The Clare Spark Blog

October 1, 2009

Perfectly Progressive Parenthood

Po Bronson, author

   Until my posting of the Anne Hutchinson witch-hunt essay, I hadn’t said anything here about the battle of the sexes, a fact of life that I never doubted in adulthood. At my age I can say, though it is impermissible to claim,  that I will probably never fully understand most men (no matter how much I love them), and I am quite certain that men will never understand women, or given unequal gender relations, will they even need to. I could say the same about sibling rivalry and the murderous impulses it calls forth, but you can read all about that in the Biblical book of Genesis. But never in my blogging life did I encounter a more blatant example of “progressive” tomfoolery than in the interview NPR’s Terri Gross conducted with the co-author of a book about the latest advice to would-be perfectly progressive parents. The primary subject was the value of mommy and daddy fighting in front of the kids, hitherto something of a taboo in the old dispensation.  

    For the past few months many of the essays on this website have been identifying one overarching theme in the ideology of “progressives”: the belief that all conflict can be peacefully resolved through the mutual “cultural” understanding that leads to better diplomacy and compromise. It is simply a question of management, properly understood if we would only listen to [infallible] experts, the ones who artfully and scientifically mediate to bring “conflict-resolution.”  So when I heard an interview with one such expert I didn’t know whether to be relieved that my analysis was correct, or to wonder yet again how such a blatant ideological intrusion into and about family life can earn research funding, a book publisher and air time on public radio. Here is a section of the transcript of Fresh Air, 30 Sept. 2009. (The full transcript can be found on the internet.)

Mr. PO BRONSON (Author, “Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children”[co-author Ashley Merryman]): Mark Cummings’ lab out of the University of Notre Dame is looking at this very phenomenon very closely and he has parents simulate arguments in front of their kids, where he has kids watch videotapes of arguments and he has parents as conspirators in his experiments. And normally when a kid watches a fight between parents, an argument, a quite heated conflict, that kid will then lash out afterwards or during it and act aggressive. But there’s one thing that happened in those experiments that makes all that aggressive behavior in the child go away: it’s watching the fight get resolved, it’s watching your parents work it out in a constructive way.

And when I read this, I understood that taking it upstairs, you know, I might have a moment of conflict with my wife and I’ll say that according to Cummings’ data, you know, parents are bickering to each other seven to eight times a day and the kids are a witness to it. It’s wrong to imagine that kids aren’t seeing this and feeling it. But when we take the arguments upstairs, the kid sees the fight begin but never sees it amicably resolved, and that’s hurting kids more.

In fact, Cummings’ work is now showing, this most recent data, that kids who are exposed to constructive conflict, and it can be quite heated, but when it’s resolved and worked out in front of the kids, those kids are being reported by teachers as having better well-being and better social skills and they’re sort of more adaptive in their environment at school. We need to – parents need to model for kids how to work through arguments – how to work it out.

GROSS: So are you suggesting parents fight in front of the kids and then hopefully they’ll reach an end of the argument, have an amicable resolution, then the kid will learn from that?

Mr. BRONSON: Mark Cummings would never say, hey, go out and fight in front of your kids, it’s a really good thing to do. He would say that, more that don’t pretend your kid isn’t seeing some of your conflict. Parents believe they are sort of hiding their kids from this conflict but the kids can feel it. And so the important thing is to be aware when you did start something in front of your kids to then really try to model, for the benefit of the kids, working it out. And that might mean holding your tongue and enthusiastically trying to compromise in front of the kids so they can see from their parents how to do this with their own friendships. [“in fact” my emphasis, end transcript]

GET ME SOME SMELLING SALTS! Just rereading this, I had to get up and walk around to calm myself. Apart from the vagueness (which alone is enough to discredit the reportage), the general obliviousness to the raucous and often unmanageable, poorly understood emotions aroused within families and all intimate relationships is breathtaking. Only the intellectually lobotomized could come up with such quackish nostrums as best-selling author Bo Bronson in his report of Mark Cummings research. My readers will already have asked themselves, what are the conflicts about: the trivial that are easily worked out, or major differences in values and direction? Lacking such specificity, we do not know how to proceed in evaluating this research. Are the parents arguing about who drives the kids to school, or how to handle bullies (fighting back or appeasing?), or what religious practices to follow, if any? Is father philandering? Is mother unspeakably bored and overworked? Is the new baby arousing murderous impulses in the older children? Are the parents in disagreement over how far to push their children to achieve at or beyond their own levels? Are the fights over apparent trivia masking much deeper unresolved conflicts within either or both parents? (Make your own list, dear reader.)

