You are here

The Amish, David Koresh, and a Newer World Order

Shortly before dawn on April 19, 1993, FBI tanks equipped to dispense tear gas crashed through the walls of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. Over the course of the next six hours the tanks repeatedly rammed the ramshackle frame building inside the compound occupied by members of the sect, pumping in tear gas and causing structural damage that blocked stairways and exits. At about noon, fire broke out and spread in the high winds, quickly swallowing the half-wrecked building in flames. Most of those inside, including dozens of women and children, were trapped in inner rooms on the second floor and died in the fire.

The catastrophe ended a nationally-televised 51-day siege that had begun after a raid by over a hundred Federal agents to search for illegal firearms and explosives led to a firefight that left four agents and six Branch Davidians dead. Neither the agency that staged the raid nor the one that carried out the final assault with tanks had reason to think that such forcible methods were required to protect the public. They did not like the sect, though, and wanted to handle matters in a way that demonstrated their power and resolve. According to polls, most Americans approved of their methods. Those whose investigations went beyond absorbing what was presented on TV news felt differently, and even other law enforcement officials found it hard to defend the conduct of the agencies involved.

Government malfeasance and murderous abuse of power in Waco can only be understood as a display of official attitudes toward separatist groups like the Branch Davidians; when even sympathetic observers have difficulty explaining actions the publicly acknowledged motives and purposes are not likely to be the real ones. Nor are government attitudes a mystery. Simply by existing, separatist groups endanger the ability of the New World Order to integrate all human life into a single political and economic structure and so are natural enemies of that order and its supporters. The emnity will grow with the pretensions of the New World Order and its declining ability to provide a tolerable way of life. More and more people will reject it and try to set up on their own. The state will oppose the successionists, and as their activities threaten to become more widespread persecution will become routine, whether in the form of petty administrative harassment or, as in Waco, something grander.

Ultimate pessimism is nonetheless misplaced. One need not accept what the mainstream media have said about David Koresh and his sect to realize that their fate does not typify that of the millions of Americans involved with unconventional religious groups or living in separatist communities. While the destruction of the Branch Davidians shows something important about the modern state, the growth of sects like theirs suggests far more about where the world is ultimately headed.

The end of the Cold War has given us the New World Order but also made manifest the tendency of the modern world toward tribalism. That tendency runs deep. Man forms tribes because he knows what he is by contrast with what he is not, and because a single worldwide society is far too vast for feelings of participation and loyalty. When he finds himself in a society that lacks the cohesion to be a community man remains a political animal and finds means to create some form of polis.

In a society that claims to be universal those means will include separatism. Groups that find their own identity through separation will face repression, but in the end they will prevail because they will outlast the bureaucratic ordering of society for the sake of economics and power that constitutes the modern state. Throughout the West the past several decades has seen an unprecedented rise in crime, family breakup, illegitimacy, and other indicia of social disorder. That rise reflects a developing crisis in the fundamental organization of society. Life based on ties to particular individuals and communities has been giving way to life based on subordination to abstract overall schemata. The new form of society has proven itself unable to achieve moral legitimacy; no one feels love and loyalty for financial markets or daycare centers. The modern state therefore maintains itself by a mixture of threats, bribery, and intentional weakening of competitive centers of power. Like all tyrannies it will thrive for a time on the social and cultural chaos it creates, but when chaos infects the state itself, rendering it it unable to maintain its own power, it will give way to other organizing principles.

What principles will those be? What forms of human organization will flourish, how will they be constituted, and what kind of world will they build? Depending on circumstances a disintegrating empire can be replaced by almost anything. In the Roman Empire persecution could not stop the slow growth of the illegal Christian community, that “new race”, which by the reign of Constantine had become necessary to the Roman state itself as a source of order and after the fall of that state gave rise to European Christendom. In contrast, in the Soviet Union and its successor states it has largely been criminal mafias that survived draconian penalties on economic crimes during the Soviet period to rise to power afterward.

Every tribe has a fundamental principle of identity and unity. Such a principle can have several sources; until very recently territorial propinquity could serve the purpose. If conditions were favorable, people who lived in a place eventually built up a common consciousness and way of life through intermarriage and other dealings with their neighbors. Political unification promoted the process and under particular conditions has given rise to the system of national states. The English race and nation grew up under the English monarchy from a mixture of Angles, Saxons, Danes, Normans and a scattering of Celts and others, and similarly in France. Farther afield, the Chinese refer to themselves as “Han people” after the Han dynasty that first gave durable imperial unity to China, but in the South as “T’ang people” after the dynasty that extended the empire to those regions.

