November 26, 2015 Anno Domini
Michael Hoffman, the revisionist writer, clearly regards it as one of his missions in life to shift blame for the rise of “Christian” usury from Protestantism to the Catholic Church. In many articles and books Hoffman has asserted that Protestants, specifically Calvinists, have been unjustly scapegoated for usurious hegemony in the west. Hoffman’s method of argumentation on his website and elsewhere is to simply ignore facts that don’t support his thesis of Protestants as radical foes of usury. Thus he ignores or downplays the huge and well documented role of Calvinists and other Protestants in the rise of modern industrial usurious capitalism – a role modern Protestants and philo-Protestants not only admit, but brag about (1). He also ignores, or attempts to explain away, some central facts of post-Reformation history, such as, for example, the rise of great usurious Protestant capitalist powers in the centuries after the Reformation.
For example, Britain as a fanatically Protestant polity, became the world’s leading usurious industrial power in the post-Reformation age. Moreover overseas territories settled by Protestant Britons likewise eagerly embraced usurious capitalism (2). In this context it must be noted that since the Whig sponsored Dutch Orangeist conquest of England, it has never had a Catholic monarch or Prime Minister.
Anglo-usury and Anglo anti-Catholicism went together. The United States, another capitalist superpower with a long history of anti-Catholic persecution and discrimination, only got its first Catholic president in 1960, and we know what happened him. The all-pervasive hatred of Catholicism that characterised both the British Empire, and to a lesser extent, the U.S., makes the idea that some form of subtle or subliminal Catholic influence explained these nations’ fervent embrace of state-sponsored usury bizarrely far-fetched.
Why, in any case, would Protestants, especially radical Protestants, obediently follow the lead of the hated Papists in something so fundamental, especially since the whole point of the Reformation was revolt against Rome? The question gains even more force when one remembers the central pivot of Hoffman’s thesis: the notion that during the Renaissance the Catholic Church broke with the teaching of the Medieval Church on financial matters, and that disgust at Catholic financial corruption partly drove the Protestant “reformers”. How likely was it that Protestants who rebelled against Rome, in part because of perceived financial corruption, and who repudiated apostolic succession and many ancient dogmas of the faith, would blindly sign up to a new anti-Christian financial dispensation, simply because their religious arch-enemy had already done so? If they revolted so violently against ancient teachings of the hated Papists, and went on an iconoclastic altar and statue smashing rampage across great swathes of Europe to prove the point, why on earth would they eagerly embrace newly minted Catholic teachings – unless, that is, such alleged new teachings dovetailed with their own materialistic agenda?
In an exchange on his blog Hoffman, noted that when Calvin endorsed usury, several prominent Puritans, including John Cotton, reproved him. Far from admitting the obvious implication of this statement, which is that the founder of the most successful radical Protestant sect decisively broke with the anti-usury traditions of Christendom, Hoffman attempts to argue that it proves the anti-usury outlook of many radical Protestants.
Not only is this highly disingenuous – Calvin defined the spirit of radical Protestantism far more than John Cotton did – but it also points to a more profound misapprehension on Hoffman’s part. He seems to be believe that the tendencies of Reformation and post-Reformation radical Protestantism can be illustrated simply by citing anti-usury writings and sermons of some prominent Puritans. Thus is if a prominent New England Puritan like Cotton condemns loan-sharking, this for Hoffman proves that the Puritans cannot be blamed for the rise of usurious capitalism. This is grossly simplistic on several levels.
First of all condemnations are one thing – actions are quite another. When it comes to the Catholic Church Hoffman attaches no credibility whatsoever to the post-Renaissance Church’s many condemnations of usurious capitalism and freemasonry. According to him, all such condemnations amounted to nothing more than cunning and hypocritical ploys on the part of Rome, to disguise its true occultist-usurious agenda. On the other hand he takes all the statements by early Protestant leaders condemning usury or Judaic corruption completely at face value – even when they come from the mouths or pens of men such as Luther, who condoned all forms of sin including lying, and enthused about occult practices such as alchemy (3). Emotionally and spiritually, then, Hoffman is anything but a detached unbiased scholar when it comes to evaluating the merits of post-Reformation Catholicism on the one hand, and early Protestant movements on the other.