     It was once held that children need safety and solidarity between parents, and that open (or subtle) warfare between parents creates intolerable, but often repressed, anxiety as the children feel forced to choose sides; then, later, comes the desire to reconstruct the perfectly happy family that never existed. Such veterans of the family civil wars can become fixated on any demagogue who promises utopian solutions and peace among the nations, no matter how much their material interests clash. In today’s world, such a one may refuse to believe that there is a real threat from Islamic fundamentalism, or blames such threats, assuming they even exist, upon themselves as imperialist Americans or Israelis or “Jewish” capitalism (that is the money-grubbing exploitative variety, as opposed to the “progressive” variety that brings “social justice”).*

      Social conservatives usually argue that their religious traditions recognize the foulness of human nature, hence religion is required to order social life. Thus they emphasize inborn human weakness rather than strength. By strength, I refer not to an indwelling and purifying Christ-Savior, but to the demonstrable human capacity for overcoming anti-social impulses under certain conditions, including discovering the repressed secrets of the self. In the foundational tenet of conservatism, however, “progressives” are necessarily utopian perfectionists who think, like Rousseau, that our species is innately good. In the fiction created by such conservatives, Nathaniel Hawthorne, for instance, the mad scientist is conflated with all would-be social reformers, destroyers all: see his short stories “The Birthmark” or “Ethan Brand.” Unlike Hawthorne, Po Bronson is obviously speaking to parents who see themselves, their children, and their world as entirely manageable once they have mastered the latest techniques.

    I find myself more in accordance with Freud’s essay “Thoughts for the Time on War and Death” (1915), cited in several prior blogs: Freud was dealing with his own disillusion with the idea of Progress, i.e., that civilization would end wars, for who could doubt that Germany, England, and France were ultra-civilized, and yet the casualties and brutality of the Great War were terrible. What I got from Freud’s meditation was this: What we call “civilization” sits lightly in the human psyche, and it is a constant, lifelong struggle to manage anger and frustration (what he would call “aggression”), just as it is often difficult to identify whether the anger is justified, what has caused it, and what, if anything, can be done to improve those institutional structures and practices that either instill rage or deflect it to unworthy, inappropriate objects. But such potentially tragic conclusions are terra incognita to Bronson and NPR, where all endings are happy ones, if you would just fall in line with the latest newsflash from the front.

*Budd Schulberg’s fascinating memoir of his childhood and adolescence is instructive on this point, for he detailed the ongoing conflict between his parents and his naive determination to reconcile them. He then goes on later to write What Makes Sammy Run, a story of a ruthless Jewish operator, Sammy Glick, balanced by the assimilated narrator, a better type of Jew.

September 29, 2009

Anne Hutchinson’s Red Regiment and the Cultural Historians, part four

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Historian Robert Brenner has argued that Calvinism was transformed into revolutionary Puritanism through the social practice of English Levellers during the Civil War period.  His materialist account implicitly criticizes the work of Battis, Koehler and Barker-Benfield in their adherence to the notion of Protestant “Jacobinism” requiring an inner check; Brenner endows the reader with sharper critical tools with which to define Anne Hutchinson’s politics.

The writers I have described as corporatist liberal all focus on the limited roles of women and on gender conflict; on female acts of rebelliousness and the intense male anxieties they arouse.  But they offer no materialist social theory to explain the links between gender roles and identities, social movements, Puritanism (mainstream and revolutionary) and the emerging institutions and social property relations of capitalism.  Their work is present-minded, looking for anticipations of feminism in periods that could not have provided the material preconditions for the emancipation of women or any other exploited group.  Rather, Puritan religion, like a coiled spring, seems to have innate leftward tendencies set to pounce on the unwary.  Calvinist theology gives birth to ever more “monstrous thoughts.”  Where Bailyn perceived an incendiary situation created by economic pressures, Lyle Koehler and Ben Barker-Benfield resort to an incendiary ideology to explain female rebellion and male repression.  Yet it seems crucial to ask whether the sex war could have surfaced at this time had Anne Hutchinson not had the backing of powerful merchants who preferred a market-administered morality?  Spurning a class analysis, Koehler and Barker-Benfield had no choice but to explain the feminist revolt as an outgrowth of innate tendencies within Puritanism.  As with some feminists, theirs are status politics, a focus apparently shared by Bailyn with his suggestion of upstart craftsmen at odds with status-deprived gentry.

For instance, Koehler incorrectly conflates orthodox Calvinism, mysticism, and radical Antinomianism: “…women could have found it appealing that in Antinomianism both men and women were relegated vis-a-vis God to the status that women occupied vis-a-vis men, that is, to the status of malleable inferiors in the hands of a higher being.  [Women could not have] sizable estates, professional success, and participation in the church and civil government, but [mysticism] provided compensation by reducing the significance of these powers for men…Viewed from this perspective, Antinomianism extended the feminine experience of humility to both sexes, which in turn paradoxically created the possibility of feminine pride, as Anne Hutchinson’s dynamic example in her examination and trials amply demonstrated (63).”