The principles of propinquity and common citizenship have become steadily less important as a result of modern communications and continuing reductions in material obstacles to world trade. As the practical advantages of dealing with neighbors instead of people on the other side of the world continue to decline, physical proximity loses its importance in human relations. Liberals hope that as a result all nations will merge to form a single worldwide culture. In cherishing that hope they forget that tribalism is necessary and takes many forms, and if geography is no longer a sufficient basis for it another will arise.

The relation between tribalism and the territorial state is a contingent one. Most states throughout history have not given rise to tribes, most tribes have never had a state, and many tribes, such as the castes of India, have never had a particular geographic homeland of their own. Tribes will merge within a state into a national community if conditions are favorable to communities based on geography and citizenship. Where conditions are not favorable, as has commonly been the case in Asiatic despotisms and is now more and more the case everywhere, states can come and go while tribes develop or decline in accordance with other principles.

Rather than a universal and homogeneous society, the weakening of ties based on residence and citizenship will bring renewed emphasis on family, clan and ethnicity. Since tribes define themselves through customs and world-view, the future will also see the multiplication of the cultural and religious distinctions among neighbors that motivate and define separateness. The strictly political components of separatism will decline in importance as territorial sovereignty loses the clarity and importance it has come to have in modern Europe. Rather than create a separate state tribes will strive to loosen their ties to existing states and carry on more and more of their life through institutions that from the viewpoint of the state might be classified as customary or contractual rather than political. Tribes identified with a homeland will still try to secure autonomy or independence for their homeland; the trend, though, will be to a weakened connection among tribalism, geography, and political independence.

If the future belongs to tribes with no necessary connection to any particular homeland or state, the manner in which such tribes exist and thrive under modern circumstances hints at the shape of things to come. Several nonterritorial tribes, notably the Gypsies and the Jews of the Diaspora, have lived in Europe and elsewhere for many centuries without losing their distinctiveness. Although their histories are instructive, they are too long and complex to deal with here in detail. The Old Order Amish, as a remarkably successful group formed in modern times, is a more manageable example.

The Amish are a community of perhaps 145,000 scattered through almost half the states of the United States and one Canadian province, but found mostly in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. Their forebears were Swiss Anabaptists who emigrated to Alsace and adopted some of the practices of the Dutch Mennonites, most importantly the exclusion of disobedient members from normal social relations with members of the church community. The failure of the Swiss leadership to accept the new practices led to a permanent break in 1693 and the emergence of the Amish as a separate community.

In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries groups of Amish moved to America to escape hard times in Europe and established communities that with time and changes in the surrounding society have become more and more distinctive. Growth has been rapid due to natural increase; few outsiders join, but families are very large (seven children is average) and four-fifths of the children choose to be baptized into the community after reaching adulthood. Many Amish settled in Pennsylvania, where they established their largest settlement close to Philadelphia, in Lancaster County. There, with their distinctive dress, horses and buggies and roadside produce and handicraft stands, they have become a major tourist attraction. In spite of the crowded setting they maintain their nonconforming ways and separation from the world.

The Amish view the church as a community of those who have dedicated themselves to radical obedience to the teachings and example of Christ. Their religious outlook emphasizes separation from the world and Gelassenheit, a term that imports humility, simplicity, peacefulness, and submission to authority, whether it be the authority of God, of earthly magistrates, or of the community and its traditions. The way of life they have created realizes that outlook, subject to human imperfections, and satisfies most of those who lead it.

Religious services are held by rotation in homes rather than special church buildings. As a result, simplicity is maintained and congregations remain small and cohesive. Each congregation chooses several ministers and a deacon by lot from among men who receive a sufficient number of votes from members, and every two congregations choose a bishop the same way. These offices are unpaid and for life. Decisions by the leaders are by consensus that grows out of discussion and the deference paid to age and tradition, and normally must be accepted by the community before they are put into effect. Twice a year bishops confer on common concerns. After these semiannual meetings there are local district meetings to discuss the bishops’ decisions, to engage in self-examination, and to reaffirm the way of life and unity of the community.

