The Clare Spark Blog

July 6, 2016

James Comey: the best (moderate) man

moderation-veranstaltungen-604x442In all the wrathful outpourings from politicians, pundits, and ordinary people since FBI Director James Comey’s announcement yesterday July 5, 2016 (declining to prosecute Hillary Clinton) no one, to my knowledge, has noted that “moderation” is the quality most admired by advocates of the “neutral state,” conflict-resolution/peace studies, and other pacifiers who keep our all-too-independent polity on the “strait” and “narrow” (quoting Matthew 7.14 in the New Testament, King James version).

Here is a partial list of prior blogs on the barely concealed violence in the discourses of “moderation.”,,,

But there is more to say about the indignant responses to Director Comey’s apparent exoneration of Hillary Clinton. Lawyers, trained to be rational (when it suits them), can’t dissect the term “moderate” because lawyers are supposed to be disinterested parties to “the rule of law”—a notion that has been constantly reiterated since yesterday’s “bombshell” announcement.

It is not too difficult to demonstrate that it is scattered Independents and Constitutional conservatives who respect the advanced notion that there is one set of rules for rich and poor alike, but all that changed with the Progressive movement (and perhaps before “the living Constitution” became the battle cry for the compassionate elect.

AWOL Trends

AWOL Trends

Historians agree that we live in an age of irrationalism, oblivious to “traditional” notions of law and order. How to account for Hillary’s devoted following among women and young people? Although conservatives have been vocal in denouncing the “hyper-sexualization” of our post-feminist culture, such glorification of perpetual adolescence aided and abetted by malicious mischief in the mass media, I haven’t heard anyone attribute Hillary’s following to the widespread desire for conflict-free sex with as many partners as feasible, and without the possible consequences of pregnancy and child-rearing.

Indeed, for many intellectuals, Hillary is the “moderate” alternative to Dastardly Donald—the “extremist” who (secretly) hates the “man on the street.”


March 17, 2016

What does “liberty” signify?

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freedom_by_hnde“…You know how I feel
Scent of the pine
You know how I feel
Oh freedom is mine
And I know how I feel….” (Volvo freedom commercial: complete lyrics here:

In this background lyric for a recent Volvo commercial, “freedom” is not a gesture or an attractive state of being, but an emotion, a possession, a perfume, or a sensation that presumably links the driver with wild Nature, which the car, the singer, and presumably a friend comprehend.

Many persons link the word “liberty” with freedom: it could be “free will” or liberation from oppression (as in the American Revolution—a statement critical of the former British boot), but in today’s irrationalist political argot, it may mean “religious liberty.”

But such “liberty” may not signify the separation of church and state (see but rather a view that the USA is a Christian Commonwealth that represents the most conservative wing of the Republican Party. To Cornell historian Isaac Kramnick, such a conception exists in tension with the secular state, the latter an innovation of Thomas Jefferson and the (rationalist) Enlightenment views that inspired him.

If there was ever an irreconcilable conflict between factions, this clashing notion of “liberty” is it. Yet few pundits ever identify it as such. In its stark opposition, it reminds me of a similar conflict: free will versus determinism. ( At least in the free will debate, a thoughtful person will do her best to recognize limited (moral) choices, given the state of our ignorance about all the forces that mold our “will.”

Not so in the super-safe Volvo that links safety with the “scent of pine.” And don’t we all pine for that sense of security and composure in our search for “liberty”?

“Liberty relies upon itself, invites no one, promises nothing,
sits in
calmness and light, is positive and composed,
and knows no discouragement.” – Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Illustration credit: Freedom by HNDE (Deviant Art)


June 15, 2015

Hillary Clinton and second wave feminism: Looking Backwards

Suffragettes, NYT, 1921

Suffragettes, NYT, 1921

Mrs. Clinton’s most recent rollout relied on two elements of sentimentality*: the log cabin rags-to-riches theme made famous by the Jacksonians, and the tribute to her mother and grandmother in the closing moments of her speech, thus linking her to the white-garbed, very pure tail end of first wave feminists who struggled for Votes for Women.

This is what the second wave of feminism hath wrought: a woman riding on the coattails of a former president, and a woman demanding to be the first person of her gender to hold the highest office of the land.

Forget her silence about trade deals and foreign policy, even though, were she elected, she would be commander-in-chief of the military, whose connection to foreign relations needs no mention here.. Because any famous woman will do, especially if she mouths aging communist platitudes such as income inequality. After all, the second wave feminists came out of the antiwar movement that has never lost its glamour for Hollywood producers and writers—just look at the highly touted series Aquarius, alleging darkly that unspeakable atrocities were visited on the peasants of Viet Nam, and developing the theme that Charlie Manson was in league with murderous, crypto-gay, impure Republicans.

“Rags to Riches” late 19th C.

The Clinton speech took its own swipe at (reactionary) Republicans as the enemies of the Progress that she associates with “the workers” who are now magically absorbed into the “middle class” that she so aggressively defends, as if we remained mired in the Middle Ages when small producers were the objects of elite defenders of the status quo.

It is the role of ideology to create consensus, but at what price?

* Sentiment reformism bases its appeal on a purified, transformed heart, evading the appeal to a change of mind, by contrast, rational appeals based on increased understanding of policy. Sentimental reformism is hence irrational.

