Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders has been puttering in politics only four years longer than U.S. Senator Dick Blumenthal, and the two may have more in common than most suppose. Both were born in New York and entered politics about the same time, Sanders in 1981 as Mayor of Burlington, Vermont, and Blumenthal in 1985 as a member of Connecticut’s State House of Representatives. Neither political career has been marred by service in the private marketplace.
Both are East Coast, secularized, cultural Jews. That is, they are Jews who have shaken the dust of orthodoxy from their feet. Religious discipline is too confining for either, and their attitude toward heterodoxy parallels that of Ahab in Melville’s Moby Dick: “Speak not to me of blasphemy, man. I’d strike the sun if it dared insult me.”
Blumenthal, in particular is well known as a champion of abortion provider Planned Parenthood. An orthodox Jewish Rabbi once was asked what the position of cultural Jews on abortion was. “It’s anything they want it to be,” he growled. The same may be said of cultural, heterodox Catholics, wayfaring Christians termed “practical atheists” by Jacques Maritain.
Secularization has affected both Jewish and Christian politicians, and both are alike in this respect: religion for either has little to do with a rational doxology. In both cases, freedom is more important than discipline. Maneuverability is especially important for politicians who claim to represent a broad constituency, and religious prescriptions are by definition restrictive because they are definitional. To put it in modernist terms, any inconvenient doxology may be abjured without serious penalty by secularized Jewish and Christian politicians for whom religion is not a praxis but a cultural overlay. In both cases, the secularized Jewish or Christian politicians transcend religious prescriptions and, fearing orthodox contamination, observe their nominal faiths from the outside as mere spectators.
Now, there are two dangers in the commingling of religion and politics. The first is that religion, so debased, will be politicized. And the second is that politics will become sacrilized. Both Marxism and Fascism are forms of sacralized politics. Hitler was a pre-Christian pagan, Stalin a god-like atheist and Mussolini a pre-Christian Roman imperator. Both fascism and communism are logical elaborations of socialism.
These two dangers – that religion will be politicized and politics sacralized – walk hand in hand, neither excluding the other. Atheistic Soviet Communism from World War I through the post-World War II years may best be understood as a secularized faith boasting its own doxology, found in both the Communist Manifesto and Karl Marx’s Das Kapital; its own sacred trinity – Marx the father, Lenin the son, and Stalin the holy spirit; and its own mode of proselytizing, through terror and the displacement of democratic political forms with totalist cradle to grave government.
Thanks to President Harry Truman in the United States and Winston Churchill in Great Britain we were forewarned of the dangers of Communism late in the World War II years. The dark side of totalist government was early illuminated by prescient intellectuals -- Whittaker Chambers in “Witness,” George Orwell in “1984”, Friedrich Hayak in “The Constitution of Liberty” and “The Road to Serfdom” – and others too numerous to mention, none of whom Sanders, an unrepentant child of the 1960’s, has consulted before establishing his own socialist credo.
Sanders is committed to socialism and so lost to sweet reason. One supposes that socialist notions may be little more than an advantageous political avocation for Blumenthal. Sanders has an impassioned following among young people who, during their college years, had not been exposed by their Marxist professors to any of the works cited above. They are, to put the matter bluntly, familiar with yesterday but ignorant of the day before yesterday. Never-the-less, they are voters and as such represent an “interest” Blumenthal would like to lead into his own political paddock.
Unlike Sanders, Blumenthal is not becalmed on a socialist sea, with no fresh wind to blow him to the solid shore. At some point, one prays, the God of Abraham will intervene and show Blumenthal the way home.