DANIEL VAUGHAN: The woke Pharisees and their religious wars

As a nation, we are at an inflection point. We watch every day as another historical figure has his or her statue torn down. These spectacles began as a reaction to the presence of confederate monuments in American cities.

This impulse is at least mildly understandable in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. But when the movement went further and challenged the legacies of Winston Churchill, Ulysses S. Grant, George Washington, and others, it is safe to say we’ve jumped the shark.

We’re no longer talking about ending systemic racism or police brutality — both of which have real solutions being proffered by honest brokers on both sides of the political aisle. We’re now dealing with a secular religion imposing a woke revisionist history replete with the issues of original sin down through the need for atonement, as well as a degree of hypocrisy to rival that of the ancient Pharisees.

While confession of one’s supposed sins is available these days, redemption is not. Hence, everyone with even allusion of sin must now be burned at the stake of public opinion.

Recent protests have all the righteous anger and fury of the religious wars of humanity’s past. Mercifully, we have yet to approach anything like the barbarity of those prior conflicts.

During the French religious Civil Wars of the late 16th and early 17th centuries, Catholics and Protestants were at each other’s throats, literally. Thousands died from mobs rampaging through villages, raping, murdering, and kidnapping with abandon, each trying to show their devoutness. The barbarism was so bad that adherents on both sides believed they were living in the last days.

Such events made the Salem Witch trials look like the perfect picture of a fair tribunal. Prominent French demonologist of the Catholic Church, Jean Bodin, wanted the standards of evidence lowered to make it easier to burn more witches at the stake. The more witches they burned, the more they found. Sarah Bakewell, writing of this period in her book, How to Live, or Life of Montaigne, noted of this period on page 209:

As history has repeatedly suggested, nothing is more effective for demolishing traditional legal protections than the combined claims that a crime is uniquely dangerous, and that those behind it have exceptional powers of resistance.

The French Civil Wars, the French Revolution, and Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 all featured widespread violence not just against fellow humans, but there was also a push to destroy the monuments, statues, and history of the people who were most hated at the time.

Five years ago, we watched videos of ISIS terrorists tearing down priceless monuments in Iraq and Libya. In China, leaders have actively worked to eradicate any sign that the Uighur Muslim minority group even exists, while simultaneously enslaving them.

It’s one thing to change who is celebrated in a society or to lift new faces and voices from the past to honor. It’s quite another to rewrite history through violent force. As Noah Rothman points out, conservatives in the United States have predicted this moment would come because:

Those most committed to correcting a pervasive and revisionist understanding of American history had adopted a form of revisionism themselves. They argued that the sin of slavery and all those involved in the practice at any level had committed a grave offense—one that outweighed any positive contribution to the country’s founding.

The failure on the part of polite liberal opinion-makers to anticipate this attack on America’s foundations is a failure of imagination and an act of hubris. They assumed they spoke for the mob when it was the mob that spoke for them. But their revisionism was only ever as myopic as the South’s hidebound dead-enders.

The mob isn’t setting out to fix racism or any other injustice. They’ve moved on to just being a mob, lost in its performative anger instead of achieving any tangible results.

In his history of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, Harry Jaffa wrote:

[The] United States is the first nation in the world to declare its independence, not because of any particular qualities or merits of its own, but because of rights which it shared with all men everywhere. … In so doing, it laid an equally unprecedented claim to the character of the best regime of Western civilization.

The American Founders were not perfect. Nor has there ever been a single progressive activist without sin.

In today’s societal context, original sin isn’t the problem, but rather the creeping influence of moral relativism blended with narcissism. Members of the woke mob claim moral superiority to their ancestors, while still holding on to many of the same prejudices.

Washington, Jefferson, Grant, Churchill, and others built a new world based on the precept that all men were created equal. We live in the world they constructed. As Lincoln said in his Gettysburg Address:

The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

We can never forget what they did, nor cease to honor them, because their endeavors represent true turning points in human history. Were we to discard those achievements, we would forever lose touch with the miracles that they wrought on this earth.

And so we remember them and do so deliberately. This new secular woke religion is a heresy against the entire American order, whether liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat.

The new religious Pharisees are just as destructive as their historical predecessors. Secular puritans have all the worst qualities of the past, with none of the good.

We need reforms to be enacted in this country, but the woke secularists can’t point the way since they despise the old and believe it useless. Their moral relativism blinds them to any way forward to building a better future.