The Amish guard their separateness through a number of consciously- chosen restrictions. They do not marry outside their community or join organizations that include non-Amish. They speak their own language, a German dialect, and dress distinctively, with wide-brimmed hats, suspenders, beards, and shaggy hair for the men and long skirts, aprons, and white organdy head coverings for the women. They live mostly by farming, although with rising land prices more than half do something else at least as a sideline. Whether they are farmers or not, Amish men generally work either for themselves at home or for other Amish close to home; married women take care of home and family and never work outside the home.

The Amish have rejected many technological innovations, most notably those that would tie them into today’s all-pervasive communications network. They refuse to drive motor vehicles or use high-wire electricity, and do not allow radio, television, movies, audio equipment, in-home telephones, computers, photography, or electric lighting. They also reject innovations that would make life too easy or reduce the need for close and constant cooperation among family members. Thus, they accept horse-drawn hay balers but not automatic bale throwers to load the hay.

The specific restrictions applicable to each Amish community make up its Ordnung (“order”), a set of understandings, generally unwritten, that is defined or modified when necessary by the consensus of the community’s leaders and approval of its members. The Ordnung is often very specific regarding points of symbolic importance, such as details of dress, and regarding concessions to modernity, such as permitted ways of using electricity. Modifications are based on a balance among adaptation to changed circumstances, acceptance of changes that benefit the community, and maintenance of the coherence and distinctive qualities of the Amish way of life. Occasionally agreement cannot be reached on the Ordnung and groups of families adopt rejected innovations, resulting in schism. After breaking with the community the schismatics often adopt more and more innovations, eventually merging into worldly society and thus providing an object lesson of the consequences of rejecting the consensus of the community.

The Amish tend to regard the restrictions contained in the Ordnung as human institutions that in themselves are morally neutral rather than divine commandments. Accordingly, the restrictions become binding only after baptism, which is a serious matter and for adults only. Before that time a certain amount of rebellion is common and if possible ignored, especially among the young men, but baptized members who violate group norms are first cautioned, then required to make public confession, and finally are subject to Meidung (“shunning”), which requires all members of the group, including their immediate families, severely to restrict social relations with the offender. Those who do not choose baptism are not shunned, but cannot marry within the community and eventually move away because there is no place for them in it.

While the Ordnung has been strikingly effective in maintaining the Amish way of life, difficulties arise when it conflicts with the law of the land. The government has so far been willing to make concessions, very likely because the Amish are productive and law- abiding people who make no trouble if a few accommodations are made. For example, the Amish reject schooling beyond the eighth grade or otherwise out of keeping with their way of life. Beginning in the 1930s that position came into conflict with stiffer compulsory attendance laws and an increasingly centralized educational system, and many Amish fathers were jailed. A resolution to the conflict came through the Amish decision to establish their own schools and a Supreme Court ruling recognizing their right to limit their children’s schooling. The Amish have also secured a statutory right to opt out of the Social Security system in recognition of their view that participation in such a program would undermine their own system of mutual obligation. The military draft, once a point of contention, can now (when in effect) be avoided through alternative service.

The Amish experience displays one way for a modern tribe to maintain its coherence and distinctiveness. Their way emphasizes inoffensiveness and customs that require separation from the larger society while allowing necessary accommodations. A striking feature is the emphasis on consensus, kept stable and coherent through fixed fundamental beliefs based on a rather literal reading of the Bible and respect for tradition and community leadership. Their methods enable them to combine cohesiveness and adaptability remarkably well.

Other tribes have other means of achieving similar goals, and the lessons of the Amish experience can be filled out by considering other nonterritorial societies such as the Jews, Gypsies, and various communal groups (for example, Israeli kibbutzim and the Hutterites, communal- living cousins of the Amish).

To exist at all, a separatist group must have a way of life capable of staving off competing forms of association. Such a way of life rests on a well-defined system of belief and conduct defended by clear boundaries between life within the group and life outside. The Amish satisfy that requirement through their radical evangelical faith, their Ordnung, and the institution of shunning. Other successful groups have a variety of institutions that serve similar functions; among Orthodox Jews, Gypsies, and Indian castes, for example, rules of ritual purity that create difficulties for social interaction with outsiders play an important role. No separatist group makes itself easy to join and all make serious demands on their members and require some degree of social exclusivity. The success of a modern tribe thus requires rejection of the “tolerance, diversity and inclusiveness” on which liberal universalists insist so strongly.