Koehler lacks understanding of the radical Reformation: far from furthering dependency, radical puritanism emboldened a new class to withdraw from the particular organic society that had held them down.  Providence was on their side; like the Jews of old, they benefited from the Covenant theology that made them the Chosen People, protecting them from the perils of settling a new land; as congregationalists they were a scandal to ecclesiastic establishments.  Yet Koehler, perhaps thinking of predestination, has suggested that a concentration camp mentality of total dependency, by snaring men and women equally, can create the conditions for female self-confidence and resistance to oppression.  Pace Koehler, Calvinism and mystical Antinomianism are not interchangeable categories, but are likely to have different meanings to people in differing social groups and in differing moments of struggle.  Whereas Koehler is implying that if Anne Hutchinson was a mystic, and if she rebelled, then “pride” must be spawned from “humility” however paradoxical that may seem.  As Rugg had shown, however, while mystical union with the Holy Ghost enhanced Anne’s ability to withstand the onslaught of the ministers, she was anything but humble or lacking in ambition.  Her mysticism fed endurance, but did not lead her to discount the earthly rewards of leadership and deference.

Barker-Benfield also sees tensions, paradoxes, and contradictions within “the Puritan tradition.”  One senses from his idealist, obscurantist assertion of the social chaos “generated” or “potentiated” by the Reformation, that today’s “identity politics” were formulated as its (scientistic) antithesis: “The context for the explanation of Winthrop’s attitude to Hutchinson, of the remarkable refusal of Puritans to make good on the priesthood of all believers as far as women were concerned, and perhaps of the asseveration of a sexual relation between men and God, was the fluidity of an identity rooted in contradictions.  Puritans destroyed the traditional restraints between man and God and created a more dynamic sense of who man was, and therefore of what he could be.  But such adventurousness evoked the appropriate fears of anarchy, of not knowing who they were at all.  In other words, the radical psychological, theological, and social changes accomplished by Puritan men did not leave them secure enough to permit women the same changes in practice, even though they were conceded in theory.  On the contrary, these radical changes generated a practical need for men to insist on denying them to women.  But the theoretical concession (the idea of the priesthood of all believers, on which men’s own changes was based) generated a continuous process of religious radicalism, whose prophets compounded Puritan anxieties simply by applying Puritan standards more rigorously.  That is, they held up to the Puritans precisely the anti-authoritarianism of which the Puritans were guilty.  The dissenters would be seen as better Puritans (83)…The priesthood of all believers had potentiated anarchy from the beginning, as the tensions within covenant theology attest (84).”

One problem with Barker-Benfield’s analysis is the judgment that Puritan doctrine was “anti-authoritarian” in the way we would define that term now; puritans never claimed that toleration and skepticism were the bedrock of their beliefs, else the tolerationist, skeptical Hume would not have frantically (but hopelessly) searched for the middle way.  But neither were the Puritans the monsters constructed by subsequent corporatists; what they accomplished was to advance the idea of popular sovereignty by electing their own ministers; in the New Model Army, egalitarian practices were frighteningly popular and suppressed by Cromwell; left-wing protestantism was constantly invoked by the revolutionary generation in America.  Nonetheless, twentieth-century bohemians defined themselves against constricting, castrating New England Puritanism and its inheritor, “Victorian culture.”  But many left-wing radicals also trace their lineage through Ango-American puritanism.  Was “the Puritan tradition” monolithic?  Were Puritan radicals Calvinist in any sense?  By what possible route could the Calvinist idea that man is totally dependent on God’s whims have led to democratic radicalism?  Robert Brenner’s comments on seventeenth-century “Capitalism, Puritanism, and Revolution” offer answers to these questions.[i]

First Brenner shows, pace Barker-Benfield, that Calvinism was not an ideology capable of generating egalitarianism because of “tensions within covenant theology” or “the fluidity of an identity rooted in contradictions,” or the notion of “the priesthood of all believers.”  There was no one Puritan tradition.  Brenner presents his argument in materialist terms:

“…if it…makes sense, in the first instance, to see a certain unity in Puritan ideology in order to understand its broad connection to an emerging social order, and its incompatibility with an older one, it is necessary also to comprehend that this unity was, only to a limited degree, ever realized in practice.  This was because supporters of the Puritan cause were themselves drawn from different, conflicting classes within the emerging bourgeois society; in consequence, they tended to shape their religious conception in correspondingly different ways, in accord with their disparate experiences and conflicting needs.  Thus, there arose quite divergent, indeed ultimately incompatible, ideologically and organizationally distinct, tendencies within a broader, loosely-defined Puritan movement.  Puritan religious groupings were obliged, in fact, to develop their movements and ideas on two “fronts”: on the one hand, against the adherents of the old religious regime in order to replace it; on the other, against one another to impose their particular notions of both the contents of the Reformation and the structure of the new social order.  Thus, there arose quite distinctive Puritan trends, with conceptions corresponding to the different social strata from which different Puritan groupings recruited their membership: from the new aristocracy, from the small producers and tradesmen of town and country; from the ministers themselves.  Indeed, these conceptions changed and developed…with the changing activity of these religious groupings…in other words, in accord with the changing nature of the movements themselves.  It was only when Puritan-type ideas became associated not only with groupings from potentially revolutionary social layers, but with actual revolutionary political movements that they took on a revolutionary character.  This did not take place, as we shall see, until after 1640 (36).”