Movie poster, 1941

Movie poster, 1941

January 20, 2013

An awesome Inauguration

Nation_cover_journalismHere are two paragraphs from the late Jacob L. Talmon’s final book on political messianism (Myth of the Nation and Vision of Revolution):

“The general and increasing preoccupation with the nation’s rights, needs and grievances, the brooding over its identity and its past, its fate and its manifest destiny, the reflections on its moments of glory and its failures and defeats were every case a journey into bygone ages, a reckoning with ancestors, a communing with the myth of the nation. No wonder the [19th] century produced such a flowering of the historical sciences and of a literature and art that set out to serve as a mirror to the nation’s soul and a portrait of its modes of existence. National cults grew up and spread, replete with myths, symbols, rites, liturgy, commemoration, and heroes and saint’s days, parades and displays, artistic effects and hypnotic suggestiveness. [Compare to today’s pageantry and the invocation of the Nation, CS, 1-21-13]

“All these tendencies fed upon and in turn promoted the far-reaching change in the image of man from that bequeathed by the Enlightenment. Far from constituting the basic element and goal of society, from being his own autonomous lawgiver and free and equal partner to the social contract, as he was seen in the eighteenth century, man was made to appear more and more a function of collective forces, past traditions, the social setting, the organizational framework, the spirit of the nation, the Zeitgeist, the milieu, group mentality, finally the race. No longer a free agent in making choices, the individual was shown to be in the grip of compulsive urges and aversions, automatically re-enacting ingrained modes of behavior and reflexes. In brief, the individual was portrayed as the plaything of the unconscious and the hereditary, a mere abstraction when pitted against the collective forces deposited in the whole to which he belonged, above all, in the nation [Talmon is not referring to Freud here, but probably to Pareto, a great favorite of some Harvard professors in the 1930s, CS]. Not man, therefore, but the nation, was the measure of all things, and the dominion of the dead was depicted as infinitely more potent than the deliberate decisions of the living. Indeed, this state of affairs was made the condition of social cohesion, political stability and the health of the nation. …Every nation was a world of its own, a unique blend. Since it fashioned countless men and determined their fate and well-being, the nation’s interests, the imperatives of its particular situation, the conditions favoring its survival, cohesion, strength and influence contained its truth, morality and justice. The latter were perspectives, not objective data.” (my emphasis, pp. 544-545)

Talmon associates these counter-Enlightenment tendencies as culminating in “integral nationalism” a characteristic of both Fascism and Nazism. If Talmon’s analysis is correct, then multiculturalism and perspectivism, inventions of the rooted cosmopolitans of Germany (Herder  and his followers) who greatly influenced 20th century pedagogy in America, should be seen in the strategy of the “moderate” Right, not to either classical liberalism or to  libertarianism in either major political party, or in the scholarly search for truth.


How then should we see Fox News Channel’s coverage of the second Obama inauguration?  Is this supposed vindication of the eighteenth century Constitution awesome, as in remarkable and admirable, or should we return to the words original meaning: awe-inspiring as terrifying. As Charles Sumner awesomely asked in the nineteenth century “Are We A Nation?” And how do we know (e.g. this weekend) when we are not fascists?  See (

December 11, 2009

“Don’t fence me in”: notes toward a workable consensus


a page from New Theatre, June 1936: Hitler as narcissist

Here is my utopian contribution to the theory of independent media–a hot topic in the era of the internet and blogging. It was directed to program producers and listeners to Pacifica Radio after years of observing how this “alternative” media outlet malfunctioned, even at its best. Given how polarized our political culture remains, I hope that readers of all ideological preferences will read the notes as a plea for a more constructive and creative dialogue. You might want to read these first:,,, and

[Christopher Simpson, 1994:] Entrepreneurial academics modeled the scientific tools needed for development of practical applications of communication-as-domination on those that had seemed so successful in the physical sciences: a positivist reduction of complex phenomena to discrete components; an emphasis on quantitative description of change; and claimed perspective of “objectivity” toward scientific “truth.”  With few exceptions, they assumed that mass communication was “appropriately viewed from [the perspective of] the top or power center…rather than from the bottom or periphery of the system (6)….U.S. social science, including mass communications research, helped elaborate rationales for coercing groups targeted by the U.S. government and Western Industrial culture generally (115).  Roughly similar psychological and linguistic structures seem to have played a role in certain phases of Turkish Ittyad efforts to exterminate Armenians during World War I, in atrocities during Stalin’s rule in the Soviet Union, and in U.S. exploitation of former Nazis in intelligence operations.  There are many obvious differences, of course, between the psychological and linguistic dynamics of atrocities and those of psychological warfare projects.  Nonetheless, there are enough similarities to suggest that euphemistic “cover stories” are integral to much of modern political communication (144).[1]

[Reinhold Niebuhr, “The Truth in Myths,” 1937:]  …religion is forced to tell many little lies in the interest of a great truth, while science inclines to tell many little truths in the interest of a great lie.  The great truth in the interest of which many little lies are told is that life and history have meaning and the source and the fulfillment of that meaning lie beyond history.  The great lie in the interest of which science tells many little truths is that spatio-temporal realities are self-contained and self-explanatory and that a scientific description of sequences is an adequate analysis of causes. [2]

[Clare’s blog:]      Make no mistake, the culture wars will be fought to the death, and not because scientists do not “tolerate” religious values, but because there is no center, no middle-ground between secular and mystical world-views; either intellectual debate is worth the trouble, or it is a waste of time; either popular sovereignty is to be made rational and competent, or we should return to enlightened despotism.

Certain conclusions for theory and practice flow from my reflections on the devious cultural politics of nineteenth and twentieth-century America and Europe.  What has been most strenuously dismantled in the last tumultuous period of academic reform is The Big Lie of materialism, mega-weapon of Western Industrial culture (according to Christopher Simpson).  As I have tried to show throughout the blogs posted on this website,  however, most public “liberals” and “leftists” today (ethnocultural structuralists) are inheritors of social ideas that were never libertarian and universalistic.  These particular “multiculturalists” decapitate political animals insofar as they prejudge coherent narratives (i.e., authoritative, chronologically ordered, fact-based accounts) of historical change and conflict as totalitarian, racist, and genocidal.  We are toothless without the relatively objective criteria that would make elected authority accountable to its constituency, helpless in identifying the social divisions and antagonisms that most persuasively delineate the trajectory of history at any given moment.

