Born Again Ideology

The New Protestant Ethic

One hundred years after the publication of Max Weber's classic text, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, the fateful relationship between Protestantism and capitalism has been renewed in American political discourse. Except this time it is no longer the original convergence theorized by Weber between the spirit of Calvinism and acquisitive capitalism whereby Christianity was destined to be ultimately secondary to the unfolding historical project of capitalism, but the opposite. In a contemporary political climate marked by the resurgence seemingly everywhere of faith-based politics, capitalism and its historical correlate -- modernism -- have actually folded back on themselves, quickly reversing modernist codes of economic secularism and political pluralism, in the interests of being reanimated with the evangelical spirit of religious fundamentalism. What Weber foresaw as a primal compact between Calvinism and acquisitive capitalism -- this migration, first in Europe and then in Puritan America, of Puritan attitudes towards personal salvation based on giving witness by habits of frugality, hard work, and discipline into the essentially acquisitive spirit of capitalism -- has been renewed in new key. On the centennial of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, the political universe is suddenly dominated by the spirit of what might be called the New Protestant Ethic as the ideological reflex of the age of networked capitalism and empire politics.

Animated by apocalyptic visions of the days of wrath announcing the Second Coming of Christ, motivated by feverish aspirations to be counted among the spiritually elect in the coming age of division between the Predestined and the Left Behind, witness to the vengeful spirit of the Old Testament, literal in its biblical interpretations, monistic in its drive to hegemony among the world religions, in active revolt against secularism, in bitter rebellion against pluralism, the New Protestant Ethic is the foundational creed of contemporary American politics.

We, the inhabitants of post-Enlightenment society might have thought that the current cultural horizon was exhausted by fateful struggles between modernism, postmodernism and posthumanism, but it turns out that the past will not be denied. Out of the ashes of the Book of Revelation emerges a form of faith-based politics which is, in every political sense, the ascendant historical tendency in American public life. Here, putting on the policy garments of the "culture of life" movement, there waging bitter political combat against the heresy of "same-sex marriage," now opposed to scientific claims concerning stem cell research, allying itself actively with the crusading spirit of American imperialist adventures, dominating the media with faith-based cultural perspectives, the New Protestant Ethic easily sweeps aside secular discourses in the interests of a vision of culture, society and politics which is as cosmological in its theological sweep as it is eschatological in its historical ambitions.

Understood metaphysically, it may well be that the insurgency represented by faith-based politics is the representative political form of what Heidegger's Nietzsche described as the age of "completed nihilism." In this interpretation, power in its mature (nihilistic) phase -- sick of itself, possessing no definitive goal, exhausted with the historical burden of remaining an active will, always sliding inexorably towards the nothingness of the will-less will -- desperately seeks out a sustaining purpose, an inspiring goal, a historical mission. Into the ethical vacuum at the disappearing center of nihilistic power flows a strong historical monism -- the New Protestant Ethic -- that will not be suppressed. To power's empty formalism, to liberal humanism's (emotionally) ineffective proceduralist ethics, to the empire's cybernetic equations written in violence and in blood across the landscape of imperial wars, the New Protestant Ethic provides a singular historical purpose -- the crusading spirit of evangelical Christianity which is reconstructionist, resurgent, and reanimated -- backed up by the semiotic purity of the foundational texts of the Old Testament. To those who would discount faith-based politics as only the most recent instance of the politics of cultural backlash, it should be noted that this fateful, and entirely original, entwinement of (fundamentalist) religion and (imperial) war technologies in the American mind may well be in the order of a great overturning. With faith-based politics, we are witness to something entirely unexpected, and for that reason, deeply ominous -- an ethical reconciliation between religion and technology in which the apocalyptic visions of the Old Testament will be future-coded in the power languages of empire politics and networked capitalism. What is now only in its preparatory rhetorical stages as the "culture of life" movement may soon emerge full-blown as the essential life-principle of American, and by imperialist extension, world culture.

Consequently, it may no longer be The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in its original Calvinist evocation of ascetic propriety and regularity, nor capitalism any longer in its first pioneering acquisitive expression. However, it appears to most definitely be the New Protestant Ethic as the moral vision of American politics in the 21st century -- intolerant, charismatic, crusading. Breaking beyond the boundaries of private religious belief, this fusion of religious fundamentalism and the instrumentalities of increasingly cyberneticized imperial forms of global warfare is, for example, the moral essence of the Bush administration's political vision of "redemptive empire." Here, "Reconstructionist" Christianity -- aggressive, projective, fundamentalist -- is streamed instantly across the spacetime fabric of American empire by a military intent both on "full-spectrum domination of space" and, as recently announced, on "metabolic domination" of the bodies of its global subjects . A dangerous fusion then of fundamentalist Protestantism and cyber-war. In his first press conference after the last American presidential election, George W. Bush said: "I have earned political capital and I intend to spend it."

There are intimations here: some known -- the sacrificial violence directed against the cities of Iraq, recent reports of new versions of experimental weapons -- poison gas and napalm -- used against the citizens of Falluja, ominous warnings of adventurism to come in Iran; and some stories unknown, unreported, already forgotten at the dark edges of the real politics of empire -- the probable murder in a southern motel room in December of Ray C. Lemme, a private investigator, who it is reported was following the trail of The Five Star Trust -- a secret fund out of Texas, Saudi Arabia, the Phillipines -- which may have financed the widespread computer manipulation of the last American election.[1] Thinking of these events, I again allow those chilling words of George W. Bush to brush against my thought: "I have earned political capital and I intend to spend it."

