[The American Vision] …
Abraham Kuyper on Calvinism and the necessity of interracial societies |
In a rather striking passage in his Lectures on Calvinism, Abraham Kuyper strikes the reverse sentiment of the xenophobic and quite frankly racist analysis we hear sometimes even still today. Delivered in 1898, the comments would have been startling to his American audience, probably even at Princeton, but without a doubt in much of the Dutch Calvinist readership in the Midwest. They would have been held abominable and a cause for swift damnation in most of the South at that time.
These comments are all the more remarkable in that they were delivered in such an atmosphere precisely when the South was at the height of creating the mythology of the Lost Cause and erecting statutes of Confederate heroes across the South. In fact, only earlier in this same year did Robert L. Dabney pass away, with his dire warnings against “amalgamation” and spite for black Americans still ringing in the air, to the influence of future generations. (Detailed in my The Problem of Slavery in Christian America.)
(It may be instructive to go look for contemporary reactions to these lectures. I simply have not taken the time to pursue that inquiry.)
Against the spirit of segregation and the degradation of the black race at that time, and which is incredibly still on the lips of some Christians today, Kuyper not only presented a stark rebuttal, but a strong acknowledgment of just the opposite: only where races have commingled has the human race prospered the most in the long run, and this practice has been exemplified in those places where his own subject, the Reformed faith, had taken root and paralleled the prospering.
(I have to add that there are a few comments within these that are awkward, and in striking modern ears as somewhat objectionable, would be a distraction from the overall point, which is quite bold and profound. I have edited these few comments out. Even still, some of his comments about present “races” are oversimplified and objectionable in differing degrees. He certainly speaks with particular biases. There is also little doubt he spoke carelessly about race in other places. I cannot support or defend him in any these particular blindnesses. Nevertheless, focus on the central point and you will see that his ultimate goal is to transcend the petty and bestial racism inherent in tribal, clan-, and kin-based societies, and thus the bases for racism in general, and move to a humanity animated by principle and God-given equal rights.)
In view of more to come from Kuyper, here’s a look at this fairly remarkable and highly Reformed-Christian-progressive passage:
I was not too bold when I claimed for Calvinism the honor of being neither an ecclesiastical, nor a theological, nor a sectarian conception, but one of the principal phases in the general development of our human race; and among these the youngest, whose high calling still is to influence the further course of human life. Just now, however, allow me to indicate another circumstance, which strengthens my principal statement, that is, the commingling of blood as so far the physical basis of all higher human development. From the highlands of Asia our human race came down in groups, and these in turn have been divided into races and nations. . . . [A] twofold phenomenon presents itself. There are tribal nations which have isolated themselves and others which have intermingled. Thus, on the one hand, there are groups which have dominated exclusively their own inherent forces, and on the other hand, groups which by commingling have crossed their traits with those of other tribes, and thus have attained a higher perfection. It is noteworthy that the process of human development steadily proceeds with those groups whose historic characteristic is not isolation but the commingling of blood.
On the whole the Mongolian race has held itself apart, and in its isolation has bestowed no benefits upon our race at large. Behind the Himalayas a similar life secluded itself, and hence failed to impart any permanent impulse to the outside world. Even in Europe, we find that with the Scandinavians and Slavs there was hardly any intermingling of blood, and, consequently having failed to develop a richer type, they have taken little part in the general development of human life.
On the other hand, the tablets from Babylon in our great Museums, by the two languages of their inscriptions, still show that in Mesopotamia the Aryan element of the Accadians mingled itself at an early period with the Semitic-Babylonian; and Egyptology leads us to conclude that in the land of the Pharaohs we deal from the beginning with a population produced by the mingling of two very different tribes. No one believes any longer the pretended race-unity of the Greeks. In Greece as well as in Italy we deal with races of a later date who have intermingled with the earlier Pelasgians, Etruscians and others. Islam seems to be exclusively Arabic, but a study of the spread of Islamism among the Moors, Persians, Turks and other series of subjected tribes, with whom intermarriage was common, at once reveals the fact that especially with Mahometans the commingling of blood was even greater than with their predecessors. When the leadership of the world passed into the hands of the Romanic nations, the same phenomenon presented itself in Italy, Spain, Portugal and France In these cases the Aborigines were generally Basques or Celts, the Celts in turn being overcome by the Germanic tribes, and even as in Italy the East Goths and Lombards, so in Spain the West Goths, in Portugal the Swabians, and in France the Franks instilled new blood into debilitated veins, and to this wonderful rejuvenescence the Roman nations owed their vigor until far into the 16th century. Thus, in the life of nations the same phenomenon repeats itself which so often strikes the historian as a result of international marriages among princely families, as we see how the Hapsburgs and the Bourbons, the Oranges and the Hohenzollern, for instance, have been, century after century, productive of a host of most remarkable statesmen and heroes.