Nonterritorial tribes exist by giving public importance to ethnicity and religion. There are few successful separatist groups that are either secular or multi-ethnic, and apparently none that is both. The Amish are religiously and ethnically distinct, as are Jews and Indian castes. A separatist community that at first is non-ethnic will, if sufficiently successful, take on ethnic characteristics as it becomes a tribe; the Amish are a case in point. Successful separatist groups whose identity is not explicitly based on religion, such as the Gypsies, nonetheless have a distinctive religious outlook. Even the secular utopianism of the early kibbutzniks, who were ethnic Jews, was functionally a religion that Martin Buber saw as “the religion of communal living, a religion where God reveals himself in the society of man”.

Nor have successful separatist groups been sexually egalitarian or liberated. The Amish, Orthodox Jews and the castes of India agree in emphasizing strict patriarchal sexual standards. Even the Gypsies, in spite of popular fantasy, are very strict in such matters. Many observers have commented on the retreat by kibbutzim from radical sexual freedom and equality and on the tendency of modern American communes, often against original intentions, toward role-typing by sex. The sexual rationalism often found in literary utopias has not been realized in any enduring separatist group, nor is it likely to be. Sexual freedom and equality undermine personal ties and responsibilities and prevent establishment of a definite and stable family setting in which a distinctive way of life can be maintained and passed on to children. Alleged exceptions to the rule of sexual traditionalism include a few celibate religious communities such as the Shakers and certain double monasteries in early medieval times, which are said to have approached sexual egalitarianism, and several communes in modern times that apparently have succeeded in maintaining systems of group marriage for several decades. Such ventures have never succeeded in reproducing themselves, however, so their manner of dealing with sexual matters must be judged a failure.

After internal cohesion, the most pressing necessity for a successionist group is survival in the face of hostile or disruptive external forces. Like necessity, survival knows no single law. In some settings it is the strong who survive and the bold who prevail, while in others only the meek last long enough to inherit the earth. The Sikhs were able to establish themselves as a new martial race in Mughal India, but in the Roman Empire armed resistance meant death — the Jews had to become nonmartial and cosmopolitan to survive, and it was a group that idealized nonresistence to evil that eventually triumphed.

Our rulers are more similar to the Romans than to the Mughals in organizational capacity. Guerilla warfare has not been successful in modern times without the support of local populations and existing territorial states, while random violence has been successful only when it could be turned to the advantage of the state, as rioting by blacks has been used in America to justify an ever-greater degree of state control over society in the supposed interest of the rioters. Accordingly, a minor people today whose ways are seriously at odds with the existing order of things and has no geographical homeland is unlikely to survive an armed struggle. The Branch Davidians ended as they did because they seemed to threaten the established order with force. The threat of force was unreal, and they committed no violations of the law that remotely excused the initial raid and subsequent events, but those events would not have come about if the group had no history of violence and had not been receiving large shipments of firearms and explosives.

In contrast, the Amish and other evidently pacific groups have often thrived in the modern West in spite of sporadic harassment or persecution. Their peaceful strategy has no guarantee of success, but it is more likely ultimately to be successful than armed resistance. Some groups will find it very difficult to accept pacifism and maintain their integrity, but those that can find ways of doing so will be at an advantage in the years to come.

The present order will never be able to organize itself well enough for its opposition to successionists to be monolithic. It will be destroyed by destroying itself, so its rulers can view pacific groups as a serious threat only by recognizing the limits of their own capacity to rule. Circumstances will eventually force that recognition on them, but by then the difficulties of governing will give them (like Roman emperors who turned to Christianity or Soviet leaders who relied on Russian patriotism and the black market) little choice but to accept whatever sources of order are available.

Physical destruction is not the only external threat to the survival of a separatist group. The seeming benevolence of public authorities can destroy a tribe no less than state violence. The modern state feels responsible for what it views as the well-being of each of its citizens, and believes its responsibility overrides the beliefs and standards of particular communities. It is not clear that Amish control over their children’s education will survive the increasing tendency for public authority to define and enforce rights of children against their parents, or that the Gypsy way of life will survive the determination of modern governments to ensure that everyone has an education, an apartment and a job that meet a particular standard. Anti- discrimination laws, which are explicitly intended to eliminate separatism in all matters the state cares about, are another troubling government initiative. Limiting the intrusions of the social welfare state into their affairs will be a political necessity for separatist groups in the years ahead; the rising expense of government social programs, economic competition between high-tax and low-tax jurisdictions, dissatisfaction with racial integration, and the growing popularity of neo-Darwinist social views should provide them with oddly- assorted allies in that struggle.

