How Religious Awakenings Presage Radical Reforms
[A paper presented at the annual meeting of the History of Economics
Syracuase, New York, July 2010. Reprinted in
Religious upheavals have generally preceded waves of radical
reform and reaction in U.S. history, thus serving at least as
leading indicators, and perhaps as causative explanations. As these
waves rise and swell, crest, crash and ebb, they carry and sweep and
tumble most individuals along, forward and backward and then forward
again. However inner-directed one may be, we are social beings who
interact with others. However we personally may feel about religion,
from true believer to cynics, others' beliefs affect us through
them. It is understood that life is never so simple as to be
encompassed in one sweeping generalization; and beware of post
hoc ergo propter hoc. Rather, the facts of history force us to
see these cycles, and acknowledge their force, as opposed to purely
mechanical, materialistic interpretations of history and forecasts
of future history.
I try to frame and support this hypothesis by identifying five
major religious "Awakenings" in U.S. history, from 1740
onwards, that have presaged and thus presumably helped cause major
changes in the dominant public mood, in social psychology, and hence
in public policy. These cycles are: "The Great Awakening"
from about 1740, leading to The American Revolution; Abolitionism,
Feminism, and Revivalism in the north, from 1820, leading to The
Civil War, Reconstruction, and land reforms; Populism after the
crash of 1873, leading to The Progressive Movement in power,
1902-18; the Irish-American Catholic Awakening, leading to The New
Deal, 1933-45; and the Second Catholic Awakening after Vatican II,
A lesson for reformers, of whatever stripe, is to work with the
public mood as expressed in religious trends. A social psychology of
stasis may last through most of a reformer's lifetime while his or
her best efforts break like waves against adamant. Then suddenly
pent-up waters break through in a rush that carries all before it. "To
everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under
Heaven". Another lesson for reformers is that we are now due
for another great cataclysm: make ready, timing is everything.
Before there were a U.S.A. and a 1st Amendment, church and state
were intertwined in western Europe, whence came most of our
traditions. Kings and Cardinals vied for primacy, but joined in
overawing and dominating others. Both royalists and clerics were
major landowners, at the tip of "The Geocracy". They
worked together to rationalize and sanctify landownership based on
conquest, chicane, fraud, slavery, debt slavery, prison labor, male
chauvinism, imprisonment, ethnic bias, genocide, murder by burning,
drowning, torture and other barbaric acts, witch-hunting,
primogeniture, entail, confiscation, exile, etc. Missionaries
supported imperialists abroad, and shared in their power and wealth,
even owning slaves. Centuries of struggle against Islam shaped
fanaticism especially in Spain, Austria and Russia, and less
extremely in all the Crusading states.
At home, however, heretics were more dangerous than infidels.
Ruling Geocrats feared and persecuted egalitarian heretics like
Anabaptists, Diggers, Levelers, Lollards, Hussites and Taborites,
Albigensians, Waldensians (Vaudois), Bogomils, Cathari, Donatists
and Circumcellians, Humiliati, Poor Men of Lyons, Calvinists,
Puritans, et al. Rome coopted successive new grassroots monastic
orders into acting as Roman agents: Cluniacs, Cistercians,
Benedictines, Carthusians, Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits, et al.,
went through somewhat parallel evolutions from their ascetic,
abnegant, pietistic origins in protest against clerical ritualism,
hierarchy, luxury and wealth. Troubadors and Minnesingers
could distract and bypass censors with tales of romance and scandal
and tragedy, arts that flourish today, but fail to prepare the
ground for practical reforms. Jews, carriers of the parent religion
with its egalitarianism, wrapped in its own language and mysteries,
made a special and important case, too complex to sum up fairly in a
few words. The Crusades bred Chivalric Orders, some of which went
into banking and grew too rich and powerful for their own survival.
On the good side, churches tempered the harshness of class
exploitation with charity, welfare, and education. Cynically,
however, one might see it as a "good cop, bad cop" act.
The "education" inherently entailed self-enhancement and
associated brainwashing. Churches sought a monopoly of this, as the
Vatican did more recently under its 1933 Concordat with Hitler.
Currently in Alabama many conservative Southern Baptist Churches are
at war with Christian tax reformer Susan Pace Hamill who would make
State taxes less regressive, in ways that churches could not control
and cap as they can their voluntary "charity". A Federal
counterpart is former President George H.W. Bush with his "thousand
points of light" to displace Social Security and other Federal
Again on the good side, church texts (to the extent laymen can and
will read them) abound with egalitarian and distributive sentiments,
as in Exodus and Leviticus; as in The Prophets,
especially Amos and Isaiah; and as in the
Gospels of Jesus. There have been dozens of Utopian colonies with
some such religious basis, from the smallest sects up to regional
powers like Puritan New England, Quaker Pennsylvania, and the Mormon
State of Deseret. Religious blacks have likened themselves to Hebrew
slaves fleeing Pharaoh. There were, of course, currents and
countercurrents, rebellions and repressions, reforms and reactions,
filling many tomes. Struggles inside and among churches mirrored
class struggles in politics, a series of long and fascinating
I. THE GREAT AWAKENING
We begin our story here in the English colonies of North America
with "The Great Awakening" in the frontiers and backwoods,
from about 1740. These regions were relatively unchurched.