Often with the best of intentions, the Populists and Progressives, the Leninist Left, the Frankfurt School critical theorists, and many New Left anti-racists admiring Simpson or Niebuhr advocated free speech and cultural relativism in ways that would logically undermine confidence in common readers scrutinizing rival political platforms, thus hindering  the coalition building necessary for earnest (goal-directed) politics.  The primitivists/libertines among them sought emancipation from the slavery of romantic love, finding equality in the acting out of repressed “instincts” that the workaholic bourgeoisie had squashed; some critics of essentialism/identity politics argue from the positions of Heraclitus and Nietzsche: the aristocratic radical (Cormac McCarthy?) again looks askance at uppity artisans, the murderous children of Cain.  Our generation of intellectuals might do well to distinguish between 17th-18th C. and late 20th C. conceptions of science, democracy, history and international brotherhood.

As the quotations from Lewis Hill, founder of Pacifica radio and his successors demonstrated, it was the class war that the Pacifica pacifists were to oppose most emphatically: good labor unions collaborated with business as corporatist liberalism (New Deal policies mimicking the happy family) preferred; however, given the conditions of the Depression, during which every class was in crisis, the managed good news Lewis Hill advocated could not report negotiation between equals though that fiction would be maintained in contract law.  Implicit in Hill’s ideology was the notion that misunderstandings in communication (the source of conflict?) could be removed through enlightened workplace anthropology.  Pacifica would radiate good feelings.  Similarly, reformed curricula and canons, overcoming Anglo-American/Hebraic “liberal” hubris, selfishness, and avarice, would breed empathic workers and managers.  Intractable differences were only racial or ethnic or gendered: the powerless would be typed according to biological imperatives, each group possessed of marvelously unique, equally idiosyncratic, rooted points of view that could be freely expressed on public or independent or reformed media, yet these perspectives were finally untranslatable to members of different linguistic communities.  Such rights of privacy, aka group expression, would be guarded by socially responsible businessmen and their deputized academics, fending off melting-pot sharpshooters to their Right.  So far and no farther would freedom, independence, and equality be tolerated.

“Radical subjectivism” asserted itself against “Marxist” postulations of ruling-class “hegemony” by insisting upon the inevitable multiplicity of points of view, of de-centered loci of power and authority. Individual character gave way to “social character.” As one professor of “applied Christianity” put it, referring to the work of Erich Fromm, Clyde Kluckhohn, and Henry Murray, “In order that any society may function well, its members must acquire the kind of character which makes them want to act the way they have to act as members of the society or of a special class within it. Fromm is thoroughly aware of the grave dangers in this ability of society to pressure us into becoming what society wants. But he realizes also that freedom is achieved only in social relations and that one becomes a self only within a group or a people.”[3]

Such “diversity” was seen as both descriptive and desirable.  Like community broadcasting itself, radical subjectivism was a rejection of white male domination, hence progressive, not a turn toward the archaic, the medieval and the barbaric.  In the etiquette of The New Pluralism-Without-Snakes-and-Spiders, there are no lies, save the Big One.  Given this marvel of constructive disengagement, how might alternative media planners counter the cacophony of corporatist liberalism?

I. Discourse and critical method.

—–A. The ethnopluralists have been tracked throughout the blogs. To distinguish ourselves from these organic conservatives masked as genuine liberals we should avoid their buzz words insofar as they apply the terms of biological systems to social organization: e.g., “the community,” “the body politic,” “national character,” “group mind,” “roots,” “milieu,” “equilibria,” “cultural climate,” “balance” (understood as the harmony which ensues when two more or less hysterical people contradict or “check” each other), and “identity” (understood as essential group psychological characteristics transmitted in the genes).

—–B. We should challenge the deployment of the words “race” and “ethnicity” insofar as they are meant to describe hereditary intellectual capacity and other psychological characteristics, as opposed to the ideological construction of “group character” in historically specific moments of conflict.  We ask our audience to keep in mind this understanding of “race” and “ethnicity”: (1). Groups are treated differently on the basis of fictional categories that are supposedly “real” and uniformly applicable to everyone in the group. Such typing reinforces the divisive idea that we are not one species, hence cannot understand each other’s perceptions of reality.  Thus the need to defend and revise our possibly distorted assertions about politics to reach a consensus is made unnecessary: there are no universally perceptible facts, only “group facts.” (2). Even though we are one species, we are not necessarily perceived as such by others: the ideas of (always pure) “race” and “ethnicity” are plausible only as fictions too often considered  real.  (3). Antisemitism is not simply a variant of racism, but a particularly dangerous form of false consciousness because it strikes at “basic trust,” without which no rationally informed social action is possible.  Whereas racial prejudices may be overcome with contact, the switching Jew will always be a confidence-man, his promise of utopia (to know the truth, to build a more humane society) a ruse; the outcome is dangerous not only for Jews, but for the antisemite, because the target is her/his own critical intellect and emotions.  Hence Jews cannot overcome antisemitism through philanthropy or reminding the world about their contributions to modernity: it is precisely modernity and its promise, its open-endedness that is the threat. It is true that the Alien or the Stranger has always been distrusted by insular societies; but in the context of enlightened Europe, the content of the Jewish archetype was adapted to suit the needs of reactionaries. “Roots” secured the “identity” of the beleaguered institutions of the European Right  (comprised of the Church and landed aristocracy) against the “disintegrating” forces of liberal nationalism. Suddenly Jews were no longer convertible or useful; today’s “identity politics” are the tool of similar conservative localists, like the aristodemocrats described above. It is the same not-so-old “scientific racism” cleansed by association with Jewish cultural anthropologists like Boas and his students, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. Again: there is no way to rescue German idealism.  It was formed in reaction to rationalism, democracy and the Enlightenment and will always oppose intelligent, democratic, universalistic forms of social organization.

