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Protestantism, Capitalism, & Americanism

Martin Luther

1,050 words

Translated by M. P.

Many authors distinguish between, on the one hand Catholicism, which is supposed to be a negative Christianity incarnated by Rome and an anti-Germanic instrument, and, on the other hand, Protestantism, which is supposed to be a positive Christianity emancipated from the Roman papacy and accepting traditional Germanic values. In this perspective, Martin Luther is a liberator of the German soul from the despotic and Mediterranean yoke of papal Rome, his grand success being the Germanization of Christianity. The Protestants thus include themselves in the line of the Cathars and the Vaudois as representatives of the Germanic spirit in rupture with Rome.

But in reality, Luther is the one who first fomented the individualist and anti-hierarchical revolt in Europe, which would find expression on the religious plane by the rejection of the “traditional” content of Catholicism, on the political plane by the emancipation of the German princes from the emperor, and on the plane of the sacred by the negation of the principle of authority and hierarchy, giving a religious justification to the development of the merchant mentality.

On the religious plane, the theologians of the Reformation worked for a return to sources, to the Christianity of the Scriptures, without addition and without corruption, that is to say, to the texts of the Oriental tradition. If Luther rebelled against “the papacy instituted by the Devil in Rome,” it is only because he rejected the positive aspect of Rome, the traditional, hierarchical, and ritual component subsisting in Catholicism, the Church marked by Roman law and order, by Greek thought and philosophy, in particular that of Aristotle. Moreover, his words denouncing Rome as “Regnum Babylonis,” as an obstinately pagan city, recall those employed by the Hebraic Book of Revelation and the first Christians against the imperial city.

The balance sheet is as completely negative on the political plane. Luther, who presented himself as “a prophet of the German people,” favored the revolt of the Germanic princes against the universal principle of the Empire, and consequently their emancipation from any supranational hierarchical link. In effect, by his doctrine that admitted the right of resistance to a tyrannical emperor, he would legitimize rebellion against imperial authority in the name of the Gospel. Instead of taking up again the heritage of Frederick II, who had affirmed the superior idea of the Sacrum Imperium, the German princes, in supporting the Reformation, passed into the anti-imperial camp, desiring nothing more than to be “free” sovereigns.

John Calvin

Similarly, the Reformation is characterized on the plane of the sacred by the negation of the principle of authority and hierarchy, the Protestant theologians accepting no spiritual power superior to that of the Scriptures. Effectively, no Church or any Pontifex having received from the Christ the privilege of infallibility in matters of sacred doctrine, every Christian is able to judge for himself, by individual free examination, apart from any spiritual authority and any dogmatic tradition, the Word of God.

Besides individualism, this Protestant theory of free examination is connected with another aspect of modernity, rationalism, the individual who has rejected any control and any tradition basing himself on what, for him, is the basis of all judgment, reason, which then becomes the measure of all truth. This rationalism, much more virulent than that which existed in ancient Greece and in the Middle Ages, would give birth to the philosophy of the Enlightenment.

Beginning from the sixteenth century, Protestant doctrine would furnish an ethical and religious justification to the rise of the bourgeoisie in Europe, as the sociologist Max Weber demonstrates in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, a study on the origins of capitalism. According to him, during the initial stages of capitalist development, the tendency to maximize profit is the result of a tendency, historically unique, to accumulation far beyond personal consumption.

Weber finds the origin of this behavior in the “asceticism” of the Protestants marked by two imperatives, methodical work as the principal task in life and the limited enjoyment of its fruits. The unintentional consequence of this ethic, which had been imposed upon believers by social and psychological pressures to prove one’s salvation, was the accumulation of wealth for investment. He also shows that capitalism is nothing but an expression of modern Western rationalism, a phenomenon closely linked to the Reformation. Similarly, the economist Werner Sombart would denounce the Anglo-Saxon Handlermentalitat (merchant mentality), conferring a significant role to Catholicism as a barrier against the advance of the merchant spirit in Western Europe.

Liberated from any metaphysical principle, dogmas, symbols, rites, and sacraments, Protestantism would end by detaching itself from all transcendence and leading to a secularization of any superior aspiration, to moralism, and to Puritanism. It is thus that in Anglo-Saxon Puritan countries, particularly in America, the religious idea came to sanctify any temporal realization, material success, and wealth, prosperity itself being considered as a sign of divine election.

