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The twenty-first century City on a Hill

I have said numerous times that this blog approaches history from a non-political standpoint, and I feel that I have adhered to this rule quite successfully for the most part. However, this post will break that rule, and will probably contain the most political material I will ever post to this blog.

This post contains an analysis of modern American social conservative rhetoric through the lens of early seventeenth century North American Puritan doctrine. Though I feel that this post contains objective observations and analyses of the rhetoric used by social conservatives (and those who wish to court their votes), I cannot deny that readers who count themselves as members of the GOP—regardless of identification with the social conservative movement, gender, race and religious affiliation—may feel alienated by it. 

This comparison, or lens through which to view the present, occurred to me as I was reading the main text which will be used in the course I am TA-ing next semester. As I am sure as common knowledge to some of you, many followers of the Puritan religion left England in the early seventeenth century to found a settlement in the New World in which they would be able to practice their faith without fear of persecution. In doing this, they were rejecting the right of the government to interfere with their spiritual affairs.

However, while the Puritans valued freedom of religion for followers of the Puritan faith, they denied this freedom to followers of other faiths, and instituted Puritan doctrine as the governing law for their settlement. This was a fundamental contradiction which they staunchly upheld until England began to exert greater control over the colonies.

Today, members of the social conservative movement share the same general Republican sentiment that the federal government does not have the right to interfere in the lives or personal affairs of its citizens. They believe quite passionately, for example, that the federal government has no right to exert control over private property, health, or education. As a part of the larger, ongoing debate over the role of government and states’ rights, there are no fundamental contradictions within this belief set.

The contradiction comes into play, however, when it is taken into consideration that a goodly amount of people who hold the views outlined above also believe that the government has the right to interfere in the lives and personal affairs of its citizens when those citizens are doing things that social conservatives disagree with. They avidly support the blocking/repealing of legislation which would allow women and girls the freedom to control what happens to and within their bodies, and legislation which would extend to gay couples the same freedoms extended to straight couples.

This reflects the fundamental contradiction at the core of Puritan doctrine as it applied to members of other, non-Puritan faiths. While the above analysis of social conservative ideology is broad and simplistic, and while I could go on about this for pages in a more in-depth analysis, I think what I’ve written successfully conveys the idea that a good deal of Puritanical logic, reason, and worldview is alive—or perhaps, revived—and well within social conservative rhetoric, and that b. this is a situation for which the past may be used to great effect in the understanding of the present.

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