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The Most Important Thing Any Senator Wrote Last Week

Sen. Josh Hawley
Our United States Senators write thousands of pages of legislation every week; draft bills, committee mark-ups, and the rare bills that are passed by both chambers of Congress, receive the President’s signature and become law.

But none of those thousands of pages of laws or potential laws written last week compare in importance to a brief article written for Christianity Today by Senator Joshua Hawley of Missouri.

In our view, Senator Hawley’s article “The Age of Pelagius” linking the ancient Pelagian heresy to today’s anti-civilization politics is one of the most important cultural observations made by any elected leader of our lifetime.

As Senator Hawley summarized, Pelagius* held that the individual possessed a powerful capacity for achievement. In fact, Pelagius believed individuals could achieve their own salvation. It was just a matter of them living up to the perfection of which they were inherently capable. As Pelagius himself put it, “Since perfection is possible for man, it is obligatory.” The key was will and effort. If individuals worked hard enough and deployed their talents wisely enough, they could indeed be perfect.

Pelagius said that individuals could use their free choice to adopt their own purposes, to fix their own destinies—to create themselves, if you like.

Now, here’s a crucial point in Senator Hawley’s commentary on how the Pelagian heresy not only lives today, but is winning the battle that Pelagius lost in the fifth century to St. Augustine’s arguments about the nature of man and our relationship to God:

…the most eloquent contemporary statement of Pelagian freedom appears in an opinion from the United States Supreme Court, in a passage written by former Justice Anthony Kennedy. In 1992, in a case called Casey v. Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania, he wrote this: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

Senator Hawley further explains that in the Pelagian vision of mankind, liberty is the right to choose your own meaning, define your own values, emancipate yourself from God by creating your own self. Indeed, this notion of freedom says you can emancipate yourself not just from God but from society, family, and tradition.

The Pelagian view says the individual is most free when he is most alone, able to choose his own way without interference. Family and tradition, neighborhood and church—these things get in the way of uninhibited free choice. And this Pelagian idea of freedom is one our cultural leaders have embraced for decades now.

The result of the creation of this brave new Pelagian world says Senator Hawley is not more individual liberty, but the growth of a more hierarchical and rigidly elitist society.

As Senator Hawley proceeds to explain:

Because if freedom means choice among options, then the people with the most choices are the most free. And that means the rich. And if salvation is about achievement, then those with the most accolades are righteous, and that means the elite and the strong. A Pelagian society is one that celebrates the wealthy, prioritizes the powerful, rewards the privileged. And for too long now, that has described modern America.

In the last five decades, our society has become hierarchical. Consider: If you are wealthy or well-educated, your life prospects are bright. College graduates and those with advanced degrees enjoy markedly higher wages. They rarely divorce. They have higher life expectancy. They enjoy better access to better healthcare. Their children attend better schools and score better on achievement tests. They have more opportunities for civic involvement and participation.

But if you don’t have family wealth and don’t have a four-year degree—and that’s 70 percent of Americans—well, the future is far less glowing. These Americans haven’t seen a real wage increase in 30 years. These Americans are fighting to hold their families together, as divorce rates surge. For these Americans, healthcare is unaffordable. Drug addiction is growing. And too many of their local communities, especially rural ones, have been gutted as industry consolidates and ships jobs away.

A society divided by class, where one class enjoys all the advantages, is a society gripped by hierarchy.

It is also a society defined by elitism. Of course, our elites don’t use that word. They say their privileged position comes from merit and achievement. They point to their SAT scores and prestigious degrees. They talk about economic efficiency.

How Pelagian of them.

The truth is, the people at the top of our society have built a culture and an economy that work mainly for themselves. Our cultural elites look down on the plain virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice, things like humility and faithfulness. They celebrate instead self-promotion, self-discovery, self-aggrandizement.

And then when industry ships jobs overseas, they say, workers should find another trade. Capital must be allocated to its most efficient use. When workers without college degrees can’t get a good job, they say that’s their fault. They should have gone to college.

Now, I rather suspect that if globalization threatened America’s tech industry or banking sector, our elites would sing a very different tune. We would hear how these industries are the lifeblood of the American economy and must be protected at all cost.

And that’s just the point. The elites assume their interests are vital while dismissing others. They assume their value preferences should prevail, while denigrating the loves and loyalties of Middle America. That’s the nature of elitism.

Senator Hawley has much more to say in his analysis of how Pelagian thinking has infected our culture and our government – and without naming names implies it has infected the conservative movement as well:

Our Pelagian public philosophy says liberty is all about choosing your own ends. That turns out to be a philosophy for the privileged. For everybody else, for those who can’t build an identity around the things they buy, for those whose life is anchored in family and home and nation, for those who actually want to participate in our democracy, today’s Pelagianism robs them of the liberty that is rightfully theirs.

For some of the conservative names Senator Hawley didn’t name you can read our article “Kevin D. Williamson and National Review Are Elitist Scum.”

And we should also note that then-candidate Donald Trump made a point similar to Senator Hawley’s in his 2016 speech at Monessen, Pennsylvania, which we analyzed in our article, “Another Reason To Back Trump: The US Chamber of Commerce Is Against Him.”

Were it appropriate I would have simply reprinted Senator Hawley’s entire article with an “Amen” at the end, but I will close with this tease of Senator Hawley’s conclusion:

The Cross says the talented, the well-born, the well-educated do not deserve special privileges. They are not more valuable than anyone else. The call of God comes to every person and the power of God is poured out on all who believe.

This has spiritual ramifications, but cultural and political ones as well. Paul says it is the humble, the everyday, those without social status whom God chooses to exercise his power. And so, by extension, it is not the privileged but the common man or woman, not the elite, but the everyday person who moves the destinies of the world.

That burning insight was once the animating principle of American life. And we must make it so again.

Go to Senator Hawley’s article for Christianity Today through this link, read the full article and then do one thing today to help “make it so again.”

*Click this link for more on Pelagius and the fifth century heresy of Pelagianism

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