The Merton Theorem Revisited and Restated: Conservatism and Fascism as Functional Analogues
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- Zafirovski, M. Am Soc (2010) 41: 142. doi:10.1007/s12108-010-9091-0
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The paper revisits and restates the Merton Theorem of American religious conservatism (Puritanism) and European fascism (Nazism) as functional analogues. The original formulation the Merton Theorem identifies and describes them as functional analogues in nativism or nationalism through exclusion of and aggression against non-native out-groups. The paper offers an extended restatement of the Merton Theorem in which American conservatism and European fascism function as functional analogues in that both represent the model of a closed, or the antithesis to an open, society, of which nativism is a special case. In the extended Merton Theorem they are functional analogues specifically in terms of such indicators or dimensions of a closed society as political absolutism, closure and oppression, religious absolutism and nihilism, moral absolutism and repression, and extremism.
This article reexamines and reformulates what is described as the Merton Theorem with respect to American conservatism and European fascism. The background and original formulation of the Merton Theorem is as follows. During the late 1930s punctuated by the rise and dominance of fascism in Europe, notably Germany, U.S. sociologist Merton (1939) designated American religious conservatism, specifically Puritanism, and German Nazism as analogues in their respective patterns or outcomes. Particularly, he described as analogues Puritan-rooted American and fascist German and other European nativism (nationalism) or out-group exclusion and aggression. He observed that the “religio- and ethno-centric” pattern of “American nativism”, manifested in anti-Catholic and anti-foreign sentiments and (partly) “rooted” in Puritanism, “significantly resemble[d] nativist developments” in fascist Europe (Merton 1939), in particular Nazi Germany. For instance, Merton suggests that New England’s Puritan Primer of early religiously grounded and sanctified American nativism, via theocratic exclusion, repression, and extermination of the supposed infidels and impure (e.g., Native Americans, Catholics, Quakers, “witches”, etc.), “finds its analogue in the various Nazi primers” in interwar Germany. These analogous Puritan and Nazi primers include the “displacement of aggression against a convenient out-group [especially] in periods of economic strain [plus] the impugning of out-group morality [and other] myths and tactics of nativist movements before and since” (Merton 1939)
Historically, Puritanism’s original Primer or model of American nativism or religious nationalism (Calhoun 1993; Friedland 2001) and “holy” theocracy (the “Bible Commonwealth”) overall (Munch 2001) preceded Nazism’s German nativist “primers” as its functional analogues. In this sense, the Merton Theorem implies that American Puritanism was a sort of proto-Nazism and arch-fascism overall on the account of its nativism, exclusion, and aggression originating in New England’s theocracy and subsequently extended to America as a whole, notably the South to be transformed into a theocratic “Bible Belt” through the Puritan-incited anti-liberal Great Awakenings. Alternatively, it implies that German Nazism and other European fascism was a kind of neo-Puritanism in virtue of its analogous Puritan-style nativist, exclusionary, and aggressive practices. In sum, in its original formulation or implication, the Merton Theorem identifies and predicts “godly” American Puritanism and “ungodly” German (and other) fascism as functional analogues in terms of nativism or out-group nationalist exclusion, aggression, and extermination against out-groups, i.e., non-Puritan “witches” (Putnam 2000) and Germany’s “objective enemies” (Bähr 2002).
Reformulating the Merton Theorem
The present analysis reformulates the Merton Theorem by extending it to encompass not only New England’s original Puritanism, but subsequent and contemporary American, especially religious, conservatism overall in relation to European fascism. This reformulation of the Merton Theorem is performed and justified on cogent sociological and historical grounds (see Appendix). In essence, these grounds justify and even necessitate extending the Merton Theorem’s scope from original Calvinist “Puritanism” to subsequent and contemporary “American conservatism” in the Puritan tradition in relation to German and other European fascism as its identified or assumed functional analogue.
Hence, the extended rendition of the Merton Theorem posits and predicts that American conservatism, both in the original form and the continuing tradition of Puritanism, and European fascism operate in their tendencies and outcomes as functional analogues. Thus, the first half of the Merton Theorem includes American conservatism spanning from original Puritanism through paleo-conservatism (including Federalism and McCarthyism) to neo-conservatism, in particular, “born again” Protestant fundamentalism cum evangelicalism (Lindsay 2008). The second half comprises European fascism ranging from inter-war Nazism and other fascisms to postwar and current neo-Nazism and neo-fascism overall. This specification broadens the original scope of the Merton Theorem in both of its assumed analogues, “American Puritanism” and “European fascism” or “German Nazism”. The gist of the expanded Merton Theorem is that all these stages or types of American conservatism and of European fascism, and not only original Puritanism in America and interwar Nazism in Germany, have tended, tend, and, through neo-conservatism and neo-fascism, are likely in the future, to function as reciprocal analogues.
In turn, a stronger version of Merton’s Theorem1 would be the hypothesis of American conservatism and European fascism thus specified as what he, Parsons, and other sociological functionalists (Luhmann 1995) call functional equivalents or substantive homologues (identities). Still, the present article leaves this stronger hypothesis as a possible alternative to be explored in another analysis, and remains within the Merton Theorem in its initially weaker version as reformulated and expanded in its scope above.
In sum, according to the expanded and “weak” Merton Theorem, American conservatism and European fascism constitute and act as reciprocal analogues, even if not as, in its stronger version, substantive homologues or functional equivalents. To that extent, this weaker version is a sort of “charitable interpretation” of American conservatism and European fascism as “merely analogous” rather than “substantively homologous” or “functionally equivalent.” It thus gives the “benefit of the doubt” to them, especially U.S. conservatives, given their declared indignation to being equated with German or European fascists and the latter’s conservative self-definitions (though one wonders if even the Nazis would appreciate being equaled with theocratic Puritans, Hitler with Winthrop or Calvin). In short, in its weak conservative-fascist “functional analogues” version the Merton Theorem is a minimal, “conservative estimate” of American conservatism’s degree of “closeness” to or of “elective affinity” with European as well as domestic fascism. And to preempt “holy” or hyper-patriotic accusations of “heresy” (viz., “thou shall not” compare “all American” Puritanism and conservatism with “foreign” fascism), it is useful to remember Durkheim’s classical methodological rule of analyzing all social phenomena, including “sacred” or religious ones, as “data” or “things”, without “preconceptions” and emotions. In short, this sociological rule precludes characterizing the Merton Theorem, original and extended, as heretic and/or unpatriotic.
The remainder of the article is organized in three sections. The first section reexamines and reformulates the concept of “functional analogues” in relation to conservatism and fascism. The second section reanalyzes American conservatism and European fascism as “functional analogues”. The third section provides further discussion, followed by conclusion.
“Functional Analogues” in Relation to Conservatism and Fascism
Generally, “functional analogues” in society can be defined as social phenomena fulfilling or producing analogous, though not homologous or identical, social functions or outcomes. They are thus analogues, but not homologues or identities, primarily in terms of function or outcome, while secondarily or not necessarily in structure or organization. Within functionalism, various social as well as non-social phenomena can operate as functional analogues (and equivalents) thus understood.
Thus, Parsons (1937) suggests that certain phenomena in society operate as functionally analogous to those in nature, invoking social norms as operating (“realizing themselves”) only through human actions and efforts described as “analogous to energy in physics”, rather than “automatically”. More important, he identifies specific classes of social phenomena as functional analogous to each other, one class involving magic, religion, and ideology. Significantly, Parsons (1951) treats religions as “non-empirical” functional analogues, even homologues of ideologies as well as of magic. Another class of Parsons’ functional analogues in society comprises wealth, power, and other “generalized media of exchange”. He describes power as a “circulating medium analogous to money, within the political system,” yet also beyond its boundaries into the other functional subsystems (economy, culture, and societal community) of the total social system or society, thus functioning as a “generalized capacity” to attain “collective goals”2 (Parsons 1967). In a similar vein, he considers non-economic and non-political “generalized media of exchange” such as solidarity (or influence) and value-commitments as “analogous” to material wealth and political power (Parsons and Smelser 1965). His disciples also imply that Parsons’ generalized exchange media of wealth, money, influence, and value-commitments are reciprocal functional analogues3 (Smelser 1997; also Alexander 1998).
Notably, within the framework of functionalism, structural and functional differentiation, including social segmentation, operates as the master societal process (Alexander and Colomy 1990) involving or resulting in functional analogues and even equivalents. Parsons et al. define societal differentiation, specifically segmentation, as the evolutionary process of division of a homogenous unit or system into at least two units or sub-systems that are then “structurally and functionally” analogous, and even homologous or equivalent (Parsons and Smelser 1965). Thus understood, the concept of structural-functional differentiation can help to understand or explain conservatism and fascism and their relations. The functionalist-evolutionary framework of social differentiation is applied to conservatism and fascism in the ensuing.
Before proceeding further, it should be noted that Parsons’ evolutionary conception and method of functional analogues (or analogies) has been subject to certain critiques and revisions. According to a critique, Parsons’ concept and explanation of social evolution is a reproduction of a “neo-religious conception of human development”4 (Savage 1981). In turn, neo-functionalists aim to revise or reconstruct the Parsonian conception or methodology (and rhetoric) of what is described as “analogic isomorphism” (Alexander 1983). Thus, a neo-functionalist rendition implicitly posits and distinguishes functional analogues in society from structural homologues or identities, particularly with respect to politics and economy. In this reformulation, the functional “system of politics” is considered to be functionally analogous (and “perhaps” equivalent) but not isomorphic or homologous to that of economy (Luhmann 1995). Arguably, there exists a sort of functional analogy and perhaps equivalence between economy and politics but “no exact isomorphy”, on the assumption that the communicative medium of power does not entail the “same technical provision or integrative capacity of money” (Luhmann 1995).
