I happened across a recent post of Bruce Charlton’s, in which he addresses this idea, and I was gratified to see that he emphatically disagrees with it, calling it “a stupid meme”.
Bruce Charlton’s opinions on most things seem sound, and he seems unafraid to go against the popular ideas.
I see elsewhere a lot of conformity and unquestioning support for whatever the majority or the herd are saying or doing, and it’s frowned upon for anybody to object to the popular memes that float around the internet, because going against the seeming consensus is seen as ”being negative”. Nobody wants to be “negative” and so ideas that are incorrect often go unchallenged. This is not a good thing; thank goodness somebody of Dr. Charlton’s calibre has spoken out.
Apparently, it was Mencius Moldbug, (the nom-de-blog of Curtis Yarvin) who started this Puritan/progressive idea. I read Moldbug’s blog a time or two some years ago, but was never a regular there. But he was very influential it seems with much of the right, mostly the neoreactionaries. I did object to his popularizing the term ‘The Cathedral’ to signify the media and academia (as best I could understand his and his followers’ usage). It seemed to imply that Christianity, or rather his idea of it, in was more influential than it actually is. And as Yarvin/Moldbug is not a Christian I don’t think he is an authority on the Christian religion or the history of the Christian faith.
It’s not surprising that the book ‘Albion’s Seed’ was mentioned in the comment thread; anyone who has read my previous posts on that book knows that I’ve objected, sometimes strongly, to the ideas promoted by that book; it does oversimplify facts, and to make the current inhabitants of New England descendants of the Anglo-Saxon Puritans is absurd. Much of New England has been , to put it plainly, ethnically cleansed of the WASP descendants of the English Puritan colonists; my maternal ancestors were colonists and Puritans, and before the mid-19th century they were moving West, as many colonist descendants did. By that time many Irish, Italians, Portuguese, and others were coming to New England. Remote rural areas were the places where any remaining Anglo Puritan descendants lived.
As far as those Anglo-Saxon Puritan descendants morphing into today’s progressives/leftists, it seems to have been more of the intellectuals who, influenced by the popular trends of the day — such as Transcendentalism which came from rather exotic roots — left their Puritan religion behind and became enamored of ‘social justice’ causes. But these people were by no means the majority.
So why has this meme about Puritans and progressives/SJWs become so widespread and so readily accepted?
I read many blogs and many comments from various people and for some reason there is considerable resentment towards the colonial era, old-stock Anglo-Saxons. From my point of view, it’s undeserved; I see it as having roots in a general resentment towards anybody who is perceived as in a superior or influential position. People often envy or resent those who seem to have any sort of prestige or position. As the Anglo-Saxons were the longest-established and dominant group when many later immigrants arrived, the WASPs were seen as being at the top of the pyramid.
Oddly the long-standing resentment crosses political lines. Many people on the right resent WASPs (even though they don’t know many people who identify as such; few claim that identity) and guess what? The left shares that same attitude.
It’s unsurprising that so few people of mostly English descent openly assert their ancestry, or show any healthy pride in it. Those of English descent, whose ancestors were the first to colonize Virginia and much of the South, or who settled New England, have a right to feel proud of our ancestors and what they accomplished, rather than feeling uneasy because so many people openly blame us and our ancestors for the present troubles in our country. Those of us with Puritan/colonial ancestors have the right to speak up whenever someone is slandering Anglo-Saxons/WASPs/Puritans online or in the ‘real world’.
I hope to post a piece pointing out the absurd stereotypes and caricatures of Puritans especially; they are a much misunderstood group of people, and in our very irreligious or anti-religious society it’s no wonder they are misunderstood. They were not the caricatured ‘killjoys’ as the cartoonish description has it. I think the misanthropic H.L. Mencken has a great deal to do with this animus towards Puritans. I’ve always disliked his sneering line about Puritans being afraid ‘that somebody, somewhere is enjoying themselves.’ Forgive me for not knowing the line by heart, and I just can’t be bothered to look it up. Mencken had a sort of talent for writing mordant, sarcastic lines and though I suppose it is a talent, his words were usually barbed. I don’t like cruel humor, though our age seems to nurture it.
C.S. Lewis wrote in The Screwtape Letters about how each age is put on guard against the wrong things:
“Cruel ages are put on their guard against Sentimentality, feckless and idle ones against Respectability, lecherous ones against Puritanism.”
If the shoe fits..
I think it’s time somebody answers this ”stupid meme”; we need some exonerating evidence that the Puritans were not the people of the popular imagination. Both sides should be heard; I’ve heard for years about the negative image people have. There is another side to this story.
And I am glad Dr. Charlton wrote about this subject and broke the ice.