Inauguration Day Blues & the Messianic Rapture of End Times

History calls us.

-- Condoleeza Rice, American Secretary of State

On Inauguration day, with the streets of Washington locked down tight with security, paranoia in the fearful air, ABC television commentators, probably trying to pass the time, remix visuals of John Kerry with the laconic words: "At least in this country, we don't line up losers against the wall and shoot them." The messianic text of the inaugural speech proclaims America to be the moral tutelary of global politics, self-appointed in a journey to bring "freedom and democracy" to the world that may take many "generations to come." President Bush's fateful political rhetoric -- "America's vital interests and deepest beliefs are now one" -- carry with them a sense of deep foreboding: intimations of future aggressions by a rogue (imperial) state in the "name of liberty" and in the "image of the maker of heaven and earth." God Bless America. God Bless the American People.

Accordingly, the question: What would it mean to think American politics from the perspective of Born Again Ideology? What new forms of political interpretation would result from critical reflection upon that strange, but very real, very intense relationship between the resurfacing of religious fundamentalism in contemporary American politics and cyber-warfare by which America projects its imperial ambitions across the planet -- this epochal meeting in the American political mind of its Puritan religious past and its increasingly militarized version of the posthuman future? In a way that Weber could only intimate we may well be already living in the ashes of The Protestant Ethic: a supposedly dead resurrection-effect -- the Protestant ethic -- hyper-moral, hyper-monistic, hyper-charismatic, hyper-fundamentalist -- has suddenly come alive in the imperial language of redemptive empire. Little wonder then that Frank Rich, in a recent op-ed for The New York Times, can write of the cultural morbidity associated with "A Culture of Death, Not Life."

Mortality -- the more graphic, the merrier -- is the biggest thing going in America. Between Terri Schiavo and the pope, we've feasted on decomposing bodies for almost a solid month now. The carefully edited, three-year-old video loops of Ms. Schiavo may have been worthless as medical evidence, but as necro-porn their ubiquity rivaled that of TV's top entertainment franchise, the all-forensics-all-the-time "CSI." To help us visualize the dying John Paul, another Fox star, Geraldo Rivera, brought on Dr. Michael Baden, the go-to-cadaver expert from the JonBenet Ramsey, Chandra Levy and Laci Peterson mediathons, to contrast His Holiness's cortex with Ms. Schiavo's.

-- Frank Rich, The New York Times, April 10, 2005

As Rich concludes: "Once the culture of death at its most virulent interests with politicians in power, it starts to inflict damage on the living."

Accordingly, is the "culture of death" a symptomatic sign of the psycho-geography of the American mind, or does the scent of death attract such intense media fascination because it evokes a more fundamental turn in political culture, namely that (terminal) point when life itself gave up on the future, becoming born again in the ecstatic (media) signs of its own death. Understood as the cultural capstone of the New Protestant Ethic, this searing image of the "culture of death" is perhaps less an exclusively media phenomenon than a return to something autochthonous in American culture -- the recurrence of 21st century America to the ruling passions of its 17th century Puritan origins. Obsessive, judgmental, moralistic, hard willed, messianic, intent on penalizing the signs of (earthly) life in the name of eternal life: Calvinism, like Christianity in general, always had about it a doubled fascination -- certainly with the prospect of death as resurrection of the soul from the flesh of the sinful body; but also the strict disciplining of Christian life as a signifier of religious election. Propelled at the speed of (mass media) light into popular culture, the spirit of Calvinism is resurrected now as the scent of death which is the real attraction and psychological driver of the "culture of life."

Specifically, virulent as only a resurrection-effect can be, the Calvinist origins of the Protestant ethic have now successfully mutated into the redemptive fundamentalist language of Born Again Christianity. In contemporary political cartography, this is perfectly symbolized as the division of America into the chromatics of blue and red states. With this addition. Perhaps the red states symbolize a certain psycho-geography in the American mind -- a massive psychological reaction-formation -- imminent, subjective, populist, faith-based -- which once linked with the instrumentalities of power -- cyber-warfare, militarized globalization, elite-driven, neo-conservative -- constitutes what we mean now by cultural fascism. In the 20th century, the power libido of capitalist excess was politically constrained by the bi-polar opposition of the Communist Bloc. In the 21st century, the epoch initiated symbolically by the fall of the Berlin Wall, the politics of empire -- capitalism triumphant -- has no effective political check.

