This 3-volume series was undertaken out of a concern that America is trying to make critical decisions at home and abroad – without the perspective (and thus the wisdom) needed to make the right decisions (rather than a series of wrong decisions).
This 3-volume historical narrative is thus all about social dynamics, about the good, bad and the ugly of going at the challenges facing the American community today – challenges that have an amazing similarity to the ones that the nation has faced in the past.
America needs to learn the lessons of such time-tested experience – and bring that wisdom into play in dealing with the here and the now.
The founding of the "Two Americas" (early 1600s). Four centuries ago two very different English colonies were laid out in the “new world” of America, one self-identified as Virginia and one as New England. They were quite different in social character.
Virginia developed along very traditional feudal lines—with a handful of aristocratic “first families” (owners of major plantations) lording it over a large group of servant-workers. This was the normal social structure found throughout “Christian Europe,” and at the time did not raise any particular questions about its structure and behavior.
New England, however, was dramatically different in conception and development. It was an amazing experiment in something we might call “Christian democracy,” in which all members of society were led to work together as social equals—for that is how they saw themselves in God’s eyes: equals, with equal responsibilities for the life of the community, even if they personally took up quite different callings in society (farmers, tradesmen, teachers, sailors, pastors, etc.). Indeed, they had specifically covenanted with God to be for him a "City on a Hill" serving as a "Light to the Nations" — showing the people of the world how they too could live under God as equals, working together in a spirit of Christ-like charity, a social spirit that would not only bless the nations but also glorify the God who ultimately brought all things to success (or failure if mocked).
The on-going division. With such different social personalities, those two social types would confront each other over the next four centuries of American development, not just geographically (North versus South) but also class-wise across the country (self-developed upper-class Americans versus American commoners). Typically, these divisions would eventually grow quite adversarial under the tendency of people to find ways to bring "reason" to their particular self-serving social interests. Such social division could even become quite bitter — so bitter in fact that at one point (1861-1865) it led the country to a devastating civil war.
Unity through God's "Awakenings." But ultimately American unity would come upon the country through the need to put aside these self-serving rationalizations — and get back to the task of being the society that God himself had called America to be. Not infrequently, looming crises would be preceded by an amazing outbreak of Christian spirituality—identified as "Great Awakenings." A pattern very similar to the one that ancient Israel went through (carefully described in the Jewish or Old Testament) would describe America — in which, in the face of mounting social confusion and hardship, the people would finally remember the covenant that the nation had with God and would call upon him for his help ... and find miraculous deliverance!
The First Great Awakening thus fortified America in anticipation of its call to fight heroically to maintain its independence from an English king determined to bring the American colonies under his direct rule as an enlightened despot.
The Second Great Awakening strengthened America for the task of finally ridding itself of the disgrace of slavery — and so as not to fall into the condition of being nothing more than a collection of small semi-independent states, easily victims of the imperialist instincts of the European superpowers of the mid-1800s.
Then there was also the Great Depression, requiring Americans to step back from the existential or Humanistic silliness cultivated during the Roaring Twenties — and get themselves toughened up spiritually so as to be able to take on two enemy superpowers, Japan and Germany. And that same deep Christian spirit enabled Cold War America to take up the broader and more abstract responsibilities of being largely the sole superpower in a position to save Western or "Christian" civilization from the tyranny of authoritarian Communism.
The constant challenge of "Human Reason." But eventual success in the Cold War contest merely once again deadened America's Christian spirituality — leading the nation down the road of anti-Christian Secularism. Such Secularism or Humanism once again (as in the Roaring Twenties) supposed that it had all the scientific answers to life, answers that had no further need to call on God, but instead required such "superstitious foolishness" to be driven from America’s public life. In short, once again the covenant with God was put aside in favor of the rule of "human reason."
Anyone who has studied history closely knows that this is the sure and certain formula for massive social disaster.
Today's huge challenges. In short, this series on America – The Covenant Nation is intended to be something of a wake-up call to America, to pull itself out of its social silliness and get itself ready to face 1) a reviving militancy coming from the world of Islam and 2) the geopolitical and economic ambitions of China, a rising superpower with the clear intention of pushing America aside—as a rising China becomes the world’s supreme superpower. China fully expects America to follow the once-great powers of the "Christian West" into the same general insignificance that now afflicts Europe — because supposedly America has had its day as a great power and clearly (looking at the decay of the very strong moral disciplines that once made America great) is deep into a moral decline that marks a society's political and economic decline as well.
The call to restore the Covenant with God. Thus it is time for America to get some perspective on what is going on in and around it, and get the nation back into a close working order with the God who rules the universe. America needs to return to the covenant that has served the nation so well since the early 1600s. But to do that, it is going to have to know a thing or two about that covenant, and make it almost instinctively aware of how that worked for America in the past. That’s the real "science" that America needs at this point. And that is why the writing of this three-volume series was undertaken.
