Jeremy Young explains what he explored in his book on the charisma of politicians between the Civil War and World War II:

One of the central questions I had to answer in researching my book on turn-of-the-century charisma was how to determine whether a given leader was actually charismatic. Charisma is an enigmatic quality, both ineffable and deeply subjective; who was I to say that Theodore Roosevelt was more or less charismatic than, say, Woodrow Wilson? Ultimately, I realized that I was asking the wrong question; charisma was not a characteristic of leaders, but a relationship between them and their followers. By observing how Americans described their leaders, then, I could let followers do the work of identifying charisma.

H. L. Mencken had another theory. It was whether or not a politician had “it.” Mencken thought Al Smith did.

There is something about Al’s aspect that the plain people like, not kowing why, and they seem to like it almost as well where cops are curiosities as where cows are curiosities. I have watched them at a dozen country railway stations, crowding up to the observation platform. Maybe the stop is for but two or three minutes; sometimes there is no more than a slowing down. They crane their necks expectantly, waiting for they know not what. Suddenly Al is on view, waving the brown derby, reaching out to shake hands, hauling in the bouquets brought for Mrs. Smith and joshing the local worthies. They regard him quizzically for a moment, and even with a certain hostility, but then, of a sudden, he has landed them, and as the train rolls on they are howling. . . .

The plain fact is that Al’s points are mainly infra-red and ultra-violet. It is impossible to chart or label them. He simply has the thing that the movie folk call IT — and the movie folks discovered long ago that it could not be described with any precision. There are grand and gaudy beauties who lack it altogether, and there are shabby little girls who radiate it at a pressure of a million volts. Al has it as no American politician has had it since Roosevelt. Has more of it, indeed, than Roosevelt, for the popularity of Roosevelt was largely logical: the plain people admired him because he had waded in blood and saved American womanhood from the Spanish Hun. But they know very little about Al, and what little they know, at least in these back reaches of the land, is mainly unfavorable. I don’t think it would be exact to say that they admire him, even after they have seen him. But it is as plain as day that they delight in him. He somehow thrills them and makes them happy. When he casts his magic over them it penetrates to their gizzards. (“Smith Has ‘It'” – 1928)

I suspect that Hillary didn’t have it but Trump did.

Postscript: Machen voted for Al.

Mencken Day 2016

After a visit to Charm City for Mencken festivities, the man remains the king of charm and truth (general revelation sense). What follows is from his coverage of the 1928 presidential election which witnessed the first Roman Catholic run for the White House on a major party ticket (that would be Al Smith):

I daresay the extent of the bigotry prevailing in America, as it has been revealed by the campaign, has astounded a great many Americans, and perhaps even made them doubt the testimony of their own eyes and ears. This surprise is not in itself surprising, for Americans of one class seldom know anything about Americans of other classes. What the average native yokel believes about the average city man is probably nine-tenths untrue, and what the average city man believes about the average yokel is almost as inaccurate.

A good part of this ignorance is probably due to the powerful effect of shibboleths. Every American is taught in school that all Americans are free, and so he goes on believing it his whole life — overlooking the plain fact that no Negro is really free in the South, and no miner in Pennsylvania, and no radical in any of the dozen great States. He hears of equality before the law, and he accepts it as a reality, though it exists nowhere, and there are Federal laws which formally repudiate it. In the same way he is taught that religious toleration prevails among us, and uncritically swallows the lie. No such thing really exists. No such thing has ever existed.

This campaign has amply demonstrated the fact. It has brought bigotry out into the open, and revealed its true proportions. It has shown that millions of Americans, far from being free and tolerant men, are the slaves of an ignorant, impudent and unconscionable clergy. It has dredged up theological ideas so preposterous that they would make an intelligent Zulu laugh, and has brought the proof that they are cherished by nearly half the whole population, and by at least four-fifths outside the cities. It has made it plain that this theology is not merely a harmless aberration of the misinformed, like spiritualism, chiropractic of Christian Science, but the foundation of a peculiar way of life, bellicose, domineering, brutal and malignant — in brief, the complete antithesis of any recognizable form of Christianity. And it has shown, finally, that this compound of superstition and hatred has enough steam behind it to make one of the candidates for the Presidency knuckle to it and turn it upon his opponent — basely to be sure, but probably wisely. (“The Eve of Armageddon,” Nov. 5, 1928)

I wonder if neo- and New Calvinists with all that w-w and earnestness and hope for a Christian society would have voted for the Democrat and Roman Catholic Smith. J. Gresham Machen, a life-long Democrat, did. Part of the reason was 2k.

Did the Mainline Win or Did 'Merica?

John Fea has an interview with Peggy Bendroth about her new book, The Last Puritans: Mainline Protestants and the Power of the Past (The University of North Carolina Press, 2015). This exchange stood out:

JF: Why do we need to read The Last Puritans?

PB: Here’s one practical reason: since the 1980s, if we use George Marsden’s Fundamentalism and American Culture as the benchmark, historians of American religion have been working overtime to understand evangelicals. It has worked well, really well. The old stereotypes have been demolished and we now have a richly textured picture of evangelicalism in all of its aspects, from fundamentalist to Pentecostal.