The raiser of stock has aimed at the same effect in the crossing of different breeds, and botanists harvest large profits by obeying the same law of life with plants; and by itself it is not difficult to perceive that the union of natural powers, divided among different tribes, must be productive of a higher development. To this it should be added that the history of our race does not aim at the improvement of any single tribe, but at the development of mankind taken as a whole, and therefore needs this commingling of blood in order to attain its end.
Now in fact history shows that the nations among whom Calvinism flourished most widely exhibit in every way this same mingling of races. In Switzerland, the Germans, united with Italians and French; in France, the Gauls, with Franks and Burgundians; in the Lowlands, Celts and Welsh with Germans; also in England the old Celts and Anglo Saxons were afterwards raised to a still higher standard of national life by the invasion of the Normans. Indeed, it may be said that the three principal tribes of Western Europe, the Celtic, Romanic, and Germanic elements under the leadership of the Germanic, give us the genealogy of the Calvinistic nations. In America, where Calvinism has come to unfold itself in a still higher liberty, this commingling of blood is assuming a larger proportion than has ever yet been known. Here the blood flows together from all the tribes of the ancient world, and again we have the Celts from Ireland, the Germans from Germany and Scandinavia, united to the Slavs from Russia and Poland, who promote still further this already vigorous intermingling of the races. This latter process takes place under the higher exponent that it is not merely the union of tribe with tribe, but that the old historic nations are dissolving themselves in order to allow the reunion of their members in one higher unity, hitherto constantly assimilated by the American type. In this respect also Calvinism fully meets the conditions imposed on every new phase of development in the life of humanity. It spread itself in a domain where it found the commingling of blood stronger than under Romanism, and in America raised this to its highest conceivable realization.
Thus, it is shown that Calvinism meets not only the necessary condition of the mingling of blood, but that in the process of human development it also represents, with respect to this, a further stadium. In Babylon this commingling of blood was of small significance; it gains in importance with the Greeks and Romans; it goes further under Islamism; is dominant under Romanism; but only among Calvinistic nations does it reach its highest perfection. Here in America it is achieving the intermingling of all the nations of the old world. A similar climax of this process of human development is also exhibited by Calvinism in the fact that only under the influence of Calvinism does the impulse of public activity proceed from the people themselves. In the life of the nations also there is development from the underage period to that of maturity. As in the family life, during the years of childhood, the direction of affairs is in the hands of the parents, so also in the life of the nations it is but natural that during their underage period first the Asiatic despot, then some eminent ruler, afterwards the priesthood, and finally both priest and magistrate together should stand at the head of every movement. The history of the nations in Babylon and under the Pharaohs, in Greece and Rome, under Islamism and under the papal system, fully confirms this course of development. But it is self-evident that this could not be a permanent state of things. Just because in their progressive development the nations finally came of age, they must at length reach that stadium in which the people itself awoke, stood up for their rights, and originated the movement that was to direct the course of future events; and in the rise of Calvinism this stadium appears to have been reached. Thus far every forward movement had gone forth from the authorities in State, Church, or Science, and from thence had descended to the people. In Calvinism, on the other hand, the peoples themselves stand out in their broad ranks and form a spontaneity of their own, press forward to a higher form of social life and conditions. Calvinism had its rise with the people. In Lutheran countries, the magistrate was still the leader in public advances, but in Switzerland, among the Huguenots, in Belgium, in the Netherlands, in Scotland and also in America, the peoples themselves created the impetus. They seemed to have matured; to have reached the period in which they were of age. Even when in some cases, as in the Netherlands, the nobility for a moment took a heroic stand for the oppressed, their activity ended in nothing, and the people alone, by undaunted energy, broke the barrier, and among these it was the “common folk,” to whose heroic initiative William the Silent, as he himself acknowledges, owed the success of his undertaking.
Hence, as a central phenomenon in the development of humanity, Calvinism is not only entitled to an honorable position by the side of Paganistic, Islamistic and Romanistic forms, since like these it represents a peculiar principle dominating the whole of life, but it also meets every required condition for the advancement of human development to a higher stage. And yet this would remain a bare possibility without any corresponding reality, if history did not testify that Calvinism has actually caused the stream of human life to flow in another channel, and has ennobled the social life of the nations. . . .
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