Second, what Barker-Benfield ignores and Brenner stresses, is the critical question of Calvinism and its view of human nature as innately depraved, vicious, and irrational.  Calvin, like Hobbes and other social conservatives, did not historicize human nature by examining the ways social property relations shaped “character.”  For Calvin (or Luther) neither the individual nor society could be reformed.  Reformation referred to the cleansing of the corrupt Catholic Church, a restoration of Pauline and Augustinian purity.  Thus Calvinism supported earthly hierarchies, for external coercive authority, no matter how corrupt, would always be required to keep people’s innate, world-destroying passions–notoriously symbolized by the lower classes, women, and savages–under lock and key (56).  As Brenner has shown, the revolutionary Levellers of the 1640s did not adopt the Calvinistic idea of God’s omnipotence or the unmediated relationship between man and God and automatically turn it into a powerful weapon of resistance.  First they had to “stand Calvin on his head” by altering his pessimistic view of human nature.*

The Levellers, drawn from a class of small producers and traders and exemplified by the martyr John Lilburne, transformed Calvinism through revolutionary practice.  Their experiences in militant mass organization during the 1640s showed them that goodness and rationality were possible; therefore liberty of conscience and dreams of democratic social organization and self-management were not chimerical.  Antinomianism and free Grace, with their notions of conscience informed by reason and righteousness, expressed this outcome of revolutionary practice.  Now, with an altered experience of human nature, which Brenner sees as the restoration of Adam before the Fall, the total dependency of man on God made the “higher law” possible; that is, revolutionary Puritanism was a source of personal strength and legitimacy for revolutionary resistance specifically to those earthly laws which attacked Judeo-Christian precepts of human solidarity and equality.

The Leveller theorist Wiliam Walwyn influenced the religious development of the Calvinist Lilburne and his friend Overton, echoing Anne Hutchinson but in an entirely different social context: “We are all justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is Jesus Christ…None can be condemned unto Hell, but such as are actually guilty of refusing Christ.”  Through revolutionary practice, Calvinism was converted into revolutionary Puritanism and its argument for the higher law as this quote from Lilburne illustrates:

“I say no Power on earth is absolute but God alone, and all other power are dependants on him, and those Principles of Reason and Righteousness that he hath endowed man with, upon the basis of which all earthly power of magistracy ought to be founded; and when a power of magistracy degenerates from that rule, and betakes itself to its crooked and innovating will, it is to be no more a power of magistracy, but an obnoxious tyranny to be resisted by all those that would not willingly have man to usurp the sovereignty of the God to rule by his will and pleasure.

No man is born for himself only, but [is] obliged by the Laws of Nature (which reaches all), of Christianity (which engages us as Christians), and of Public society and government, to employ our endeavors for the advancement of communicative Happiness, of equal concernment to others as ourselves.”

These are ideas that would reverberate through the centuries, not in the possessive individualism of Hobbesians and right-wing puritans, but in the social thought of Locke, Alexander Hamilton, and Melville’s fictional abolitionist preacher Father Mapple, indeed in the secular rationalism and universalism of other radical liberals.

Brenner and Hayes have shown us how radicalism could look in seventeenth-century England.  There is no evidence that would locate Anne Hutchinson within this tradition, as feminist historians have done.  For instance, Carol V. George speculates, “Perhaps she had more sympathy with the Familists than she cared to admit.”  This wishful thought is based on Christopher Hill’s contention that the Familists often recanted to protect themselves, but returned to their beliefs; and that the woman of Ely (said to have influenced Anne) came from an area of England with a large number of Familists. [ii]  Anne might more plausibly be regarded as a paternalistic upper-class woman, who quite normally wanted to exercise her intellect and achieve distinction in an ever more individualistic, competitive society, however “communal” Winthrop’s Arbella speech, its official ideology, and indeed the wishes of many of its members, have made it appear to its apologists.[iii] The resources of her class and a supportive husband made that possible.  There is no reason to link her to the Familists, Lilburne or Winstanley, for no evidence has yet appeared to show her inclined to advocate or dream of a more democratic, egalitarian society, let alone to preach universal toleration or, as Winstanley, “making the earth a common treasury.”  Defying her gender role by talking back to ministers made her a rebel, not a radical; spinning certain Biblical passages to justify her preaching made her a bit dishonest; [iv] her relentless provocations of her enemies, even after she was banished, do suggest an unconscious identification with her failed father that several scholars have claimed.  Anne Hutchinson’s “self-assurance” could provide the ideological underpinnings for conservative feminism and a society practicing violent westward expansion, religious fundamentalism, and unlimited personal aggrandizement, but not the Family of Love.

