Puritans and Pietists; the ancestors of Communists and Fascists

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Christian Puritans of the 16th & 17th Century
Christian Pietists of the 17th Century
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In order to properly understand the effect of egalitarianism on political motivations, it is worthwhile looking back at historical movements that reflect the extremes of egalitarianism found in what should otherwise be considered the same ideology or religion.

This is especially important when studying modern Socialism (post-Marx/Engels) and totalitarianism in general.  If someone does not understand the influence of egalitarianism on an ideology, it becomes all to easy to mistakenly believe that they're looking at two different ideologies, rather than one ideology modified by individual or collective personality traits.

So, who were the Puritans and Pietists?  

The Puritans were a group of extremely 'legalistic/authoritarian' English Protestants who felt that the Church of England, which had become Protestant by royal decree, not popular rebellion, was too 'Catholic' and must be 'purified' and made 'more Protestant'.  Those who are excessively orderly tend toward authoritarianism, and wish to create social homogeneity.  In the case of the Puritans, they were egalitarian (or 'inclusive') so wished to force the entire population of England to adopt their standards of purity.

Because they were egalitarian, they believed that all of British culture, both in private and public life, should be forced to conform.  The result of this emphasis on both public and private life was that Puritanism became increasingly influential in English politics.  Charles I, when crowned King of England, began to quarrel with Parliament over his wish to rule by Royal prerogative.  Charles believed in the 'Divine Right of Kings' (a Catholic concept not present in classical Christianity) and married a Catholic.  His increasingly tyrannical leanings clashed with the Puritans' Protestant beliefs that all humans were created equal.  The English Parliament was dominated by protestant MPs who believed the King's power should be limited and that the monarch was simply a 'First among Equals' who was not above the law.

Eventually, this conflict led to the outbreak of the English Civil War.  Oliver Cromwell, an English Member of Parliament and convert to Puritanism joined the Parliamentarian side and, proving to be a capable military commander, rapidly rose through the ranks of the Parliamentarian Army.  Eventually the Royalists were defeated, Charles I was executed and the English Republic was born with Oliver Cromwell serving as 'High Protector' of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland until his death.

Cromwell, and his supporters, were adamant that Catholicism must be stamped out of British society and the persecution of Catholics in England and Ireland have been termed 'genocide' by many historians.  Winston Spencer-Churchill called Cromwell a 'Military Dictator'.

Puritanism eventually lost its influence in wider society and many Puritans ended up persecuted and leaving England for what eventually became the United States of America.  In the process they withdrew from the public arena, isolated themselves in small communities and effectively became 'Pietists'.

 

Which brings us to the Pietists.

Pietism is another extremely 'legalistic/authoritarian' movement outside mainstream Christianity, and a significant feature of American Christianity for much of it's existence.  Emerging in significant numbers in the 17th century, Pietism peaked in the 18th century.  

What differentiated the Pietists from the Puritans was their view on egalitarianism.  Both wished to create societal homogeneity, however where the Puritans were egalitarians ('inclusive') so wished to enforce their standards on all of society, Pietists were anti-egalitarians ('exclusive') and created societal homogeneity by isolating themselves from those who didn't fit their definition of 'pure'.  Like Puritans, the Pietists rigidly enforced their standards within their community, but unlike the Puritans, they didn't believe that Biblical Christianity had anything to say about public life or government, therefore never pursued the political influence the Puritans did.

Puritans were 'totalitarian' to all of society while Pietists were 'totalitarian' within their own communities.

Both movements were a 'legalistic/authoritarian' version of Christianity, but they existed on opposite ends of a spectrum of 'egalitarianism'.  As Puritans lost political influence and moved toward isolationism, they became Pietist.

A study of history reveals similar movements within Catholicism, Judaism and other religions.  The individual and collective personality traits that lead to totalitarian ideologies all end up on a similar spectrum.

Which brings us back to Communism and Fascism.  Communists favoured an international or 'egalitarian' version of Marxist socialism, only dividing humans by socio-economic class.  Their totalitarianism was aimed at the entire international community, the goal being worldwide ideological homogeneity.  By contrast, Fascists moved toward a more isolationist 'anti-egalitarian' socialism in which their totalitarianism was primarily focussed within syndicate, ethnic or racial boundaries.  They aimed to create social homogeneity, but only within their regional, ethnic or racial group.

Bolshevism (Leninism) was Socialism, focussed on the international community.  Trotskyism and Menshevikism were Socialism focussed on the whole international community.  All emphasised an international proletarian revolution.

Italian Fascism was Socialism, but just for Italians.  German National Socialism was Socialism, but just for Nordic Aryans.  Petainist Fascism was Socialism, but just for the French and Stalinism was Socialism but focussed on Russians.  Gone was the international revolution, replaced by a more isolationist focus.

So, that's how Puritans and Pietists are the ancestors of Communists and Fascists.  The move from communist to fascist isn't a move from 'left' to 'right', it's a move from 'egalitarian/inclusive' to 'anti-egalitarian/exclusive', or vice versa.

Crucially for the observer of modern political phenomenon, the 'Progressive' tendency toward enforcing an ideological homogeneity on everyone is simply another manifestation of Puritanism.  There's nothing new under the sun!

Reading list:

See personality studies on 'Political Spectrum' page.

Also see reading lists on 'Egalitarian Socialism' and 'Anti-Egalitarian Socialism' pages.

Last Edited: 14 Jan 19