More generally, all separatist groups find survival easiest when competing forms of community are weak. They found it difficult to maintain their integrity in Europe during the long period in which nation-states were becoming more unified and local particularities giving way to national community. By the 1500s the Jews had been expelled from the countries on the Atlantic coast, where national states first appeared. After making their way East to more backward lands, and ultimately suffering catastrophic reverses there as well, the majority have now moved to America and Israel, where Jews who reject assimilation thrive as separate societies. The Hutterites followed a similar route. From the 16th to the 18th centuries they were repeatedly driven East, from their place of origin in what is now Austria ultimately to the Ukraine, and are now found only in the New World, to which they moved in the 19th century. The Amish themselves no longer exist as a separate community in Europe even though most of them stayed there, while in America, where there has been less stress on national unity, they have thrived. Conflicts between the Amish and the government were most severe from the First World War through the 1950s, when wars abroad and increasing centralization at home resulted in greater emphasis on national unity than any other time, but have since declined with the decay of American national feeling.

The current situation as to competing forms of community is ambiguous. The New World Order, as a form of association that is growing in pretensions and power, is by nature a threat to separatist groups. Nonetheless, it cannot help but benefit them to the extent it weakens other competing forms of association such as the national state. If (as seems certain) it lacks the capacity to foster social arrangements that inspire loyalty it is likely in the end to promote the triumph of forms of community that can do so, such as tribalism.

The effect on separatism of general conditions of life in the modern West are also ambiguous. Science has undermined myths that gave strength to separatist movements, but myth is recovering its good conscience with the aid of an increasing recognition that science itself can not get along without it. The economic prosperity that makes self- indulgence and defection easier also makes it easier for tribes that retain the devotion of their members to realize their goals. The Amish have displayed a notable ability to pick and choose among the material goods of modernity, accepting those that strengthen and rejecting those that weaken their community, while among Orthodox Jews modern prosperity has made possible an unprecedented level of participation in Torah and Talmud study. Electronic mass media penetrate everywhere and dissolve singleness of spirit, but the Amish and others have demonstrated that such things can be turned off and shut out. Other groups have turned electronics to communal benefit; Orthodox Jews and fundamentalist Christians have become particularly enthusiastic users of modern communications, and more generally faxes and computer networks have made it far easier for likeminded people to find each other and keep in touch.

A problem for separatist movements in recent times has been that many prospective members are people who like to go their own way and want more autonomy as well as more community. The conflict between community and autonomy destroyed the communes of the ’60s and is now putting the future of the kibbutzim in doubt. Community and autonomy can be fully combined in special situations, for example in a small community one could not practically leave in which individual ends can be attained only through cooperation. Primitive hunting and gathering bands, the original setting for human life, no doubt were like that, and such groups seem still to be the setting in which men find it easiest to be happy. The Gypsies tend to live that way because their ways of making a living require loyal cooperation in small groups and their habits and outlook do not fit them for life in non-Gypsy society. However, in the modern world it is hard to create small semi-involuntary groups at will. Until social disintegration reduces us to roving bands living hand-to- mouth we are stuck with choice, and we can create a durable voluntary community only by choosing to submit to some definite authority. Those who hope for a way of life better than that provided by a disintegrating liberal consumer society will have to begin by deciding which authority to recognize.

Separatist communities deal with the problem of authority variously. The Amish emphasize submission to the consensus and customs of the community as part of their fundamental ideal of Gelassenheit, but few outsiders join and it appears that such an approach can not easily spread where it does not exist already. Other communities represent their rules as specific commands of God, whether embodied in a traditional code of law as for strictly Orthodox Jews, in the commands of a leader as for the Branch Davidians, or in some mixture of the two as for the early Christians or the Mormons. The ability to make a persuasive claim for the authority of a particular divine revelation is likely to be important for the success of many separatist groups in the coming years.