This volume begins with the period in the early 1600s when two very different English societies were first established in the New World, one in Virginia and one in New England. The Virginia society simply re-created the rigidly class-based feudal society of the times – which eventually embraced the full use of slavery to support its basic economy. The New England society, however, was a most unusual democracy of social equals, covenanted to live and work closely together under God’s – not man’s – supreme rule.
But like Israel of old, New England underwent a serious loss of that spirit within a few generations after the founding Puritan families had passed from the scene. Towards the end of the 1600s, New England's spiritual interests seemed to head off in opposite directions as it left the Puritan's vibrant Christian faith behind: either a religious-like belief in Human Reason (it was after all, the "Age of the Enlightenment" in Europe) or in deep fear of the powers of an evil spiritual realm (including the world of witches). Neither of these served the American covenant very well, and by the early 1700s churches were emptying out.
But the narrative then moves on to look as the way that God intervened at that point (mid-1700s) ... to bring on a "Great Awakening," one which restored American spirits – and keen sense of Divine empowerment. This was a Godly intervention vitally needed in the face of the mounting challenge to America's independence posed by a new English king, George III, determined to break that independent spirit – and force these American colonials under his direct rule, just like his subject people back in England itself. Most Americans would have none of this ... and rose up in rebellion against their king – a very dangerous enterprise to undertake. Should they have failed in this endeavor (as nearly all such rebellions seemed fated to do) they would have all been executed ... at least the leaders of the rebellion. But with Washington's incredibly strong moral-spiritual leadership, the America spirit did not falter in this very bloody contest with Britain.
Then with the coming of an American success in this revolt against royal tyranny, a new American Republic needed to be put in place to protect that independence. Thankfully, Americans were rather well-experienced at state-building – with God's assistance, however ... just as Franklin reminded his fellow Framers when their legal reasoning was merely going in circles during the early part of their gathering in Philadelphia in 1787 to draft just such a Republican constitution.
But here too, within a couple of generations after this huge struggle, the human instinct to want to bring life under human control through "scientific reason" overcame the American spirit once again. But no amount of "reason" seemed able to close the widening gap between the American North and American South over the increasingly agonizing matter of slavery. Instead the exercise of "reason" merely deepened the sense of each side's own justification for its particular stand on the issue.
Then once again, God honored the old American covenant – by coming to America's help with yet another Great Awakening, one which ran pretty much through the first half of the 1800s. Americans would need tough faith, not clever reasoning, to tackle the social-political challenge that was growing rapidly over this slavery issue.
At the same time it would need that same energy to take on other challenges as the country found itself growing rapidly – pushing ever West against Indian and Mexican efforts to block that expansion. Local battles with the Indians and then finally full war with the Mexicans resulted ... to the great benefit of the Americans.
Then, with Lincoln's entrance into the White House in 1861 – given his deep resolve to break, by force if need be, the spirit of disunity impacting the Union (caused by the slavery issue) – civil war finally broke out across America. But Lincoln's incredible spiritual strength was able to keep the Union effort focused, find the right military leadership that understood the strategy of war in the same way Lincoln did, and finally break the rebellion in 1865 ... thus keeping the Union intact and ending the divisive issue of slavery in America forever. In Lincoln, as in Washington, America had been blessed to have had a mighty "man of God" in command of the process. And as both Washington and Lincoln themselves explained, God himself was clearly the empowering agent in all this dynamic.
This volume concludes with the story of how America then moved on to new challenges in the years following the war – principally dealing with a defeated South – and "the Indian problem," arising from Anglo-America's final push westward across the continent.
More (much, much more!) about Volume 1...
Volume 2 continues the American narrative, first focusing on the dramatic rise of American industrial-financial capacity during the last quarter of the 19th century, led by such individuals as Vanderbilt, Carnegie, and Morgan. It then describes the efforts of such Progressivists as Addams, Bryan, Roosevelt (Teddy), and Taft to address the deep social damages caused by this rapid change in America's economic or material foundations.
It then takes a close look at the rise (since the early 1600s) of post-Christian social philosophy across the Atlantic in Europe, including details of the thinking of such European philosophers as Descartes, Locke, Rousseau, LaPlace, Goethe, Hegel, Darwin, Marx, Lenin and many other Europeans who contributed to the growing Secularization of Western culture ... something that would also come to impact America greatly in the course of the 20th century (and still even today). That section includes also an examination of the American response to this rising Secular spirit, for example in the form of Dewey's Liberalism ... but also in the form of the different ways Christianity found itself answering the same challenge.
The narrative then moves to the matter of the West's imperialistic spread to the rest of the world ... as the fires of "nationalism" began to burn deeply in the hearts of both Europeans and Americans. It then analyzes the tragedy of the "Great War" (World War One, 1914-1918), when those burning hearts ran out of playing fields abroad and thus most foolishly turned their energies on each other at home in Europe. It also narrates Wilson's unbounded (and also very foolish) Idealism which needlessly drew America into this same tragedy.
The narrative then moves to the "Roaring Twenties" ... which tried to put a happy face on a very heart-broken – even deeply cynical – America, a society that seemed to be able find joy mostly in the massive acquiring of life's new materialistic offerings (radios, cars, washing machines, etc. – and illegal booze!).
