All revolutions aim at altering every aspect of culture, and they demand destructive nihilism: burn everything to the ground with the dreams that a utopia will ensue.
Dear friends and supporters:
The term revolution used in a sociopolitical context derives from the physical sciences, generally from astronomy. Our planets travel a revolutionary path around the sun. The earth makes a single revolution on its axis every 24 hours.
But its socio-politically metaphorical usage seems just plain wrong. When we speak of a political revolution, for example, we don’t denote society returning to what it once was and retracing its former path. This idea would, in many ways, describe pre-revolutionary regime changes: the king or another strong man dethrones the present king, and in some sense replays the political history of rule by royalty. This would be, strictly speaking, a revolution.
This is almost the opposite of what modern revolutions envision. Their objective is never to recover what has been lost, but to create something unprecedented.
All genuine revolutions in world history have been secular, starting with the very first, the French Revolution. Pinpointing the difference between the French Revolution and the American War for Independence will help us grasp the uniqueness of revolution as a particular kind of regime change.
We sometimes speak of the “American Revolution,” but this language is inaccurate. The day after Great Britain sued for peace, the lives of ordinary colonial Americans were virtually the same as they were before the war started. What changed was simply their political government — they were now self-governed by independent representation on the North American continent. They were U. S. citizens, not citizens of the Crown.
In sharp contrast, the lives of Frenchmen in the late 18th century began to change drastically after the French Revolution. Churches were sacked. Laws were drastically changed. The calendar was even reinvented. Property owners were dispossessed. The wealthy and intellectuals as entire classes were jailed or executed. An entirely new judicial system was enacted. The same is true in the Russian, Chinese, Korean, Cuban, Vietnamese, and Cambodian revolutions.
In fact, what we term political revolutions are more accurately cultural revolutions that necessitate regime change, or violent regime change designed to create a cultural revolution. It must sweep away culture, not just politics.
What constitutes right and wrong must change. Italian Christian philosopher Augusto Del Noce made the fascinating observation that total revolutions cannot rely on the ethics of the ancien régime to produce their utopias. If they did, the result would be reformations, not revolutions. Revolutions require the decimation of the old ethical standard and the adoption of a new one. They must be “extra-legal” by their very nature.
This ethical transformation often necessitates quick, drastic change, and that change must come by way of violence. This is why every revolution beginning with the first one, the French, employed violence.
It also describes why the violence we’re seeing all over America today is revolutionary violence. While police brutality is reprehensible, it is simply a pretext for violence that exhibits the attempted abrogation of the old ethics.
It’s not actually the end of police brutality that the vandals, looters, and attackers want. What they’re really after is an entirely new social order.
In short: What we are observing is the attempt at total revolution.
Revolutions aim to change culture. Changing politics is simply a means to an end. As one of the earliest Cultural Marxists, György Lukács, declared: “Politics is simply the means: the end is culture.”
In a certain sense, the expression “total revolution” is redundant; all revolutions aim at affecting every aspect of culture. But it is useful nomenclature in that it pinpoints a particular attitude of many revolutionaries whose goal is destructive nihilism: burn everything to the ground with the dreams that a utopia will ensue. The change, and therefore the destruction, must be total.
The revolution must be total not only intensively (specific areas of culture must be totally revolutionized), but also extensively (all areas of culture must be revolutionized).
Here are just several examples of the attempt at total revolution in our own culture:
Total Revolution in Education
Total revolution requires educational revolution. Since about 100 years ago, American public education has shifted its philosophy from classical and traditional education to “progressive” education. Woodrow Wilson, our first truly progressive president, who preceded his political ambitions with a presidency at Princeton, wrote that the goal of education should be “to make young gentlemen as unlike their fathers as possible” (cited by Angelo Codevilla in The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It).
The basic tenet of “progressive” education is to break decisively with the past and eventually erase it from the minds of the young. This has been the philosophy in Marxist regimes like the Soviet union, and every revolutionary regime follows this pattern. All revolutionary regimes install “progressive” education. Ours has been “progressive” for almost 100 years now.
Youth must be deprived of their history, which ties them to an allegedly oppressive past, and this is why monument vandalism and toppling characterize every revolutionary regime. It was clear in the recent decimation or defacement of monuments to Ulysses S Grant, Abraham Lincoln, and other famous antislavery figures that the motivation was not villainizing pro-slavery American figures but erasing the past.