American empire, this spearhead of increasingly militarized capitalism, is free at last to be the universal sign -- unipolar, unchallenged, self-directing. It is finally at liberty to stamp the political formula inscribed on American coins -- E Pluribus Unum (Out of Many, One) -- onto global culture. Without its Communist binary, without the necessity to maintain at least the rhetorical illusion of political commitment to the ideals of democratic rights and economic egalitarianism, empire capitalism swiftly backslides into the specter of cultural fascism as its chosen future. Again, the political formula is this: an imminent, populist reaction-formation -- Born Again fundamentalism -- sweeping from the southern states to the heart of the heartland of the industrial Midwest and west -- combines with a right-wing elitist agenda of imperial politics -- the logic of cyber-warfare, "The American Project for the 21st Century," "full spectrum domination" -- to produce a politics of empire which is incipiently authoritarian. Domestically, politically threatened by the human rights struggles of gays and lesbians, this psychological reaction-formation -- this virulent political backlash against the politics of difference -- fuses emotionally around issues of same-sex marriage, pro-choice, immigration, the restriction of welfare rights and the weakening of gun control. Globally, it projects itself outward in the language of ressentiment and sacrificial violence -- a Born Again Ideology as the moral energy of American empire -- what the American rhetorician and New England politician, Daniel Webster, long ago called "Our Moral Republic." Herewith, the language of religious fundamentalism merges with the logistics of cyber-empire. Weber's dark prophecy concerning a bleak future of "specialists without spirit midst this nullity which calls itself a civilization" is not apparently our past, but the future.

Redemptive Violence and Panic Insecurity

This year, 2005, is a double anniversary. Not only the publication of Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism but also the centennial of Albert Einstein's first publication of his special theory of relativity. These events are not unrelated. It's my thesis that Weber's grim vision of the "iron cage" has been projected into history at Einstein's "speed of light." Today, the spirit of capitalism in networked culture moves literally at the speed of life. The Protestant Ethic has been renewed in the redemptive, passionate language of Born Again Christianity. What has happened this year, this time, this day, is that we are witness now to a fateful crossing-over of Born Again Christianity with the power of American empire moving at the speed of Born Again light. That's Born Again Ideology: networked imperial power animated by the disciplinary energies of a now resurrected, redemptive Christianity moving at the speed of darkness.

Long before Einstein's scientific vision of relativity theory, America always was a quantum country. A culture of communication, it has always privileged the speed of light as the emblematic sign of its technological omnipotence. A culture of relativity, American political economy could gain a global empire because it learned how to transform the purely theoretical principle of instrumental activism into the pragmatic business methods associated with the "enhancement of adaptive capacity." A culture of violence, American militarism split open the atom of colonizing power with the reactor of crusading, missionary consciousness. A culture of foundational political narratives, America's ruling rhetoric was never based upon the modernist logic of binaries, the logic of either/or. Politically, America is a quantum culture because it has always only been an energy field simultaneously combining opposite changes of state. In its rhetoric as much as in its politics, culture and economy, America has always been both wave-form and particle. That is America's secret, its seduction, its curse.

The signs of (quantum) America as simultaneously wave-form and particle -- opposite changes of (cultural) state simultaneously -- are everywhere. Symbolically, it's the split visual energy field of the American flag with its stars and stripes. Historically, it's the received interpretation of the Civil War as a redemptive moral struggle fusing opposing violent energy states -- Confederates and Unionists -- in the continuing story of the American Republic. Legislatively, it's the Federalist Papers proclaiming an impossible (quantum) political theory with its vision of unequivocal states-rights and strong central government. Culturally, it's the governing contradiction of faith-based political populism and rule by political elites. In the American official song-line, it's the unspoken contradiction of a national anthem with inspiring republican political rhetoric and impossibility of popular participation. Einsteinian before Einstein, American exceptionalism has everything to do with the fact that it is the political precursor of quantum reality -- a contested style of government, a warring field of religion and technology, a violent energy field of individual subjectivity -- which anticipates by several centuries the great scientific discoveries of modern times.

A nation of possibilities ("the American dream"), a country of probabilities which absorbs the difference, America is and has always been a historical singularity, a quantum culture, a spacetime fabric. Breaking with European (binary) discourse, America has always represented a fusion of pre-Enlightenment subjectivity and posthuman technology, just waiting to happen. Consequently, if Einstein's special theory of relativity could speculate that light is both wave-form and particle simultaneously, that light is both/and, opposite states simultaneously; that is only to repeat the political formula that has animated American political culture from its Puritan beginnings, namely that this would be a culture simultaneously of redemptive violence and panic insecurity. And if Einstein could theorize against and beyond Newton's modernist vision of an entitative universe (where discrete objects interact at a distance) that we live in a spacetime fabric moving at the speed of light, this was only to repeat what had long been established in the founding covenant of the United States. Namely, that this "good land" (in the words of the Mayflower Compact) was visualized from its historical inception as an imminently religious, imminently unified fabric of spacetime moving literally at the transcendental speed of (theological) light. And if quantum theorists after Einstein could theorize that implosive change occurs in quantum culture by virtue of a "tunneling effect" whereby warp holes suddenly and unpredictably open up in the spacetime fabric, linking singularities from the past and the future, that is exactly what is occurring in the politics of American empire today. Here, a (religious) singularity from the past (the Puritan origins of faith-based politics) has now literally tunneled its way into the future. Fueled by the Born Again emotions of religious premodernity, the American (cybernetic) posthuman opens onto a future in which atavistic religious impulses stream across the spacetime fabric of a technoculture moving at the speed of (digital) light. If this appears contradictory, paradoxical, indeterminate, that is probably because America is the first, and definitely most singular, expression of the "quantum idea" politically realized.