To summarize, Merton’s and other functionalists’ view of the exploration of “functional equivalents” as lying at the heart of functionalist analysis can be relaxed or extended through exploring such analogues in a descending order of equivalence or decreasing degree of “analogic isomorphism” (Alexander 1983). If functional explanation is only the identification generally and the exclusion particularly of “functional equivalents” (Luhmann 1995) in societies and other social systems, then this procedure can be plausibly expanded or relaxed to encompass also such analogues, including American conservatism and European fascism as per Merton’s Theorem. By assumption, Merton’s Theorem is a logical non sequitur without operating with the concept of functional analogues in its weaker version or equivalents in its stronger variant when considering American conservatism and European fascism. In this sense, Merton’s Theorem involves an explicit assumption and concrete identification of specific functional analogues (or equivalents) like American conservatism and European fascism, and in a historical regression, medievalism as the shared conservative-fascist foundation and ideal. Alternatively, it entails an implicit “exclusion” of concrete functional analogues (or equivalents) like American and other non-conservatism or liberalism and fascism, and indirectly medievalism as the anti- or pre-liberal system and time.
Social Differentiation, Conservatism, and Fascism
As noted, the concept of structural-functional differentiation defined as the evolutionary process of division of a homogenous unit into two or more sub-units as structural-functional analogues (or equivalents) can help to understand and explain the relations of conservatism and fascism. The following applies the (neo) functionalist framework of evolutionary societal differentiation to analyzing conservatism and fascism (e.g., Parsons could but still did not do apply it in “Some Sociological Aspects of the Fascist Movements”, an article focusing on German fascism).
For the present purpose, the concept of social differentiation provides the conceptual and explanatory ground or rationale for the Merton Theorem of (religious) conservatism and fascism as functional analogues, though he does not explicitly apply it. In short, societal differentiation when applied to this matter helps to conceptualize and explain conservatism and fascism as analogues within the Merton Theorem. It simply answers the question, implied but not explicitly answered in the Merton Theorem, of how, why, where, and when in evolutionary or historical terms conservatism and fascism have become functional analogues. The answer is unambiguous within the functionalist framework, but it needs to specify structural differentiation in terms of its concrete form, phase, and social setting or historical time, as done below.
This specification tries to specify or identify which previous homogenous unit or social system has differentiated or segmented itself into conservatism and fascism as its functionally or structurally analogous (if not homologous) units or subsystems in Parsons’ sense. Conversely, it specifies that conservatism and fascism have both differentiated or derived from a certain prior societal entity, as functional analogues as assumed within Merton’s Theorem. Both logically and historically, this societal entity is, as hinted, primarily medievalism as the previous relatively homogenous unit or social system (and historical time) differentiating itself into conservatism initially and fascism subsequently or eventually in a sort of successive evolutionary (yet non-simultaneous5) conservative-fascist structural differentiation or segmentation. In retrospect, the specification is anticipated by Mannheim’s (1986) seminal analysis of conservatism (explicitly) and fascism (implicitly) in relation to medievalist traditionalism, albeit just implicit in Merton’s Theorem clearly identifying them as functional analogues but only implying their differentiation from medievalism as their common point of origin.6
Thus, an historical exemplar of structural–functional differentiation is that of medievalism or traditionalism into conservatism originally and fascism eventually as functional analogues (if not equivalents). During and in what Mannheim describes as “self-reflective” adverse response to early, 18th century liberalism, European medievalist traditionalism, as a largely homogenous unit or system (ancien regime), underwent a process of differentiation or division into originally and directly conservatism (Nisbet 1966) and ultimately and indirectly fascism, as two units or subsystems that are functional–structural analogues in Merton’s sense (if not even homologues). For instance, medieval feudalism, despotism, and theocracy (the “Dark Middle Ages”) in Europe as well as, via primarily Puritanism cum medievalist Calvinism, in America differentiated into post-medieval conservatism during and in negative reaction to the 18th century Enlightenment and the French Revolution, and eventually or indirectly into fascism, including Nazism, in opposition to liberal democracy in interwar Germany and other European countries. And such a differentiation of medievalism into conservatism and fascism in a sense has replicated or evoked itself through the joint rise of neo-conservatism and neo-fascism in Europe and America during postwar times, up to the 2000s. At any rate, this is how the functionalist-evolutionary framework of social differentiation generally helps to understand and explain the historical rise and relations of conservatism and fascism in Western society, including both Europe and America.
The above thus applies to medievalism in relation to not only, as commonly, inaccurately assumed, European but also American conservatism (plus fascism). This is because medievalism was the original and remains the continuing model for the conservative (and fascist) design of the “good society” (Nisbet 1966) in both Europe and America, a perpetual ideal of European and American (Dunn and Woodard 1996) conservatism (and fascism) alike in its various survivals or revivals, including despotism and theocracy, or, as in the second case, disguises and euphemisms like “all-American” Puritanism, “apple-pie authoritarianism” (Wagner 1997). This holds true of both types of conservatism and fascism, though America is commonly defined by its historical or imagined blessing of lacking, in a standard invidious distinction from disdained Europe, feudal and other medievalist institutions (Lipset and Marks 2000; Nisbet 1966). And yet its celebrated “destiny” Puritanism was rooted in medievalism, notably Calvinist medieval theocracy (Munch 2001; Stivers 1994), not to mention Southern slavery as functionally equivalent to feudalism or serfdom (if not harsher and more historically backward), thus self-contradicting such an anti-feudal and anti-medievalist self-definition and glorification.7
Hence, the self-differentiation or division of medievalism and traditionalism overall as a social system into two subsystems as functional analogues furnishes the historical basis and justification for the Merton Theorem. To reiterate, these subsystems are conservatism initially (the 18th century) in Europe and America through Puritanism and fascism eventually in the first (the 1920s–30s), and also in the second (the 1950s or the 1980s). As noticed, the above process specifically answers the “genetic” or evolutionary question implicit in the Merton Theorem. This is the question of what original form or stage of structural differentiation, and in which social settings and historical periods, produced and explained conservatism and fascism as functional analogues, namely the American conservative type starting with Puritanism and European fascist types, notably Nazism. In short, it suggests that American conservatism and European fascism are functional analogues because both result from the structural differentiation of medievalism as a unit or system into two units or subsystems. At least, this is what the application of the concept of structural differentiation to American conservatism and European fascism yields in the context of the Merton Theorem.
The identification of medievalism as the specific structural source or prior social setting of both conservatism and fascism is the most plausible specification of structural differentiation with respect to them both theoretically and historically, though alternative or complementary specifications and explanations are possible and sometimes found in the sociological literature. One of these alternative or complementary specifications suggests or implies a process of social differentiation of conservatism and fascism from capitalism. Another complementary and more general specification is the assumed social differentiation of conservatism and fascism from liberalism as an ideology and social system involving, but not confined to, capitalism as its economic element or subsystem.
Thus, Mannheim (1986) suggests that early modern capitalism was the “sociological constellation” or the social-historical “precondition” of the rise of conservatism directly and originally, and of fascism indirectly and subsequently. However, in this account conservatism historically developed from medievalist traditionalism in adverse reaction to nascent capitalism and rationalistic liberalism overall as the “immediate antagonist” rather than differentiated from the latter. To that extent, it was not early capitalism and liberalism as a whole but rather pre-liberal medievalism that differentiated itself into conservatism, as originally mere medievalist traditionalism turned “self-reflective” in facing and opposing capitalist-liberal modernity, and indirectly into fascism as the conservative extreme subtype or creation and the extreme form of anti-liberalism (Dahrendorf 1979). In short, capitalism and liberalism overall acted as the agent provocateur, but not as the differentiating source, of conservatism cum originally anti-capitalist and perennially anti-liberal medievalism or traditionalism self-reinvented and renamed.
American conservatism and European fascism: sources and antagonists
Structural Differentiation into Conservatism and Fascism: Historical Sources and Opposites
unit or system of structural differentiation into conservatism and fascism as functional analogues
feudalism and patrimonialism
original and subsequent antagonists (agent provocateurs) of conservatism and fascism
American Conservatism and European Fascism: Functional Analogues in Closed Society
A next theoretical and empirical concern is in what connection and to what extent American conservatism and European fascism represent functional analogues in Merton’s sense. The Merton Theorem in its original formulation provides a specific answer. They are such analogues in connection with exclusive and aggressive nativism, i.e., nationalistic exclusion and aggression against (foreign) outsiders, shared initially by American Puritanism as religious conservatism and subsequently by European fascism, including German Nazism, as the conservative creation. In short, it suggests that they are analogous (primarily) because they are nativist or nationalist, including anti-foreigner or xenophobic on racist or ethnocentric grounds, or both (for Puritanism, see Baltzell 1979). For instance, sociologists observe that the Nazi nationalistic “semiotic print” matches that of U.S. religious, mostly fundamentalist Protestant Puritan-inspired (e.g., Baptist) nationalists and conservatives (Friedland 2002). In a limiting case, Nazi chauvinism as the extreme aggressive type of nationalism inherited from German conservatism, is a functional match to what Pareto calls jingoism as the hostile, bellicose form of conservative-reproduced American nativism. Pareto also implies that German and American conservatism are functional analogues on the account of their shared nationalism, respectively chauvinism and jingoism.8
Yet, the issue may arise as to whether American conservatism and European fascism are functional analogues specifically only in connection with nativism or nationalism (expressed in extreme cases in jingoism and chauvinism), including racist or ethnocentric xenophobia, but also in a more general respect that involves these as special cases, as well as other specific respects. Simply, are they functionally analogous (just) because of being nativist (jingoistic, chauvinistic or xenophobic) or their nativism is an integral part of a shared overall pattern, system, method? An extended reformulation of the Merton Theorem seeks to provide a more general solution or answer to the above problem.
