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The Puritan contribution to modern America?


The Mayflower. Image: Mike Haywood

CB of Right Wing Nation, an American blog which to its credit has been banned in China and Pakistan, made an interesting case for the contribution of Puritans to America.

The Pilgrims were Puritans. In the 17th century British Puritans were wild enough to cross an immense ocean in small ships and settle in a wilderness, but they were known for the decorum of their public manners.

CB writes -

We have problems in America - lots of them - but other than Spring Break, public drunkeness is not something that is a) socially acceptable, or b) encountered (indeed, it is illegal in most jurisdictions. And it has been illegal in most jurisdictions since before the Revolutionary War.

So we come back to the Puritans, who over the last fifty years have here gotten a lot of bad (and wildly inaccurate) press. Theology aside, they and other dissenting Protestant groups who settled here shared strict expectations for (at least outward) moral behavior. Although we cannot be accurately said to have a Puritan national culture, we are far closer to upholding those moral standards than our European cousins, who tend to jeer at us for being prudes.

I humbly suggest that this prudishness is perhaps the most fundamental reason that whatever our other faults, we are a civil society. Certain things here are illegal because they are socially unacceptable (and destructive).

I was somewhat bemused by a number of British bloggers losing it because the new Mayor of London is making public drinking in the subways illegal. Try drinking in the subway here, and you'll spend the night in jail. But of course, the point is that while it may infringe on one's freedom that it is illegal to weave down the street sucking on a bottle of whiskey, it maintains a civil society. One is free, after all, to drink oneself into a stupor in private, but with drunkeness comes loosened inhibitions, and in far too many cases, violence.

We American conservatives look not only to Adam Smith but to Edmund Burke.

The trick is to find the balance. . .

"But what is liberty without wisdom, and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint" (Edmund Burke).

And what connection could this possibly have with wallpaper? See our next post.