency of reason, have emphasized the need of belief on the part of human nature, either asserting the primacy of belief over reason or else affirming a radical separation between reason and belief, that is, between science and philosophy on the one hand and religion on the other.
Example: witness Andrew Sullivan, a practicing Catholic, prattling about faith and Jesus being valid rhetorical method. He’s basically saying that a person’s faith is not to be discounted when having an argument (and here I take argument to mean ‘a discourse intended to change the nature of a truth’) about worldly things. Even the Catholics disagree with this kind of thing.
But if the Know-Nothings have their way this time around, the Catholics won’t matter, either.