Established eastern churches monopolized seminary training (many of
today's leading universities originated as seminaries), but the
demand for preachers exceeded the supply of educated ones, so nearly
anyone moved by the spirit, or even by earthlier motives, could set
up a church. So naturally, there was an element of protest against
established churches and the society they represented, and
anti-intellectualism accompanied protest.
So did a growing sense of American unity. Revivals transcended
sectarian barriers. Traditional differences waned; pluralism and
tolerance waxed. Revivalism came out of many churches. The colonies
soon owned a common religious experience, one that prepared the way
for the common identification necessary for a successful revolution.
Democracy was another byproduct. The Awakening elevated the common
man and woman. Religion now extended far beyond the wealthy, as in
Virginia, or the church member, as in New England. All persons,
regardless of wealth, status or education, could find "religion".
Sinners could put the past behind them, in an instant of conversion.
The revival made experience the definitive factor in faith, the
self-authenticating religious "experience" of being "saved",
or "born again", or baptized, "washed in the blood of
the lamb". Evangelicals sought and welcomed newcomers and gave
them status: all souls were equal in the sight of God. Anyone could
be pious and spiritual, and judged by that merit. As to personal
habits, the frontier produced and reveled in tobacco and whiskey.
The Awakening also fostered the idea of separating church and
state. Emphasis on a personal conversion meant individuals could
find salvation. A specific church or state-recognized corporate body
was dispensable. Theologically, the awakening led to an emphasis on
the subjective, the personal conversion, not the institutional
church. Just how far this went depended on the evangelist. Jonathan
Edwards, famous frontier spellbinder, was a college man himself. Yet
he said he would "rather have one word, one sentence from the
Word of God, behind his conversion than all the theologians of the
last 1,000 years giving him an interpretation of his experience."
Jonathan Edwards was actually quite intellectual, but he excelled at
playing on emotions. His "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"
is a classic of hellfire and damnation, with no hint of his
The Awakening may have renewed interest in missionary work, but
frontier people were at the cutting edge of conflict with Indians,
and bitter about it. Some eastern geocrats supported the Indians in
order to close the frontier and keep cheap labor at home. In result,
bigotry against the aborigines was a dominant feeling, at odds with
the sophisticated tolerance more fashionable on the eastern
The Great Awakening played a main role leading to success in the
American Revolution. Britannia Ruled the Waves, and occupied our
eastern port cities, but never the hinterlands, where they lost many
battles and skirmishes. After losses down south at Cowpens and Kings
Mountain and Eutaw Springs they had to retreat, ultimately to the
trap at Yorktown. Frontiersmen completed their victory in the
Jeffersonian Revolution that unleashed westward expansion from
Jefferson was a Piedmont geocrat himself, positioned to link east
and west, north and south. Religiously he was a Deist, an
intellectual, an avatar of The Enlightenment. But as author of the
Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, and then the First Amendment,
he confirmed the autonomy and legitimized the preaching of frontier
primitives — at that time meaning Baptists and Methodists, in
large part. He started the secularization of higher education by
founding the University of Virginia and West Point.
History has its ironies. Jefferson and his First Amendment
liberated Baptists from old mainline churches and established the
separation of church and state. It was a new concept then, being
vigorously contested today — by Southern Baptists.
II. THE SECOND GREAT AWAKENING
The Second Great Awakening, ca. 1810-60, reached its peak in "burned-over"
western NY and northeastern Ohio, territory that The Erie Canal
opened for a new wave of more intensified settlement. Parts of
eastern New York had been radicalized already by the drawn-out "anti-rent"
struggle of new settlers against possessive old Dutch "patroons",
holdovers from the 17th Century Dutch dominion (Christman; Ellis).
It led to a strong Women's Rights movement (Seneca Falls Convention,
1848). Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Susan B. Anthony
were all active in the region. Mormonism (which left New York but
flourished out west), The Church of Christ, The Disciples of Christ,
and above all Abolition, leading to The Civil War. John Brown became
the tip of this iceberg. Women were prominent: Harriet Beecher Stowe
wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Union troops marched to The
Battle Hymn of the Republic by Julia Ward Howe.
Charles Grandison Finney was the model of revivalists.
"Finney and revivalists who followed in his train preached
salvation through individual reform, and in time this would become
salvation through the reform of society, as in the growing
temperance movement and then in the women's rights and the
anti-slavery movement. ...
In the years ahead, instead of "wasting" time on
religious doctrinal differences, and perhaps even on the church
itself, one could throw oneself into social reforms to make for a
better society." (Martin, 2005)
Irish Catholics rose in public esteem with the successes of
dashing General Philip Sheridan, until at Vatican I, 1870, Catholic
leaders under the embattled Pius IX, with seriously peccable timing,
chose the moment to declare The Pope "infallible". This
stirred up anti-Catholic fears that disqualified Sheridan, and
submerged Catholic influence for a generation or more.
