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Methodism, the Great Awakening, and the woke

Updated: Jul 14, 2023



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It used to be said that the Labour Party “owes more to Methodism than to Marxism”—the same could be said for the entire Anglo-Saxon left. Unlike continental Europe, the Labour Party grew up from the trade union movement and Methodist moralism—the German Social Democratic Party, by contrast, was a party formed by intellectuals with a Marxist outlook and it was separate from the labour movement.


The pattern is repeated across Europe, so that in France it is not stupid to speak about a “conservative trade union” or a “Communist trade union”—whereas “trade union” in Britain means Labour.


Further, as I noted a few years ago, the Glastonbury Festival, a huge counter-cultural jamboree, was founded by a farmer who came from a Methodist background—a farmer whose means were modest but in no sense impoverished, though he resented his wealthier neighbours who adhered to the Church of England. In a secular form, Glastonbury instantiates many Methodist themes—today it is a white event, surrounded by fences, for progressives who want “no borders”.


So what was leftist about Methodism, this 18th-century religious revival movement that swept first Britain and then North America?


  1. Unlike the Calvinists, the Methodists did not believe in predestination—anyone and everyone could be saved, there was no prepared list of “the saved” written in stone;

  2. Methodists preached that the souls of aristocrats, rich men, and working men were all equal—if freed slaves became religious, they became Methodists;

  3. Women were allowed to have authority in the early Methodist movement—although this was later curtailed as the movement became more respectable (today it is as it was before);

  4. Methodists did not appoint bishops, to this day there is a non-hierarchical aspect to the movement that is instantiated in the leadership body’s very name “the connexion”;

  5. The Methodists preached “non-conformity to the world”—which means, as you would imagine, to cock a snoot at all established social traditions (by, for example, being vegetarians or refusing to wear furs);

  6. The early preachers in the movement targeted collieries and field-hands, working-class districts where people didn’t attend the established Church of England;

  7. Abstention from alcohol and tobacco were on the agenda—the attitude that leads, at last, to Prohibition and then, finally, to Extinction Rebellion (abstain from pollution, sanctity in plain living and simple habits);

  8. The movement stressed public confession of sins (often held in connection with “love feasts”, as with the primitive Christians—strictly non-sexual, of course)—the connection to the left here is public “confession” for racism etc.


The satirist Hogarth and essayist Hazlitt both noted that the Methodists tended towards “fanaticism, superstition, credulity, and hypocrisy”. In a rather Nietzschean twist, Hazlitt noted it was those who were physically weak who became keen on Methodism, especially on the rather oleaginous preachers who dominated the masses—being big talkers, Methodists often became big hypocrites.


Hazlitt describes Methodist preachers thus: “We have seen several of these round fat oily men of God, ‘That shone all glittering with ungodly dew.’ They grow sleek and corpulent by getting into better pasture, but they do not appear healthy.” Hazlitt was in no sense a Tory and was a radical, a Napoleon fan, and so this wasn’t just snobbery or rejection on political or social grounds.


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The democratic core to Methodism can be seen in its creed:


All need to be saved

All may be saved

All may know themselves saved

All may be save to the uttermost”


All, all, all, all—all. You all need to be saved—you all can be saved (y’all). You don’t get more democratic than that. Consider for a moment the opposite view, the Calvinist view—the view that there is an elect. The elect were selected at the dawn of time—if you are in the elect you were born saved and, no matter what you do in life, you will die saved.


The reductio ad absurdum of Calvinism is James Hoggs’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824). Published anonymously, this novel is written in an almost incomprehensible Scotch dialect—it tells of an Edinburgh man who conceives himself as “elect” and, in consequence, commits a murder (he’s saved whatever he does, you see—so why not commit a murder?).


This view matured in a secular form in Nietzsche—who came from a line of pastors who thought in a similar way. Nietzsche’s amor fati and the overman are just secularised accounts of “the elect”—with divine Providence replaced by the ineluctable chain of cause and effect. In other words, you can only be what you will be—you are either damned or saved, so don’t worry about anything just act.


Methodism is the opposite to that. It’s all about works—charitable works, Sunday Schools, institutes to educate the working class. Eduction, education, education. Everybody needs to be saved, everyone can be saved—everyone can be taught to do good works and be good people.