—–C. The current litany for progressive journalists and academics is the study of “class, race, and gender” by which it is usually meant that structural position will entirely predict behavior, desire, and point-of-view, i.e., we are molded and stamped to act in our own behalf (hence participating wisely in pluralist politics, neither befuddled nor capable of perceiving universal human interests which could suggest different forms of political organization).  Besides ignoring distorted consciousness, this functionalist theory of class, race and gender conflates dissimilar categories of analysis.  Although the term is hotly debated, “class” can be defined with regard to the possession or non-possession of resources (money, tools, land, special scarce skills) enabling survival, either allowing persons to walk away from a bad contract or forcing them to work or starve.  Such ownership is not a matter of opinion, it is an objective fact in the world.  Similarly, gender difference is real: e.g., at different times women are more or less tied down by child-bearing and nursing.  But “race” and “ethnicity” are entirely socially constructed, which is not to say that culture (or climate) does not affect or partially predict behavior.  The issue for the twentieth century has been whether or not a better social environment can create “the new man” thus making it unnecessary for each generation to strive anew to rear critical thinkers with humanitarian values.  Lamarckians and muckrakers (like Hitler) want a quick fix; geneticists (should) advise patience and effort.  A Lockean-neo-Freudian approach would see class and gender as a set of conditions that limit experience, but against which we may struggle as we increasingly comprehend the ways we repress those ideas and feelings that threaten illegitimate authority.

—–D. A materialist discourse describes historically concrete individuals and the many institutions in which they are asked to function (the market, the state, the family, education, media, etc.).  This includes (1). Abstract and impersonal social property relations (class structure, how classes reproduce themselves, and class relations including relations between members of the same class who may be either cooperating, competing, or both);  (2). Social movements which may be challenging or acquiescing in the rules of the game; (3). The exercise of power within institutions and between individuals: how is authority made legitimate?  How is consent obtained: through analysis of the system (rational persuasion) or appeals relying upon emotionally charged language and archetypes, on veiled or naked force?  How are the concepts of multiplicity and diversity deployed for and against equal opportunity?  Are persons expected to resolve irreconcilable differences?  Do agitators create or exaggerate differences where none need exist?  (4). What are the sources of change, legal and illegal?  (5). How have powerful interests defined the social psychology of the society or group under consideration?  How have these assessments changed with transformations in modes of production?

——E. An organicist discourse confuses because groups and nation-states are treated as if they were individuals.  Thus for moralistic anti-American New Leftists, “America” is one very bad person, stealing Africans, exterminating Indians, raping the environment, tricking the masses with false promises of cultural freedom, etc.  Similarly “the West” and “Western science” are genocidal.  By contrast, a materialist discourse would identify historically specific individuals and groups, often buffeted by social forces producing destructive behavior.  Comparative history and sociology will reveal that the humanitarian, universalistic values espoused by “Western civilization” are still only partially realized in practice, along with the technology that may someday lighten drudgery and toil for everyone.  Hence we should ask, what are the economic and cultural preconditions that enable people to be creative, peaceful and tolerant?  How have earlier Leftists answered this question and what have we learned from their decisions?

When all of these arduous (but not impossible) tasks are accomplished, then rational communicators may be said to have reached a consensus on the facts of their condition.  Obviously, societies that see human motivation and history as inscrutable and chaotic, an unfinished dialogue between God, the World, the Flesh and the Devil (the Flesh-made Word?) will resist (to the death) such processes of analyses and synthesis. [4]

II. Earning trust of the audience.

A. Spotting the phony liberals/radicals/protofascists.  They say they are not fascists, meanwhile replicate the cultural practice of earlier aristocratic radicals/corporatist liberals with an antimodern, antidemocratic agenda.  Rather than institutional analysis they purge/muckrake, implying that good fathers will make the system work; “corruption” or exploitation may not be structural in origin, but solely the product of moral weakness, e.g., an immoderate will to power and greed or decadent effeminacy and narcissism (consumerism).  Conspirators make history; conspiracy theories have prestige among groups lacking political education.  How should we deal with their “paranoia”?  Indeed, I have been charged by both leftists and conservatives with conspiratorial thinking even where I demonstrate institutional sources of unethical behavior.  Such attempts to discredit destabilizing historical research are to be expected; it is a form of psychological warfare that may cause all of us to distrust our own perceptions, experiences, and educated sense of danger.  But there are real paranoids out there, and opportunistic radicals have indulged irrational fears and hatreds, for instance in their uncritical support of cultural nationalism and populism, indulging the petit-bourgeois radicalism which sees money or “finance capital” as the demonic enemy.

In my view, good history drives out bad.  I respect the suspicions of oppressed people by identifying real historical conspiracies, but attempt to locate them at least partly in institutional imperatives and constraints.  Biographies will often demonstrate the clash between values and behavior, not because of the predilection for lying or hypocrisy, but because of class allegiance and mixed-messages dispensed by societies resisting the transition to a creative democracy  (e.g., multiculturalism is a form of “indirect rule”: an attempt to conciliate lower-class demands for autonomy while maintaining élite control).

B. The production of hopelessness.  College professors, like all intellectuals, have a choice; they may choose topics for research that examine class institutions and reform movements, showing how industrial societies, unlike their predecessors, produce the conditions for their possible transcendence or improvement.  Or, as is more often the case, professors may attack the “hegemony” of philistine puritans, the bourgeois businessmen who supposedly control their careers with an iron fist.  The first approach produces winning tactics and reasonable time lines for change; the second produces cultural despair, has chosen the bleak world-view of the dispossessed aristocrat railing against the false optimism of the revolutionary bourgeoisie.  The first approach emphasizes favorable conditions and possibilities for amelioration where they exist; the second dotes on human weakness, promotes dropping-out/ suicidal adventurism, ends with a sigh, in practice the passivity which only blesses the forces that are killing us. “Ah, Bartleby! Ah humanity!” and “God bless Captain Vere!”

C. Living with ambiguity and suspended judgments.  The condition of modernity is the unending search for truth, for an accurate description of ourselves and of the system (insofar as there is a single coherent system, which I doubt).  In my book, I called it Ahab’s “meandering railroad.” We inspect our closest attachments so that we may be less deluded about our own “pure” motives, desires for control, and other defenses against fear, anger, and rage.  It is a terrible thing to espouse radical politics for purposes of revenge, to mobilize others by stirring up traditional group hatreds.  I see no reason for any “democrat” to appeal to such emotions.  Marx’s irrational polemics stand in contrast to his ostensibly rational analysis of the capitalist system, to his compassionate account of the nightmare of tradition that burdens the brain of the living.  In my own experience, I have found that irrationally motivated radicals are identified by an attachment to labels: like conservative bureaucrats they want to file us in the proper drawers, the better to be manipulated, squashed if potentially “unmanageable” and “unpredictable.”