Precipitated by the (symbolically) cataclysmic events of 9/11, by waves of panic fear and calls for redemptive violence unleashed by this sudden dissolution, this breaching, of the boundaries of the sovereign body politic, a warp hole has opened up in the spacetime fabric of American empire linking two singularities -- religious fundamentalism and cybernetized global militarism -- into what quantum physicists call a "common world-line." Literally, the psychic shock of 9/11 -- aided and abetted by a neoconservative regime with a preemptive plan of strategic military action already in place -- ripped wide open the unitary spacetime fabric of the American mind, providing for a momentous fusion of two seemingly opposite ideas -- technological futurism and religious prophecy -- which, until that moment, had maintained their solitude according to the rituals of modernity. Instantly, the vengeance-seeking energies of the (religious) past poured through the psychic fissure of 9/11 to take flesh in the materiality of cybernetic warfare and crusading empire-consciousness.

We all know the enlightenment fable of the supposed death of god. But that story, the Nietzschean myth of the death of the sacred in our (enlightenment) minds and with it the supposed triumph of the rights of reason over religious sectarianism, is, it must be admitted, increasingly specific to the particularities of European late modernist experience. Like Hegel's vision of the owl of Minerva which takes flight at dusk, the God of the New Testament may have died in European consciousness in the age of progress precisely because a new incarnation of God, the God of the Old Testament, fusing a crusading politics of redemptive violence and a domestic tutelary of panic insecurity, was being born by way of the American political covenant.

The second coming of god then as the real politics of American empire: a fateful meeting of the ancient prophecies of the Old Testament with full-spectrum futurism of cyber-warfare. That's Born Again Ideology, and this time, the rulers of the American covenant intend to get it right, far right, with a style of political action -- an unyielding politics based on preemptive action, a politics of hand to mouth existence, constant military interventions, ceaselessly stirring up turbulence, media provocations intended to provoke panic fear among the domestic population for which redemptive violence is the only recourse -- a style of political action which, with its scapegoating and appeals to intolerant, charismatic leadership is hauntingly reminiscent of what Leo Lowenthal, the Frankfurt School theorist writing in exile during the 1940s, described as the imminent strategy of authoritian ideologies.

Rapture and the American Mind

To interpret the evangelical religious vision in American politics as only a useful addendum to America's political/military ambitions is, I believe, to miss to the point. The animating energy of the American imperial project is essentially religious, not political. The ruling American mythopoetic is eschatological. It is about 'end times.' It is animated by a strictly religious vision of 'end times,' spellbound by the imminence of the moment of 'rapture,' that moment when political crisis unleashes the violence, desolation and destruction of Armaggedon prophesied by the Book of Revelation, enthusiastically reconstructionist, with the language of the Old Testament as its psychological horizon, the emotional horizon, of American imperialism. This is why it is of more than anecdotal interest that a recent Marine assault operation south of Baghdad was code-named "Operation Plymouth Rock," why American soldiers go into battle with camouflage bibles, and why the poignancy of that recent television image of Marines creating an impromtu baptismal fount out of spent artillery shells in order to be anointed in their terms "in the spirit of the Lord" during the fighting for Falluja.

When the first Pilgrims -- the Massachusetts Bay Colony -- crossed the waters of the Atlantic Ocean in the 17th century, their historical self-consciousness was truly ancient, not modern; informed less by the constraints of economic necessity than by biblical scripture: Matthew 5:14 to be exact which provided the scriptural basis for John Winthrop's famous shipboard declaration of the Mayflower Compact during that "great migration' wherein he spoke of the colony's collective destiny as the creation of a 'City upon a Hill.' These were a people of a biblical migration whose psycho-geography was a fourth-order simulacra: a virtual symbolic reality which had no reality referent other than its own closed scriptural tautology -- literally a universal sign populated most deeply with the voices of Daniel and Matthew, the seven-headed beasts of the Book of Revelation and the four beasts rising from the ocean of Daniel.

Listen anew to the Mayflower Compact, this early rhetoric of empire which is literally burned into American governing political rhetoric, from Daniel Webster's reinvocation of the spirit of Puritanism as the essence of the American "Moral Republic" on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the "first encounter" at Plymouth Rock,[2] to Lincoln's Gettysburg Address to John F. Kennedy's inaugural speech to the political rhetoric of Nixon, Reagan, and Bush, father and son and probably the next son too.

For we must Consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us; so that if we shall deal falsely with our god in this work we have undertaken and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world, we shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of god all profess for God's sake; we shall shame the faces of many of gods worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into Curses upon us till we be consumed out of the good land whether we are going.[3]

Not just the yearning to be a City Upon a Hill, but something else too, something little remarked in the inspiring glow surrounding the phrase a "City Upon a Hill." Consider again that ominous sentence: "If we deal falsely with our god ... we shall be made a story and a byword through the world" -- a fear of failure, an imminent self-doubt, a sub-text of potential shame and evil and potential curses.

There are two America's present in the rhetoric of the Mayflower Compact: the much-remarked utopia of the rise of the American Republic, but also the hard-scrabble, bible-belt, unforgiving psychological territory of the fall -- a feared world of shame and curses, an apocalyptic vision of desolation accompanying the withdrawal of God from this "good land." With this, the familiar story of the America Eden -- America as a religious covenant signified by the image of itself as a "City Upon as Hill" -- flips in the first instance into the cruel, imaginary country of the American Gothic. Tainted from the very first moment of its articulation with just the barest hint of panic insecurity, the political rhetoric surrounding America as a "City Upon a Hill" has an undetectable crack just beneath its psychic surface, namely, an imminent fear of the catastrophe awaiting a "chosen people" unfaithful to the terms of the religious covenant.