IV.     Reflecting upon the voluminous scholarship, I see irreconcilable and intertwining conflicts which, along with gender antagonisms, should be considered in the formulation of a new synthesis.  They stem from the character and timing of New England settlement, and from the conservative or revolutionary potential of Puritan culture.

First, the practice of wage and price controls defended by the supposedly corporatist Winthrop and the farmers was in conflict with the laissez-faire propensities of the dynamic new ambitious merchant and artisan groups that made up one element in Anne Hutchinson’s following.  Wage and price controls are generally described as a relic of medievalism (as in Rutman’s description of Winthrop), but as Brenner has shown, they were also an important component of Calvinist economic thought.  Such regulations attempted to discipline and restrain the socially damaging but inevitable outcomes of market competition.  They were measures which tried to reconcile the irreconcilable: the contradiction between total social interdependence based on the division of labor which made the old peasant “self-reliance” obsolete, and the necessity to compete as individual units on the market–and without corruption or hurting others.  Winthrop would seem to fit into this Calvinist tradition rather than a medievalism romantically conceived as a lost organic society.  Today, the same contradiction suggests that Progressive corporatist liberalism, the New Deal or social democratic strategy of state regulation, are utopian.

It would be worth pursuing some connections between the imposition of wage and price regulation and the developing Antinomian controversy.  Gary North’s chronology suggests some eerie congruences.  As he explained, wage and price control legislation was a patchwork of “on again, off again.”  The year 1633 brought a new set of regulations which were repealed in 1635, but with a 25% profit ceiling and a clause “almost calculated to drive merchants and laborers to distraction.”  The question of whether a “just price” was in effect to be decided by the court and was therefore arbitrary.  Pressure was exerted by the deputies to make more explicit laws to reduce the power of the judges; a Body of Liberties was so established in 1641.  In October 1636, the General Court delegated authority to regulate wages and prices to the various towns.  Cotton, who supported wage and price controls, arrived in Boston in 1633.  By 1635, when the regulations were repealed but left ambiguous, Mrs. Hutchinson’s meetings were already in full swing.  In October 1636, she tried to get Wheelwright appointed to the Boston church.  In March 1638 she suffered her final defeat with no mass action to support her; it was the same month that a committee was established to investigate complaints against high wages and prices.[v]

Second, Puritans were at war with their own natures, for they were expected rationally to direct and subordinate their feelings.  In order for women to fulfill their roles as mothers to ascetic Protestants, they were required to suppress their affections toward their children: their wills must be broken.  Mothers were to provide the basis for social order by producing persons who would unswervingly and uncomplainingly take their assigned places in the hierarchy and embrace only those values deemed necessary to frontier survival and the primitive accumulation phase of capitalist development.  The free expression and validation of “female” emotion, including sexuality, implicitly threatened to dissolve social restraints necessary to growth.[vi]

Third, there was a conflict between Anne Hutchinson’s mystical version of Calvinism and that preached by the New England ministers.  Protestantism always had the “antinomian” possibility to confront and criticize, or annul, earthly laws and institutions because it posited an unmediated relation between the individual conscience and Christ, a potential expressed in the revolutionary demands of the fourteenth-century Lollards. [vii]  Radical religion, often mystical in character, as practiced by insurgent lower classes in England and Europe had been, and would continue to be, a source of personal strength and legitimacy for revolutionary activity.  Harvard College, founded partly in the wake of the Antinomian controversy, was expected to circumscribe the wandering Puritan imagination. [viii]  Class-conscious New England clerics, aware of this subversive potential, had adapted the Calvinist doctrine of “free Grace” which Anne Hutchinson wanted restored, to a modified Covenant of Works. A godly life, as defined and recognized only by the elite, was either the authoritative evidence of sainthood, or was required as a necessary “preparation” for the reception of Grace.  Thus, the colonial upper-classes reimposed themselves, their institutions, and their interpretations of Scripture between the individual and God, excluding potential radical elements and impulses.  Anne Hutchinson’s mystical subjectivism would have demolished the cultural hegemony of the Winthrop faction as her detractors clearly understood.  The Hutchinsonian menace was no mere “scare.”  As Thomas Weld wrote, “after our Sermons were ended at our publike lectures, you might have seen a halfe a dozen Pistols discharged at the face of the Preacher, (I meane) so many objections made by the opinionists in the open Assembly against our doctrine delivered, if it suited their fancies.”[ix]

The same fears would be expressed in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s writing, for instance in the fantastic carnival scene of The Marble Faun (1859), as a gigantic red-garbed Titaness appears to discharge her pistol into the face of the genteel sculptor Kenyon.  Though Anne Hutchinson was irreproachably virtuous, her ideology was subversive, and there was a pre-existent constituency for it, as Philip Gura has shown, larger than anyone had thought. [x] Thus, Massachusetts Bay Colony’s leaders, uncertain of their legitimacy and requiring stability to survive as a new settlement in a hostile environment, could not have tolerated this rival religion nor its charismatic woman “minister” any more than their contemporaries in Civil War England welcomed other prophets, male and female alike.  But what is the function of gender in this controversy?  Phyllis Mack has explained:

“The combination of her despised status and her ecstatic, yet authoritative behavior made the female prophet a perfect symbol of a world turned upside down.  Even more strikingly than the male ‘mechanick preacher’, she represents a spiritual and political authority which was inappropriate, even monstrous, by conventional standards, but conforming to more profound and more radical vision of human equality, on earth and in heaven.”[xi]

Commenting upon Hawthorne’s sketch of Mrs. Hutchinson, Amy Schrager Lang places the gender issue in the context of an internally contradictory “American culture”: “Insofar as Woman contains in herself the possibility of Amazonian defiance, she suggests the further–and more frightening–possibility that men too might step out of their places.   In this sense the gender-specific problem of the public woman figures the larger dilemma of maintaining the law in a culture that simultaneously celebrates and fears the authority of the individual.  That dilemma has long been identified with antinomianism, but Hawthorne’s sketch calls our attention to the fact that the problem of individual autonomy is especially problematic when the individual is a female.  The fact that Anne Hutchinson the classic American representative of a radical and socially destructive self-trust, is a woman compounds and complicates the heresy.  In “Mrs. Hutchinson” the problem of antinomianism is propounded as the problem of Anne Hutchinson, which is, in turn, the problem of the public woman. [xii]

What ever happened to Roger Williams trudging through the snow?  Is the problem of individual autonomy really worse for women?  Was not the antagonism to antinomianism directed at the troublesome potential of emerging markets—in goods and ideas alike–that would challenge all  traditional authority? David Hume had put the case plainly enough as he measured the zealotry quotient in competing rebel factions:

“The enthusiasm of the Presbyterians led them to reject the authority of prelates, to throw off the restraint of liturgy, to retrench ceremonies, to limit the riches and authority of the priestly office: the fanaticism of the Independents, exalted to a higher pitch, abolished ecclesiastical government, disdained creeds and systems, neglected every ceremony, and confounded all ranks and orders.  The soldier, the merchant, the mechanic, indulging the fervours of zeal, and guided by the illapses of the spirit, resigned himself to an inward and superior direction, and was consecrated, in a manner, by an immediate intercourse and communication with Heaven.” [HE, Vol. 7, pp.18-19 (year 1644)].

Hume’s animus is directed against social forces that will, inexorably and willy-nilly, confound all ranks and orders, while the impudent upstart puritans, unmonitored by their betters, claim adherence to a higher law: a misconceived ‘law,’ Anne’s monstrous birth that breeds only nihilism and anarchy.    In my view, it was Anne’s maternal, charitable qualities that made her gender threatening.  If popular culture is a guide, nothing arouses primitive desire like the image of reunion with the inexhaustibly lactating good mother; however male agitators can skillfully evoke these fantasies with their promises of rescue, unprecedented safety and abundance–Hitler for instance (perhaps this is why some psychologists endowed him with excessive effeminacy).  A powerfully nurturing, yet self-directed figure like Anne Hutchinson could displace the good constitutional monarch as object of desire and source of community cohesion.

Is there an inevitable conflict between individual and society, and should such a conflict satisfy historians? Freud would say yes, while neither Locke nor Adam Smith was a  proto-Nietzschean.   Both Mack and Lang have resorted to irrationalist explanations for the Hutchinsonians’ persecution because gender studies are not always grounded in historically specific political and economic conflicts that would provide a rational explanation for the quarrel, but rather in ahistoric cultural formulations like patriarchy and national or ethnic character. Such formulations are congenial, however,  to the incoherent interest group politics advocated by corporatist liberals.  Given the retreat from materialist history, it is not surprising that cultural historians today write so strangely about “the Woman”: bearer of libertarian impulse, hence social dissolution as Hawthorne understood her (Colacurcio, Lang); and that no one has yet provided a satisfactory account of the historical figure, tending rather to drown her, like Zenobia, in excessive accolades [xiii] or undeserved reproaches.

The problem of legitimate authority was not an issue before mass literacy, the radical puritans and Leveller, then Lockean, popular sovereignty.[xiv] Irrationalist or “cultural” explanations that demean structural economic conflicts as reductive exist because many “Right” and “Left” “reformers” are paternalistic organic conservatives professing to be materialists.  Both tendencies adhere to the German idealist critique of the radical Enlightenment: the Right says it is libertarian and laissez-faire, the Left-liberal supports the welfare state to forestall socialism; both rely upon the state to direct and protect economic development of a kind that has heretofore underdeveloped the rational capacities of the lower orders.  While defending meritocracy and cultural freedom, both the free market and corporatist liberal models of social harmony depend upon vague institutional boundaries to maintain legitimacy in a pluralist society-without-critical thought.  Anne sinned by needlessly sharpening boundaries (or repositioning old ones), while authoritarian [Hebraic] Massachusetts erred by scapegoating her and exaggerating her threat; it could have incorporated the Hutchinsonians as tolerant pluralists should.