In an extended reformulation of the Merton Theorem, American conservatism, starting with or rooted in Calvinist Puritanism, and European fascism, epitomized by Nazism, tend to operate as functional analogues in respect of a social system and design of closed, repressive, militarist, and expansionist society, of which nativism and xenophobia are particular dimensions. They are thus functionally analogous with regard to social closure and repression, consequently aggressive nationalism, militarism, and imperialism. In general, American conservatism and European fascism are functional analogues in designing and implementing the “model of a closed society” (Cohen 2003), including authoritarian or “pre-democratic” polity (Mannheim 1967). This identifies a closed society as conservatism-fascism’s shared social pattern, system, or method of which nativism or nationalism is an integral element in relation to other societies or peoples (“non-natives”) defined in negative, exclusionary, or belligerent terms (“evil”, “inferior”, “enemies”), and treated “logically”, i.e., condemned, excluded, persecuted, and exterminated.
In Comte’s terms, American conservatism and European fascism originate and operate as functional analogues because they both are retrograde, absolutist, and theocratic-military social orders and, especially conservatism, theological ages. In Spencer’s words, they are such in virtue of both being militant societies or ideologies defined by what he calls constant offensive war and based on an oppressive system of status, absolute rule, hierarchy, or constraints on liberty. What Merton identified as analogous nativism and xenophobia in American religious conservatism or Puritanism and European fascism, notably Nazism, are, like Spencer’s constant offensive wars, only external elements or inter-societal “signs of illiberty” (Dahrendorf 1979) in these closed, repressive, and absolutist conservative and fascist societies. Thus, even some U.S. analysts admit that, just as Germany under Nazism, America dominated by paleo-conservatism in the 1950s, for instance, was no less than “protofascist”, i.e., “provincial, misogynist, racist”, compared with the liberal or “enlightened, liberated” 1960s and subsequent times (Putnam 2000).
American conservatism and fascism as functional analogues
Conservative-Fascist Functional Analogues
closed vs. open society, viz. illiberal-authoritarian polity vs. liberal–secular democracy
political absolutism, closure and oppression
religious absolutism and nihilism
moral absolutism and repression
extremism or radicalism
Political Absolutism and Closure
First, American conservatism and European fascism are functional analogues in connection with political absolutism, closure, and exclusion or oppression as the defining traits of a closed and oppressive polity and society. Conservatism in general and fascism constitute the paradigmatic species of political and other absolutism, closure, and oppression, as well as Machiavellianism as an effective strategy or instrument of absolute rule. As Mannheim (1986) observes, conservatism is premised on the “ideology of absolutism” that seeks the absolute “mastery” of polity and all society and reveals the “tendency to reflect in a rather cold-blooded way on the technique of domination—[i.e.,] Machiavellianism.” An implied case in point within the Merton Theorem is American Puritanism or Calvinism as political and moral-religious proto-conservatism and (so) absolutism seeking, as Weber emphasized, absolute or “totalistic” (Eisenstadt 1965) mastery of the social and natural world invariably or ultimately in the form of totalitarian theocratic rule (Munch 2001) a la a “Biblical Commonwealth” (New England) or a “Bible Belt” (the South). Like conservatism, fascism is political absolutism and Machiavellianism, with fascist political theory being, as Mannheim (1936) remarks, rooted “in Machiavelli, who already laid down its fundamental tenets”. In particular, American and other conservatism and Nazism operate as or produce the systems of absolute power or total domination which by its very nature aims to make the social world, as some sociologists put it, “mad” or arbitrary (Bourdieu 2000). In this respect, they epitomize or perpetuate a kind of system and “method in the madness” or perversion—as in Nazism (Barnes 2000) and American religious fundamentalism (Smith 2000)—in polity and all society. Thus, conservative and fascist absolute rulers, while using Machiavellian manipulation, act as what Keynes calls “madmen in authority.”
In particular, as Keynes’ conservative and fascist “madmen in authority” or total power indicate, American and other conservatism and fascism are functional analogues in what Weber would call charismatic absolutist or autocratic rule as an integral element or ultimate outcome of their shared political absolutism and Machiavellianism as the technique of absolute domination. At this juncture, Weber’s charismatic rule or authority characteristic of both conservatism and fascism is just a pseudo-religious euphemism (Lenski 1994) for Keynes’ conservative and fascist “madness” or Acton’s (absolute) “corruption” in absolute power or total domination9.
Thus, some sociologists register that the pseudo-religious or “metaphysical charisma of the Führer” cum methodical madness in absolute power represent the analogue or “demoniacal parody of the omnipresence of the divine spirit” (Horkheimer and Adorno 1993) in American Puritanism (Adorno 2001). In this view, both Puritan and Nazi (Führer) declamations are “lies anyway” (Horkheimer and Adorno 1993) or hypocrisies (Adorno 2001) as the shared attributes of American Puritanism or religious conservatism, characterized by a mix of, as even its admirer Emerson admitted, “universal seeming and treachery” with what Weber identified as “pure” and “vigorous hypocrisy” (Bremer 1995), and of Nazism and other European (e.g., Italian) fascism. Of course, these conservative and fascist lies and hypocrisies are standard Machiavellian tactics for attaining and maintaining absolute power or total domination by conservatism and fascism. They thus operate as the effective strategies or means of political absolutism within conservatism and fascism, though, as Spencer warns, a free and just society “cannot prosper by lies,” including pervasive hypocrisy as Platonic “noble lies” and “good-intentioned” mass deceptions about the Divine power, mandate of conservative and fascist charismatic masters, from Calvin, Winthrop, and Cromwell to Mussolini and Hitler to Reagan (a variation on the theme that “you can’t lie to all people all the time”). Prima facie, on the account of its charismatic absolute rule embodied in its supreme master with self-proclaimed medieval-style Divine Right to rule, Winthrop (Munch 2001), American Puritanism, so early religious conservatism, originated and operated as a kind of proto-fascism before fascism proper. This is in part implied in the observation that both the Puritan and the Nazi charismatic or absolutist “miracle of integration, the permanent act of grace by the authority who receives the defenseless person, once he has swallowed his rebelliousness, signifies Fascism” (Horkheimer and Adorno 1993; also, Adorno 2001).
Other sociologists suggest that Puritanism in old and New England alike originated and functioned as a “charismatic revolt” attacking those social institutions (e.g., universities, church, law, and the state) that were identified as “impediments to the creation of a holy commonwealth” (Zaret 1989), essentially theocracy, that it eventually created in these two societies, though more successfully and enduringly in the second. To that extent, it originated, out of Calvinism, and functioned as a historical prototype or functional analogue of fascism, notably Nazism, given that the latter is in terms of type of governance defined or typified by charismatic authority and absolute rule. In particular, this holds true of American, specifically New England’s officially established Congregational, Puritanism originating (rather migrating from Europe) and operating as a absolutist or “charismatic model for social and political organization” (Seligman 1990), thus as prototypical of or analogous to fascism, notably Nazism typified by the principle of absolute rule or quasi-religious metaphysical charisma. As hinted, for example, Winthrop’s “such a strong religious leadership” cum theocracy (Munch 2001) qualifies as, if not the prototype, then the functional analogue or extant proxy, of the Nazi Führer pseudo-religious charismatic principle. In general, absolute rule or charismatic (and traditional) authority as what Weber denotes an “authoritarian principle” of legitimation of power typifies both American Puritanism or religious conservatism, just as its “un-American” forms (Catholicism, Judaism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, etc.) (Lenski 1994; also, Turner 2002), and European fascism. To that extent, they objectively represent and operate as functional analogues in this respect. In sum, American Puritan-rooted religious conservatism and European fascism, including Nazism, are functional analogues in political absolutism and Machiavellianism generally, in absolute charismatic or autocratic rule and authority particularly.
Religious Absolutism and Nihilism
Next and related to the first, American conservatism and European fascism constitute functional analogues in a closed, oppressive society by virtue of their shared analogous religious absolutism and nihilism. Conservatism generally and fascism are paradigmatic instances of religious and consequently moral absolutism and ultimately nihilism or destruction to the no-return point of self-destruction typically via offensive war on “evil” to reach some version of Biblical Judgment Day (Adorno 2001; Infantino 2003).
