WR Mead

Puritanism and President Obama:

I'm beginning to be impressed by this Walter Russel Mead. He's making good and interesting points fairly consistently.

[F}ar from being dead and buried, the Puritan political tradition in America is best represented by our current president; intellectually and morally, President Obama is a distinguished representative of Boston at its best.

New England government was charged with the creation of a moral society. There was nothing that was not its business: how much did a master pay his apprentices? Who celebrated Christmas? Who was cheating on his or her spouse? The duty of government was to make society live right; the university, the pulpit, the newspaper — these were to be the allies of government in the struggle for good.
This really is the frame we're getting from the Obama left: the state as having a duty to ensure a moral society, which requires regulation of every aspect of life. Those in the professions mentioned are supposed to fall in line with turning out a moral society on their terms: a society whose businesses pay wages that are described in moral terms, whose members have all the nice things we might all like to have, whose tone is appropriately respectful of the wise, and where those who know best are reliably at the top.

Mead notes that this project has a mixed history, which we should consider fairly.
Many of their causes today look prescient: the abolition of slavery and voting rights for women. Others, prohibition, eugenics and various forms of food-nuttery matching the changing scientific fashions of the day, look weird.


“Political correctness” and tortured attitudes toward language and gender have long been part of the New England Way. Victorian New Englanders pioneered feminist ideas and daring new styles of dress — but enforced rigid standards of ‘political correctness’ that stifled American literature, restricted its range of subjects, and drove authors like Mark Twain to paroxysms of rage and frustration. In the nineteenth century Bostonian literary puritanism was so focused on sex that “Banned in Boston” was a label that helped sell books around the country. Today’s Puritans want to regulate “hate” speech on college campuses and engage in tortured debates over topics like “heteronormative” discourse not unlike the hair-splitting theological debates their ancestors were famous for.

But there was never any doubt in the New England mind that the State was the chosen instrument of the righteous in the ongoing mission to make a better world.
He finishes by noting, "In any case, nobody should expect blue thinking to go away.... A rich heritage, deeply woven into American life for more than 300 years, will not vanish away."

Fair enough! The TEA Party project does not even aspire to make them go away; it just wants them to relocate their activity to the state governments, instead of trying to force their ideals on everyone using the Federal government. If Massachusetts wants universal health care, they can legislate as much as they prove to be able to afford. If Georgia wants jobs instead, that's our call.

Some among the blues (as Mead calls them) believe that this is a false dichotomy: that legislating health care is precisely the best way to ensure jobs. If so, prove it at the state level and you'll find other states will follow. Of course, they'll do it because it's economically effective -- not because they feel a moral society requires it. It's distressing to realize, but other Americans may have different ideas about the structure and function of morality.

I wonder if that would be satisfying to the blue mind: to get what they want, but not for the reason they wanted it? Would such a society be "moral" enough for them? Or is it important not just to do the right thing, but to feel the right way?

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