Of course, atheism doesn’t necessarily mean socialism — even if that’s how it invariably works out...
And to bring this post back to 2013, to understand why atheism actually does lead to socialism in real life, and as the Salon critic posited, “We all live in Pottersville now,” don’t miss National Review editor-at-large John O’Sullivan’s essay on “Our Post-Christian Society”:
John O'Sullivan in that column Our Post-Christian Society made the following points:
It is often said that we live in a post-Christian society. That is true, but its meaning is generally misunderstood. A post-Christian society is not merely a society in which agnosticism or atheism is the prevailing fundamental belief. It is a society rooted in the history, culture, and practices of Christianity but in which the religious beliefs of Christianity have been either rejected or, worse, forgotten. In other words a post-Christian society is a particular sort of Christian society. It is quite different, for instance, from a post-Muslim or a post-Buddhist society (if we can imagine such things). At an emotional level, its Christian character explains why many agnostics and atheists nonetheless find Christian hymns suitable and comforting at occasions such as funerals and weddings. Intellectually, its dormant Christian beliefs — notably those about the nature of Man — underpin our ideas on politics and foreign policy, as for instance on human rights. Even the Enlightenment — which strong secularists like to cite as the foundation of Western liberal polities — is an extension of Christianity as much as a rejection of it. In short, though much of what Christianity taught is forgotten, even unknown, by modern Europeans and Americans, they nonetheless act on its teachings every day.
But there are consequences to forgetting truths. One consequence is that while we instinctively want to preserve the morals and manners of the Christian tradition, we cannot quite explain or defend them intellectually. So we find ourselves seeking more contemporary (i.e., in practice, secular) reasons for preserving them or, when they decay completely, inventing regulations to mimic them. When courtesy is abandoned, we invent speech codes, which are blunter in their impact and repress legitimate disagreement along with insults. When female sexual modesty and male sexual restraint are discredited as puritanical, we draw up contractual arrangements to ensure that any sexual contact is voluntary on both sides. This means that sexual relationships (and their consequences) may occur more often but that they do so in an atmosphere of mutual suspicion and legal wariness that poisons relations between men and women over the long run. Above all, when we no longer protect and strengthen the family on the grounds that it is a patriarchal institution harmful to the life chances of women, we encourage the family breakdown that leaves women worse off financially, pushes men into an irresponsible life, and damages their children socially and psychologically.
Family breakdown is in fact the largest single social disaster plaguing the post-Christian society. The family is a natural way of regulating and disciplining us and our ambitions in the activities of everyday life. It makes us frugal; it encourages saving, wealth creation, and the deferment of gratification; it compels us to provide for the future; above all it ensures that children are brought up and taught to become self-reliant, and that the weak, the sick, and the elderly have others to succor them. When the family breaks down, we get crime, drug-taking, impoverishment, psychological problems, and much else at the personal level; and we get a cycle of deprivation, the growth of an underclass, spiraling social-welfare costs, over-government, and severe budgetary problems at a national level. The result of family breakdown is that we have to replace the family with regulation after regulation. Our remedies — easier divorce, better financial arrangements for women after divorce, increased welfare for single mothers, bureaucratic agencies to compel men to make child-support payments, laws and regulations that disadvantage natural family relationships in court decisions on child care and adoption, and much else — never work as well as the stable families they replace. Indeed, very often they make the situation worse.
As someone interested in maintaining a free and prosperous society, this Irving Kristol lecture titled The Capitalist Future touched on several interrelated facets of society:
It is not, then, the economics of capitalism that is our fundamental, unmanageable problem. That problem today is located in the culture of our society, which is in the process of outflanking our relatively successful economy. While the society is bourgeois, the culture is increasingly, and belligerently, not.
Bourgeois society is a society in which certain virtues are accepted as a matter of course by the majority of the people. These virtues—today we defensively call them "values"—include a willingness to work hard to improve one’s condition, a respect for law, an appreciation of the merits of deferred gratification, a deference toward traditional religions, a concern for family and community, and so on. It is a commitment to such beliefs that creates a middle class, which then sustains a market economy. Today the old-fashioned animus against a market economy is being sublimated into an aggressive animus against the bourgeois society that is organically associated with our market economy. If you de-legitimize this bourgeois society, the market economy—almost incidentally, as it were—is also de-legitimized.