Within the “big family” of conservatism, the above holds true in particular of American Puritanism as the paradigmatic or even axiomatic exemplar of religious and moral absolutism (Munch 2001) or what Keynes would call absolutist “purism”, so of Protestant fundamentalism and sectarianism as the predominant social force in America’s history and society from the 17th to the 21st century (Jenness 2004; Lipset 1996). Moreover, American Puritanism reveals a sharp contrast to its prior English variant subsequently “tempered” (Munch 2001) by countervailing non-Puritan social forces (e.g., moderate Anglicanism and Hume’s liberalism) and its parent Calvinism effectively substituted with the liberal-secular Enlightenment (France, Holland, etc.). Instead, American Puritanism has largely remained through generalized Protestant sectarianism non-tempered, unreformed and unapologetic (“unrepentant”) in, even further reinforced in recent times, its original moral-religious absolutism and Judgment Day nihilism, including militarism and offensive war on “evil” via culture and military wars.
Alternatively, this remarkable exceptionalism of American Puritanism and in extension America (Inglehart and Baker 2000) is to be attributed to the absence or relative weakness of such countervailing non-Puritan forces in the “new nation” in relation to proto- and neo-Puritan or fundamentalist powers, especially of the European-style liberal-secular Enlightenment in spite or because of Jefferson’s remarkable, yet atypical (Archer 2001), inspiration from the latter (and Paris). If not America as a whole, this holds true at least of the “new” South where Puritanism has reinvented and even rejuvenated and reinvigorated itself in the form of generalized Protestant sectarianism and fundamentalism (Baptism constantly, Presbyterianism and Methodism partly or previously). Conversely, potentially tempering non-absolutist, non-Puritan religious and secular forces have declined in influence (Episcopalism) or virtually never been pertinent or present (the European Enlightenment, liberalism–secularism overall, the Renaissance). In a way, Puritanism has transformed the “old” relatively non-absolutist (Anglican) South (Gould 1996), including Jefferson’s own Virginia, into an absolutist, theocratic “Bible Belt” as another design, system, and testimony of persistent Puritan-rooted moral-religious absolutism or conservatism, after the perennial model and image of New England’s “Biblical Commonwealth”. In sum, Puritanism in America may have changed its name and dress cum “Protestant fundamentalism” (e.g., Southern Baptism), but not its nature or pattern of moral-religious absolutism and nihilism transmitted to and enthusiastically embraced and perpetuated by neo-conservatism (Dunn and Woodard 1996).
As before, on this account, American religious conservatism originated from (or cum) Puritanism and functioned via generalized Protestant fundamentalism as a kind of proto-fascism even prior to fascism itself, as the latter is also a system or design of religious or quasi-religious absolutism and nihilism, including militarism and offensive war. And it essentially remained so through neo-conservatism, notably reinvented and revived fundamentalism embodied by “born again” Protestant evangelicals or sectarians retaining and even intensifying or extending original Puritan religious and moral absolutism and Judgment Day nihilism, including militancy and militarism via domestic culture and global offensive wars on “evil”. Alternatively, fascism was and remains via neo-fascism in Europe and especially America (e.g., fundamentalist neo-Nazi militia) a sort of neo-Puritanism and neo-conservatism overall on the account of its religious absolutism and nihilism, including militancy and militarism, analogous to those of original Puritanism. In turn, within the also “extended family” of European fascism, religious and moral absolutism is in particular characteristic of past or present Catholic-based theocratic or Vatican-endorsed fascist types in Italy and elsewhere (Spain, Ireland, Poland, etc.) and to some degree of supposedly less “godly” Nazism fully pervaded by pseudo-religious nihilism (Adorno 2001).
At any rate, American conservatism in general, from early Puritanism to contemporary fundamentalism, and European fascism, including both Catholic fascisms and Nazism, represent functional analogues in religious and consequently moral absolutism and ultimately nihilism in some variant or proxy of self-destructive Judgment Day. For instance, sociologists observe that in America’s religious conservatism or “fascist propaganda” its adherents describe themselves “as mere messengers” of God proclaimed or expected to come, as a “trick already familiar in Hitler’s speeches”, although not many American conservatives dare overly professing “fascist and anti-democratic goals”10 (Adorno 2001). Hence, this shows the “important role played by the religious element” within American conservatism and fascism, thus appearing almost mutually indistinguishable or interchangeable. For illustration, U.S. religious conservatives and/or fascists are observed to advocate the “actual shedding of blood” to be necessary on the ground that the world has been “redeemed by the shedding of Christ’s blood”, which is identified as nihilism or destructiveness as the “psychological basis of the fascist spirit” (Adorno 2001). In this view, all conservatives and fascists are fixated on the “imminence of catastrophes”, as exemplified by Hitlerism in Germany (Adorno 2001) and also religious conservatism as its evident functional analogue, if not equivalent in America, or identified with native fascism.
Moral Absolutism and Repression
In addition to and as a corollary of the previous, American conservatism and European fascism are functional analogues in terms of moral absolutism, repression, and exclusion (Infantino 2003) religiously grounded and sanctified (except in part for Nazism), as the particular dimension of a closed and repressive civil, thus effectively un-civil (McCann 2000), society. In comparative and historical terms, Puritanism’s and in consequence or extension religious conservatism’s moral absolutism and repression or what Weber (and Edward Ross) calls tyranny in morality is perhaps unparalleled and unrivaled within Western societies or Christianity, if not across world religions (excluding Islamic, Hindu, and other extremely moralistic and ascetic cases). This is what Weber suggests by the expression the “unexampled tyranny of Puritanism”, especially its American version epitomized and implemented by, in his words, the Puritan “theocracy of New England” as the “most totalitarian” (Stivers 1994) theocratic social system within strict Calvinism and thus Protestantism. It is also suggested by the observation that American Puritanism’s original moral absolutism and repression, transmitted and perpetuated in religious conservatism or generalized Protestant fundamentalism in America, has been less, or even not all, “tempered” (Munch 2001) than those of its English predecessor by countervailing religious as well as secular social forces (Anglicanism and liberalism).
In short, on the account of moral absolutism, repression, or tyranny, American Puritanism and thus religious conservatism is truly exceptional in comparative and historical terms. Hence, it is this unparalleled and unmitigated moral absolutism and repression, religiously grounded and sanctified, that primarily (though not solely) defines conservative-reproduced and celebrated American exceptionalism (Lipset 1996) in comparative and historical terms, versus freedom, individualism and democracy, as in Puritan “liberal mythology” (Gould 1996), or “speculative” explanations (Zaret 1996) and “native assumptions of Puritanism and liberty” (Coffey 1998). Simply, it is what even conservative Ross admits as Puritan moralistic tyranny, and not liberty, that made and remakes, through generalized Protestant fundamentalism, America an exception or salient “deviant case” among modern Western liberal-secular democracies (Inglehart 2004). In this sense, America during religious conservatism and its perennial predominance is not a normal and true, let alone, as usually claimed, supreme or paradigmatic, Western society, despite U.S. conservatives’ penchant for reductively appropriating and claiming “Western” as “American”, just as was not Germany under Nazism, as well as, for that mater (minus “Western”), Russia and other Eastern European countries during communism.
Historically, in resisting or reversing (e.g., after the 1960s) the tempering of its moral absolutism and tyranny, American Puritanism and thus religious conservatism continued and further amplified these original Puritan attributes inherited from its English ancestor and rooted in their extant (often “forgotten” for nativist reasons) theological parent, European Calvinism. Generally, both originally English and persistently American Puritanism was unparalleled and unrivaled in its moral absolutism and repression at least within traditional Christianity, if not beyond. This is indicated by the historical observation that “the intensity and extent” of Puritan moralizing and the “novelty” of moralistic repression in England and then America found “no parallel” among traditional moralists and ruling groups11 (Walzer 1963).
In turn, European fascism, including Nazism, developed and operated as a sort of neo-Puritanism in moral, just as political, terms.12 Alternatively, American Puritanism was a kind of moral proto-fascism before fascism, as indicated by Weber-Ross’ Puritan moralistic tyranny in society. In consequence or in extension, American religious conservatism through Puritan-rooted Protestant fundamentalism has typically operated and continues to operate via neo-conservatism or “born again” Bible Belt fundamentalists (Bauman 1997; also, Lipset 195513) as an exemplary moral fascism or absolutism by perpetuating or resurrecting from the dead past (New England’s theocracy) Weber’s moralistic “tyranny of Puritanism.” If American religious conservatism has been or can be considered and described as (a functional analogue of) “fascism”—and this term has often been used too easily in this context (e.g., even by Adorno 2001)—then at the minimum its nature, operation, and effects are best defined and characterized as moral fascism. Simply, while American conservatism may not be “fascism” tout de court but is in essence moral fascism in the sense of moralistic absolutism and in the form of Puritan-rooted repression and coercion in personal morality and private life overall.
Thus, some sociologists observe that contemporary American religious conservatism or fundamentalism remains by the early 21st century moral fascism or absolutism14 (Munch 2001). In this view, U.S. neo-fascist or radical right-wing groups, as members of the “extended family” or “big tent” of American neo-conservatism, tend to be “still more extreme” in moral absolutism and particularism (Munch 2001). Generally, American neo-conservatism has been observed to be dominated and characterized by fundamentalist and fascist (populist) ideas and groups, “moral renewal” movements premised on religious fundamentalism and neo-fascism, with the resulting “aberrations into moral absolutism” (Munch 2001) and in that sense at least moralistic fascism.
