The Red Light of a Bellicose Brothel on a Hill

Bill Vallicella links to a long post by his friend Edward W. Farrell, in which the latter tells us that Americans are today divided by their view of the United States.  These views are:

1) The traditionalist view: America is exceptional and a beacon to the rest of the world

2) The progressive view: America is thoroughly racist and needs to be purged top to bottom

These two views certainly exist, but the list is incomplete and the names are entirely wrong.  What Farrell calls the “traditionalist view” is, in fact, the old progressive view that one nowadays most often finds in that strange and confused creature, the conservative admirer of Abraham Lincoln.  I will come back to this ideological Minotaur—part man and mostly bull—but will begin by saying that an “exceptional” country could not be a “beacon” because its exceptional status would make its example irrelevant to “the rest of the world.”

In any event, everyone should know that this “beacon to the world” business goes back to the Puritan fanatic John Winthrop’s claim that Puritan New England was a “city on a hill,” and that Winthrop’s words are nothing but the slogan and war-cry of violent Puritan fanaticism.

* * * * *

If you were looking for perfect specimens of American progressives in the 1830s, I daresay you would find what you sought at a meeting of the Female Antislavery Society of Concord, New Hampshire.  Do not be deceived by the candlesticks and crinoline, the assembled ladies of the Female Antislavery Society are Puritan fanatics, progressives, or what we nowadays call social justice warriors.

Being Puritan fanatics, these ladies had rid themselves of the tradition of Christmas, and so spent Christmas day, 1837, listening to an address by the radical abolitionist Nathaniel Peabody Rogers.  Eschewing the Yuletide spirit of goodwill towards men, Roger told the ladies that, although they had successfully rid themselves of Christmas, their Church was not yet pure enough.

“Christianize your own church!” he exhorted. “Heal your own Christianity!”  This they could do, Rogers said, by igniting a progressive social revolution, first at home and then abroad.

“Cast the enormous beam of heathenism out of your nation’s eye and the eye of your national church and charity, before you pretend further solicitude for the mote in the eye of India and China . . . . Then will your nation shine in the eyes of mankind—a city on a hill—a missionary beacon light that will flame to the heaven and beam to the ends of the earth.”[1]

Please note that the beam to be cast out was not the traditional beam of personal sin, of which numerous examples no doubt speckled the eyes of the progressive ladies of Concord.  It was, instead, the social sin of “heathenism,” which is to say of the traditional culture and society that lay log-like athwart the nation’s eye.

Although its members lacked tattoos and nose-rings,  this Female Anti-Slavery Society of Concord was a coven of social justice warriors.

Pedants may protest that when Christ first employed the image of “a city that is set on a hill” (Matthew 5:14), he was enjoining his disciples to lead by example and give light to the world by good works.  This is true.  And I will concede that Nathaniel Peabody Rogers likewise enjoined the progressive prudes of Concord to make their “nation shine in the eyes of mankind,” thereby “enlightening and converting the nations, without your sending abroad a single torch.”

But when Puritan fanatics attempt to lead by example, they are invariably disappointed by the small number and weak ardor of their followers.  When they attempt to give light to the world, the world mostly pulls down its blinds.  And this is when Puritan prudes become violent Puritan fanatics who sally forth from their city on a hill, with torches and spears in their hands.

* * * * *

Mr. Farrell says many good and interesting things in his post, but the complete and correct list of the views by which Americans are today divided is as follows:

1) The traditionalist view: America is home to a people that seeks to preserve but not propagate its traditions

2) The old progressive view: America is exceptional and a beacon to the rest of the world

3) The new progressive view: America is thoroughly racist and needs to be purged top to bottom

I earlier described the old progressive as a minotaur, part man and mostly bull.  His exceptionalism is the bull.  America is certainly an unusual country, but there is nothing but Puritan prudery behind its claims to moral exceptionalism.  Indeed the light that it gives to the world has long been the red light of a brothel on a hill.   And because Puritan prudery always becomes violent fanaticism, it has become the red light of a bellicose brothel on a hill, from which fanatics sally forth, with torches and spears in their hands.

And this all goes back to the old progressives’ strange and confused admiration for Abraham Lincoln, since it was Abraham Lincoln who crushed the real American traditionalists and laid the foundation of our bellicose brothel on a hill.

Here is the truly traditionalist view of what Lincoln did when he crushed the traditionalists and unified the states.  They are from a letter the General Robert E. Lee, a sound traditionalist, wrote to Lord Acton in 1866, when the old progressive view had triumphed, the Constitution had been rewritten by the Female Antislavery Society of Concord, and the strange “conservative” cult of Lincoln lay mewling and puking in its crib.

“The consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of that ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it.”[2]


[1])Nathaniel P. Rogers, An Address Delivered Before the Concord Female Anti-Slavery Society (Concord, N.H.: W. White, 1838), p. 23.