Perhaps it is the need to accept authority that has often made intellectualism mix uneasily with successful separatism. Intellectuals have trouble with authority because they want to be able to entertain whatever ideas they please. Socrates would do no better in most separatist societies than he did in the freest of Greek city-states. The Amish and Hutterites do not pursue education beyond elementary school, and the Gypsies are traditionally an illiterate society. The Jews have a tradition of learning, but in the modern world the strictly Orthodox disfavor secular studies that lack a directly practical purpose, and the kibbutzim, in spite of the often avid cultural interests of their members, are wary of intellectuals. From Brooks Farm in 19th century Massachusetts forward, communes established by intellectuals have tended to do notably badly. The scarcity in recent times of intellectuals fully committed to separatism has limited the development of separatist groups. New forms of life can not supplant the current order of things if they are of decisively lower intellectual stature. It is crippling to a movement if people can give themselves to it only by giving up the pursuit of truth and beauty.

Anti-intellectualism need not always be the rule among separatists, however. Among Jews, Early Christians, and monks there have been distinguished intellectuals who were wholly committed to the practices that maintained the distinctness of their groups. Intellectuals respond to the needs of intellect in their own time, and times change. When intellectual life can thrive in the larger society, they find it difficult to be loyal separatists, but when civilization is in decline, and there is no prospect of intellectual advance within the existing order, they do what they have to do to find a setting in which the life of the mind can go on. In recent times that life has been carried on in a liberal society committed to the progressive rejection of particular faiths and loyalties in the hope of attaining absolute universality. That hope is now dissipating, and its disappearance will make a fundamental difference. “Nisi credideritis non intelligetis” (“you will not know until you believe”), said Augustine at a time when secular thought had long stopped progressing. The conditions that require adherence to a particular community of faith as a condition of productive thought appear to be returning. If so, intellectuals will submit to the authority of faith because they will have no choice, and separatist communities will become the tribes that constitute a new civilization.

That new civilization will grow up piecemeal as new communities develop outside the mainstream of the existing order. It is likely to be some time before they incorporate any very substantial part of society, but as they grow they will act as a leaven. Many sympathetizers will hold back from joining because of habit, love of comfort, personal ties or a conception of civic responsibility that favors practical activity within existing institutions over more visionary pursuits. The influence of such sympathizers will nonetheless aid the development of the new civilization by mitigating persecution and enabling the new communities to have an effect on the larger society that goes far beyond the numbers of their members and the resources under their control. Eventually, if the new communities are indeed able to offer a better life than one based on markets and bureaucracies, the larger society will be transformed in their image. As the new communities multiply and the influence of the tribal outlook grows those who fail to join will find that the section of the larger society to which they belong has insensibly transformed itself into another tribe.

What will be the nature of the new society? The era of territorial tribes and nation-states has been favorable to universalizing views. In such an era the history of the community and its standards is one of geographical expansion and internal unification. People deal equally with all whom they meet, because within the national borders all are presumed members of a single tribe. The notion of a common order to which all are subject is natural in such a setting because people rarely come in contact with members of other communities, and when they do the outsider is at a disadvantage as one who is not on his home ground. The standards of the community thus come to seem something to which outsiders would do well to conform, and the outcome is an imperialism that seeks to spread the blessings of the civilization of the community, understood as something of universal import, to those unfortunate enough to lack them. Even successionist groups that grow up within such a civilization are affected by their surroundings and view themselves as bearers of truth for the benefit of all mankind.

The situation alters when tribes become nonterritorial. When we constantly deal with people who define themselves through laws and standards other than our own, the ideal of a concrete and knowable common truth in which all participate recedes. Different truths grow up, a separate one for each tribe, that intersect if at all only in some transcendent realm that is not readily accessible.

What relationships will form among these tribes that are so foreign to each other is hard to predict, but there is little reason to expect more war and less peace than in the past. International affairs has long been dominated by divisions of interest, culture, and belief, and it is not evident why conflict should become more predominant if universalizing notions become less common, or if the number of participants in the international system rises and the size and power of each is correspondingly reduced.

Nor is some sort of universal political order out of the question in a tribal world. The unified national state is an historical exception; a more common system has featured both general authorities for the maintenance of public peace and communal authorities for other concerns of life. The Turkish millet system of self-governing religious and ethnic communities guarded and kept in order by a military class survived on the fringes of the European state system into quite recent times, and something similar may shape the future. Grounds of cooperation that could support overall public order are not lacking. Trade has always been possible among peoples who differ radically in their beliefs and way of life, and the language of science and technology may now be sufficiently abstract and formal for those pursuits to be carried on collectively by peoples that otherwise have very little in common.