I doubt that I will ever be able conclusively to separate structure from agency, or pin Herman Melville or myself down.  What we are, where we were, where we are: these are portraits and maps that will more or less change as we revise and reconfigure the past and present, sometimes gradually, sometimes suddenly working ourselves out of primitive fantasies and defenses.  Hence we emphasize the dynamics of change (not Jungian archetypes) in an atmosphere of safety and trust.  These comments about the fluidity of perception should not be marshaled to relativize the objective conditions of social institutions.  Whether or not workers are exploited, whether or not ordinary people have access to quality education, health care, mass media and state secrets, whether or not citizens are consulted about the decisions that affect their lives, the existence or non-existence of corporal punishment and other cruelties in the family, can all be established as facts in the real world.  Without an exhaustive and accurate assessment of  institutions (and they may be anarchic and messily unpredictable), we cannot test and judge “authority” or choose between rival claims for love and friendship.

How then will such values be expressed in practice?  If we wish to understand people in motion or mired in apathy we avoid typing people as conservatives, radicals, and liberals or as moderates and extremists as if everyone knew what that meant, as if these words had timeless meanings, as if no one ever changed her mind.  People have describable imaginations, values, and interests that may be modified in changing circumstances; these should be specified concretely.  Similarly, the appropriation of good buzz words in particular moments of struggle should be described: concepts such as pacifism, balance, the people, multiplicity, diversity, relativism, pluralism, and democracy may be claimed by democrats and authoritarians alike.  For instance, socialists might be pacifists in August 1914; American Nazi-sympathizers might be pacifists in 1938; during the same period isolationist conservatives might have feared that international war would create the conditions for another civil war (like the Russian Revolution).

Ideal formats for alternative or oppositional media cannot be prescribed in a vacuum.  “Innovation” and “experimentation” are good or bad insofar as they attempt to promote critical, independent thought and heightened awareness of ourselves and our environments, no foible left unexamined, no nuance of thought or feeling unexpressed.  If our goal is self-management and informed consent to management by experts, then there is no mystery about what to do and how to do it.  We must first determine the condition and preconceptions of our audience in all its varying states of consciousness.

If “commercial” (i.e., jewishly contaminated) mass media present a more or less phony aura of objectivity, self-control, and sanity should we defiantly praise subjectivism, stridency, and irrationality as “radical?”  I believe the competition should be praised for positive achievements where they exist; where their coverage of personalities and events falters, we should fill in the gaps and reconfigure the problem, if necessary, calling attention to the greater freedom that listener-sponsorship makes possible.  If we are not more objective, self-possessed, and rational, more open and scientific, more historically and sociologically informed, more respectful of the audience, more completely descriptive than “mass culture” and “mass media,” then there is no legitimacy to our claim for moral superiority.

Warmth need not yield to stridency or manipulative charm; nor should we talk down to the audience.  We ask ourselves if our revolts are primitivist, ascetic and sadomasochistic, the desire to be punished or to humiliate others; we may be pandering to sadism and masochism in the audience through the endless parade of atrocities and bondage.  Our élitism is communicated through excessive secrecy, obscurantism, false modesty, reductiveness, snideness, sloganeering, slang and obscenity.  We have a beautiful, expressive language that is hardly used; instead as radicals, we punkishly use the speech of the street to exhibit our trustworthiness.  Whom are we fooling?

[Bernard Mandeville, The Sixth Dialogue from Fable of the Bees, Vol.2, Oxford U. Press, 1924, first publ. 1714:]

 Cleomenes.  The natural Ambition and strong Desire Men have to triumph over, as well as persuade others, are the occasion for all this [fiery oratory].  Heightning and lowring the Voice, at proper Seasons, is a bewitching Engine to captivate mean Understandings; and Loudness is an Assistant to Speech, as well as Action is: Uncorrectness, false Grammar, and even want of Sense, are often happily drown’d in Noise and great Bustle; and many an Argument has been convincing, that had all its Force from the Vehemence it was made with: The Weakness of the Language it self may be palliatively cured by the strength of Elocution.

Horatio. I am glad that speaking low is the Fashion among well-bred People in England; for Bawling and Impetuosity I cannot endure.

Cleo. Yet this latter is more natural; and no Man ever gave in to the contrary Practice, the Fashion you like, that was not taught it, either by Precept or Example: And if Men do not accustom themselves to it, whilst they are very young, it is very difficult to comply with afterwards: But it is the most lovely, as well as the most rational Piece of good Manners, that human Invention has yet to boast of in the Art of Flattery; for when a Man addresses himself to me in a calm manner without making Gestures, or other Motions with Head or Body, and continues his Discourse in the same submissive Strain and Composure of Voice, without exalting or depressing it, he, in the first place, displays his own Modesty and Humility in an agreeable manner; and, in the second, makes me a great Compliment, in the Opinion which he seems to have of me; for by such a Behavior he gives me the Pleasure to imagine, that he thinks me not influenc’d by my Passions, but altogether sway’d by my Reason: He seems to lay his Stress on my Judgment, and therefore to desire, that I should weigh and consider what he says, without being ruffled or disturbed: No Man would do this unless he trusted entirely to my good Sense, and the Rectitude of my Understanding…(291-292).  When a Man has only his Words to trust to, and the Hearer is not to be affected by the Delivery of them otherwise, that if he was to read them himself, it will infallibly put Men upon studying not only for nervous Thoughts and Perspicuity, but likewise for Words of great Energy, for Purity of Diction, Compactness of Style, and Fullness as well as Elegancy of Expressions (293).