[2] Letter of Robert E. Lee to Lord Acton, December 15, 1866.  In John Neville Figgis and Reginald Vere Laurence, eds., Selections from the Correspondence of the First Lord Acton (London: Longman, Green and Co., 1917), vol. 1, pp. 302-305.

35 thoughts on “The Red Light of a Bellicose Brothel on a Hill

  1. Mention of Lincoln is like a red flag to any right thinking Bull. And I’m not even American. Could we please indulge my bigotry by putting in an unfavorable mention of one Harry Jaffa? The binary nerve agent seems to me to be one part Puritanism and one part Squeezed Citrus Beverage Retconning and reshaping. Greater than the sum of its constituents. More’s the pity.

    • Jaffa is only one link away (the last one in this post). Jaffa was right that Lincoln’s party grafted the Declaration onto the Constitution, failing to mention that this was done by means neither the Declaration or Constitution would approve.

      • I think it is a florid tissue of eighteenth-century flimflam that was incorporated into the Constitution at the point of a bayonet, But you are welcome to enjoy Mr. Jefferson’s prose if you like. It was written to make the American rebellion appear legitimate in the eyes of the French, who were drunk on eighteenth-century flimflam and about to lose their heads over it. There are hardly three consecutive words in that document that are true!

      • It’s not a question of enjoying it. You said it was grafted onto the constitution to which I infer you mean it was illegitimately given the force of law. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to use it as persuasive authority as it gives insight into the intentions of the drafters of the constitution and therefore can be used to interpret its vaguer text.

      • No. The Declaration was never intended as a founding document. It was propaganda written to make France feel sympathetic to the Americans. American radicals liked its democratic sentiments and American conservatives unwisely signed off on it because they knew the French were suckers for democratic sentiments (which the French soon got good and hard). The Constitution was a serious document that was written to put a lid on democratic sentiment, which it did until it was amended by a rump of the Union after the war.

      • What legal precedent? The principles of the DOI were not regarded as integral into to the Constitution until they were made integral, at the point of a bayonet, in amendments 13-15. Liberals applaud this integration as a salutary correction, conservatives deplore it as a lamentable distortion. But what’s done is done and we’re well on our way down democracy road. The terminus is anarchy, despotism, or some combination that will no doubt be full of interest.

      • You might say the precedent was declared a precedent by an armed political faction after having not been a precedent for ninety years. It was political, military, ideological–but one really has to stretch a point to call it legal. It was legal like the check you sign while a gun his being held to your head is legal.

      • The constitution sets forth the process for adopting amendments to the constitution. The Confederacy lost the war and it’s constituent states were granted readmission to the union upon ratifying the 14th amendment. You can say it was at gun point but wars are fought with guns and loosing wars has consequences.

      • Winstonscrooge wrote:

        I think it’s perfectly reasonable to use it as persuasive authority as it gives insight into the intentions of the drafters of the constitution and therefore can be used to interpret its vaguer text.

        Oh, for goodness sakes! If you really care to gain “insight into the intentions of the drafters of the Constitution,” of whom Jefferson was not one, and need a tool to “interpret [the Constitution’s] vaguer text,” then I suggest (as I’ve suggested to you on more than one occasion before) to procure a copy and commit to a serious study of The Federalist Papers. Which, by the way, Mr. Jefferson declared to be ‘the greatest explication of government ever written.’ Moreover, and as I’m sure you know, Jefferson was in his early 30s when he wrote the DoI. If you’ve never read his autobiography, you probably should – it is interesting and insightful in numerous ways, not the least of which is in the way his political philosophy transformed, with age and experience, from the radical ideologue who wrote “The Declaration” in ’76 to a more conservative, more balanced political thinker as time wore on.

        If you really knew anything about the man (Jefferson) you’d know that he’s been doing flip-flops in his grave ever since the federal principle was overthrown by Yankee fanatics following the WBTS. I’d still like to dig up those bones and kick the sh*t out of them for more reasons than one, and for one in particular not mentioned in Prof. Smith’s excellent O.P. But anyway.

      • So are back numbers of Playboy, the Koran, and the Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra. But all three cannot be persuasive authorities for the same man.

      • If we’re talking about whether something is constitutional or not I think we are. Legal sources related to the constitution are relevant. I don’t believe the sources you just referenced are.

      • I’m going to end this thread here. My point is that the DOI did not have legal authority for 90 years and then was given legal authority in a highly unscrupulous manner. And the unscrupulous manner in which it was grafted onto the Constitution outrages the spirit of both the DOI and the C. If all men have an “inalienable” right to liberty, for instance, how did Southerners alienate their right to liberate themselves from the Union? If the colonies could declare their independence from Britain, then the Southern states could certainly declare their independence from the Union. The alleged illegality of the “rebellion” presumes that the DOI is not a legal precedent, which it wasn’t (although neither was the “rebellion” a rebellion). But we are both whipping dead horses now.

    • The Federalist Papers are also persuasive authority.