III. THE THIRD GREAT AWAKENING
The Third Great Awakening came on the heels of the Second, as this
spent itself in the failure of Reconstruction and the excesses of
robber barons in the age of rage for transcontinental railroads. The
Civil War had drained the east of capital; it was no time to commit
more to laying tracks and strewing scarce capital over 2,000 new
miles, but victorious northern capitalists undertook to do so
anyway. This folly led to the great crash of 1873, the long ensuing
depression and deflation, and the Populist Revolt, whose leading
spokesman was Bible-thumping William Jennings Bryan.
Religiously, prairie and southern Populism also spawned the Social
Gospel movement, active missionary work, and several new
denominations. This Social Gospel was more intellectual and less
radically emotive than earlier "Awakenings":
professionalism and science (and scientism), for better and worse,
tempered grassroots populism. Progressive theology was an uneasy
amalgam of The Social Gospel Movement in the dominant northeast, and
fundamentalism in the south and west. The Dwight Moody Bible
Institute of Chicago even still represents progressive
fundamentalism in the big cities. One of its graduates, Archer
Torrey of Jesus Abbey, was an outstanding Christian and Georgist
missionary in Korea.
Progressivism tempered radicalism by allying with new colleges
funded by Robber Barons. The Chautauqua movement extended science
and culture to the masses. Imported German ideas of Sozialekonomie
swayed the new American Economic Association. Some new academic
economists like R.T. Ely and J.B. Clark joined in to burnish their
credentials as liberals, even while focusing their efforts on
sabotaging the Single Tax, which was otherwise a pillar of
Progressivism (Gaffney, 1994).
In the Civil War, Baptists had split north and south, a division
never healed. Northern Baptists produced extremes like the arch
robber baron John D. Rockefeller and the liberal theologian Harry
Emerson Fosdick, but the more numerous Southern Baptists defended
and idealized ante-bellum society and its mores: "Old times
there are not forgotten". After the war they defended Jim Crow,
lynchings, heroic memories of Confederate soldiers, Old Dixie
culture, country folk music, and the Democratic Party (Phillips,
passim). Bankrupt southern farmers linked arms with western ones,
and with labor unions, socialists, Fenians, and a variety of native
and continental radicals. These Populists then merged with more
temperate professionals and urbanists to form the Progressive
Movement that dominated American politics briefly but memorably,
1902-18, and echoed thereafter.
Most people, including most historians, have no inkling of how
many cities and states adopted "magnetic" tax systems,
featuring large Georgist elements, during this Progressive Era and
in the 1920's as well. The writer has catalogued and described a few
in Gaffney, 2006. These include Houston, San Diego, Los Angeles, San
Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Toledo,
Pittsburgh, Newark, and New York City itself. Los Angeles, for good
measure, nearly elected a Socialist Mayor, Job Harrington, in 1911.
San Francisco DID elect Mayor E.R. Taylor whom George's biographer
Charles A. Barker credits with having helped, more than any other
person, Henry George write Progress and Poverty, and whom
history credits with having led San Francisco's astounding recovery
from its earthquake and fire catastrophe of 1906. Even more
remarkable, Vancouver B.C. led all American cities in its adoption
of Georgist tax policy, and the speed of its growth (Gaffney, 2006,
p.31). Donald Reeb, a Georgist scholar from SUNY Albany, has
documented how both cities AND STATES depended more heavily on the
property tax in the Progressive Era than ever before or afterwards
(Reeb and Howe, 1994).
Some Catholics sought to join the Populist revolt. It was high
time: most Catholics were blue-collar newcomers, among the most
exploited Americans. Irish-Americans were boiling with resentment
against "The Protestant Ascendancy", the incredibly
provocative name for absentee English landlords in Ireland. Rome,
however, was preoccupied with combating the Risorgimento
in Italy and retaining the Papal States. To court English support in
Italy, as well as to maintain its standing in the worldwide comity
of landownership, it accepted Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland,
undercutting the serious land reformer, Michael Davitt of County
Mayo, in favor of the temporizing Charles Stewart Parnell.
In America, Rome reined in radical Irish-American movements. In
1867 and later the Fenians invaded Canada. Rome under Pope Pius IX
(Pio Nono) disavowed them, encouraging President Andrew Johnson, who
had tolerated their open organizing, to send American troops to cut
them off from behind.