Both sides have been found guilty of extremism: Anne should have lightened up; Massachusetts should have relaxed to achieve progressive pluralist identity and conservation of upper-class blood.  The reform-or-ruin scenario casts a light on the conservatism of “radical” feminists today who demand “inclusion,” not closer readings of the system.  These writers are, perhaps unwittingly, Parsonian structural functionalists who have inverted slavery and freedom.  Freedom is the release from the pressures of upward mobility and endless competition and change.  Freedom returns the fallen Icarus to the Great Chain of Being in which a network of mutual obligation keeps the social peace aka “social equilibrium.”

In my survey of the historiography on the Antimonian controversy, a conflict which has been said to have defined American “identity,” I have tracked examples of “identity politics” as practiced by cultural historians and sociologists.  American intellectual history is often said to transmit an unresolvable tension between (bad) individualism and (good) communitarian values.  There is a nasty sub-text to this formulation.  Among the pro-Hutchinsonian contingent, we have seen an admixture of Nietzsche, hereditarian racism and non-Lockean environmentalism: Anne’s rebellious noble blood and imprinting by her noble silenced switching father during childhood determined the tenacity with which she fought to finish the corrupt machine politicos and bungling imperialists of the upwardly-mobile Hebraic philistine Puritan establishment.  Blood (from the Marburys and Drydens) and soil (the site-specific influence of father plus female hormones) explained her downfall and theirs.  Given the inevitability of the clash and its fatality for American identity, such “historicism” suggests a degeneration narrative predictably emanating from a falling class of New England WASPS.  Whether they take the side of (noble or crazy) Hutchinson or (Jewishly vindictive or sane) Winthrop, “moderate” commentators have diagnosed their antithesis: The deranged enemy possessed of a Hot Head and a Cold Heart, needlessly rigid (Winthrop) or disruptive (Hutchinson).  The cooler headed moderates seem incapable of describing abstract and impersonal economic forces; rather they conceptualize these forces and relations in emotionally charged body imagery.  No rational amelioration can emanate from their irrationalist psychosurgery.

My contrast of Brenner’s materialist history with the ever more fashionable irrationalist “feminist” renditions of the/ Antinomian controversy (or of “Puritanism” in general), suggests that historians are under considerable pressure from nativist elites, conservative institutions and social movements with their longings for equilibrium, not enlightenment.  Sharing bleak prognostications for the future, the organic conservatives are right to see an impasse, for they have no positive conception of freedom.  They want pluralism and toleration without a loss of their own community cohesion and stability; lacking a belief in the legitimacy and efficacy of rational analysis and new rules that would follow a reconstructed big picture, present-day communitarians, like Winthrop, want to be free of “divisive” criticism that could lead God knows where. [xv]  Present-day “moderates” want to be free of “elitism” and “monopoly” especially when it comes from interlopers; they contrast their compassionate true-blue American selves to the sell-out hotheads who decline to equilibrate individual desire and social welfare.  For these writers, both sides in the struggle were wrong: the collectivists (like Winthrop) erred by imposing excessively restrictive regulations on “free market” operations, hence hampering the rational response to market opportunities and forces; while the Antinomians failed to curb their self-love and pride on behalf of communal values.

The moderates are opposed to the machinations of “the Jews” and look to healing purges; they have yet to present a positive social vision that could build a creative, beloved community with the Promethean values and means advocated by radical puritans and radical Jews; as Byron put it, kind, ameliorative, and intellectually powerful: structurally attuned to emancipation from all forms of illegitimate authority.  As I have suggested in this review of the Antinomian controversy, the eternal anguished opposition of the individual and society is a historically specific construction of conservatives, not a self-evident biological or historical fact.  Only the would-be aristocrats of middle-management, displaying the exemplary self-control that legitimates their own authority on behalf of an elite (that may be entered only as servants), could have thought it up.  And of course the more gigantic the specter of rampaging Id, the more heroic the renunciations of Cool Heads and Warm Hearts; such gallantry has built the discipline of social psychology on a dubious and shaky proposition.  The object of their anxiety is the articulate and moral alternative to themselves, the demagogue fused with the mob, calling them to account in public space.  [Draft, Clare Spark, Ph.D., May 29, 1998].

*Social conservatives argue that tradition recognizes the foulness of human nature and has devised customs to order social life, thus they emphasize human weakness rather than strength, in most cases, the demonstrable human capacity for overcoming anti-social impulses. In this foundational tenet of conservatism, “progressives” are necessarily utopian perfectionists who think, like Rousseau, that our species is innately good. I find myself more in accordance with Freud’s essay “Thoughts for the Time on War and Death” (1915), cited in another blog: what we call “civilization” sits lightly in the human psyche, and it is a constant struggle to manage anger and frustration, just as it is often difficult to identify whether the anger is justified, what has caused it, and what, if anything, can be done to improve those institutional structures and practices that either instill rage or deflect it to unworthy, inappropriate objects.