The Puritan action-hero, Solomon Kane, stands in contrast to the Methodist—he doesn’t know if he’s damned or saved but it has been written since time began; and the men he kills who he views as ungodly may well be in “the elect”, since the exact workings of Providence are unknown to him. This gives Kane—the Puritan or Calvinist—a gloomy complexion. Not so for the optimistic Methodist.


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Methodism was very popular in Britain; it stormed industrial areas, like the Welsh valleys— where miners took to its teetotal worldview. These were the areas that would later become the Labour Party’s heartland. However, Methodism was even more popular in America, where it took off in the first Great Awakening—so popular was Methodism that by 1820 it was the largest denomination in America.



To give an impression as to Methodism’s spread, consider this quote from Wikipedia: “From 58,000 members in 1790, it reached 258,000 in 1820 and 1,661,000 in 1860, growing by a factor of 28.6 in 70 years, while the total American population grew by a factor of eight.”


This happened during the Second Great Awakening—and, if we follow the Strauss-Howe model, from whence terms like “Boomer” originate, we find that the 1960s constituted the Fourth Great Awakening. What people call the “Great Awokening” today is actually the crisis period that occurs when the generation brought up by “the awakened” comes to maturity.



Back in the 19th century, the “mature” generation caused the Civil War because in the Second Great Awakening everyone got their knickers in a twist about slavery as part of the general excitement but they were in no position to do anything about it. However, their children were—just like the children of the hippies have made everything “woke” today (will there be another civil war???).


The “awakenings”, in the Strauss-Howe model, have been a constant in Anglo-American history (presumably right back to England too, since Methodism swept Britain in a similar manner). Technically, there’s no such thing as a “Chinese Boomer” or even a “French Boomer”—the model only applies to Anglo-American generations and these peculiar spasms of religiosity that turn into a crisis (which we’re now living in) before consolidation sets in.

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So Methodism is the Anglo-Saxon left, far more than Marxism—if you want to know why the Democrats and Labour are so different to European social-democratic parties, look no further than Methodism. Remember that “old guard” elite Americans were Episcopalians (which just means Church of England) and that the Methodists, while they had to compromise with the state Church to operate at all, were basically opposed to the Church of England (which meant aristocracy, king, landed gentry etc).


So there we have it; and, as a bonus, here’s a picture of Harvey Milk addressing Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco—a building considered to be Ground Zero for the ructions that gripped the city (and America) in the 1960s.


“Hello, fellow Methodists!”

The usual caveats: just as with the Jews or the Muslims—or any other group—it cannot be said “all our woes are due to Methodism”; ultimately, it’s luxury and decadence that cause societal decline.


However, Methodism provides the core to the Anglo-Saxon left in a way Marxism does on the continent—and it explains why the Anglo left has a definite moral aspect to it, a moral concern with racism and sexism; and this is combined with a popular fanaticism that believes “all can be saved and all must be saved”, along with a view that all souls are equal and that if you “work hard” (work on yourself, do the work) you too can be saved. And, of course, to add the obligatory pop at women—the Methodists empowered women from the first.


The Anglo-Saxon world is characterised by periodic popular religious spasms called “awakenings”—these have never stopped, and the last one happened in the 1960s. We are now at the crisis phase where the children of the awakened are in a position to “implement the program” and so come into conflict with the “unawakened”.


So, at base, what we see today is nothing but the ideas of the hippies and the New Left, just fully executed. The general sensibility found in the awakenings has been Methodist for about 300 years—though it has now turned secular and been interlarded with moralised contributions from American Jewish intellectuals.


Overall, I think what I have described here has the recognisable tang of the British and American left—the sanctimony, the fanaticism, the sentimentality (all will be saved—if we just try). It’s not the same as Marxism, it’s much more “moral” than that.


There’s a tendency to look for the outsider as a cause for decline, but, as I’ve mentioned in the last few articles, there are many suspect ideas at home (in the Anglosphere)—John Locke, William James, John Wesley (founder of Methodism). These are all suspect figures who receive little attention in the conservative media, not being outsiders (weird foreigners)—and being considered pillars of Anglo-American culture.


The original point remains: the Anglo left owes more to Methodism than it does to Marxism.


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