We have, then, been living through a cultural revolution which at one point threatened to become a political revolution—that flash point was experienced during the student revolution of the 1960s—one of those failed revolutions that was nevertheless enormously influential. In the United States it pretty much forced us to withdraw from Vietnam. It also led quickly and decisively to the capture of the Democratic party by its left wing in 1972, thereby importing a kind of permanent polarization into American politics. And in the cultural world its energies were channeled into what is now called post-modernism, whose basic theme was expressed in Paris, during the student rebellion of the 1960s, by one of the graffiti painted on the walls of the Sorbonne: "All Power to the Imagination." This academic irrationalism is the dominant intellectual mode, not only in the arts today, but in the study of the humanities in our institutions of higher learning.
From a dissenting culture, to a counterculture, we have finally arrived at a nihilistic anti-culture. This anti-culture permits the post-modernists to abolish the distinction between what used to be called "highbrow" art—it also used to be called "culture" without equivocation—and "popular" culture.
Whereas modernism had calmly accepted Nietzsche’s dictum that "God is dead," it generally interpreted this to mean simply that institutional religion was moribund. But only a handful of modernists jumped to the Nietzschean conclusion that "if God is dead, everything is now permitted": That was implicit in modernism, and more than implicit for those who believed themselves to be the avant-garde of modernism. But only with post-modernism has it become belligerently explicit, and a dominant motif in the culture at large.
For centuries, as the focus on religion as a central human experience continued to dim, the intellectual world remained remarkably complacent. The satisfying rituals of religion, it was thought, could be replaced by an esthetic experience of the arts. In truth, the aura of the sacred has largely been transferred from religion to the arts, so that the burning or even censorship of books is regarded as a greater sacrilege than the vandalization of churches or synagogues. As for the moral code traditionally provided by religion, it was assumed that, since modern individuals were rational moral agents, rational philosophy could be relied on to come up with a code that, if not identical with religion’s, was sufficiently congruent with it so that the practical moral effect was the same. From Immanuel Kant to John Dewey, that has been the basic assumption of secular rationalism and gives rise to the modern quasi-religion of secular humanism. Such a philosophical enterprise, it was believed, would converge on what John Dewey called "a common faith"—a faith in the ability of reason to solve all our human problems, including our human need for moral guidance.
But this is a faith that has failed. Secular rationalism has been unable to produce a compelling, self-justifying moral code. Philosophical analysis can analyze moral codes in interesting ways, but it cannot create them. And with this failure, the whole enterprise of secular humanism—the idea that man can define his humanity and shape the human future by reason and will alone—begins to lose its legitimacy. Over the past thirty years, all the major philosophical as well as cultural trends began to repudiate secular rationalism and secular humanism in favor of an intellectual and moral relativism and/or nihilism.
Bourgeois capitalism began with a kind of benign toleration of religion but a firm commitment to Judaeo-Christian morality. In this respect, Adam Smith and our Founding Fathers were of one mind, one sensibility. Their fundamental error, doubtless attributable to their rationalism, was a complacency about the relation of this morality to its religious roots.
The bourgeois capitalist revolution of the 18th century was successful precisely because it did incorporate the older Judaeo-Christian moral tradition into its basically secular, rationalist outlook. But its error was to scissor out this moral tradition from the religious context that nourished it. And so, in the nineteenth century, in all Western nations, we had what was called a "crisis of faith" among writers and philosophers. It was not yet a crisis in moral beliefs. George Eliot wrote that God was "inconceivable," immortality "unbelievable," but Duty nonetheless "peremptory." A few years later, Nietzsche came along to proclaim that Duty was an illusion fostered by the Judaeo-Christian "slave morality." Nietzsche was not taken seriously until the period after World War II—a war that Hitler lost but that German philosophy won.
Today, in our academic and intellectual circles, Nietzsche and his disciple, the Nazi sympathizer, Martin Heidegger, are almost unanimously regarded as the two philosophical giants of the modern era. It is important to understand that their teachings are subversive, not only of bourgeois society and the Judaeo-Christian tradition, but also of secular humanism, secular rationalism, bourgeois morality—and, in the end, of Western Civilization itself.
But a society needs more than sensible men and women if it is to prosper. It needs the energies of the creative imagination as expressed in religion and the arts. It is crucial to the lives of all our citizens, as of all human beings at all times, that they encounter a world that possesses a transcendent meaning, in which the human experience makes sense. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is more de-humanizing, more certain to generate a crisis, than experiencing one’s life as a meaningless event in a meaningless world.
Maintaining a connection to the religious roots of the foundational principals that have made America exceptional probably depends upon traditional religious observance by a meaningful portion of the population. Those of us who hold dear similar traditional morals and beliefs but are not regular participants in such observance are acting as free riders. To those for whom it applies, I simply say, 'Thank you."