As hinted, the primary reason why American religious conservatism has remained by the early 21st century moral fascism in the sense of moralistic absolutism and repression is its parent and perpetual model (Dunn and Woodard 1996), Puritanism and its remarkable intransigence in this respect. Namely, Puritanism has been less moderated in its moral absolutism and repression by counteracting non-Puritan social forces in America than in England (less ascetic Anglicanism, Hume’s liberalism) and, in the original form of Calvinism, in Europe, including France (Calvin’s homeland), Holland, and Germany (by more morally moderate Lutheranism and Catholicism, the liberal–secular Enlightenment). For instance, even Jefferson’s Paris-experienced Enlightenment and liberalism and secularism generally (Archer 2001) could not, in the long run, temper, let alone neutralize Puritanism’s moral absolutism and sectarian Protestantism’s dominance in American history and society, despite certain short-term or intermediate Jeffersonian political successes (post-revolutionary times, the disestablishment of New England’s Puritan theocracy during the 1830, the “liberal–secular” 1960s, etc.). Conversely, Puritanism has usually succeeded to maintain its intrinsic moral absolutism (self-rationalized) cum “purism” against ethical relativism or pluralism condemned as “evil”. Also, generalized neo-Puritan Protestantism has been successful in reasserting its dominance in American history and society versus liberalism and secularism, in particular the Enlightenment as a sort of non-entity or a minor factor, in spite or rather because of Jefferson–Franklin–Paine’s Paris “foreign” and secular (“atheist”) experience in and inspiration from the Age of Reason. In sum, because Puritanism originated and remained as moralistic absolutism and in that sense proto-fascism or tyranny in morality (and politics), U.S. religious conservatism consequently functioned as moral fascism and methodically and proudly remains so, through neo-conservatism, four centuries after the establishment of New England’s Puritan totalitarian theocracy (the 1630s). And, fascism, including Nazism, is at least in moral terms (e.g., sexual morality) neo-Puritanism, as is, for that matter, communism.
Hence, U.S. religious conservatism constitutes, functions as, or produces moral fascism on at least three related accounts. These are, first, ethical absolutism or anti-relativism and anti-pluralism sanctified by absolutist theology and religion (Puritanism); second and consequently, religiously rationalized repression or tyranny in morality; and third, the exclusion and ultimately the extermination of out-groups on moralistic and related grounds (“impure”, “corrupt”, “evil”). Simply, these attributes or outcomes objectively redefine and expose U.S. religious conservatism as moral fascism at the minimum, despite its adherents’ denials (excluding fundamentalist neo-fascists a la “Christian” terrorist militia, etc.). Minimally, it operates or appears as moral fascism even if and when it does not practice extermination of morally “impure” out-groups in the way of the Puritan methodical persecution of native Americans (Gould 1996; Munch 2001) and “Salem with witches” (Putnam 2000), but “only” social exclusion of others on moralistic and religious grounds as “evil” and “ungodly”.
Thus, sociological studies show that American religious (neo) conservatism continues to systematically exclude and discriminate against, albeit not “exorcise” any more (or for now) a la Puritan witch-hunts and fundamentalist “Monkey trials” (Boles 1999), those Americans holding different, non-Puritanical moral and religious or non-religious values, let alone non-Americans treated as sub-humans anyway (e.g., denial of habeas corpus during the war on terror and “evil”). Notably, it does so against religious non-believers and agnostics condemned and excluded, even though not anymore (or not yet) “exorcised”, as “infidels” and thus supremely “un-American” (Edgell et al. 2006). In doing so, it continues the venerable historical pattern of Puritanism as its perennial ideal as well as McCarthyism as its product or ally, and acts as moral fascism, thus as a functional analogue (if not equivalent) of European (“Christian” or Vatican-endorsed) fascism, including in part Nazism. In short, U.S. religious and political conservatism functions as or reproduces moral fascism at least in virtue of its observed “sadistic intolerance to cultural otherness” (Bauman 2000), including moral difference. This holds true even if American conservatism does not materialize (or “enjoy”) such “sadistic intolerance” into practical or institutionalized sadism a la Puritan witch-trials or Nazi extermination camps. Yet, the neo-conservative ever-growing prison and death-penalty system as the “fastest growing industry”, grounded in and sanctified by Protestant fundamentalism (Biblical “blood for blood” retribution) and inhabited mostly with moral sinners (drug users), may be seen as the substitute or proxy of both Puritan and Nazi methods of dealing with the “ungodly” and “enemies” (Wagner 1997).
And, if one does not know how to define moral fascism or what it is within American neo-conservatism but knows it when seeing it, then the “proofs” or syndromes of such a system or design are neo-conservative culture (Bell 2002) or Puritan-style temperance wars, notably the war on drugs, and moral, especially drug-war crimes (Reuter 2005) and criminals redefined as sins and sinners punished with Draconian severity, i.e., imprisoned and sometimes executed. At the minimum, those almost two-third of U.S. prisoners of ethical conscience incarcerated, often for life, for moral sins like non-violent drug and other sinful offenses (alcohol use, consensual sexuality,15 prostitution, viewing “indecent” Internet contents, pornography, etc.) are the living testimony of neo-conservative moral fascism in America, and victims or human sacrifices to what Weber describes as the strict and extremely inhuman “God of Calvinism” and Puritanism.
In particular, an institutional form, demonstration, or symbol of neo-conservative moral fascism in America is vice as well as pseudo-religious police (Infantino 2003) in the “Bible Belt” and elsewhere after the model and image of the “Puritan policeman” (Merrill 1945), as by far the largest, ever-escalating, and intensifying element of a moralistic policing state (Bourdieu 1998). Hence, if one wonders whether moralistic fascism is a reality or fiction in respect of American conservatism, one should look at least at its intrusive Puritanical vice police and its fascist-style policing state overall, particularly in the fundamentalist and theocratic “Bible Belt”. And, as J. S. Mill implies, such intrusive vice police and a pervasive policing state overall is the predictable institutional creation or design of U.S. religious conservatives as, like their own role models Puritans (“stricter Calvinists and Methodists”), “intrusively pious members of society” and thus “regulated by [their] religious and moral sentiments”. To that extent, the neo-conservative vice police and policing state overall is effectively a system and instrument of theocracy precisely defined by such an imposition of certain religious values on political institutions and society, i.e., religiously grounded and sanctified moral fascism. In short, it perpetuates or revives Weber’s “tyranny of Puritanism” as the proto-typical form or functional analogue of moral fascism. In historical terms, on the account of its intrusive vice police and proto-fascist police state, not much has changed in American religious conservatism, from 17th century Puritans cum Mill’s “stricter Calvinists” to 18th century Puritan revivalists, Methodists (albeit somewhat moderated since) to 20th–21st century “born again” neo-Puritan fundamentalists (e.g., Southern Baptists).
In essence, American religious conservatism, from original Puritanism to its revival or survival in fundamentalist Protestantism, by redefining and severely punishing moral sins as crimes and human sinners as real criminals is moral fascism. The latter is precisely defined by such definition and Draconian punishment of moral sins, i.e., the denial and elimination of the freedom of choice between “vices” and “virtues” (Van Dyke 1995). And, conversely, European fascism by sharing the above attributes of American religious conservatism—though more its “godly” Catholic-Vatican version (Italy, Spain, Poland, etc.) than “ungodly” Nazism—represents a sort of neo-conservatism in the sense of neo-Puritanism or what Weber calls neo-Calvinism, as does also communism (minus the religious basis and justification).
In sum, at least on the account of its evident and long-standing moral proto- and neo-fascism in the sense and form of moralistic, Puritan-rooted absolutism, repression, and exclusion, American religious conservatism operates and remains as the functional analogue of European fascism, including Nazism. In turn, moral, like proper or political, fascism and absolutism is a paradigmatic or axiomatic element of a closed, repressive, and exclusionary society, conversely, an antithesis and destruction of open, liberal, pluralist societies. At this juncture, a gigantic and ever-expanding conservative prison and death penalty system mostly containing immoral human sinners like non-violent drug and sexual offenders, thus epitomizing a sort of Puritan-style moral fascism, reflects or symbolizes a closed, repressive, and exclusionary society in America under neo-conservatism ushering in the 21st century, just as did Salem’s witch trials in 17th century New England (Harley 1996). Conversely, conservatism through its Puritan-style moral fascism threatens, attacks, or undermines an open, liberal–secular, pluralist civil society in America. This holds true, despite U.S. religious conservatives’ sanctifications of moral fascism or absolutism and repression, exemplified by and modeled after the old Puritan theocracy and its “Salem with witches”, by “higher” causes like “God’s Kingdom on Earth”, from 17th century New England’s “Biblical Commonwealth” to the 21st century Southern “Bible Belt.” If the Merton Theorem is valid for American religious conservatism in relation to Nazism and other European fascisms, then it is, first and foremost, in respect of moral fascism or absolutism (aside from nativism or nationalism). Moral fascism, defined as Puritan moralistic absolutism and oppression, probably more than anything else redefines and reveals American conservatism as a functional analogue to Nazism and other European fascisms from the 1920s to the 2000s.
As hinted above, American conservatism and European fascism are functional analogues also in respect of extremism or radicalism, including religious-political fanaticism and intolerance, of which nativism is a special case within the Merton Theorem. In particular, American and other Puritanism and Nazism function as such in terms of political and other extremism, especially fanaticism and intolerance. Thus, evoking Hume’s detection of Puritan “wretched fanaticism”, some analysts observe that early English-American Puritanism was characterized and driven by the “fanaticism of Calvinist godliness”, and remark that its presupposed complement but actual substitute or opposite, liberalism regarded Puritan and other religious fanaticisms as an “enemy” to modern democracy16 (Walzer 1963; Zaret 1989). As observed, the Puritan saints’ fanatical faith and the “tolerant reasonableness” of early liberals (e.g., Locke, Hume) showed “very little in common” (Walzer 1963).