In 1880, before Progress and Poverty became a
best-seller, it was George's book The Irish Land Question
that first rocketed him to fame and popularity. It was Irish
Catholic Americans who coalesced as his political base. Michael
Davitt seized on the book and its analysis. Patrick Ford, Editor of
The Irish World, publicized it and hired George to visit
and report on Ireland, where the Brits raised his fame by arresting
him for no particular reason. Terence Powderley, leader of the
Knights of Labor with 700,000 or so members, endorsed George and in
1886 supported him when he ran for Mayor of New York, where he won
most of the free Irish vote — "free" meaning
independent of Tammany and the RCC hierarchy, which fused against
An outstanding leader was Father Edward McGlynn, the most popular
priest in New York City. McGlynn founded The Anti-Poverty Society
with a program parallel to that of Henry George, only more
consistently radical. McGlynn defied the Hierarchy by supporting
Henry George's campaign for Mayor of New York City in 1886, giving
George the biggest vote he ever had. He tried to make American
Catholicism virtually independent from Rome. Archbishop Michael
Corrigan told him to cool it, but McGlynn did not fold (as Powderly
and Ford did). McGlynn was defrocked, then refrocked, then exiled,
in complex opaque maneuvering that ended with Ultra-Montanism (Roman
control) triumphant over McGlynn's radical "Americanism"
for the Church. Conservative American Catholics sided with Rome on
The McGlynn episode makes a fascinating story (Gaffney, 2000), not
repeated here. The unhappy by-product, in Fr. Gilhooley's view, was
that the American church was left "slouching toward
'theological hibernation'" (Gilhooley, p.207). The Irish ethnic
political bloc was confirmed in its introverted machine politics,
and split away from Georgist reform. The Church was returned to "prudent
and safe men" who left their members "inert" (Curran,
p.172). That did not mean, however, the end of Catholic reformism in
American politics, as we will see, for in the process of suppressing
McGlynn Leo published a landmark Encyclical, Rerum Novarum,
1891, reviving Thomism from the 13th Century, to be activated later
in the 4th Great Awakening, that of The New Deal Era.
After 1918, Progressivism faded. Women got the vote, but proceeded
to elect Warren G. Harding, Hiram Johnson and Robert LaFollette and
Charles Evans Hughes won lots of votes, as TR had, but Nicholas
Murray Butler and Andrew Mellon took over the GOP. Socialist Gene
Debs won a million votes for U.S. President, even from a jail cell,
and Communism in Russia thrilled some progressives like John Reed
and Lincoln Steffens — but led to Red Scares and the
Deportations Delirium of 1920 and The Immigration Act of 1924 and
the long reign of J. Edgar Hoover. Clarence Darrow drove
fundamentalists underground in the Scopes Trial, but the goat was
the Populist leader, The Big Kahuna himself, William Jennings Bryan.
Prohibition won but could not be enforced. Gambling in stock and
real estate became all the rage, eclipsing the Social Gospel and
social reform. Church influence declined, over both personal
behavior and social concerns.
IV. THE FOURTH GREAT AWAKENING
The 4th Great Awakening could not well come from Protestants.
Old-line church members had grown too rich or secure: they lined up
with wealth and power. Fundamentalists, shamed at Dayton, Tennessee,
shied away from politics. The 4th Great Awakening was a Catholic
Awakening, mostly Irish, the first to succeed. Ethnically it was an
echo of the repressed awakening of 1880-1900.
Irish-Americans, during their period of "theological
hibernation", had quietly infiltrated American culture. Finley
Peter Dunne's "Mr. Dooley" commented satirically with
surgical precision on real politics; A.A. McClure's Magazine
published Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair, and other
leading muckraking reformers of the times. More permantly,
grudge-bearing Irish-Americans took over two vital institutions: the
American Catholic hierarchy; and city political machines. The defeat
of James G. Blaine's 1884 campaign for U.S. President revealed the
great leverage of a few angry Irish NYC Catholics over national
elections. The lesson was not lost. To win, one courted the
Meantime, throughout the Progressive Era, Catholic city machines
and the Roman hierarchy in the north, had kept radicalism under
control. Fr. (later Msgr.) John A. Ryan published Distributive
Justice in 1916, but it followed Rerum Novarum and
was not a new departure. Rather, the Morning Star of the new
Catholic Awakening was Governor Al Smith of New York . He was
originally a Tammany wheelhorse, but he broke free, reformed NYC's
property tax in a most effective Georgist way, starting in 1921,
just as Progressivism was declining elsewhere (Gaffney, 2006, pp.
8-18). To do that he overcame heavy pressure from the RCC hierarchy,
allied with mortgage lenders like The Metropolitan Life Insurance
Company (Met Life) and the NY Real Estate Board (Marsh, 1953). New
York City boomed as never before or since (Gaffney, 2006). Smith
then went national and won the Democratic nomination for U.S.
President in 1928.
Small town Protestant Americans, not free of fear and bigotry,
buried him and chose Hoover, whom the Great Crash and Long
Depression that he could not handle soon buried in turn. These
calamities left traditional Protestant leaders looking obsolete and
confused in their celluloid collars with their empty slogans and
pieties clicking like broken records from frozen faces under bald
heads. There ensued the 4th Great Awakening, the First Catholic
Awakening. It was a breakthrough for better or worse, for
FDR, the leader, was a pedigreed member of the old Hudson Valley
Dutch Geocracy, but he was also a veteran New York politician: no
one needed explain to him the imperative to win Catholic votes.