Consequently, even before the Puritans came out of the sea at Plymouth Rock, the American political code was firmly set in place. This would be a political culture dialectically bound by the rhythms and tensions of the master codes of the rise and fall, redemptive violence and panic insecurity, spasms of the "war spirit" and inertia tinged by a melancholic sense of fatalism.[4] But if this is the case, isn't the story of the American covenant a continuation of the much older story of the rise and fall of cosmological experience? Doesn't the Puritan invocation of the Mayflower Compact signify that the real historical project of America would rise and fall with the adequacy of its response to the problem of salvation? In this case, the resurgence of faith-based politics in the 21st century would represent less a moment of rupture with America's self-conception as a secular technoculture driven by the speed of business than a faithful return to the generative political problematic underlying the American dream -- the more ancient dream of the desire for salvation leavened by fear of banishment. And if the United States has never managed to escape its genealogical roots in the salvation myths of cosmology, this would indicate that its political future may well unfold in accordance with the more enduring metaphysics of cosmological experience, mediated through the specificities of contemporary American culture: its ontology(salvational), its epistemology (faith-based), its political organization (theocratic), its aesthetic (the "culture of life"). In current American political vernacular, issues of globalization and its consequences for a multinational world are eclipsed by the specter of cosmology.

Curiously, the United States, this self-proclaimed, immensely confident spearhead of technological modernity supposedly born as the Canadian philosopher George Grant said in the age of progress, has its mythic roots in a form of consciousness that is biblical, intensely spiritual, disciplined, given over in the first instance to frugality, moral uprightness, disciplined labor, and later to all the excesses of redemptive violence and panic insecurity, consumer ecstasy and bouts of economic over-indebtedness. Perhaps like Foucault's theorization of the death of representation in Ceci n'est pas une pipe, the Puritan Pilgrims never really crossed the Atlantic. Perhaps in their minds, they were always one with the children of Israel fleeing the evil Pharaoh: not the Egyptian Pharaoh, but the royalist restoration in England and with it the collapse of the Anglican Church into the apostasy of ceremony and the reinstallation of religious hierarchy. These were refugees from Babylon intent on reenacting in the New World what the historian, Barbara Tuchman, has described as the essence of English Cromwellian religious enthusiasm -- the power of the "bible and sword".[5] What came ashore at Plymouth Rock was, I believe, the premonitory shadow of the "last man" of Nietzsche's Zarathustra -- a fully armed spirit of Nietzschean ressentiment: an exiled religious community fleeing persecution in England and indifference in Holland, separatist, infused with the crusading spirit of the religiously elect, and most of all sexually perverse in its relationship to the body. The founding of America never really was (exclusively) about capitalist political economy, but about libidinal religious economy: an obsessive, disciplinarian attitude to the body which read Old Testament phantasmagoria into the body's desire, aggressively policing the bodies of women, parishioners, indigenous people. Separatist, resentful, hardened in the bitter anvil of European religious struggles, filled with the spirit of the spiritually elect, obsessed to the point of sexual perversity with suppressing the body's libido, the Puritans came ashore as an eschatology -- a hard, cold vision of end times -- just waiting its chance for full historical expression.

Now much has been made of the capitalist origins of the American experiment, but less so of the origins of American exceptionalism in the psycho-geography of the Old Testament. The very terms which trace the horizon of the so-called American dream -- the 'American covenant,' 'City Upon the Hill' -- indicate that governing American rhetoric is steeped in the ancient binaries of the Old Testament. Everything else is, I believe, at present derivative: blasted away in the contemporary fundamentalist turn to that primitive vision of the spirit of Puritan nihilism which came out of the sea at Plymouth. George W. Bush's appeal for the "expansion of freedom in all the world" is the emblematic rhetoric of missionary consciousness, just as much as the "culture of life" movement awakens in the American mind a Puritan habit of mind which is intolerant and disciplinarian in equal measure.

It is as if for one brief historical moment which has now been effectively eclipsed, the light of political reason, hard won from religious persecution and the exhaustion of Europe's unending religious wars, dims again as the apocalyptic language of religious eschatology asserts itself anew. Thought from a critical, liberal perspective, the Puritan tradition represents that continuous, but episodic moment, in the American mind wherein the forces of reaction break out from the silence of many hearts fueled by ressentiment into the public passions of zealotry and scapegoating -- witness the deep continuity of America's historical experience of "culture of backlash" politics -- the ideological specter of McCarthyism, the politics of race-baiting, union-baiting, sex-baiting, or the recent anti-terrorist campaigns codified into law by the US Patriot Act. Understood from the liberal side of the dialectic of reason, this may well be the case, but in terms of diagnosing the genealogy of the politics of American empire, I do not believe this to be an adequate theorization of the times in which we live.

We should listen anew, listen intently, to what the Puritans had to say, for theirs is, I believe, the foundational creed of contemporary American politics. Not in its specifics -- their calls for frugality and self-discipline and bodily sequestration have disappeared under the surface of consumer capitalism and the society of the spectacle. Today, Nietzsche's "last man" runs on digital empty: electronically interfaced by iPods, IM, and consumer prosthetics; hooked on porn, soaps, cosmetic surgery, and Fox TV; bunkered down in front of plasma TV, surround sound pumped up full; silently fascinated by media reports of terrorists hunted down, captured, and imprisoned, perhaps tortured; and morally gratified with scenes of military violence visited upon an always accidental enemy.

