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State Heretics and State Infidels


The term statolatry refers to worshiping the state as the source of goodness to which all else should be subordinated. In statolatry, instead of having a separation of church and state, the state replaces the church and becomes its own religion.

In his book Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War, Ludwig von Mises explained, “A new type of superstition has got hold of people’s minds, the worship of the state. People demand the exercise of the methods of coercion and compulsion, of violence and threat. Woe to anybody who does not bend his knee to the fashionable idols!”

Classical liberalism is the antithesis of statolatry, because it celebrates the values of individual liberty, such as free speech and free trade. The role of government in the classical-liberal vision is to protect individual liberties, and it should be no larger or more powerful than absolutely necessary. Instead of embracing statism as the ultimate good, classical liberalism advances both individualism and the happy consequence of individuals cooperating: society.

The rise of modern statolatry can be attributed in part to the Italian idealist philosopher Giovanni Gentile, who ghostwrote much of Benito Mussolini’s pivotal work, entitled A Doctrine of Fascism (1932). If Mussolini was the leading politician of fascism, Gentile was its philosopher.

Gentile’s contribution, entitled “Fundamental Ideas,” explicitly rejected individualism as undesirable. He exalted the fascist corporate state as a “spiritual conception” and the creator of “moral unity” in a nation.

The Catholic Church recognized the threat posed by this fascist project to uphold the state as the sustainer of spirituality and morality. In 1931, Pope Pius XI issued the encyclical Non Abbiamo Bisogno, in which he stated,

We find Ourselves confronted by … the resolve … to monopolize completely the young, from their tenderest years up to manhood and womanhood, for the exclusive advantage of a party and of a regime based on an ideology which clearly resolves itself into a true, a real pagan worship of the State — the “Statolatry” which is no less in contrast with the natural rights of the family than it is in contradiction with the supernatural rights of the Church.

Statolatry is more than patriotism or love of country. It is a merging of those sentiments with idolatry to produce a kind of hyper-patriotism that can be called chauvinism or jingoism.

Statolatry usually also includes an aggressive foreign policy that is justified, in part, by the presumed moral superiority of one’s own state.

This, then, is the religion of the modern American state. Anyone who believes in the religion of a different state is a heretic. Anyone who rejects the worship of states altogether is an infidel.

Frank Chodorov: Spy hunts as heresy trials

In his essay “St. Paul and the Communists” (Out of Step: The Autobiography of an Individualist, 1962), the classical liberal Frank Chodorov offered fascinating insights into statolatry.

Chodorov was writing about the domestic American persecution of communists. He viewed the anticommunist campaigns conducted or encouraged by the American government as part of a holy war aimed at purging heretics. “St. Paul and the Communists” opens with a quote from Ludwig von Mises’s book, Planned Chaos (1947).

He who proclaims the godliness of the State and the infallibility of its priests, the bureaucrats, is considered as an impartial student of the social sciences. All those raising objections are branded as biased and narrow-minded. The supporters of the new religion of statolatry are no less fanatical and intolerant than were the Mohammedan conquerors of Africa and Spain.

In the Cold War, both America and the Soviet Union were “supporters of the new religion of statolatry.” Chodorov traced the roots of America’s modern statolatry back to Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR), whom he sarcastically called “the Great Man.” Roosevelt used an effective combination of tactics to cement into place a state before which people bowed. He infused political discussion with such confusing language that “words … instead of being a means of communicating ideas … became an instrument for compelling subservience.”

Then, by grabbing control of the economy, FDR “built a hierarchy — a church. He anointed the frustrated soapboxers and collegiate wordmongers with the scented oil of bureaucracy. He gave them jobs. He invested them with power. That began in 1933.”

Having established a historical backdrop, Chodorov turned to what he called “the spy hunt” — the hunt for communists loyal to the Soviet Union — “which is, in reality, a heresy trial.” He described it as a confrontation between two religious groups who both worshipped the state but belonged to competing branches of its church. This is why the American,

inquisitors … do not ask the suspects, do you believe in power? Do you adhere to the idea that the individual exists only for the glory of the state?.… Are you against taxes or would you raise them until they absorbed the entire output of the country? Are you opposed to the principle of conscription? Do you favor more “social gains” under the aegis of the bureaucracy? Or would you advocate the dismantling of the public trough at which these bureaucrats feed? In short, do you deny power?

These questions, says Chodorov, remain unasked because the answers could “prove embarrassing to the investigators.” The answers might reveal that the suspects’ core ideals mirrored almost exactly those of the inquisitors. Instead, the inquisitors asked only, “have you aligned yourself with the Moscow branch of the church?”

In other words, they asked only, are you a heretic?

The word “infidel” would belong to those who deny power altogether, and so fall entirely outside the doctrine of statolatry. Chodorov and Mises were among the few such infidels in their day.

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    Wendy McElroy is an author for The Future of Freedom Foundation, a fellow of the Independent Institute, and the author of The Reasonable Woman: A Guide to Intellectual Survival (Prometheus Books, 1998).