In 1931 Pope Pius XI unleashed a new Encyclical, Quadragesimo
Anno (referring to the 40th year since 1891 and Rerum
Novarum). Unlike the latter, which it parroted, it was a smash
hit. There were at least two differences. One was the timing: 1891
was a year of boom and prosperity, The Mauve Decade, when laymen had
all the answers, when the sweet incense of unearned increment hung
heavy in the air like a pheromone, luring flighty minds that might
otherwise be questioning the social compact (Thomas Beer, 1926).
1931 was the opposite, people who had thought they were rich and
secure were shocked, hurting badly and seeking new answers.
A second reason was the new radio priest, Fr. Charles Coughlin of
Royal Oak, MI. Coughlin had mastered the new medium of radio well
before FDR whom, in fact, he taught. He picked up the ball from Pope
Pius XI and ran with it. He marketed QA as few previous salesmen had
ever sold such heavy essays. It was the new age of mass marketing
such as Bernays used to popularize cigarettes; Coughlin popularized
Encyclicals. By the time of the 1932 elections Coughlin was the most
familiar radio voice in America, people knew what an Encyclical was,
and what the Pope would teach them.
Professor Raymond Moley of Columbia University, a prominent Irish
Catholic layman, was the buffer between Coughlin and FDR. Coughlin
helped elect FDR in 1932, and FDR let him think he would be a power
in his administration. As Coughlin's star rose he became the new
Catholic spokesman, replacing, he who had signed the 1921 Georgist
law letting New York City exempt new homes from the property tax for
10 years (Post, 1984, p.1). Raymond Moley and Coughlin together
wrote FDR's 2nd Inaugural, including "Let us drive the money
changers from the temple" — vintage Coughlin.
Irish Catholic laymen like Moley, James Farley, Joseph Kennedy,
Frank Murphy, and James Byrnes gained great power in the early New
Deal, as did also Msgr. John A. Ryan of the National Catholic
Welfare Conference (NCWC), an organization whose boring name masks
its hardball political function. Their best-known product was the
National Recovery Act (NRA), known by its logo, The Blue Eagle. NRA
was a cartelization of American industry supposedly modeled on
Aquinas' ideas of merchant guilds, elaborated in QA. The
Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) was the farm counterpart. NRA
died; AAA survives under other names.
Joseph Kennedy, savvy rum-runner questing for respectability, led
the new Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Generally, FDR
depended on votes from big city machines, many of them run by Irish
Catholics, and wove their views into his policies. After Louis Howe
died in 1936, FDR picked Boss Ed Flynn of the Bronx to become his
chief strategist. Flynn urged FDR to the left, but still followed
signals from QA. Raymond Moley had pushed business
cartels, a policy inherited from Herbert Hoover. Moley wanted to
limit competition and let trade associations regulate prices, wages,
quality of goods, etc., on the model of medieval merchant guilds,
but led by a corporate state (he admired Mussolini). That was NRA,
but it didn't work: it choked off production and recovery. Note that
these price controls were FLOORS, not CEILINGS like later controls.
Moley's idea was to keep prices up, not down.
In 1937 came the "submerged depression", a depression
within a depression. FDR, recognizing trouble, reversed field and
turned to reviving competition and anti-trust policy. Moley left in
anger. Coughlin, increasingly erratic, was discredited and
suppressed, even by Pius XII, who had negotiated the compact with
New adviser Ed Flynn, a left-wing Catholic, pushed the Wagner Act,
empowering labor unions, modeled roughly on Aquinas' craft guilds.
(Senator Robert F. Wagner of New York was a Catholic, too —
not Irish, but no one's perfect). After the failure of
cartelization, FDR exhumed trust-busting led by Catholic Tommy
Corcoran, Jewish Ben Cohen, and vigorous Thurman Arnold, nominee of
Catholic Senator Joseph C. O'Mahoney of Wyoming. Now the idea was to
revive free markets, lower prices and raise wages. TVA set about
forcing down power rates. Several allied programs like The Rural
Electrification Act had the same impetus. Associate Supreme Court
Justice Owen Roberts switched from opposing to endorsing FDR's
programs, belatedly giving more power to his Jewish colleague Louis
Brandeis, a Wilson appointee who had labored for years in the
minority to combat cartels and monopolies. Recovery commenced, when
World War II struck and eclipsed domestic policy.
In Europe, the history of QA was unfortunately bound up with the
growth of Fascism. Mussolini's "corporate state" supported
and was supported by QA. The Lateran Treaty of 1929 sealed an
alliance of Mussolini and the Vatican. More generally, most of the
fascist dictators of Europe were cradle Catholics, weaned on Rerum,
and later on its sequel, QA: Antonio Salazar in Portugal,
Francisco Franco in Spain, Adolf Hitler in Germany, Benito Mussolini
in Italy, Arthur Seyss-Inquart in Austria, Msgr. Jozef Tiso in
Slovakia, Ante Pavelic in Croatia, Admiral Miklos Horthy in Hungary,
Marshal Philippe Petain in France ... it is a long list. Many
American Catholics supported the rebellion of the clerical fascist
Francisco Franco in Spain, and Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia,
keeping America neutral for years. It took Hitler's megalomaniacal
overreaching, and finally Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, to sway
America to the English side, pitting American against continental
Catholics — another of history's ironies.