Why? Because the past reflects a retrogressive culture abhorrent to the revolutionaries. It must not simply be remembered and criticized; it must be erased, washed clean. Total revolution presupposes a total erasure of the past in the minds of the young.
Total Revolution in Law
The Western legal tradition is anchored in biblical law, natural law, common law, and canon law. These are far from identical to one another, but they constitute a confluence of legally objective, transcendent standards. Even common law, which is law that has been arrived at over time by considering earlier decisions as precedents, has as its goal settled legal principles.
The Western legal tradition, therefore, is founded on transcendence: a higher law, “a law above the law,” the law of God and of nature.
For this reason, Western law has stressed rules-based justice. That is, it has set in place generally settled rules for making judicial decisions. Justice is served when judges play by pre-established rules. In other words, rules-based justice doesn’t allow judges to create new ideas of justice arising from the particular case they’re looking at. The conclusion of this way of thinking is an activist judiciary, the “living Constitution.” Judges get to legislate.
This is now the majority report in American jurisprudence, and the fact that it is happened so gradually over the last century tends to shield its profoundly revolutionary character.
Today it is almost everywhere simply assumed that judges have the right, and are expected, to import into their decisions their idea of what is just, rather than rest on established constitutional language or on presidents.
This is close to a total legal revolution, despite the fact that it has happened so gradually.
Christianity’s greatness has diminished, that is, Christianity historically and culturally considered in the West. By contrast, the greatness of the Christian Faith objectively understood has not lessened: the Lord Jesus Christ and his word and the Cross and resurrection, for example, are just as great today as they ever were. But the Faith at is practiced in the West and particularly as it influences what we nowadays call “public” life is at a low ebb. This diminution has occurred before historically both in the West as well as in the rest of the world, and it has been recovered. A contribution toward that recovery in our own time is the chief objective of the small book.
Get the e-book here.
Total Revolution in Art
In my post “We Are the Destroyers,” I pointed out that at the heart of Modernism is the notion that every new generation demands its own standards: ethical, artistic, educational, and religious.
Total revolution in art is especially obvious because it is so immediately observable. The early artistic Modernist late in the 19th century began with the Impressionists, who were well aware of their revolutionary program. They operated within what has been called the “inward turn” of the West: objective standards were no longer to prevail. It was to be replaced by “the report from the interior.” Eventually, this would lead to Expressionism and Dada, the attempt to depict in material media human stream of consciousness, or even chaos.
If you have visited any one of the scores of MOMA’s (Museum of Modern Art) in the United States, you have observed the effects of total artistic revolution. The art hanging in these galleries bears no resemblance to pre-modern, pre-revolutionary art that took for granted the beauty (or sometimes even the evil) of the external world.
This is not simply a new phase in the evolution of art history. It is a revolutionary act, an intentional break with all that has gone before.
Modern surrealism — Sunny Goat, By Leonid Afremov
Total Revolution in the Church
We might think that if any social institution is impervious to total revolution, it is the church. After all, as the late Chuck Colson noted, the church is the community of memory.
But the church has been more vulnerable than one might expect. The most obvious example is theological liberalism over the last 150 years. Like artistic modernism, it is believed that every age, including every theological age, must develop its own standards, and not be bound by the past.
But what has become particularly disturbing over the last few decades has been the extent to which conservative Christianity has bought into these premises.
One of the most feted theological liberals of the 20th century was the longtime president of Union Theological Seminary, New York, Henry VanDusen. In his minor classic from 1963, The Vindication of Liberal Theology, he wrote that a cornerstone of liberalism is “tentativeness as to metaphysical certainty.”
This is a highfalutin way of saying that liberals aren’t very certain about or interested in things like who God is, whether the Bible is the Word of God, or how authoritative doctine should be.
The new authority
On the other hand, he claimed another liberal cornerstone is “the authority of Christian experience.” In fact, he enlists this characteristic of liberalism in trying to prove that liberals (not the conservatives) are the true evangelicals becuase for liberals, the central truth of the Faith is the good news, the gospel, not “metaphysical certainty” (as if the two could be separated).
The fascinating development in recent years in how this shift has come to characterize many conservative churches. The idea that as Christians we should take special care to understand God, or to be bound by the Word of God, or to respect objective Christian doctrine or ethics has often fallen by the wayside. In place of this concern for objective truth has come “the authority of Christian experience.”
Make no mistake: there can be no Christianity without Christian experience. The Christian life consisting of only knowledge is worthless. Faith without works is dead.