40. Robert Brenner, unpublished paper.

41.Carol V. George, “Anne Hutchinson and the Revolution Which Never Happened,” Remember The Ladies, ed. Carol V. George (Syracuse, 1975): 34.  Gura also tends to identify Hutchinson as a radical, but takes care to separate her politics from Gorton’s.

42. Rugg paternalistically described Anne’s paternalism: “Many of Anne’s most loyal supporters were among the poorer members of the colony, to whose women she had ministered.  She almost pitied them for their loyalty, for she suspected that they understood very little of the doctrine involved.  They were the bitterest of all against Mr. Wilson and the most ardent for her, making the matter a personal issue as the wont of the man on the street (38-39).”  Paternalism would seem to be a mixture of pity and contempt.

43. See Selma R. Williams, Divine Rebel: The Life of Anne Marbury Hutchinson (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1981): 151-52.  Like Winthrop who had bent the Fifth Commandment to transfer allegiance from parents to the state, Anne bent the Bible to her own purposes.  Pretending that the Bible instructed older women to teach the younger, she suppressed the context in which women are subordinated to men and silenced (I Timothy 2:12-14).

44. See Gary North, “The Concept of Property in Puritan New England, 1630-1720” (Dissertation,  U.C. Riverside, 1972): 184-185.  The timing of the regulations would seem to vindicate the sufficiency of a rationalist economic interpretation to explain some aspects of the Antinomian controversy.  But it is present-minded to neglect the powerful hold of religion, since the earthly behavior leading to everlasting punishment or reward was at stake.  The point is that different classes would approach the conflict with varying and changeable motives.

45. See Rutman, Winthrop’s Boston, 72, 87 on the division of land and economic inequality in Boston; also Edmund S. Morgan, The Puritan Family (N.Y., rev. ed. 1966): 77-78. See Gary Nash, Red, White, and Black (N.J., 1974): 22-23, 38-39, for a description of Iroquois child-rearing practices regarding autonomy and group responsibility; also a description of the bad Indian whose characteristics resemble the bad Hutchinsonian.

46. Brenner writes, “Like the Puritan revolutionaries of the later 1640s, the Lollards advanced sweeping demands, not merely for the transformation of the church, the total destruction of its wealth and hierarchy, but for the demolition of the monarchy and aristocracy and the democratic reorganization of social and political life.”  The Lollards were drawn from the same social layer as later Puritans: small traders and independent small producers (ms., 39-40).

47. Ziff, Puritanism in America, 68.  “Thomas Shepard noted that ‘the Lord having delivered the country from war with the Indians and Familists (who arose and fell together,) He was pleased to direct the hearts of those magistrates, (then keeping Court ordinarily in our town, because of these stirs at Boston), to think of erecting a school or college, and that speedily, to be a nursery of knowledge in these deserts, and supply for posterity.’”

48. Gura, p. 69.  See also 162-64, and Perry Miller, New  England Mind, 56-57.  Miller believed that the doctrine of “preparation” was the “hidden issue” in the Antinomian controversy.

49. Gura, 24, 28-29, 78, 239, 240, 257-58.

50. Phyllis Mack, “Women as Prophets,” 219.

51. Amy  Schrager Lang, Prophetic Woman: Anne Hutchinson and the problem of dissent in the literature of New England (Berkeley: U.C. Press, 1987).

52. See Selma Williams. Anne’s Covenant of Grace is said to have wiped out the concept of Original Sin, replacing it with individual responsibility and self-esteem.  Moreover, in a tantalizing but undocumented claim, her husband William is said to have joined a committee proposing wage and price controls (105).

53. See Robert Brenner, Merchants and Revolution (Princeton U.P., 1993).

54. For instance, F.A. Hayek, Individualism: True and False (Oxford: Blackwell, 1946). Hayek  concisely  enunciates the main principles of libertarian conservatism in which science is annexed to hierarchical organic conservatism and the rule of expertise.  His recommended lineage for “true individualism” is Locke, Mandeville, Hume, Josiah Tucker, Adam Ferguson, Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, Tocqueville, and Lord Acton.  Hayek has undermined the search for legitimate authority based on common understanding and checks from below.  Man is innately incapable of grasping totalities; only deluded and false individualists would claim such an achievement.  These include rationalist philosophes and utilitarians, along with the “original” German Romantics; similarly looking to coercive, bureaucratic state power to impose order, destroying checks and balances attainable through spontaneous voluntary organization at the local level.  The only role for the state is negative: to prevent any one group from arrogating excessive power, hence destroying equilibrium. Despite the Marxist analysis that informs this study of the Antinomian Controversy, I am more sympathetic today to Hayek than I am to Keynes or his more radical contemporaries on the Left. (5-5-13)

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