In particular, following or evoking Hume’s influential historical observations (Seed 2005) about Puritanism as the exemplar of religious fanaticism, sectarianism, and extremism overall, J. S. Mill identifies and stresses its sectarian “fanatical intolerance” in virtually all spheres of society, from politics to morality and art and “amusements”. As regards the latter, Mill observes that “wherever the Puritans have been sufficiently powerful, as in New England, and in Great Britain at the time of the [Holy] Commonwealth, they have endeavored, with considerable success, to put down all public, and nearly all private, amusements: especially music, dancing, public games, or other assemblages for purposes of diversion, and the theatre [i.e.,] regulated by the religious and moral sentiments of the stricter Calvinists and Methodists [as] intrusively pious members of society.” For instance, Puritanism in England and America vehemently assaulted Renaissance innovation in dress and “all the arts of self-decoration” (Walzer 1963) as “ungodly”, as does its heir apparent, contemporary American fundamentalism (Turner 2002).
At this juncture, due to its moralistic anti-artistic antagonism or skepticism, Puritanism and in consequence or extension American religious conservatism functions as a functional analogue of European fascism, including Nazism, also characterized by the vehement hostility to and brutal suppression of art. For example, some sociologists remark that U.S. neo-conservative moralistic laws during the 1990 enforcing “general standards of decency” in the arts resemble the Nazi condemnation of and attacks on “degenerate” art and culture on the grounds of protecting “healthy folk” sentiments17 (Bourdieu and Haacke 1995). In another observed example, like in Germany under Nazism, during McCarthyism in America reportedly various books accused or suspected of “communist propaganda” were burned in “U.S. information libraries abroad” (Hull 1999). If anything, burning or prohibiting (a persistent, widespread practice in the “Bible Belt” and its schools and libraries) books and suppressing art and other culture (including science) on moral-religious and political grounds make American conservatism, from Puritanism to neo-conservatism, a functional analogue, if not even equivalent, of Nazism and European fascism in general within the Merton Theorem.
Also, confirming Hume and Mill, sociological research finds that “a coercive, intolerant politics” of moralistic repression (”reform”) was at the “heart of Puritanism” through “public enforcement of piety and social discipline” as the putative ways and means of the few “elect to honor its God” (Zaret 1989) as against the “reprobate” (“damned”), i.e., most humans, in old and New England. In turn, the observation concerning the “sadistic intolerance” to cultural difference (Bauman 2000) by American Puritan-inspired religious neo-conservatism indicates that the latter has perpetuated or reinvented Puritanism in its intolerant sectarianism and fanaticism. At this juncture such “sadistic intolerance” makes American religious conservatism since Puritanism a functional analogue of fascism, notably Nazism, precisely defined in socio-psychological terms by intolerant sadism or sado-masochism (Adorno 2001). As some sociologists suggest, Calvinist Puritanism, so in extension American religious conservatism, and European fascism, in particular Nazism, share a “sado-masochistic character structure” (Fromm 1941; McLaughlin 1996) and an “authoritarian personality” overall (Adorno et al. 1950) characterized by intolerance and extremism. If Nazism and all fascism is socio-psychologically (or psychiatrically) sheer sadism, then American religious conservatism in virtue of its “sadistic intolerance” of moral and other cultural diversity acts as its extremely moralistic or theocratic, “godly” version. This is epitomized and symbolized by Puritan-style vice police in the “Bible Belt” and beyond seemingly resurrecting “Salem with witches” to be exorcised—though renamed sinners-criminals, agnostics, or atheists as supremely “un-American”—by an ever-metastasizing, intrusive, and brutal conservative policing state.
Alternatively, the diagnosis of Puritan-style “sadistic intolerance” in America by “born again” religious conservatism suggests that Puritanism might have changed or relinquished its name and dress but not (like the proverbial wolf) its nature and operation as the exemplar of fanaticism, intolerance, sectarianism, and extremism, through the survived or revived form of neo-Puritan sectarian and fundamentalist Protestantism (e.g., Baptism, in part Methodism). In a way, Puritanism in America may be “dead” as the name, but still “live and well”, if not “never better” since its official disestablishment during the 1830s, as in the “Bible Belt” and the revival of the 1980s–2000s, as the system, design, or syndrome of fanaticism, intolerance, sectarianism, and extremism overall.
As before, the underlying reason is that Puritanism has been less or not all “tempered” in its original fanaticism, intolerance, and sectarianism, like its moral and religious absolutism, by counteracting religious and secular forces (Anglicanism, liberalism) in America than in England, while American fundamentalist Protestantism instead perpetuating and even extending, as from New England to the South and beyond, Puritan original extremism or radicalism. For example, a sociological study shows that early Puritanism in old and New England alike entailed “sectarian” aims and attempts at extending Protestant (Calvinist) dogmas to politics by means of establishing a theocratic “holy commonwealth”, thus political radicalism and authoritarianism (Zaret 1989). In this account, Puritanism was extremism or “social radicalism”, developing as a “charismatic revolt” (Zaret 1989) against existing non-Puritan (Anglican) institutions, as in England initially and America subsequently, specifically the “old” (Episcopalian) South through the Puritan- or Calvinist-rooted Great Awakenings of the 1740s–1800s (German 1995). In particular, Puritanism alleged and emphasized the “corruption” of human reason—just as the “evilness” of humans—as opposed and sacrificed to supra- and anti-human (Divine, national, state) intelligence or design, resulting in radicalism (Zaret 1989), intolerance, and anti-humanism. The latter was expressed in what Comte calls the Puritan (and Protestant) repugnance to “human emancipation”, and modern analysts U.S. religious conservatism’s abhorrence of secular humanism (Van Dyke 1995).
As before, due to its political, religious, and other extremism or radicalism, Puritanism thus early American religious conservatism, was and remains, via neo-conservatisms or “born again” fundamentalism, proto-fascism prior to European fascism, including Nazism, precisely defined as an exemplary extreme or radical ideology and social system. Alternatively, fascism thus understood, in particular as anti-liberal extremism or an extreme, conservative form of anti-liberalism (Dahrendorf 1979), was and remains, via neo-fascism, a kind of neo-Puritanism and “neo-conservatism” overall in relation to original Puritanism and early or paleo-conservatism.18 At this juncture, the point is not so much that fascism, including Nazism, represents extremism or radicalism as axiomatic in the sociological literature and beyond. It is rather that American and other conservatism also shares this fascist attribute, as somewhat less established, denied, or hidden by its adherents by the discourse of “freedom” and “exceptionalism”, thus representing a functional analogue in this sense. For instance, just as in interwar Germany and Austria, German conservatism continued to be “extreme and unaccommodating” during that time19 (Barnett and Woywode 2004) and eventually blended or allied with Nazism (Blinkhorn 2003), so did, with some qualifications, its American version in certain periods like the 1930s–1960s and the 1980s–2000s. In particular, some analysts identify and describe U.S. “free-market” and religious neo-conservatives (evangelicals) and anti-liberals like Reagan et al. as “rigid extremists” (Blomberg and Harrington 2000) and to that extent “all-American” functional analogues or proxies of the Nazis and other European fascists as the exemplary embodiments of anti-liberal extremism. In political terms, U.S. and other conservatives and European fascists act as functional analogues specifically on the account or in the form of shared “right” (distinguished from “left”) extremism or radicalism. And “right” extremism and eventually totalitarianism is simply fascism (Giddens 1979), which implies that American conservatism with its Puritan-rooted “social radicalism” has actual or potential analogous fascist attributes and effects.
The Obverse: Antithesis to an Open Society
The preceding implies that American conservatism and European fascism represent functional analogues in being the antithesis to an open, free, and inclusive society, as the negative obverse of their nature and operation as closed, repressive, exclusionary social systems and ideologies. They are functionally or structurally analogous on the account of their shared antagonism to and ultimate, often joint, elimination of an open, democratic, and universalistic, particularly pacifistic (peaceful) and cosmopolitan, society, including the universal inclusion of out-groups, especially non-natives. In short, they are functional analogues in opposing and destroying Kant-Jefferson’s liberal-egalitarian, Enlightenment-based ideal of universal liberty, equality, and justice “for all”. No wonder, the Enlightenment, due to its project for a liberal society based on these values, was and remains by the 21st century the supreme common enemy of American and other religious conservatism and of European fascism, notably Nazism (Habermas 2001). If anything, it is their common anti-Enlightenment (Nisbet 1966) and their antagonism to the project and existence of a “liberal and pluralist society” (Munch 2001), notably liberal–secular democracy, that renders and reveals them as functional analogues.
In Comte's terms, American religious conservatism and European fascism are functional analogues because of both being intrinsically antagonistic and ultimately destructive to a rational and democratic positive social order and historical age superseding the theocratic system and the theological period as their “golden past” or “paradise lost”, especially for U.S. conservatives and “godly” (Italian, Spanish, Polish, and other Catholic or Vatican-supported) fascists in Europe. In Spencer’s words, they are so in that they are enemies to and “terminators” of a liberal, industrial, and peaceful society based on the system of individual economic and social liberties (“contract”), industry, and pacifism, which consequently permits only defensive war in stark contrast to proto-conservative and fascist militant or militaristic societies pervaded by permanent offensive wars. Thus, some observations suggest that, like their predecessors, post-1960s U.S. neo-conservatives (the New Right) and European interwar Nazi and other conservative “Revolutionaries” act as functional analogues in opposing an open society through aggressive nationalism (“patriotism”), as well as authoritarianism, anti-secularism, and anti-humanism grounded in reinvented (“born again”) “traditional” religion, anti-liberalism, restoring “old morality”, etc. (Brouwer 1998). In sum, American conservatism and European fascism both are the antitheses and lethal enemies of an open, free, and inclusive society (Cohen 2003; Popper 1966), and in that respect and degree act as functional analogues in the sense of the extended Merton Theorem.