      They are. Far more persuasive and authoritative indeed, than Jefferson’s DoI.

    • We’re talking about legal arguments right?

      It’s hard to tell what you’re talking about, what with all your (mostly irrelevant) one-liner “arguments.” What we’re talking about – what I’m talking about, I should say, is that you’re giving far more credence (per the usual for left-leaning types) to the DoI than it deserves inasfar as properly understanding the mind of the Constitutional framers and all of that is concerned.

  2. Becoming Holier than Jesus. Is always the opposite to such intentions. If God is perfect Holiness.

    Any deviation from Holiness even so called greater Holiness is self-deluded slide into even greater sin than the fleshly but of “Spiritual Pride” which the Bodiless Satan partook of.

    The Demons without bodily appetites most definitely partook of. Pharisees are far less redeemable than the true Harlots and Tax collectors of the world. At least the latter know they are sinners and are willing to bow at God’s feet in repentance.

    • I dislike talk of “purges” since it suggest guillotines and one-way trips with the Cheka. I also lack a list of suitable replacements. Putting “good people” in office doesn’t do any good if those people aren’t very good at doing their jobs. To be honest, I am not a politician and have no plan. I know a little bit of history and a little bit of political philosophy, and I get some relief (and hopefully give some entertainment) by heckling from the back row. My impression is that the present ruling class is pretty seedy, and that they are on top of that hostile to many things I cherish and hold dear. I take little comfort in the pusillanimous phonies who pretend to be my champions. I believe things are likely far worse than they appear. But neither I nor anyone I know is prepared to take power.

    • I wouldn’t think the Orthosphere, generally speaking, would favor purges as a ‘solution’ to our problems: to think this would fix things is not to grasp the nature of the problem. Insofar as America remains wedded to liberal principles, all that would entail is that one set of liberals gets replaced by another.

      The only real solution is for America as a whole to reject liberalism. And that’s only the start.

      So I guess you could say that we do favor a ‘purge’ in a sense: but rather than purging people from our society, purging people of their liberalism.

      • I have no practical politics myself, but I do think tiny fringe groups should remember they are tiny fringe groups, and plan accordingly. Fantasizing about what we would do if you had power is silly if we have no plan to get power. The Communists were good at getting power, but then had no realistic ideas how to use it. The fringe Right is good at imagining itself in power, but has no realistic idea how to get it.

      • So I guess you could say that we do favor a ‘purge’ in a sense: but rather than purging people from our society, purging people of their liberalism.

        Which is to say: Mass conversion

      • And we are demonstrably incapable of mass conversion. Not especially good at retarding mass de-conversion. Scripture does not foretell a mass conversion at the end of time. It foretells a mass apostasy.

  3. …that strange and confused creature, the conservative admirer of Abraham Lincoln.

    The ironic thing for me is that as a former ‘conservative’ (self-described classical liberal and southern partisan), I was not much an admirer of Lincoln. Now as a traditionalist and having rejected my erstwhile classical liberal views, I find that my estimation of Lincoln has improved.

    Here is the truly traditionalist view of what Lincoln did when he crushed the traditionalists and unified the states. …

    Were there really many traditionalists for Lincoln to crush in the South? It seems to me that it would be more accurate to say that one faction of liberalism crushed another faction of liberalism.

    I can’t say whether Lee himself was a ‘sound traditionalist’ or not, though I would have surmised that he was committed to some version of classical liberal principles. The fact that he corresponded with arch-liberal Lord Acton is suggestive (and interesting), though I have no idea the content of that correspondence.

    • I may lack sufficient focus, but these terms have fuzzy definitions in my mind. Liberties can be traditional. I can conserve traditions. And these fuzzy terms have also evolved, so that most “conservatives” are really old-fashioned liberals, and most “liberals” are really old-fashioned leftists. I sometimes self-identify as a traditionalist but do not like the term. What tradition are we talking about? Is is really possible to become traditional? Becoming traditional implies receiving the tradition in a non-traditional way.

      • Yes, traditionalist is a sub-optimal term. I just don’t know a better one so I keep returning to it. Theocrat maybe, in the sense that we want the state to favor a particular religion over others and want the state explicitly oriented toward the Good. But theocrat conjures up a whole host of other associations, not all of them accurate.

      • I would say we live in a theocracy, but do not have the theocrats that we want. Every party out of power must be opportunistically liberal.

  4. Odd, isn’t it, that States no longer in the Union but that needed to be “re-admitted” to it, should be able to vote on the ratifications of Constitutional Amendments, prior to being “re-admitted” to it? One would think that only States that were already part of the Union would have a voice in such matters. But looking for principle in politics is like looking for good men in Hell.

    • They called it “enlightened and motivated voting.” Some have unfairly described it as voting with a gun to your head. The Union had just demonstrated that a state could not get out of the Union, and it now stipulated that there was only one way back in. That’s why the Civil War was about freedom.

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