The various cultures, institutions and social movements we encounter, like all human phenomena, are difficult, if not impossible, fully to comprehend: still we should be wary of simplistic calls for “complexity.”  Rather than a healthy respect for the difficulty of achieving precise and relatively complete accounts of our condition, such warnings (directed at “levellers”?) may mean that we can’t ever know what we are experiencing: events are just too over-determined, too individualized, too particularistic, too mystical, too mysterious.  What was Hayek saying about the “social process which nobody has designed and the reasons for which nobody may understand”?  Was his statement descriptive of the present (1946), or was he saying that, given the limits of research into the motives and actions of others, at any period a Titanic, perhaps unfeasible project, the unfettered market offers the least coercive form of regulation and the most efficient and accurate marker of merit?  Shouldn’t “the Left” engage these and other libertarian arguments with an open mind? Is it not a sign of intellectual and moral weakness when opponents do not engage each other’s facts and programs, no holds barred? Can we say that either side of a debate is “scientific” when they do not engage?

Eloquence and sublimity are not achieved through bombast and obfuscation, but almost rush forth when we have mastered the precision and subtlety of language, when we care for others, as artists, giving them everything we’ve got, understanding suffering and sincerely striving to alleviate it.  In my own experience as a teacher and broadcaster, I have found that “ordinary” people–non-intellectuals–often ask for my assistance in illuminating the historical background of everyday problems; they appreciate being pushed a bit, they do not expect perfection from me or themselves, but self-criticism and progress.  I have succeeded when listeners and readers feel more confident in their own capacities to penetrate, comprehend and at least partially master reality.  Aristocratic radicals will scoff at such aspirations as the rotten odor of mechanical materialism.

Cultural cues are transparent when all the relevant conflicts are brought to conscious awareness; psychological warfare can be decoded and made as easy to read as comic books.  However, “prudence” and the defense of “expertise” forbid the direct, unpretentious communication of institutional or personal goals and operations.  “Two-way communication” is subtly authoritarian when we have not equal access to technology, facts, and skills; we have the microphone, they have the telephone.  We should not abuse our authority.  For instance “call-in” shows, like seminars, usually do not allow follow-up questions; hence may not identify areas of agreement, partial agreement or impasse.  Instead these interchanges sound like a play by Ionesco; the participants take turns speaking into the void.  To put it another way, program hosts ask for feedback from listeners, but do not necessarily act upon legitimate criticisms by self-examination or further research and reflection, nor do they often address the anxieties, rational and irrational alike, that have produced hostile responses.

Trust requires a prolonged period of testing through the individual and group processes of interactivity; this endless, boundless, sometimes joyful, sometimes painful process of testing authority, made meaningful through ongoing self-education and group education, is the distinctive feature of democratic institutions.

Notes: [1] Christopher Simpson, Science of Coercion: Communication Research & Pyschological Warfare 1945-60 (Oxford U.P. 1994).

[2] Reinhold Niebuhr, 1937, reprinted in Gail Kennedy, ed., Evolution and Religion: The Conflict Between Science and Theology in Modern America (D.C. Heath, 1957): 94.

[3]  Roger L. Shinn, The Search for Identity: Essays on the American Character (New York: Harper & Row, for the Institute for Religious and Social Studies, 1964), 2-3. Shinn is quoting from a Fromm essay of 1944 “Individual and Social Origins of Neurosis,” American Sociological Review Vol.9 [1944], pp.380-384, and reprinted in Personality in Nature, Society, and Culture, Clyde Kluckhohn and Henry A. Murray, editors (Knopf, 1948), 407. Shinn tips his hat to Gunnar Myrdal’s American Dilemma, p. x, a theme taken up in the essay by Kyle Haselden, “Race–And The Divided American Soul,” 133-152. But Myrdal, under the influence of Ralph Bunche, described “the American Creed,” not group character. For this author, however, the American character is divided and marred. “…the racial problem more than any other single factor has been the crux of our history. …the clash of the white man and Negro in American society–has had more influence on developing American character than any other single factor.” Haselden blames white racism for its handling of a “racially different minority in the social structure.” (p.137) The author ends with an appeal to moderation, avoiding “Uncle Tomism on the one extreme and aggressive black nationalism on the other” (152).

The call for inclusion, balance and stability within a restored natural American character runs throughout. See Harold K. Schilling, “The Transforming Power of the Sciences,” 39-54. Religion, not science, should direct the future. Using Loren Eiseley’s term “lethal factor,” Schilling warns of the coming apocalypse: “Since science has taught us what nature is really like, and what it means to be “natural,” we now realize that with the arrival of man on earth, there appeared a disturbing, lethal factor that has somehow upset the balance, self-consistency and naturalness of nature. Sometime in his history man has succeeded in producing an ever more destructive black whirlpool that is threatening to drag both him and his world into the bottomless abyss of death and oblivion. (Italics in original, p.54.)

[4] Students of alternative media should study the influence of evangelical Catholicism (revolutionary conservatives, the born-again moderns) in the theorizing of public broadcasting (as well as the formation of the academic disciplines of cultural history and the history of science, confessional psychoanalysis, and the ideology of “cultural pluralism”).  See Calvert Alexander, The Catholic Literary Revival (Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Co., 1935), with its conclusion calling for a Catholic “free press” (copying the independent publications of Jews, Communists and Socialists) to combat the pernicious influence of mass media.

September 29, 2009

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

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     What follows is a review of the historical and popular literature on Anne Hutchinson in the twentieth century.  First, I present the salient facts and judgments in Winnifred King Rugg’s 1930 biography and in those of her New England nativist contemporaries.  Rugg’s corporatist liberal assumptions and ambivalence toward her subject is typical of other books published in 1930 and 1931 on the same subject; she prefigures and combines the major historiographical traditions identified in this paper: one is ‘liberal’ and ‘Freudian,’ reductive and irrationalist; the other is ‘feminist.’  Second, I criticize in detail aspects of those interpretations which see gender conflict or Mrs. Hutchinson’s personality as central to the Antinomian controversy.  By juxtaposing the circumstances of Hutchinson’s life in England and Boston as presented by Rugg, the assemblage of historical argumentation, and my closing remarks which point to a possible new synthesis, the polemically reductive, ahistorical, and above all irrationalist character of academic writing on the subject of Anne Hutchinson may clearly emerge.