In his work, Les États-Unis aujourd’hui, published in 1928, André Siegfried, after having emphasized that “the only true American religion is Calvinism,” had already written: “It becomes difficult to distinguish between religious aspiration and pursuit of wealth . . . One thus admits as moral and desirable that the religious spirit becomes a factor of social progress and of economic development.” North America features, according to the formula of Robert Steuckers, “the alliance of the Engineer and the Preacher,” that is to say, the alliance of Prometheus and of Jean Calvin, or of the technics taken from Europe and of Puritan messianism issued from Judeo-Christian monotheism.

Transposing the universalistic project of Christianity into profane and materialistic terms, America aims to suppress frontiers, cultures, and differences in order to transform the living peoples of the Earth into identical societies, governed by the new Holy Trinity of free enterprise, global free trade, and liberal democracy. Undeniably, Martin Luther and, even more so, Jean Calvin, are the spiritual fathers of Uncle Sam . . .

As for us, we young Europeans viscerally reject this individualist, rationalist, and materialist West, the heir of the Reformation, the pseudo-Renaissance, and the French Revolution, as so many manifestations of European decadence. We will always prefer Faust to Prometheus, the Warrior to the Preacher, Nietzsche and Evola to Luther and Calvin.



  1. Posted September 2, 2011 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    An inspiring jeremiad, worthy of Luther himself!

    “And may the devil shit on him, Amen!”

    [Well, actually that’s a theology professor in Mann’s Faustus, but close enough…]

  2. Wolfgang
    Posted September 3, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    The West needs to return to the religions of Pre-Xian Europe. By the way,

  3. Sandy
    Posted September 3, 2011 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    The way in which the Reformation is unfolding I suspect that if Luther was alive today we would be writing that he was acting as an agent for the bankers!

  4. Posted September 4, 2011 at 5:39 am | Permalink

    Rix is spot-on, 100%.
    The Catholic social order for all its human faults, was superior to the Protestant ethic that replaced it, and which has now assumed the form of what is today misnamed ‘Western Civilization’ with the USA as the ‘leader of the West’. It is a travesty.
    Protestantism paved the way for plutocracy and culture distortion.

  5. Greg Paulson
    Posted September 4, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

    I agree with the author, however I would like to comment on this, “The Protestants thus include themselves in the line of the Cathars and the Vaudois as representatives of the Germanic spirit in rupture with Rome.”

    Regardless of how the protestants saw themselves, I completely reject the idea that protestants are anything like the Cathars. The Cathars were a legitimate projection of the Hyperborean/Aryan spirit onto “Christian” form. The protestants were fundamentally and spiritually even more Jewish than the Catholic church (as the author points out), rejecting the concessions the Catholic church was forced to make to the “Pagan” Aryan people in order for them to even be able to accept it. Luther, despite his apparent anti-Jewish sentiments (which I will concede have their uses for Christians new to the Jewish Question), was just another spiritual Jew infighting with the other spiritual Jews about what’s more Jewish and who’s more pagan. You can see through all this apparent anti-Jewishness with the simple fact that if a Jew were willing to convert to Christianity, Luther (and the Catholic church) would accept them completely. This shows the fundamental meaninglessness of all his statements regarding them (again with the aforementioned concession).

    I digress, but my point of commenting was to distance the Cathars from anything as base as protestantism or any other form of widely practiced Christianity that I am aware of.

    • Chip Farley
      Posted September 5, 2011 at 1:08 am | Permalink

      ‘You can see through all this apparent anti-Jewishness with the simple fact that if a Jew were willing to convert to Christianity, Luther (and the Catholic church) would accept them completely.’

      Actually the Catholic Church launched the Spanish Inquisition to keep the Jews in line. One has to at least give them a little bit of credit there.

      It certainly doesn’t seem that Protestantism has ever really tried anything similar in regards to the Jews, so it is safe to believe that Protestantism is just another waypoint on the cycle down-wards toward the Kali Yuga.

      • Greg Johnson
        Posted September 5, 2011 at 10:15 am | Permalink

        The inquisition dealt specifically with Jews who had converted to Christianity but who still practiced Jewish customs.

  6. Michael O'Meara
    Posted September 5, 2011 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Nothing Lutheran at all about this piece. It’s pure Gothic Christianity and speaks to our Crusaders, who one day will take the war to the infidels.

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