Insofar as conservatism and fascism operate, as per the Merton Theorem, as functional analogues developing from the process of structural differentiation of medievalism, this has some pertinent implications for conservative-fascist social institutions, notably their necessity or indispensability as well as uniqueness. The question is whether and to what extent conservative and fascist social institutions are necessary or indispensable, including irreplaceable, and unique each on their own right if conservatism and fascism are reciprocal functional analogues within Merton’s Theorem. Merton’s (1968) implied or indirect answer is negative suggesting that, in general, (functionalist) sociology systematically operates with the notion of functional analogues or equivalents, thus “avoiding the postulate of indispensability” and perhaps even uniqueness of existing, including by implication conservative and fascist, social structures and norms. This discussion reconsiders the assumption of conservatism and fascism as functional analogues in relation to the “postulate of indispensability” of conservative and fascist social institutions, respectively.
Prima facie, the assumption or identification of conservative-fascist functional analogues invalidates or weakens the principle or claim of indispensability, uniqueness, and exceptionality of conservatism in America and elsewhere. To the extent that conservatism and fascism operate, just as both develop via structural differentiation from medievalism, as functional analogues (if not equivalents), this contradicts or undermines the assumed indispensability, uniqueness, and “exceptionality” of existing conservative social institutions in America and elsewhere. Thus, if (neo) fascism did, does, and can operate as a conservative functional analogue (or equivalent) in society, fulfilling an analogous (or homologous) social function as (neo) conservatism, then the latter is likely to cease to be absolutely, or become less, “indispensable”, “unique”, “exceptional” in America and beyond. This is what precisely happened in interwar Germany and Europe. Thus, Nazism and other fascism by acting as a conservative functional analogue essentially rendered traditional German and other European conservatism no longer or less indispensable and unique to the point of the latter almost being “devoured” by its own fascist creation (Blinkhorn 2003).
What Nazism rendered of traditional German conservatism, the “all-American” fascist type or proxy called McCarthyism almost did of paleo-conservatism as its creator as well as neo-fascism (e.g., fundamentalist neo-Nazism) promises to render of dominant neo-conservatism as its producer or container in America—not or less indispensable, irreplaceable, or unique. First, European (neo) fascism, when/if conceivably transplanted to America, makes American (neo) conservatism no longer or less functionally indispensable as a social structure or ideology in virtue of their operating as functional analogues in Merton’s sense. Second, at the minimum, even when/if not transplanted to America, European (neo) fascism still renders American (neo) conservatism no longer or less novel, unique, and exceptional because of their functioning as functional analogues as social structures or ideologies. In short, by operating as a conservative functional analogue, fascism contradicts and exposes conservatism’s ever-celebrated American exceptionalism (Lipset 1996) as a myth or mirage. Alternatively, one wonders what is really “exceptional” or “unique” (Lipset and Marks 2000) about American conservatism—and perhaps in consequence America dominated by it, notably conservative-sectarian Protestantism—if it acts as the functional analogue (if not equivalent) to European and domestic fascism by performing an analogous function in society. In sum, Merton’s assumption of conservative-fascist functional analogues in America and Europe, respectively, is destructive or contradictory to the postulate or claim of indispensability, minimally of uniqueness and exceptionalism, with respect to American conservatism. Simply, if they are analogues, American conservatism, like European fascism, is not or less indispensable, novel, unique, or exceptional in itself.
In turn, if (neo) fascism did, does, and will likely render American and European (neo) conservatism as its creator not or less indispensable and unique, original conservatism in Europe and America made so traditionalism, specifically medievalism, as the conservative and fascist parent and model (Mannheim 1986; Nisbet 1966). Thus, developing as the medievalist analogue or even homologue and offspring in “self-reflective” antagonism to liberal modernity, and acting virtually as the functional equivalent of traditionalism, conservatism rendered latter, specifically medievalism, no longer indispensable, irreplaceable, and unique in Europe and especially “non-medievalist” or anti-feudal America (Lipset and Marks 2000). Alternatively, medievalism’s fate of lost indispensability vis-à-vis and its development into conservatism inscribed or augured the latter’s almost identical destiny of ceasing to be indispensable and unique relative to and its own climax in interwar fascism. This pattern indicates as if history repeated itself within medievalist traditionalism via its structural differentiation as a unit or system into initially conservative and ultimately fascist, including neo-conservative and neo-fascist, units or subsystems a la Parsons.
To that extent, the above pattern prefigures or augurs neo-conservatism’s likely destiny, even partly observed outcome during the 1980s–2000s, of its lost or weakened indispensability or necessity in relation to neo-fascism, especially fundamentalist neo-Nazism (e.g., “Christian” neo-Nazi militia), in America, just as its invalidated uniqueness and exceptionalism compared with original European fascism. At this juncture, neo-fascism, especially in a religious-fundamentalist rendition or disguise like “Bible Belt” “friendly” moral fascism (Gross 1980) through Weber’s “unexampled tyranny of Puritanism”, is likely the destination of American and European (e.g., Polish and other Catholic) conservatism, just as medievalism, notably medieval despotism and theocracy, was the conservative genesis or point of origin in Europe and in part America. In the context of medievalism’s structural–functional differentiation into “structurally and functionally” analogous, if not equivalent, units or subsystems in Parsons’ sense, original conservatism is the first unit or stage, fascism the intermediate, neo-conservatism the late, neo-fascism the ultimate. In short, this renders medievalism or feudalism, paleo-conservatism, fascism, neo-conservatism, and neo-fascism all functional analogues in Merton’s sense, if not homologues and substitutes. And American paleo- and neo-conservatism conforms to—rather than, as implied in its claims to “uniqueness” or “exceptionalism” (Lipset and Marks 2000), contradicting—such a long-standing analogous pattern and path from feudalism to neo-fascism, by operating as a functional analogue of European fascism, thus implicitly, if not more strongly and directly, of medievalism through Calvinist Puritanism (Dunn and Woodard 1996; Munch 2001), within the Merton Theorem.
As a corollary of the above, so long as medievalism, including feudalism and theocracy, post-medieval conservatism (and neo-conservatism), and subsequent fascism (and neo-fascism) develop in a historical sequence and operate as Merton’s functional analogues (or equivalents), this results in and predicts a corresponding outcome in America, at least within its conservative “extended family”. This is that (neo) fascism will likely make (neo) conservatism no longer or less functionally indispensable, just as the second made medievalism, and thus really remain the “last” and eventually prevail within the conservative “big family”, as in part it did, through neo-fascist fundamentalism, in the Southern “Bible Belt” (Bauman 1997) during the 1980s–2000s, if not in America as a whole in the absence or weakness of countervailing liberal–secular forces. As hinted, historically such an outcome precisely materialized in interwar Germany and Europe, as Nazism and fascism overall rendered German and other European conservatism, and indirectly traditionalism, no longer indispensable and even useless, helpless, or irrelevant, just as mutatis mutandis McCarthyism did American paleo-conservatism, with the Nazis and McCarthy et al. virtually or temporarily “devouring” their respective conservative creators or allies (Blinkhorn 2003; Plotke 2002). Overall, the position of fascism as the “last survivor” or eventually dominant force within the conservative “big family” in America and elsewhere is axiomatically the (patho) logical climax of conservatism (Manent 1998; Moore 1993) and historically the final destination of medievalism and its structural differentiation into initially conservative and ultimately fascist sub-units or subsystems in Parsons’ sense.
Simply, to paraphrase Italian fascists, all conservative and thus indirectly medieval roads ultimately lead to the “Rome of fascism”, thus the “curse [hell] of totalitarianism” (Arendt 1951; Bähr 2002), even though possibly “paved with good intentions”, as conservatives, medievalists and fascists understand them. This is due to American and European conservatism operating as a fascist functional analogue in Merton’s sense. The “Rome of fascism” as the ultimate destination of conservatism and so medievalism is not just a metaphor or hyperbole, but a description of what almost literally occurred in Italy during the early 1920s (the joint conservative-fascist march toward the “eternal city”), and substantively in Germany and other European countries during the 1930s–40s. It is also, with prudent qualifications, descriptive of the ways and means of American paleo-conservatism yielding or supporting McCarthyism as the fascist form or proxy (Plotke 2002), as well as neo-conservatism, notably fundamentalism, mutating in or allying with neo-fascism (fundamentalist neo-fascists) in America and to a lesser extent Europe, including Italy and Germany, during the 1980s–2000s. And, given what Merton identified as their Puritan-rooted “American nativism”, including Pareto’s diagnosis of “jingoism”, U.S. neo-conservatives’ preferred metaphor or design would be instead of the “Rome of fascism” (all conservative roads lead to) “all-American”, “apple pie authoritarianism” (Wagner 1997), notably the “Bible Belt” of “friendly moral fascism” (Gross 1980) through Puritan moralistic tyranny or “born again” fascist fundamentalism (though avoiding these terms) cum “godly” or “faith-based” society.
