An essay on the Western World
by Tage Lindbom
If the Truth had been in accord with their desires, truly the heavens and the earth, and all beings therein would have been in confusion and corruption! Nay, We have sent them their admonition, but they turn away from their admonition. [The Koran, 23:71]
HE PARTING FROM THE NEAR EAST, which takes its conscious forms in about five hundred years before Christ and which is the embryo of what we today call the Western World, is primarily characterised by an individual consciousness, the positive implication of which is the parting from the Cosmic unity. As a second element to this “Greek wonder” comes the Judaic monotheism and the victory of Christianity in the late antiquity.
Early signs of a rationalism with profane-scientific elements is what the Christian Middle Ages attempts to avert with the so called scholasticism, a sacra scientia in antique forms, which did not survive the renaissance of the late Middle Ages. The way was thus opened for a profane-philosophy, which increasingly claimed to take the place of theology.
This primarily applies to the Christian Western Roman Church, and the Catholic papacy’s theological and moral decline that led to an opposition where we mainly discern the Lutheran and Calvinist reformations. It is above all the latter, which will have a significant influence on the continued development of the Western World.
The concept of individuality is what relates the Greek civilisation to the Christian teaching of salvation and thus makes Christianity the dominant religion of the Western World. In Christianity the notion of individual salvation puts a strong emphasis on the sin - the Fall of Man - as a concept of profanity that is associated with the “flesh” and the “world”. This notion of sin and sin-consciousness is intensified in the reform movements and then especially in Calvinism and its subsequent branches. While Luther solves the relationship between the Divine and the world by the so called “teaching of the dual Kingdoms”, not the least by allowing Christian everyday and work-ethics, the “world” to the Calvinist is merely a state of total sinfulness – according to Calvinism there is no holiness in the world. The individual’s salvation is then gained – in total loneliness, or if we like, in total individuality – a desert-walk through a totally sinful world.
This theological Calvinist world-view branches off as the Low Church in the Western World and particularly in countries engaged in commercial and industrial activities. In its Low Church branches the once theologically strict Calvinism becomes a way of life, conclusively the Puritan, which leaves its clear mark on the Anglo-Saxon countries.
England is a country, that early on becomes a trading-nation with demands for a freedom that the old feudal and semi-feudal Europe did not allow – already in the late Middle Ages calls for free-trade could be heard in the English parliament. In such a country it is very easy for Puritanism - the theological and the profane - to gain strength. For the Puritan - the believer and the secular - is an individualistic bundle of energy, who for his survival – the salvific and the financial – only can trust his own endowments.
The Puritan individualism is the foundation stone, and it is connected to an uncompromising condition: the personal freedom. Salvation is for me and no one else, just as the success of commercial and industrial life is due to my own personal achievements. But then there remains a basic theological question, Calvinism teaches that God has chosen some and rejected some – who those are, is hidden from us humans. But here Puritanism offers a comforting notion: God can already in our earthly life give us signs of whether we are the chosen ones: a certainty of salvation can come to our minds, and this can also be materialised not the least by materialistic achievement. This becomes a significant incentive in the commercial and industrial life.
The Puritan existence is a life in a world of sin, but also in a world of freedom, and it is in this freedom that the human salvation shall be realised and commercially and industrially utilised. What this state of freedom actually means to each individual human being is a struggle for survival – to be saved or rejected, or to be enriched or made bankrupt. What is needed for this is a self-discipline, a self-control, and here we stand before the Puritan morality.
The true Puritan is a warrior, his life is a constant readiness for battle within an absolute sphere of freedom, and this demands a self-control, a self-discipline, a planning and a calculating – all of which is within an individual sphere of freedom. The puritan is therefore the bearer of a moral self-control, which leaves its mark on his whole personality, in his spiritual life as well as in his daily actions. His life is a life of intrinsic norms and regulations – John Stuart Mill once said that the Puritan puts the rule in the place of nature. The Puritan is like a closed moral fortress.
Western World increasingly allows a growing individualistic consciousness not
only to shape individual but also social life, the Puritan morality increases
in importance. The Puritanisation of the Western World has begun. It chiefly
concerns those areas that are subjected to a commercial and industrial
development, and its true homeland is
The Puritan steps forth as the imperial conqueror, he acts under a clear moral guiding star, which tells him that his life’s achievements are signs of God’s pleasure, that his life is attached to a moralistic self-control, without which life would not be liveable. The Puritan's life is a life in freedom, not merely individually, but also socially. For the Puritan, we repeat, is a conqueror: the world is his battlefield, and the world shall be saved in the name of the Puritan freedom, whether this conquering is carried out by colonialism, Christian mission, the selling of goods or the spreading of Western values.
contours of the Puritanisation of the Western world can be seen during the 19th
century – modern commercialism and industrialisation is brought forth in
accordance with the moralistic Puritan way of life. The Western World is
Puritanised, even if the heading is not used. Though at the same time there is
a significant shift in the balance of Power: a new, future Super Power is about
to be formed, the
forming of a Super Power, Puritanism is now not only developed as a great
moral, commercial and industrial centre, but the
The Puritan man, this autistic-moralistic bundle of energy can only live his earthly life and attain salvation by being given an absolute freedom and thus be free to exploit the sinful world in which he lives. But this freedom is to be given to all without distinction and therefore even the absolute equality must be affirmed. This is what is declared in the American constitution. Democracy is declared - the individual man as a in freedom and equality born, inviolable creature, and in its collective form as the free and equal humanity, whose sovereignty is expressed by the Will of the Masses.
century has experienced two World Wars, which to their ultimate purposes have
been struggles for or against the democratic way of life. In the year 1916
We have here described the Puritan man in his “classic” orthodoxy, well conscious of the fact that reality always has to be modified. To the orthodox Puritan the world is a sterile desert, to the secular Puritan the world is a field of exploitation. Puritanism has to a more or less extent and in secular forms spread across the whole Western World – it has continued to act even when the actions have seized to be related to the concept itself. Nonetheless it would be a grave simplification to equate the “classical” Puritanism with today’s “Americanism”. The former, a strictly personal stance with its roots in a theological orthodoxy, and the latter, an increasingly superficial, to the simplest and most shallow sensuous experiences appealing state - a through modern media permanently upheld state of sensuous stimulation.
this increasingly predominant state is a fruit of the two World Wars - that is
something we have to remember. The freedom
the Western World praises itself to have saved for humanity, and the equality, which endows this state its
sense of legitimacy has led the Western World into a situation that borders on
total Godlessness. Though paradoxically, there are still in this
(1) Here Lindbom points at the fact that the British monarchy not only faced Puritan revolt in their own country (by the likes of the Calvinist Oliver Cromwell and the subsequent beheding of King Charles I) but later on also by Puritans in their colonies, which resulted in what is commonly known as the United States of America. It should not be forgotten that both these Puritan revolutions occurred before the French revolution of 1789.
Lindbom's analysis of the Puritan mind sheds a new light on much of the
American history. In the wars between the Native Americans and the Puritan
settlers the real conflict was between their different world-views. To the
natives the world was nothing but Divine
Symbolism, while to the settlers the world was nothing but an exploitable desert of sin. It was the exploitation
of what the Indians regarded as holy that forced them to fight a war with a
Puritan enemy who in reality lacked any notion of "holiness". The
killing of the