We also have an assumption that there was no spiritual curiosity or zeal anywhere else, and that mainliners in particular were boring and feckless bureaucrats presiding over their own demise. Very few of us have actually worked through primary sources, however, and we know surprisingly little about what happened in mainline denominations for most of the twentieth century. That means that we cannot explain, as David Hollinger and others now argue, how mainline liberal values—tolerance and cooperation—have quietly come to define so much of mainstream American culture today. I’m thinking especially of Amazing Grace by Robert Putnam and David Campbell, a picture of American religiosity far different from the usual stereotypes of the culture wars. Mainline denominations may be disappearing, but this is, I think, more of an organizational problem than a failure of their ideals.

I’ve seen references like this to David Hollinger’s argument a lot of late. It is the perfect way to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The mainline churches didn’t lose. Instead, America became like the mainline. Mainline Protestants favored tolerance and cooperation and when America embraced those same ideals they were actually coming to Jesus even though they didn’t know it.


Another way to think of this same process is Americanization. Consider Al Smith’s creed which he wrote for the Atlantic Monthly magazine in 1927 on the eve of his nomination as the Democratic candidate for president of the United States:

I believe in the worship of God according to the faith and practice of the Roman Catholic Church.
I recognize no power in the institutions of my Church to interfere with the operations of the Constitution of the United States or the enforcement of the law of the land.
I believe in absolute freedom of conscience for all men and in equality of all churches, all sects, and all beliefs before the law as a matter of right and not as a matter of favor.
I believe in the absolute separation of Church and State and in the strict enforcement of the provisions of the Constitution that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
I believe that no tribunal of any church has any power to make any decree of any force in the law of the land, other than to establish the status of its own communicants within its own church.
I believe in the support of the public school as one of the cornerstones of American liberty.
I believe in the right of every parent to choose whether his child shall be educated in the public school or in a religious school supported by those of his own faith.
I believe in the principled noninterference by this country in the internal affairs of other nations and that we should stand steadfastly against any such interference by whomsoever it may be urged.
And I believe in the common brotherhood of man under the common fatherhood of God.

Using Hollinger and Bendroth’s logic, does that mean that when the United States came to embrace the separation of church and state along with freedom of conscience the nation was actually channeling the Vatican?

Or, was it the case that Al Smith was simply doing what lots of Americanist bishops before had done — and the Vatican had mildly condemned — adapting Roman Catholicism to American realities?

Typically, when immigrant churches adapt to the host culture of the United States, we call that Americanization or assimilation. So why can’t we do that with mainline Protestants? If we did, we would conclude that mainline Protestantism and Americanist Roman Catholicism both share a willingness to let the aspirations and expectations of American society shape the teaching and practice of the church. That sounds modernist. It did to Piux X.

Right Church, Wrong Paradigm

In the effort to keep Jason and the Callers honest about church history and how their paradigm fails epicly, herewith an excerpt from a relatively older article from America about the first Roman Catholic presidential candidate (1928), Al Smith, and the flack he took for the Vatican’s opposition to all societies modern. The New York governor, himself, like many a lay Roman Catholic, did not hang on every word of the magisterium. So when asked whether he could support religious liberty and the separation of church and state, his reply was essentially, “sure, why would you ask?” An exchange in the Atlantic Monthly would require Smith to be more eloquent, but he still didn’t see a problem:

Al Smith could hardly deny that union of church and state was the ideal that was enshrined in papal encyclicals. But Smith replied that this ideal applied only to purely Catholic states, and that such states no longer existed anywhere in the world. “I think that you have taken your thesis from [the] limbo of defunct controversies,” Smith told Marshall. Essentially Smith was telling Marshall that the teaching of 19th-century popes about the union of church and state was no longer official church teaching, because the church had quietly dropped it as no longer applicable in the modern world, least of all in the United States.

Even though Smith won the debate about Rome (and lost the election, also about a Roman Catholic), Thomas J. Shelley thinks that Smith’s anti-Catholic interlocutors had a point: “Smith . . . asserted that the teachings of the 19th-century popes on religious liberty were no longer operative (as a 20th-century presidential press secretary might put it), but they could not cite a single authoritative church document to prove their assertion. There was no such document. . .”

Said document would be forthcoming with the Second Vatican Council:

For the first time in its long history, in the “Declaration on Religious Liberty” the Catholic Church stated unambiguously that “the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion in such wise that in matters religious no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs…. The Council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed Word of God and through reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed. Thus it is to become a civil right (No. 2).”

Never before had the highest authorities of the Catholic Church expressed such unqualified approval of the rights of conscience of every individual. Prior to Vatican II the official teaching of the church was that error should not be accorded the same rights as truth. The “Declaration on Religious Liberty” stated: “[T]he right to religious freedom has its foundation, not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature. In consequence, the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it” (No. 2).

Shelley concludes with a concession about the historical sleight of hand that is required of Roman Catholics living after Vatican II:

When challenged by reporters or fellow politicians, Al Smith was fond of replying, “Let’s look at the record.” To some extent, as Charles Marshall [Smith’s Protestant critic] insisted, both Governor Smith and Father Duffy [Smith’s clerical advisor] fudged the record of the Catholic Church on religious liberty in 1927. A kinder critic might say that they anticipated the record by almost 40 years. In any event, the “Declaration on Religious Liberty” provided the authoritative pronouncement for which Father Duffy was grappling when he declared, “We are Catholics and we are Americans, and to both loyalties we stick.” “The Declaration on Religious Liberty” eliminated a longstanding source of suspicion and friction from American political life, and for that happy development not only Catholic politicians, but all Americans can be grateful to the Second Vatican Council.

What happened at Vatican II had never happened before. What paradigm do you need to recognize novelty, not only among Protestants, but also among Roman Catholics?