The spirit of The New Deal was to end abruptly. No sooner did
Japan surrender than "our gallant fighting friend",
Stalin's Soviet Union, became again the atheistic "Red Menace".
Even during the war, FDR had dumped pro-Soviet Henry Wallace for
milder Harry Truman — although Harry was strong against
monopolies. American pre-war "isolationists" became
interventionists, but now on the other side. Ambitious generals
spoke seriously about invading Russia again (as we had in 1918-20,
if you recall, when fear of Bolshevism trumped and terminated the
Progressive Movement). American troops overseas (this writer was
one) did not cotton to this idea, not at all! The re-orientation was
too sudden, too top-down and manipulative. Chances are our Soviet
counterparts felt the same way, only more so. Many Americans were
happy enough, though, to remain occupying Japan and other pleasant
The heart of Europe, however, plus all of China and east Asia,
seemed wide open to Soviet invasion and dominance. Suddenly the U.S.
had to pick up the role of the powers it had just defeated. Oops, we
hadn't thought about that! Americans regrouped to support the new
Cold War. The postwar reaction at home gradually turned fierce.
Harry Truman's surprise comeback in 1948 deferred the worst, but not
for long. The new Reign of Terror of Catholic Senator Joseph
McCarthy was off and running, along with the House Unamerican
Activities Committee (HUAC) under unreconstructed racist John Rankin
of Mississippi (Denton, passim), and local witch-hunters like Jack
Tenney of California, and turncoat Sheridan Downey. Red-baiting
Richard Nixon unseated long-time coop leader Jerry Voorhis, and
prepared to defeat Helen Gahagan Douglas with the outrageous MCP
slogan that "She is pink right down to her underwear".
Harry Truman turned cold warrior with his Containment Policy, and
hot warrior in Korea. Symbolically, flirtatious wartime skirts fell
to below knee-level, using old scraps that didn't even match.
Truman turned to European Catholics as the new bulwark against
Bolshevism. If they had cooperated with Hitler, all was forgiven
now, we needed them badly. "New occasions teach new duties;
time makes ancient good uncouth". The Marshall Plan poured
billions into rebuilding continental Europe under new Catholic
leaders of Christian Democratic parties, leaders like Alcide de
Gasperi, Konrad Adenauer, Robert Schuman, Carlo Sforza, and Luigi
Einaudi (only Ludwig Erhard of the Wirtschaftswunder was a
Protestant). Was this to be the end of Great Awakenings?
V. THE FIFTH GREAT AWAKENING
Remarkably, though, all this time there was seething underground a
new Catholic liberalism, suddenly to erupt in The 2nd Catholic
Awakening, and America's 5th. It began in Rome with Pope John XXIII
(1958-63). It broke through in America with our election of
President JFK (1960), It gained momentum in Rome and worldwide with
Vatican II (1962-65). LBJ, who succeeded JFK after the
assassination, and was a Texas Protestant (Disciples of Christ),
continued and even magnified JFK's policies. He picked up and ran
with Catholic Michael Harrington's 1962 book, The Other America,
turning it into his "War on Poverty", part of "The
Great Society". Between the time of FDR and JFK America lost
five million of its six million small farms (Gaffney, 1992),
weakening the stand-pat rural and small-town ethos. Dorothy Day's
Catholic Worker houses grew in number and favor, more radical than
the earlier meliorist settlement houses of Protestant Jane Addams in
Chicago and Jewish Lillian Wald in New York. Popular Catholic
Sargent Shriver headed the successful Peace Corps, with enough
success to run for vice President in 1972 (although the effort by
then was doomed).
Barriers between Catholics and Protestants began to leak, if not
crumble. This writer never forgets the thrill of marching arm in arm
and in hand with priests and nuns down main avenues in Milwaukee in
1965 in support of civil rights for blacks, and social justice for
all. Suddenly the communicable human race was doubled! The 1960's
were an extraordinary time of Awakening all around. Chief Justice
Earl Warren (1953-69) handed down a memorable set of new liberal
opinions. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., a Southern Baptist,
inspired millions and led the "Second Reconstruction" of
the South, more successful and lasting than the first. King's
economics was populist, Georgist, and Gandhian, a lot to swallow,
but carried along in the baggage of civil rights for blacks. Cesar
Chavez was organizing stoop field labor and signing up thousands of
idealistic college students. More thousands joined The Peace Corps.
Rachel Carson published Silent Spring to great applause,
triggering an environmental movement that even Nixon was later to
"Women's Lib" flourished along with "the pill"
and new sexual mores, affecting people of all faiths. Popular
troubadours turned from saccharine love and marriage songs to
ballads of social significance from The Weavers, and social
rebellion from The Beatles. Girls were burning bras and taking
pills. Prudery and hats were out; bikinis and mini-skirts were in.