But for all of this, the founding codes run deep: the spirit of Puritanism has not disappeared. Provoked by the classic psychic symptoms of Nietzschean ressentiment -- "someone has to pay for my feeling ill" -- the spirit of Puritanism may even have intensified. The rhetoric of exceptionalism -- America as a City upon a Hill, bonded in the beginning as in the present with a predestined religious covenant with God -- is the essence of American political self-consciousness. Call it what you will -- the American Dream, the Founding Covenant, the "Redemptive Empire" -- this is an animating rhetoric of moral exceptionalism which if it does provide (faithful in advance to the later political theories of Carl Schmitt and Giorgio Agamben) [6] a justification for the moral rightness of the cold power of the executive imperial state in determining who is and is not subject to the language of the exception, this should not distract our vision from the essentially religious nature of the American calling, nor from its uniqueness in linking together in the experiment of a "Moral Republic" an essentially Old Testament version of Christianity with a New Republican version of neo-conservative politics. Appeals now for faith-based politics, faith-based public policy, faith-based governance, commerce, science, and education do not represent something strikingly new in American political discourse, but constitute a return to an original unity of essentially missionary discourses -- science and religious belief, governance and faith -- which is the very essence of the new Covenant that is America. In American discourse, there are no real opposites, only clashing patterns in creative tension.

With the re-election of George W. Bush, the Puritan vision of America as a City Upon a Hill finds its articulation in a renewed interest in the language of a morally recharged, historically projective, militarily crusading Christianity. For example, in the American (electronic) homeland, theological visions of "Reconstructionist Christianity" [7] suddenly proliferate with endless salvational spin-offs, from specific religious theorizations of "theonomy" [8] and "denominationalism" [9]to the apocalyptic vision of the Left Behind armaggedon. Politicians, most of all, get into the (theological) act. Literally. With Pat Robertson of the 700 Club, President Bush is said to be a self-proclaimed 'premillenial dispensionalist.'[10] As opposed to other warring camps in what is described as "Reconstructionist Christiantity," (reconstructionist because it believes in the power of Christian belief and action to dramatically transform both personal identity and the course of history itself by imposing the biblical strictures of the Old Testament upon American society) President Bush is held to believe that the moment of Rapture -- the 2nd advent of Christ will be brought about by a certain constellation of political events prophesied in the Old Testament, most famously the reunification of Israel and the rebuilding of the Temple of Solomon on the Temple Mount. In combination with his closest White House advisors, he is held to affirm his unique executive historical position to realize in present-time the long-prophesied history of the 2nd advent. President Bush is, in fact, viewed by some Born Again Christians as God's chosen sign of the elect, the long-anticipated sign of the coming of moment of Rapture, with its prophesied division of the transcendent Christian elect from the vast multitude that will be "left behind." The psychosis of these new pagans occupies the highest offices of the politics of empire.

Which is why, I believe, in the present circumstance there can be so little public protest at the suppression of traditional constitutional guarantees of civil rights in favor of faith-based politics and disciplinary power. With Born Again Ideology, the secular rhetoric of American exceptionalism has been disappeared as something superfluous to the essentially religious essence of the American mind. Here, the Kantian project of universal freedom is displaced in American political discourse by a vision of salvation which, refusing to express itself in strictly religious terms, merges perfectly with the political vocabulary necessary to the extension of empire.

If it be objected that this is a temporary phenomenon, I would note that the spirit of Rapture has always been the enduring song of the American homeland. Call it what you will -- the steely belief of the original Puritans that they were less founders of a new political colony than a moment of redemptive renewal, a reinvocation in the wilderness, of an ancient religious compact (America literally as the new Jerusalem); evangelical revivalism in the backwoods religious tents of 18th and 19th century America; or those appeals to empire from the litany of Manifest Destiny to contemporary visions of Redemptive Empire; America has always been an essentially religious cosmology, wrapped in the shell of technology. Consequently, could it be that in the contemporary political juncture, American exceptionalism is less understandable in terms of traditional political imperialism than a violent effort to breed the objective worldwide crisis necessary to biblical revelation, to the Moment of Rapture?

Vampire Puritans

In his brilliant study of American classical philosophy as a moral quest, The Wilderness and the City,[11] the political theorist, Michael A. Weinstein, proposed this discerning thesis about the foundational logic of American society. For Weinstein, the American mind has always oscillated between two extremes -- between the "war spirit" and spirit of "acedia." Here, American exceptionalism is rooted in classically split consciousness veering between a raging "war spirit" (which, as de Toqueville noted set out to conquer the continental wilderness with a bible in one hand and an axe in the other); and panic fear (tempered by melancholic self-doubt) concerning the imminent dissolution of the boundaries of the self. Exploring the fundamental tension between American naturalists -- John Dewey and George Santayana -- and American vitalists -- Josiah Royce and C.S. Peirce -- with William James' will to pragmatism as their philosophical mediation, Weinstein asks whether the essence of American experience is not an ontology of "hatred of existence" -- covered up by aggressive displays of a veneer of frenzied activism over the reality of panic fear. As Weinstein states:

The challenge for the modern spirit today is to pass through Nietzsche's trial of world-sickness. American culture, which is the last outpost of Western individualism, has evaded Nietzsche's insight into the hatred for their own existence when the veils of piety have been lifted from their awareness. Among the American classical philosophers only William James came close to the Nietzschean phenomenology of the spirit, but he drew back in horror from reflection of his panic fear and chose to stimulate in other people a will to believe. [12]

The gravest of ills today is the massive aggregation of the weak into organized complexes that trample on the disorganized weak... There is a near universal sense of injury in America today, a will on the part of many to "get even." This sense of declining life, as Nietzsche's analysis predicts, a bitterness that is often overt but that even more frequently hides a brittle piety. [13]

Reflecting upon Weinstein's understanding of the moral basis of American exceptionalism as "brittle piety" and 'hatred of existence," could it be that the Puritans of the Mayflower Compact with their intense self-consciousness as Old Testament prophets, engaged in their own terms in a "Great Migration" across the waters of the new Red Sea -- the Atlantic -- fleeing an evil Pharaoh (the royalist restoration in England) brought to the shores of Plymouth Rock something very different, more chilling in its implications for its vision of "end times?" Before the "bitterness" and "brittle piety" that have come to typify Nietzsche's last man in the contemporary age of "declining life," I wonder if the Mayflower Compact was not the language of vampire-speak, spirit possession, a strange extra-terrestrial, extra-historical, extra-juridical language of the Old Testament, steeped in strong emotions of exile, resentment, vengeance, and optimism. Did the Puritans cross the Atlantic Ocean or the Red Sea? What was the Great Migration? Did they ever really settle America the land, or was America for them always something intermediary, spectral, a material instrument, a Great Migration, on the way to a final homecoming with the righteous god. With the Puritans, are not we suddenly time-warped to the psycho-geography of strange aliens?

We do know this. Social theorists such as Max Weber might later speak of the convenient convergence of Puritan habits of work -- self-discipline, frugality, hard work -- with the moral qualities necessary to support capitalism as a historical project, once the latter was liberated from the ethical constraints of religious worship. This is most certainly the religio-capitalist territory of Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. However, with the advantage of 21st century cultural hindsight, perhaps we can now add a small, but important, vampire modification to Weber's famous thesis. Could it be that American capitalism is a direct extension of an earlier religious impulse, namely the double necessity of first making of everything a 'great migration' (what Nietzsche would later call a 'crossing-over, a gamble, a passage over the abyss); and a will to nihilation energized by the 'hatred of existence' which was the essence of Puritan psycho-geography -- hatred of the body, hatred of nature, hatred of Europe, hatred of the reinstallation of Catholic ceremonial rituals in Anglicanism, hatred of life itself. Long before the post-structural reflections of Barthes, Derrida, Irigaray and Lyotard, the Puritans of the Mayflower Compact were the first semioticians of American experience, prophetic embodiment of what is meant by a society of the "universal sign." The collective identity of Puritanism was so fused, closed, self-reinforcing, tautological, so circular in its symbolic exchange, so sexually perverted in its disciplinary obsessions, so fetishistic and cosmological that it could have only one possible result -- expand to fill the fabric of spacetime, or perish from this earth. In the imaginary of Puritan eschatology, there is to be discovered the fundamental grammar of the American way -- either succeed in the will to empire, whether the sacred empire defined by the religious compact or the "Redemptive Empire" of decidedly more recent imperialist ambitions; or suffer the catastrophe of vanishing from the face of the earth. No mediation is possible between redemptive violence and panic fear. In Puritan futurism, America would either subordinate the recalcitrant matter of earthly space and bodily flesh to the eschatological language of end times or it would disappear.

Indeed, it was with good evangelical conscience that Puritan morality justified the extermination of indigenous peoples and the appropriation of their ancestral lands. As self-proclaimed founders of the New Jerusalem, Puritans established what would quickly become the American colonial pattern of demonizing indigenous peoples as radical negation itself -- nothingness -- before relieving them, first of their territories, then of their lives. While the Wampanoag Nation in Massachusetts was the first victim of the Puritan crusade, what might be called the Puritan model would soon be applied with clinical savagery by the American military ag ainst all indigenous inhabitants of Turtle Island. [14] Ironically, redemptive violence and panic fear may have bred that most European of all nihilisms -- Blake's "monstrous consciousness" -- in the Puritan mind and heart. With the Puritans, what Nietzsche would later diagnose as the distinctly European disease -- "Man" -- crossed the Atlantic to take its revenge on the New Canaan of the America's. On that day in 1620 when the Puritan spirit rose from the sea at Plymouth Rock, something very ancient in the story of human rage, something very bitter, recalcitrant and viral, just aching for revenge, forced itself upon the unsuspecting peoples, animals and land of Turtle Island. Beyond their specific religious cosmology, Puritans were also, I would claim, the unwitting carriers of an important particle of European metaphysics -- the spirit of vengeance-seeking nihilism -- which, in the crusading, salvational language of evangelical missionary consciousness, they injected directly into "this good land" of America.