But there can be no genuine works without genuine faith; and human experience, while necessary, is not the source of authority.
I’ve observed that a number of the rising evangelical supporters of same-sex “marriage” have argued that the act simply must be permissible, since more and more professed Christians are “coming out,” and even those who aren’t, are recognizing homosexuality as valid. They then generally pretzel-twist the Word of God in the least convincing and most embarrassing ways possible to support their views.
My point, however, is that this really is a revolution of the church. It is a revolution no less significant — no, more significant — than the educational and legal and artistic revelations. If it succeeds, it will be a total ecclesiastical revolution.
Since every revolution is cultural, it must be political. In the words of Del Noce:
[Revolution] implies the replacement of religion by politics as the source of man’s liberation, since evil is a consequence of society, which has become the subject of blame, and not of an original sin. As varied as revolutionary forms can be, their common feature is, in this sense, the correlation between the elevation of politics to religion and the negation of the supernatural…. [T]he revolution uses men, instead of being guided by them, and is not aware of its own teleology [purposefulness], which is destructive since it is directed toward total disintegration ….
When man abandons God, he seeks providence, sustenance, and security in politics. He must also then explain evil in the world, since he no longer permits himself the Christian explanation (human sin). He sees the root of evil in the institutions surrounding him (family, church, business, traditional politics and education), and since he cannot trust God to gradually purge evil by the gospel and Holy Spirit, he must smash the present order without mercy to make room for the new, perfect godless heaven on earth.
These revolutionaries aren’t statists per se; they aren’t simply hungry for political power as an end in itself. They wish to commandeer politics to help crush the old order and establish the new. The objective is not transformation by politics alone but a new religion as politics shaping the godless world order, reorienting every facet of man’s existence. A total revolution.
This is the ideological impetus behind race riots, intersectionality, identity politics, Black Lives Matter, monument-toppling, “wokeness,” and cancel culture. These are not isolated historic episodes coincidentally converging. They are bitter fruits from the same poisonous root.
We cannot defeat total revolution by a partial Christianity. Only a faith grounded in love for God in the fulness of our being (Lk. 10:27) and a life surrendered totally to him and a mind transformed by his truth (Rom. 12:1–2) will match and vanquish total revolution.
Nothing short of a full-orbed Christianity can be the antidote to total revolution.
Many faithful, virtuous whites refuse to speak up against leftist blacks who, among many whites, are perpetuating evils of Black Lives Matter and “wokeness” theology. They feel guilty about the history of slavery in America.
But blacks don’t get an automatic pass despite their depravity and racism anymore than whites (or Asians or Hispanics) do.
If you believe that blacks are inherently immune to judgment and criticism solely on the basis of their skin color, you have, despite your best intentions, bought into racist premises.
A Lavish Foregiveness
If you’ve read extensively about Cambodia's horrific Khmer Rouge Marxist regime (1975–1979), you’ll likely know the story of this man, who died in prison earlier this week. He ordered and oversaw the unspeakable torture and mass extermination of many thousands of innocent Cambodians.
He also trusted Christ a number of years ago, and there is every evidence his conversion was genuine. In fact, it was his conversion that led him to speak out for his faith in a newspaper interview and that led also to his arrest after years of hiding.
His conversion should not and did not avert justice in human courts, and it was entirely biblical that he pay for his pre-conversion crimes.
Nonetheless, the blood of Jesus Christ is sufficiently powerful to convert a mass murderer, and we will see this brother — so vile before his conversion and so virtuous afterward — in glory.
If we begrudge this man forgiveness in heaven’s court, we undermine God’s grace in our own lives.
At long last (and thank you for your patience), my new book Creational Worldview: An Introduction is almost ready. George Grant, Pastor, Parish Presbyterian Church, Franklin, Tennessee, kindly writes in his endorsement:
With his usual incisiveness, Andrew Sandlin powerfully argues in this short book that a comprehensive Biblical worldview must start at the start. The only antidote to collapsing standards of truth and morality in both the wider culture and the church, is a right apprehension of our Creator God — and of His providential purposes in the whole of creation. Read and heed.
It should be ready to ship (hard copy) and download (digital) within 2–3 weeks. Stay tuned.
My provisional topic for this CultureChange e-newsletter next week is “The Greatest Enemy of the Gospel Today.” It’s probably not what you think.
I thank God for each of you faithful friends. Don’t waver in these chaotic times. There is no chaos in the heavenly throne room. God will banish the chaos in his cosmos.
Yours for a total Faith,
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