Comte argued that it was time to expand man’s scientific knowledge of the physical world to the social realm. A new science of society, “sociology” (Comte’s term), was the latest and highest of all the sciences. Possession of knowledge of the laws of social movement was what ideally bestowed the title to rule. Comte and his circle were never much impressed by democracy and favored instead one system or another of governance by experts. (Saint-Simon, for whom Comte worked for many years, once proposed running society with “Councils of Newton.”)
But there was an important twist to Comte’s praise of science. In contrast to many who thought that the scientific method and scientific values were sufficient to bind society together, Comte insisted that people had to believe. As faith in the transcendent was no longer -possible in the Positivist age, he called for “replacing God with Humanity.” The aim of this religion without God was to build a global community that assured the betterment of man’s lot. Postulating this objective as an ideal is what Comte meant by Humanity (now with a capital H).
Given the suspicion that many today hold toward religion of any kind, Comte’s insistence on the need for a religion might seem to run counter to modern sensibilities. But set the word religion aside, and it is just on this point that Comte’s thought proves most prescient. The combination of confidence in science and a religious-like enthusiasm was the hallmark of the Obama campaign, just as it is the most salient characteristic of the contemporary progressive impulse. Confidence in experts and the pledge to “restore science to its rightful place” went hand in hand with chants of “Yes we can” and with celebrations of the gift of charismatic leadership…
The same pressure to hew to the dictates of the new religion is evident in the efforts of Obama’s intellectual supporters to save postpartisanship from the simple hoax that most now believe it to have been. Postpartisanship, we are told, never meant anything as mundane as dealing with the other party. It referred instead to working with those who embrace the consensus of the new era. It therefore explicitly excludes the bulk of the Republican party, which comprises those who cling stubbornly to their theology and metaphysics. Only those elements that have adapted or evolved qualify as potential postpartisan partners. The standard for inclusion is not an expression of popular will, but criteria supplied by the idea of progress. What has made many Americans increasingly suspicious of the office of leader of Humanity is their growing perception that it rests ultimately on contempt for the people.