        A spate of books on Anne Hutchinson appeared in 1930 and 1931 apparently in response to recent Red Scares and repressive legislation instigated by puritanical Prohibitionists.  Three were written by women; one was framed as a less biased account than previous treatments by hostile males.  Helen Augur wrote a florid fictionalized biography An American Jezebel: The Life of Anne Hutchinson (1930) casting the noble-blooded Hutchinson as the glorious forerunner of the (more fanatical) Quaker movement and a true feminist and pacifist; unlike the hypocritical Roger Williams, she was a genuine democrat.  Ever the saintly herbalist and healer, she was Christ crucified by horrid legalistic Puritans and their cruel and unbending Mosaic law: Winthrop’s vengefulness followed Anne into Rhode Island and the Dutch territory where she and her family were killed by Indians; his long arm was the ultimate cause of her death.  For Augur, Winthrop/ Moses/ The Jews eclipse the mystic, spiritual, shining martyr.  That same year a short, spare work less favorable to Anne appeared.  In Edith Roelker Curtis’ Anne Hutchinson, A Biography, her subject was both “magnetic and aggressive.”  Curtis emphasized the political rivalry between Winthrop and Hutchinson in a setting of almost dream-like austerity and material deprivation.  Like the other writers of the 1930s, Curtis was appalled that the Puritan faction was so harsh; it was ironic that they (outsiders become insiders) were treating the Hutchinsonians as the Puritans had been treated in England; their lack of statesmanship would lead to the barbarism and barbaric superstition of the Salem witch trials in 1692.  Like Curtis, Winnifred King Rugg’s 1930 biography demystified Hutchinson as blameless victim; like Augur, she stressed the presence of a supportive women’s culture.  The following pages reconstruct Rugg’s internally contradictory account.

     Rugg saw Anne Hutchinson as a pioneer feminist, “the first American clubwoman,” and the “Mother of Transcendentalism.”  Both her positive qualities (intellectual competence, self-assurance, assertiveness, and charitableness) and negative qualities (radical extremism, arrogance, and self-destructiveness) are understood as stemming from her family history, particularly the unconscious identification with her colorful father.  As a healer and a preacher of a gentle, optimistic religion of the heart, she gave such expression to pent-up and terrified Calvinist women that their outpourings culminated in a cultural revolt.  Though it was probably doomed from the outset, Anne’s personality was central to the rise and fall of a “feministic” movement.

     Anne was born in 1591 to Bridget Dryden and Francis Marbury. Mother’s background was strongly Puritan while Father was an audacious and irrepressible minister of the Church of England; it was a “modestly comfortable” family of the lesser gentry.  Marbury had been repeatedly imprisoned and silenced for his criticisms of the incompetence of other (perhaps lower-class) ministers; his hot-headed and witty defiance of Bishop Aylmer in 1578 (Marbury was twenty-two) on a behalf of a “clear ministry” at a hearing before the Ecclesiastical Court led to yet another imprisonment.  This dramatic incident is represented by Rugg as the family story that scripted Anne’s later behavior.[ii]

     After one fifteen-year silencing, Marbury was restored to the ministry, taking a church in London probably through his brother’s connections; presumably, he was “chastened and reconciled.”  Anne was fourteen when she and her large family left the town of Alford. (Already skilled in child-rearing, she had helped her mother manage a brood of seven younger siblings.) During the next five and a half years in London, then “boiling in religious controversy,” she was exposed to vigorous debates and criticisms of the preaching clergy and to “current events.”  Rugg believes she participated in these discussions, having been familiar with the Geneva Bible since early childhood.  After Marbury died in 1611, Anne was promptly courted by a childhood friend, William Hutchinson of Alford, a mercer of lesser social standing than the Marburys and Drydens.  They married and had fourteen children in Alford, three of whom died.  Anne managed “a little commonwealth” of children and servants; her duties included the supervision of household manufactures, tending the family’s health, and participation in community charity.  The girls attended dame school, the boys grammar school, and evenings were devoted to family prayer and Bible reading.  But rural Alford was a let-down after the intellectual and emotional intensity of her father’s home.  She sought relief in the lectures and preaching of the eloquent and learned John Cotton, the Vicar of St. Botolph’s in Boston, twenty-four miles away.

     Possibly in 1616 or 1617 Anne passed through a year-long spiritual crisis and was tempted to turn Separatist, but this would have meant rejecting her father’s church and allying with the “fanatical,” despised and persecuted lower orders.  Sequestered in her room and poring over Scriptures for guidance, she decided to become a non-conformist, “relying wholly upon the word of God as given in the Bible” and rejecting the forms and ceremonies of the bishops.  Only preachers who purified the church of “forms established by man” could be relied upon as the “clear ministry.”  Her painful confusion over competing sources of authority (the voices of Christ, Moses, John the Evangel, and Antichrist) was resolved; John Cotton was her “clear” minister who would be, through the twenty-year period that Anne visited St. Botolph’s, gradually simplifying the church service, discarding the surplice, the cross in baptism, and the requirement that communicants kneel.  His ever more blatant non-conformity aroused powerful opposition, and he fled England, arriving in colonial Boston in 1633.  Anne was left “bereft” and spiritually famished.  That same year, her brother-in-law John Wheelwright, another non-conforming cleric, was silenced.

     Once again consulting the Bible for guidance, Anne believed she was directed to follow Cotton to Boston.  Though her motives were primarily religious, Anne recognized the business opportunities for her husband and children; moreover she was reassured by the backing of local gentry and “great Lords” such as Warwick, Say and Sele, and Brook.  The Hutchinsons emigrated in 1634 on board the Griffin, where Anne became the center of attention, prophesying and justifying her removal from England and the exposure of her children to the rigors of a “strange land” on the grounds that England was soon to be “plucked up by the roots and cast forth”–Thomas Hooker’s prophecy.  Already she had antagonized several fellow-passengers on the ship, Reverend Zachariah Symmes and William Bartholomew, having admitted to both, “Nothing great ever befel me that was not made known to me beforehand”; Symmes delayed her admission into the Boston church and Bartholomew later testified against her at her civil trial.