Heels were out; pantyhose were in. College dorms both integrated and
went coed, even sharing bathrooms, black and white together. Playboy
and Hustler were standard reading. In 1969 500,000 people
camped at Woodstock to celebrate The Age of Aquarius. The 1969
Stonewall riots in New York City sparked the Gay Revolution. Wasn't
that a time?! And aren't people herdlike.
It was too good to last; inevitably the pendulum swung back, as
pendula do. Survival of the RCC as an institution took priority over
the liberal ideas of Vatican II, as priests and nuns drifted away.
Viet Nam gloom fell to divide Catholics and shatter the dreams. The
macho Texan in LBJ could not back away from a shooting war.
Paranoids and jingoes popularized the "domino theory".
Catholic imperialists could not give up the converts the French had
made in Viet Nam. Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York became the
new "American Pope", and led the charge to recover Viet
Nam from godless communism. Catholic boss Richard Daley of Chicago
unleashed brutal police attacks on young demonstrators, Catholic or
otherwise, at the 1968 Democratic convention in his city, looking
fascistic before millions of TV viewers and queering Hubert
Humphrey's chances to win in November. Social conservatives of all
faiths were alarmed and offended, and perhaps a little frightened,
by newly liberated sexual "deviants", the boastful
exhibitionism of Hugh Hefner, the universal use of contraceptives
and the growing acceptance of abortion.
Pope John Paul, from 1978, led the RCC back to traditionalism.
Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, quashed "Liberation
Theology" in Latin America. Richard Nixon, Lee Atwater, and
Karl Rove seized the times to assuage deflated segregationists with
a new "southern strategy" that broke up and won over much
of the solid Democratic south, allying it at last with Spellman's
and Daley's Catholics. A new rightwing fervor seized the nation,
only briefly delayed by Nixon's fall at Watergate.
THE SIXTH GREAT AWAKENING: WILL THERE BE ONE?
When and whence will come the new Awakening, if ever? History
tells us it may take forty years to appear, and it will most likely
come out of left field, as a surprise, with a new leader, a
political genius or juggler who realigns old forces. It will follow
a crisis. It will involve The Bible. Established mainline churches
and intellectuals will despise and resist it. The various calamities
of the G.W. Bush Administration, and the inability of Obama and his
team to solve the resulting problems and make jobs for Americans
certainly provide the needed crisis, although it is taking time for
its gravity and permanence to sink into the American psyche.
How about blacks? They are suddenly part of the Establishment, at
least in part. MLK, Jr., had an inspiring socio-economic philosophy,
an amalgam of George, Gandhi, and the radical Jesus, working from
within the Southern Baptist Church. But since him, black leaders
have settled comfortably into their own establishment, either tepid
and meliorist like our current President, or fanatical and divisive
like his former minister in Chicago. Barack Obama, the change agent,
follows economic leads from the same old hand Larry Summers whose
main qualifications seem to be family connections, accommodating
Wall Street, and power-lust. If he has any clue of how to guide us
to recovery he has yet to show it.
The Southern Baptist denomination still carries the seeds of its
leading role in the Populist Revolt. It is aggressively evangelistic
and missionarian, with constant personal salvation crusades and
altar-call ceremonies and public full-immersion baptisms of nubile
girls in full public view in huge fishtanks set in the back wall
above the altar. It has become the biggest American church today,
sweeping from the old south up through the prairie states to form
the "Bible Belt". Billy Graham became a serious religious
leader, consulting with Presidents. Its growth and power leads Kevin
Phillips to write that the SBC, once the Confederate state church,
is now the American State Church. But it also carries the seeds of
its Civil War origins as the church of slavery, and its post-bellum
role as the carrier of ante-bellum tradition and resistance to
Reconstruction. Even as I write there is talk, even if it is just
hot air, of repealing the 14th Amendment. Southern Baptists have
turned "Rightwing Christianity" from being the ridiculous
oxymoron that it obviously is into a common journalistic phrase.
It has its left wing, too; but in 1979 fundamentalists seized
control of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the controlling
body (Phillips, pp. 156-57). It retains elements that are
anti-urban, racist, nativist, xenophobic, and anti-scientific,
leading a prominent Southern Baptist, Bill Moyers, to lament of the
Southern Baptist Bush Administration, "the delusional is no
longer marginal". These views might seem like quaint
eccentricities, but they are part of a Gestalt tilted against the
social gospel, public schools, social insurance, science, fair tax
policy, environmental protection, consumer protections, bank
regulation, anti-trust policy, intellectuals, or science. They have
allied with Nixon, Reagan, the Bushes, seemingly against their own
economic interests, to form the "New Republican Majority",
as Gingrich and others called it.
At the fringes of this new center of American religion are
once-submarginal phenomena like Jerry Falwell and his "Moral
Majority", Pat Robertson's actual campaign for U.S. President,
and a long list of spellbinders including Bebe Patten, Jimmy
Swaggart, Paul Crouch, Jim and Tammy Bakker, Ted Haggard, Gene
Scott, James Dobson, ... a long roster, with new entries annually.