Another problem with cherry-picking anti-usurious or anti-Judaic statements of early Protestants is that this type of reductionism often fails to take note of the underlying trends at work in historic political or religious movements. For example if most 1960s liberals had been asked what they thought of same sex unions, the vast majority of them would have said they deplored such a grotesque idea, and that social conservatives who suggested otherwise were simply scare-mongering. Indeed as recently as 2012 Barack Obama claimed to be opposed to “gay marriage”. Yet when the American Supreme Court ratified this evil sham in June 2015, the U.S. President celebrated by lighting up the White House with the colours of the LGBT rainbow flag. Revolutionary movements aren’t always open about what their true endgame is, and sometimes aren’t even sure themselves, so their past statements are by no means an infallible guide to their future actions.
Hoffman himself spots subtle “gradualism” everywhere where Rome is concerned, but ignores much more glaring examples of the phenomenon in the history of Protestantism. Thus he cites Pope Leo’s Papal Bull “Inter Multiplicis” as beginning the gradual process of abandonment of the Catholic Church’s prohibition against usury, but denies that Calvin’s much more definitive embrace of usury played a decisive role in the rise of loan-shark hegemony.
Unfortunately for his thesis, the historical facts speak for themselves. Protestant and Jewish families shaped the modern financial system in Britain and its dominions (including Ireland), and in the U.S., Prussia, Switzerland, Scandinavia and elsewhere. Even in predominantly Catholic nations like France, Protestants were at the heart of usurious banking. The rhetorical hostility of certain Puritans to usury does not in any way negate the huge role radical Protestants played in the rise of the usurious state, any more than the opposition of certain traditionalist Anglicans to “women priests” proves that Protestants have had no truck with feminism.
The Reformation unleashed forces which at least some of its devotees neither encouraged nor desired, but as with early social liberals, this in no way absolves the reckless “reformers” from blame for the predictable consequences of their revolutionary pride. That pride made it inevitable that greed and the love of money would follow in the wake of their revolution.
The usurious spirit cannot be divorced from liberal pridefulness generally – it is interwoven in the fabric of modern post-Catholic culture. If love of money is the root of all evil it is because money facilitates the commission of all other sins Rebellious pride was at the very heart of Protestantism from Luther to Henry VIII to Thomas Cromwell, from to John Calvin to Oliver Cromwell. That incidentally is why Whiggish Neo-conservatives, including pseudo-Catholics like Michael Novak, are such philo-Protestants: they grasp, in a way that seems to completely elude Hoffman, that the Reformation was the beginning of the modern revolutionary capitalist age. Those early Protestants who condemned usury did so because they still lived in post-Catholic post Medieval culture, just as the 1960s liberal who condemned sexual promiscuity, or abortion on demand, still lived in a world informed by vestigial Catholic morality.
Yet another problem with Hoffman’s approach to evaluating early Protestant statements on usury is his own definition of Puritanism. There is more than a touch of the “No True Scotsman” fallacy at work here, whereby Hoffman defines a Puritan as any radical Protestant who happens to meet his definition of what a good Christian should be. Thus when objectors point out that many Protestant denominations directly descended from Puritan sects – Congregationalists, low church Anglicans, Unitarians, and so on – pioneered a worldly liberal approach to moral issues, including usury, Hoffman blithely denies that such sects have any claim on the Puritan name (4). He adopts a similar form of circular logic in attempting to address the incontestable evidence that many of the pioneering usurious banks in Britain, New England, Geneva and elsewhere were owned by Calvinists or Puritans, or their descendants. A Puritan in his parlance is simply the type of Protestant who agrees with him on religious, political questions.
For example he says that to accuse Puritans of liberal tendencies is to adopt an “elastic” definition of Puritanism. But Puritanism WAS elastic in most matters religious – apart, that is, from its hatred of Catholicism. Modern Whigs revere Oliver Cromwell because, like them, he loathed the Catholic Church, but not so paradoxically also embraced an early form of ecumenical liberalism, and tolerated many Protestant sects – ranging from Anglicans to Independents to Presbyterians and Unitarians – sects that disagreed with each other on many things, but shared a deep hatred of Catholicism. In other words liberals find Cromwell a congenial figure because his religious views don’t differ significantly from their own, and can be summed up as “ARBC” – Any Religion But Catholicism”.
The political and social authoritarianism of early radical Protestants should not blind us to this truth: Puritans were elastic in terms of religious dogma, but nonetheless deeply inflexible towards those who challenged their spiritual and political authority. In this they foreshadowed the modern left and the modern Neo-cons, who change their mind on a sixpence, but are utterly ruthless in their repression of dissent. Not so very long ago Communists persecuted homosexuals as bourgeois degenerates; now their hard left ideological descendants persecute critics of homosexual “marriage” as hate criminals. Like communism, with which it shares certain traits, Puritanism never lacked in fervour and authoritarianism – what it lacked was any coherent concept of moral and spiritual authority.