Sunday, August 5, 2012

Puritanism in 21st Century America

Our chapter on civic culture discusses the enormous impact of Puritanism.  At the New York Times, Matthew Hutson reviews social science studies demonstrating the persistence of this influence.
Why the persistence of Puritanism in American life? “New England exercised a disproportionate influence on American ideals,” the historian John Coffey says, “thanks to a powerful intellectual tradition disseminated through its universities, its dynamic print culture and the writings of its famous clergy.” He also notes the power of Evangelicalism as a carrier of Puritan values and America’s resistance, compared with other largely Protestant nations, to secularization.
It’s hard to say for sure that any given element of the American psyche results from our Puritan founders. “The direct lines are few,” stresses David D. Hall, a professor of New England church history, “mostly because of industrialization and immigration” and other factors that have led to immense social change.
But were Tocqueville to land on our shores today, with a bit of squinting he would probably see some of the same evidence of our Puritan destiny as he did nearly two centuries ago.