And yet, working within this nest of apparently willful ignorance
and reaction and chauvinism (both male and military), we find in
darkest Alabama a beam of sunshine in a lady law professor and
radical tax reformer, Bible-reading Methodist Susan Pace Hamill.
Could she be that new force from outside the usual suspects? Why
not? MLK, Jr. came from Georgia.
Stranger things have happened. Who would have thought that
frontier Indian-fighters in the clay hills and swamps of South
Carolina would drive proud Cornwallis to defeat at Yorktown, trapped
by the weak French fleet? Who would have thought that hanging crazy
John Brown in December, 1859, would lead to the Emancipation
Proclamation less than four years later? Who would have thought
McKinley's crushing inflationist-pacifist Bryan in 1896 and 1900
would lead to the Progressive Movement, or that the anti-Catholic
vote of 1928 would lead to the Catholic New Deal, headed by a Hudson
Valley Dutch Episcopalian marshalling a bunch of machine politicians
turned liberal reformers guided by the ideas of a dead Pope steeped
in the ideas of 13th Century Thomas Aquinas, student of old
Aristotle writing before 322 B.C.? Who would have suspected a social
revolution in the 1960's led by the rich spoiled son of a Catholic
rum-runner? Expect to be surprised, and expect it fairly soon: the
several calamities of President G.W. Bush, and the fumbling of
President Obama, have opened the doors for a new alignment.
If Southern Baptists are anti-intellectual, is intellectualism the
cure? Not what passes for it today, surely! R.W. Fogel (2002) sees
higher education, presumably in the Chicago format, as a panacea.
However, academic economics has fallen for its own kind of
doctrinaire fundamentalism, peaking in Milton Friedman and Alan
Greenspan, for whom private property and unregulated markets were
panaceas. They have dropped distribution of wealth and income,
central concerns of classical economics, in favor of the new
lodestar of obsessive "growth". Diminishing marginal
utility of material stuff is forgotten: more GNP is always better,
even when most people are getting less. Intellectuals may sneer at
the excesses of primitive preachers, but their own rationality is
just another blind faith; their own independent science subject to
herd manias worthy of lemmings. Even speculation in remote future
values is reliable, according to Friedman acolyte Robert Lucas.
Flippers and other speculators are guided by "Rational
Expectations", the human equivalent of Divine Omniscience. This
insight is sanctified by the annual Riksbank award (aka
the "Nobel Prize" in economics), our own kind of holy
incantation, controlled by bankers in Sweden who are not above their
own predatory lending to naifs in less sophisticated new nations of
the eastern Baltic.
Some historians would liken this combination of Biblical and Free
Market Fundamentalisms to previous Great Awakenings, but I don't
think so. Robert William Fogel's seminal study of Great Awakenings
seems to take this position, and there are parallels, it is true.
Paul Johnson sees the Thatcher-Reagan era as "The Recovery of
Freedom". What is lacking now is the moral sentiment of Jacques
Turgot, Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill; the egalitarianism of
Jefferson, Lincoln, Henry George, the Dutch Roosevelts and the Irish
Kennedys. Someone or something will arise to combine that missing
element, social justice, with the moral fervor and righteousness of
faith and certainty.
Free market panaceas and banker deregulation have collapsed in
shame and calamity, but nothing has arisen to replace them.
Something must and will; but what, and how long must we wait? God
moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform. Could modern
Southern Baptists evolve as New York State revivalists did in the
"Eventually, he (Charles G. Finney) became President of
Oberlin College, an institution supported by upstate New Yorkers
interested in Perfectionism, and here he oversaw the training of a
generation of clergymen and educators who were to spread over the
West and into the South after the Civil War, ... His doctrine of
reforming one's self led to the various reforms movements of the
nineteenth century, ... after the 1850s. One portion ... downplayed
much of traditional theological concerns in favor of a growing
interest in the Social Gospel which would concern itself with the
betterment of society." (Martin, 2005)
My guess is that Mexican-Americans, our new despised and feared
minority, will take the lead, or at least be led: nothing pulls
people together like contempt and persecution. They will ally with a
variety of smaller ethnic groups along with, who can say, alienated
Southern Baptists like Bill Moyers? Where is the new political
genius to pull all these disparates together? This leader will
appear; many are grasping for the brass ring.
In summary, what can history teach us about religion,
economics, and socio-economic reform?
- The First Great Awakening led after many years to the American
and Jeffersonian Revolutions
- The Second Great Awakening led after many years to the Civil
War and Abolition
- The Third Great Awakening led after setbacks to the Populist
and then Progressive Movements
- The Fourth Great Awakening led to The New Deal
- The Fifth Great Awakening led to the second Reconstruction, The
Great Society, Feminism, and social upheavals
- The Sixth Great Awakening is due, and will come from some
What about Georgists? We are too few, too narcissistic, too
apolitical at state and national levels, to expect any sudden call.
Meantime remember the advice of George Washington in adversity: "Let
us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair; the event
is in the hands of God".