Then the narrative describes how that joy came crashing down (the Great Depression) when everyone had all these toys – and thus the industrial impetus slowed up (a "saturation" of the market in consumer goods now that most everyone had these goodies) ... and consequently American industry simply ground to a halt.
The narrative then looks at Franklin Roosevelt's efforts in the 1930s in copying the apparent success of European state-run socialism (especially the Nazi German and Soviet Russian varieties) in countering the fallen god, free-market "capitalism" (foolishly blamed for the Depression itself). Masses of industrial infrastructure projects were put in place under the Washington government's direction ... until here too, Roosevelt's programs had produced all the social goodies it was able to offer the nation (national parks, highways, dams, municipal building projects, etc.) and thus Roosevelt's "New Deal" too slowed up and ground to a halt.
The narrative also looks at how Secular Humanism at the same time offered itself to America as a religious alternative – but a "scientific" rather than "superstitious" religious alternative (the Humanist Manifesto of 1933) ... and how Christianity itself struggled with the question as to its proper place in those very dark times. God seemed distant during those dark days ... and to many, human reason seemed therefore the best hope to come out of this crisis. But ultimately that too took the country nowhere.
Then the narrative explores in detail not only the course of the second round in the world of national war (World War Two, 1939-1945) but how deeply sacrificial involvement by a Depression-toughened generation in that war pulled America out of the industrial Depression (there would be no "market saturation" for war goods – because the war itself was an unlimited consumer for those goods!). It also restored national pride, and even put capitalism, God, and popular democracy back front and center in America's sense of purpose – and its sense of what it had to offer the world by way of key social values. Indeed, those values would prove to be extremely critical at a time when America was the only power still standing in the West able to hold off an expansive post-war Communist Russia – when finally Germany and Japan were defeated. America's allies in the West were too exhausted to be of much help in fending off Stalin's huge ambitions. Indeed, America needed to come to their aid instead (the Marshall Plan, the Berlin Airlift, NATO).
This volume closes with a look at the seeming success of Christian-Democratic-Capitalist or "Middle-Class" America of the 1950s – and the generation of war veterans (the "Vets") which formed the foundations of this post-war (but ultimately Cold War) national character. But it also explores the issues lying barely below the surface (Blacks, intellectuals and Boomer offspring) that were waiting for the opportunity to challenge all this "success" of Middle-Class America.
More (much, much more!) about Volume 2...
This volume looks at how, as America entered the 1960s, its achievement of superpower status invited both deep “Progressive” political changes at home (Johnson’s Great Society) and aggressive “Democratic” involvement abroad (Vietnam) – in both instances resulting in social catastrophe.
It narrates the battle to hold in place America’s traditional Christian political-moral foundations – based on the American family and local community ... against the urge of Congressional Progressivists, an increasingly Liberal media, young and idealistic academics, a Boomer generation just arriving at adulthood, and all-powerful "progressive" federal judges, all anxious to rewrite those same political-moral standards along more Secular (atheistic) lines.
It covers Nixon's huge diplomatic successes abroad (improved relations with the Chinese and Soviet Russians and the withdrawal of ground troops from the Vietnam disaster), yet his grand humiliation at home with the Watergate crisis; the tragic collapse of all social order in Indochina with the retreat of America from the region; Carter's discovery that diplomatic “niceness” is not a good substitute for real power; the collapse of American national morale as the 1970s turned into the 1980s; the restoration of American national pride during the Reagan, Bush Sr., and Clinton years (thanks to strong but carefully measured responses to the various challenges facing the country); the disaster that hit America when Bush Jr, got distracted after 9/11 and decided to "democratize" Afghanistan and Iraq rather than just simply hunt down the 9/11 al-Qaeda criminals; the deep "Change" that Obama attempted to bring to a centuries-old traditional America, one that seemingly he did not much care for; and finally the arrival of a frequently-vulgar Trump who seemed dedicated to undoing Obama's changes at home – and getting America toughened up abroad.
As with the other volumes of this study, this third volume includes an in-depth look at the moral-spiritual character (still generally "Christian") of America's national leadership since 1960 (particularly America's presidents) – and the extent to which such moral-spiritual character had its own impact on the country, even during this increasingly “post-Christian” social-cultural period.
The narrative concludes with a review of the various political-moral lessons we should draw from America’s own national narrative – particularly the necessity of getting back into an all-important Covenant relationship with an all-powerful God.
Miles Huntley Hodges is a combination Georgetown “political realist” (M.A., Ph.D.) and a Princeton Seminary Evangelical (M.Div.) long-interested in America’s role in the world, once serving as a secular professor of international studies (while also a corporate political risk consultant and risk analysis teacher) ... and then by the grace of God a born-again Presbyterian pastor, an individual involved heavily in street and prison ministry as well as several typical congregational ministries. He "retired" into teaching American and international high school students the subject of social dynamics (the rise and fall of societies) using American and other cultures' histories as a "laboratory" – to bring the broad focus of God and society to the understanding of young minds.