On Saturday, U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley addressed the class of 2019 at The King’s College in New York, where he called on the graduates to reject the Pelagian worldview that dominates our public way of life.
Pelagius was a British monk and a moralist who rejected Saint Augustine’s views on sin and grace for a different view of human freedom and prosperity, in which freedom was earned. Hawley discussed how the elites of American society implement a Pelagian worldview, and ultimately threaten freedom for all humans.
Hawley, who has also recently questioned the uses of social media and railed against Facebook for data and privacy violations, noted that Pelagius was loved by the wealthy, educated aristocrats of Rome, “because he validated their position and their power.” He called out the elites of Wall Street and Silicon Valley in his commencement address for the same Pelagian love of hierarchy enforced on Americans today.
A society that is divided by class, where one class has 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 self-promotion, self-discovery, self-aggrandizement. Self. Self. Self.
And then when industry shifts jobs overseas they say, well, workers should find another trade. I mean, 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’ve gone to college.
Now, I rather suspect – it’s just a hunch – that if globalization threatened America’s tech industry or it’s, say, banking sector, that we would hear a different tune. I slightly suspect we would hear that these industries are the lifeblood of the American economy and must be defended at all costs. And that’s just my point. The elites assume that their interests are vital, while everyone else’s can be done without. They assume their value preferences should prevail, while denigrating the loves and loyalties of the great middle of America. That’s the nature of elitism. And at the end of the day, this hierarchy, and this elitism, threaten our common liberty. For the steady erosion of working-class jobs and working-class life for millions of Americans means losing respect, it means losing their voice, it means losing their standing as citizens in this nation.
Our Pelagian public philosophy says liberty is all about choosing your own ends. That turns out to be a philosophy for the privileged and for the few. For everybody else, for those who cannot build an identity around what 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. And we cannot afford to let it to happen any longer. The age of Pelagius must end.