Consequently, John Winthrop's vision of America as a "City upon a Hill" may well be viewed as comprising the very essence of the American dialectic -- a metaphysics of the war spirit and panic insecurity -- conquer or perish. Here at last was a migrant people in flight willing to stake their existence on a metaphysical gesture -- the spirit of the Puritan vampire -- who were not European, decidedly not wholly human, never feudal nor modernist, strangely posthuman perhaps. Similar to Augustine's Confessions in the garden at Cassiacium where the will to believe finally fused the Christian trinity of will, emotion and intellect in the flesh of his own subjectivity, the Puritan confession has burned its way into the American personality: life itself as a 'great migration' -- a "going across" the natural body to the biogenetic body, but also crossing the bodies of economy, nature, society, politics, these libidinal territories of an expanding empire, in pursuit of the saving grace of redemptive violence. What came out of the ocean at Plymouth Rock was a psychic precursor of faith-based American political culture: a biblical spirit infused with feelings of discipline and revenge, as implacable in its hatred of existence as it was motivated by yearning for salvation from a sinful world.

It is, I believe, the primal spirit of the Puritan Vampire -- redemptive, violent, extra-terrestrial in its spiritual ambitions, steeped in the blood sacrifices of the Old Testament -- it this spirit of the Puritan Vampire which issues again through the political rhetoric of faith-based politics. Here, "brittle piety" is swept away by feverish faith. Individual "bitterness" is collectively masked as the "culture of life" movement. "Hatred of existence" is transformed into the missionary consciousness of the "redemptive empire." Signs of the Puritan vampire are legion: from fundamentalist faith in the vision of "premillenial dispensationalism" to the new Covenant of the Mayflower Compact; from the current language of crusading imperialism to Puritan beliefs in the necessary application of redemptive violence against the body, particularly the unruly bodies of outlaw women, witches, and sorcerers. Signs of the ecstatic spirit of disciplinary Puritanism are everywhere: from the military's obsession with sexual perversion -- Abu Ghreib rethought now in the words of a Texas defense lawyer as normal "cheerleader sports" to an almost fetishistic obsession among the "organized weak" with purifying "traditional marriage" of the perceived "social contamination" of gay and lesbian love. From delirious White House ecstasy with visions of Armaggedon to the Puritan rapture of the New Protestant Ethic, public life embodies a sense of time curving backwards, with the spirit of the Puritan Vampire as the future of faith-based politics.

Here is the moral essence of American triumphalism. Here is why American empire, which may objectively -- strategically -- already in rapid decline from economic over-indebtedness, military over-expansion, media hubris, could also only be in its infancy. Nietzsche once remarked of that strange creature we call a human being that for all its resentment, cruelty, paranoia and fetishes, for all of its panic fear of the inner abyss and desperate struggles against the cage of its own moral conscience, it was a will, it was a going forth, and "nothing besides." Stopping for a moment from their game of wagers, the pantheon of gods took notice that with this birth of the "human, all-too-human," something fundamentally new was happening. But then Nietzsche was always the first philosopher of the American mind. If he could prophecize that he would only be understood posthumously, perhaps it was because his reflections on the "last man" as the final outcome of the will to power would only really take hold in the shadows of American empire in the 21st century. Equally, Nietzsche's philosophical twin, René Girard, could write so eloquently and truthfully about "sacrificial violence" [15] because he too sensed the advent of the desolation of redemptive violence with its cruel episodes of "scapegoating" and "sacrificial violence" as the "end times" of Armaggedon. Strangers in their own times, migrants of the darkness of intellectual imagination, Nietzche's "last man" and Girard's "sacrificial violence" remain strong psychic pulsars, pointing the way to the social apocalypse of Puritan eschatology once resurrected in the form of faith-based politics.


[1] Wayne Madsen, "Texas to Florida: White House-linked Software Operation Paid for "Vote Switching" Software ( 120604madsen.html)

[2] Daniel Webster's Plymouth Oration (

[3] John Winthrop's City Upon a Hill, 1630 (

[4] For a brilliant account of the migration of American political thought between the war spirit and acedia, see Michael A. Weinstein, The Wilderness and the City: American Classical Philosophy as a Moral Quest, Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1982.

[5] Barbara W. Tuchman, Bible and Sword: England and Palestine from the Bronze Age to Balfour, New York: Ballantine Books, 1984.

[6] Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political, translation, introduction and notes by George Schwab, New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press,1976. Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen, Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1998.

[7] For an excellent account of the vision of Reconstructionist Christianity, see: Robert Parsons, "Christian Reconstruction: A Call for Reformation and Renewal,"

[8] For an affirmative account of the religious tenets of theonomy, see: Jay Rogers, "What is Theonomy? ( For a critical account of the politics of theonomy, see: "What is Theonomy? (

[9] D.G. Tinder, "Denominationalism," (

[10] For a critical reflection on the political implications of premillenial dispensationalism, see:

[11] Ibid; Weinstein, The Wilderness and the City. For a compelling account of American classical philosophy as a continuing response to the "death of God in the West," see Chapter 7, "American Philosophy and Modern Individualism," (pp.129-156) where Weinstein argues that American thought, substituting the collective ideal of 'society' for God, is expressed in "successive appeals for deliverance to the community and ... parallel critiques of the war-spirit," (p. 136).

[12] Weinstein, p. 154.

[13] Weinstein, p. 155.

[14] For a contemporary account of the Wampanoag struggle which continues to this day and which most recently involved a majority US court decision that the Wampanoag were "not a tribe" for land repatriation purposes see: (

[15] For his theorization of sacrificial violence under the sign of the "scapegoat," see: René Girard, The Scapegoat, trans. Yvonne Freccaro, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986.