In terms of religious foundations, dimensions, or rationalizations, the difference between the two conservative descriptions or designs of fascism is one between, to use Pareto-Weber’s words, the Roman Catholic (Vatican) and Calvinist-Puritan (Baptist) fascist theocracies, i.e., a matter of degree and designation, rather than substance and kind. For instance, Italian fascism a la Mussolini was basically theocratic or allied with the Vatican Church, as is perhaps even more American neo-fascism in the form of neo-fascist fundamentalism (“Christian” neo-Nazi militia). On a lighter note, the difference between the European conservative “Rome” and the American neo-conservative “Bible Belt” of fascism is one between unfriendly and friendly fascist “pizza lovers [and makers]” (Krugman 1997) in Italy/Europe and America respectively—U.S. fascists (e.g., Southern “rednecks”) being somewhat friendlier—thus a matter of degrees of fascist un-friendliness and un-freedom (or quality of pizzas), not of substance. That the differences between the “Rome” and “Bible Belt” of fascism are not substantial but semantic or geographic is implied in Dahrendorf’s (1979) suggestion concerning the violations of “fundamental human rights” by governments in Nazism and the “Southern US.”20 As also U.S. analysts observe and admonish, any Bible- (or Sun-) Belt dominance over politics and society harbors a “unique potential” for “apple-pie authoritarianism” or friendly fascism (Brouwer 1998; Wagner 1997), with American democracy observed as “heading South” and placed in the undemocratic, anti-liberal “shadow of Dixie” (Cochran 2001; also, Amenta et al. 2001) during recent times.
The preceding has revisited and restated what is described as the Merton Theorem that considers American religious conservatism, specifically Puritanism, and European fascism, particularly Nazism, to be functionally and structurally analogous, or functional analogues. According to the initial statement of the Merton Theorem, they are functional analogues in respect of nativism in the sense and form of aggression and exclusion directed against non-native groups or foreign outsiders. The paper has attempted to restate and extend the Merton Theorem by extending and placing conservative and fascist nativism in a more general conceptual-empirical framework.
The general framework of which nativism is a particular form and that renders American conservatism and European fascism functional analogues has been identified as the design or reality of a closed and repressive society, including an authoritarian polity, as the antithesis to an open and free social system, notably liberal democracy. Thus, the extended reformulation of the Merton Theorem reconsiders and rediscovers American conservatism and European fascism as functionally or structurally analogous in virtue of representing models or instances of a closed, repressive, nativist, and militarist, society, including an authoritarian state, and, alternatively, adversaries of open, free societies and ideologies, notably liberal democracy and ideology.
More specifically, it has reconsidered rediscovered them as functional analogues on the account of their sharing a number of specific dimensions or indicators of a closed and repressive society, including an undemocratic polity: political absolutism, closure and oppression, religious absolutism and nihilism, moral absolutism and repression, and extremism or radicalism. In sum, the extended Merton Theorem suggests and predicts that American conservatism and European fascism have been and will be functional analogues in nativism because and so long as they both epitomize a closed and repressive social system or ideology, of which nationalist exclusion and aggression is a special facet, and act as Popper’s enemies of an open and free society, notably liberal–secular democracy.
Within functionalism, the difference between the weak and strong versions of the Merton Theorem reflects that between functional “analogy” and “homology” or “equivalence”, i.e., functionally “analogous” and “homologous” or “equivalent”.
Parsons (1967:381–2) adds that phenomena “analogous” to economic deflation and inflation also exist in the “field of power and influence”. For instance, he suggests that in the second field the “direction of inflation trends is towards increasing reliance on strict authority and coercive sanctions, culminating in the threat and use of physical force” (Parsons 1967:381–2).
Smelser (1997:33–4) proposes that Parsons’ generalized exchange media are all “socially structured motivational complexes that form the basis of individuals’ affiliation with groups, organizations and movements [i.e.,] simultaneously types of motivations and types of incentives or rewards”.
Savage (1981:222) adds that Parsons’ ‘concept of generalised adaptive capacity [is] distinct from Darwin’s concept of adaptation. The gene-symbol analogy is little more than word-play, allowing the insertion of the concept of action into the analyses of adaptation”.
In a functionalist framework, structural differentiation or segmentation is by no means exactly and invariably simultaneous in terms of differentiated units, but evolutionary, i.e., gradual and successive, overall, at least not in the present context involving conservatism and fascism.
Overall, the specification of medievalism in relation to conservatism and fascism it is at best implicit and at worst absent in Parsons’ functionalism owing to its typically abstract evolutionary rather than concrete historical perspective or emphasis on structural differentiation and social change generally (Giddens 1984; Holmwood 1996).
In addition to Puritanism, the Southern system of slavery as even more “feudal” (harsher) than European feudalism contradicts the notion of America as a non-medievalist and completely “new world.” Even if America was non-medievalist and completely “pure”, American religious conservatism in particular starting with Puritanism was not, but instead imported, overtly or more often covertly, medievalism, notably Calvinist-style medieval theocracy, from Europe, thus in the process contaminated the “first new nation” with the old European elements from the Dark Middle Ages. For instance, in terms of dramatis personae, such founders as Jefferson, Franklin, and Madison were non-medievalist but rather Enlightenment-inspired modernists, visionaries and classical liberals, yet Winthrop et al. were profoundly medievalist, notably theocratic and aristocratic (Bremer 1995; Gould 1996), like their Calvinist parents and Anglican and Catholic, adversaries in early and high-medieval Europe.
Pareto observed that during the early 20th century “patriotism has risen to new heights and is assuming the form of religion—in Germany [in] the “German God”, in England through imperialism, in France through nationalism, and in the USA through jingoism, etc.”
Perhaps virtually every charismatic rule is or escalated in a sort of societal madness in virtue of being produced and sustained by a kind of Durkheimian collective effervescence, even mass hysteria or self-delusion resting on and justified by a common, usually false belief in “charisma” (the extraordinary, near-Divine powers of a merely human person), from Weber’s religious prophets in Christianity and Islam to political leaders a la Napoleon, Mussolini, Hitler, Reagan, and their imitators. At the minimum, charismatic rule or authority is anti- or non-rational and to that extent “mad”, as Weber implies by sharply distinguishing it from its rational-legal type (also, Lenski 1994).
Adorno (2001:219) adds that U.S. religious conservatives seek “a general American revival they hope to bring about [and to] demonstrate to the world that there are patriots, God-fearing Christian men and women who are yet willing to give their lives to the cause of God, home and native land.”
Walzer (1963:82) adds that what Puritans “feared greatly was rather in themselves than in the society about them”.
For illustration, Kirkpatrick (1937:652) observes that the Nazis’ “attitude toward sex is a mixture of Puritanism, glorification of vital forces and a vague desire to reconcile a moralist attitude toward illegitimacy with exigencies of population politics.”
Lipset (1955:200) remarks that in the U.S. South and beyond “fundamentalist Protestant groups” typically supported post-war fascism or the “radical right”, including McCarthyism. Overall, he finds that “fundamentalist Protestant sects” and conservative Catholics are the two “most anti-civil libertarian” religious groups in America (Lipset (1955:207). In particular, fundamentalist Protestants reportedly “played a major role in stimulating religious bigotry”, notably anti-Catholicism, in post-war American society and history overall.
Munch (2001:239) suggests that contemporary American religious conservatism does so “by defining concrete precepts and prohibitions in absolute terms and on an institutional level before [attempting] to enforce a generally binding validity for [them] even though they lack universal grounding”.
For instance, adult sexual assaults (including rapes) have reportedly diminished by almost 60 percent from 1993 to 2004, and in spite or perhaps because of this decrease U.S. neo-conservatism has continued and even intensified its hysteria about such offenses and even consensual sexual sins, as a clear syndrome of its moral fascism or Puritan tyranny.
Walzer (1963:65) adds that in “liberalism [human] goodness (sociability, self-discipline, moral decency or mere respectability) is self-assured and relaxed, entirely free from the nervousness and fanaticism of Calvinist godliness”.
Bourdieu and Haacke (1995:10) comment that such neo-conservative laws decree that the “chairmen of the NEA [National Endowment for the Arts] must insure that the agency’s decisions on awarding grants are ‘sensitive to the general standards of decency and respect and diverse beliefs of the American public.’ This vague formula resembles the [healthy folk sentiment] that the Nazis invoked when they purged German museums of “degenerate art’“.
In a different sense, neo-fascism in both Europe and America has usually been the creation, subtype, or ally of neo-conservatism, including its European and American variants.
Also, prefiguring in a way German conservatism’s “extreme and unaccommodating” posture in interwar times, Puritans in England (before the Puritan Revolution), as Simmel remarks, “were occasionally approached by the government, but they did not welcome these approaches by any means.”
Dahrendorf (1979:110) suggests the following: “Apply the moral yardstick of certain fundamental human rights to all forms of power and government, to Hitler [et al.] as to the governments which are responsible for the Southern U.S. [Bible Belt] to call [no] government legitimate which violates these rights.”
This is a remarkable omission indicating the dangers that Puritan-rooted and other nativism and ethnocentrism rationalized and celebrated as triumphant Americanism (Bell 2002) poses to social and even natural science (e.g., biology, climate change), as do fascist “nativist primers” as its functional analogues within the Merton Theorem.