It seems likely that modern technology will survive in a tribal world. Even the Amish, selective though they are, accept technology provided by experts outside their community, and strictly Orthodox Jews have been willing and able to develop their own expertise in such things. The degree to which scientific theory will continue to develop is a more difficult question. The philosophical implications of modern science are unsettled; its successes have led many people to take it as a model for all knowledge, but there is no rational compulsion to do so and in time the glamour of success is likely to wear off and allow other considerations to reassert themselves. If so, there is hope that modern natural science will be put in its place as a component of man’s understanding of the world but not the final standard for all truth, technology will become a means rather than a master, and it will become possible to integrate tribalism and science.

If our future is one of a diversity of tribes, each with its own rationality, overall planning becomes impossible. No one can dominate the world that is taking shape, a condition that in itself gives grounds for hope. If each tribe is granted only a partial vision of the good, the beautiful, and the true, a world of many tribes with no set hierarchy may be unabiguously better in its multiplicity than a world subject to an imperial order. In any event, the ultimate shape of things is out of our hands; it remains for each of us to work out his salvation in community with others who share his faith and to hope for the best.

A slightly edited version of the preceding essay appeared in issue 19 of The Scorpion.

Share/Save

Comments

In your article you fails to mentions following aspects from amish deathstyle: moral decadency through degenerative diseases produced by excessive inbreeding,indulgence toward incestuose marriages,alcoholism,obscene jokes,add to it spiritual letargy,absolute indifference to spiritual sufferings from mankind/evangelism and missions are absent in their theology/,because amish are unconcerned with true religion,their newr generations are entirely ignorant from bible doctrines,and reads about their morality: http://www.montanasat.net/rickv/Hello.html

Interesting questions. Medicine is highly regulated, so I suspect it would be difficult to escape the net of regulation altogether. How much you could get out of by doing everything for free employing only unpaid volunteers and religious I don’t know.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

I have a question, and a few comments.

When the public order took a strong interest in the Amish, the period as you note 1920-1950, the nation was still strongly agrarian (in both population distribution and outlook) and many of the elites (both state and national) came from agrarian communities. In their view, the Amish weren’t “pulling their weight,” either in respect to education or the military. In other words, the Amish were members of a community, and had obligations to that community, but the Amish didn’t understand to which community they belonged. Thus, I see the state/Amish conflict of that period as a conflict between two well-established communities, rather than between a well-established community (the Amish) and a liberal state (in saying this, I do not deny that many agrarian state and local governments were at that time liberal, or “progressive”).

By the way, this feeling in the agrarian community that the Amish aren’t pulling their weight persists, at least in the agrarian communities with which I’m familiar. The Amish practice a “cash economy,” and the suspicion is widespread that many, if not all, transactions, including labor transactions, are essentially a black market operating outside the norms of the taxing system. Because the local community is funded primarily through property taxes—a tax the Amish cannot avoid—this resentment is therefore tempered. It is further tempered by the associated tax-avoidance mentality in the community at large, who willingly collaborate with the Amish in their cash-only and barter economy. However, if the Amish were a larger minority, and dominated a local economy, this issue could possibly become detrimental to the Amish.

My question is this for the liberal state. Given that the locus of power is the national government, and given that liberalism has co-opted both Catholic and liberal Protestant politicians to cooperate in its project, why bother with the Amish or similar groups? This question prompts another comment, which is my astonishment that the federal government would take any interest whatsoever in the Branch Davidians. Can any generalities be drawn from that episode, or was it merely one symptom of the pathologies of the Clinton administration and its Attorney General, Janet Reno?

I think the advanced liberal state has mixed feelings about the Amish:

1. They’re cute and Green and multicultural, and on the whole they don’t rock the boat, so they’re nice harmless windowdressing for a technocracy to keep around. Also, they’re an instance of how human rights has to protect minorities against evil bigoted majorities whose way of life they debunk.

2. On the other hand, they’re sexist and homophobic and they interfere with the indoctrination of their children. There’s a strong tendency within liberalism toward Gleichschaltung that might cause them problems except to the extent liberal corruption and inefficiency outruns liberal imperialism.

Dunno about the Branch Davidians. They had guns and they were sexist in weirdly inventive rather than normal ways, so that may have alarmed people.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.