     Anne quickly assumed a position of social leadership in Boston, by then a farming village and commercial center of less than a thousand people.  Her merchant husband acquired grants of land in Wollaston and Dorchester (1636-37), first building a large home and shop in the style of an English farmhouse across from Governor Winthrop “at the very heart of things.”  Anne was “the most popular woman in the colony, more resorted to ‘for counsell and advice than any of the ministers,’“ according to Winthrop.  William Hutchinson prospered and was made Deputy to the General Court and Judge of the District Court while Anne socialized frequently with John Cotton (who shared the ministry of the Boston church with John Wilson), with other merchants, and with the attractive young Calvinist, mystic and seeker, Henry Vane, a Puritan aristocrat and briefly governor of the colony.

     But Anne was simultaneously laying the groundwork for religious heresy and persecution.  Her more “humble admirers” were acquired through her activities as “Lady Bountiful” serving as midwife, healer, and comforter to those with “homesick, aching hearts,” discussing their many “vexations” which included their husbands, the pressure of caring for “hordes of children,” the self-denial of the sumptuary laws, rules about the wearing of veils in church, the painful extremes of the New England climate, wolves, mosquitoes, and the unfamiliar diet.  Unlike ministers and husbands, Anne was a sympathetic listener, which allowed women to express their grievances freely.  Rugg also noted that Anne’s social standing was crucial in legitimating both her teachings and the complaints of women.  Within two years, she was “drinking that most heady of all wines, the deference of her associates.”  But worst of all, Anne was telling sick and dying women that if they loved Christ, and felt that love in their hearts, there was proof of salvation!  They had true religion and would be reunited with their children in heaven.

       By the fall of 1636, Anne had turned her home into a rival church and was dominating Boston social life; her famous weekly prayer meetings for women from all ranks originated, Rugg believed, in a rebuke from John Cotton.  Her mentor had noted her absence from a small evening prayer meeting at the home of a more humble neighbor.  After meditating upon her possible snobbery and the poverty of religious experience for silenced women, Anne opened her home to all women to rectify “the meagerness of social intercourse and sources of inspiration” from which they suffered.  By the time her brother-in-law, the minister John Wheelwright, arrived in Boston, May 1636, her now twice-weekly prayer meetings (one with men added by popular demand) were the major social and intellectual event in the colony.  Fifty to eighty people crowded her parlor and listened outdoors at the windows, including the Boston elite, male and female.  Increasingly, she expanded upon the mere repetition of Cotton’s sermons, adding her own commentary and even criticisms.  Complaining about her popularity, John Winthrop observed, “Hence many families were neglected and much time lost.”

      With Wheelwright on the scene, Anne urged that he be hired to assist John Cotton to “neutralize the effects of Wilson’s sermons….”  Like Anne and Henry Vane, Wheelwright believed that “the Holy Ghost actually dwells in the heart of every true Christian” and “sanctification is no evidence of justification.”  No outside authority evaluating the scrupulosity of a person’s life could know if that person was or was not a Christian.  It was at this time that Winthrop, writing his History of New England, first took note of Anne, for in October 1636 the religious dispute looked like a battle for control of the colony.  Anne pressed her friends to promote the appointment of Wheelwright as Cotton’s assistant; a motion was made at a church meeting.  Ex-Governor Winthrop and minister Wilson were arrayed against Governor Vane and Hutchinson, with Cotton remaining neutral though he had not previously opposed Wheelwright; Rugg believed that Cotton and Wheelwright held nearly identical views and both were less radical than Anne.  Winthrop conceived a face-saving plan to dispatch Wheelwright to the new church at Wollaston where Hutchinsonians held land.  Wheelwright accepted, but the Hutchinsonians, reluctantly acquiescing, were “offended” and the Wheelwright rejection became the main subject of Anne’s meetings, with “the whole town” absorbed in the controversy and “talking only of union with the Holy Ghost and sanctification.”  The home meetings kept growing while Anne became more overt in her criticisms of Wilson and more fearless in propounding her doctrines of “love,” “inner serenity,” and “assurance.”  Winthrop believed that nearly the entire Boston congregation was won over.  But Rugg felt that Anne needlessly exacerbated the conflict when she “let her too ready tongue run away with her” by declaring that only Cotton and Wheelwright were “sealed with the Covenant of Grace.”  When Wilson rose to give a sermon, Anne led a walkout, provoking the “scare-word” label “antinomian.”  The Hutchinsonians, like “Bolsheviks” in 1930, were “stamped” as a “peril,” evoking Familism, free love, and the disastrous Anabaptist experiment at Münster.

      The polarization of Boston is alternately avoidable and inevitable in Rugg’s account.  On the one hand, though Winthrop, Wilson, and Cotton were no “tolerationists,” they wanted the controversy hushed up to protect the Charter. [iii] Furthermore, the fuss was only a “red scare”; there was neither a concrete lower-class threat to the state nor a challenge to social control: the Antinomians were not libertines.  To Anne, morality was the inevitable fruit of a “believing heart,” not required “proof” of “holiness.”  Rugg is saying that there were no rationally opposed interests.  Rather, bored Bostonians enjoyed the excitement of dissension and Anne probably gloried in the scandal, what with all Boston debating Grace versus Works, and large numbers of them allied with her position.  On the other hand, there were opposed interests: Anne sincerely wanted the “harsh” “dogmatic” Wilson offset or neutralized, for he was making leaden the hearts of her female flock; at the same time, Wilson believed she was “working to oust him.”  Furthermore, the ministers were angry because “the shoe pinched,” and a mere woman, an inscrutable mystic, was obliterating their self-esteem.

      Rugg continues in this vein, describing irreconcilable conflict worsened by Hutchinsonian irrationality. Dissenters are bad because they destroy the cohesion that was never there. Such is the tortuous logic of corporatist liberalism.  Anne should have blurred boundaries to protect pluralism, not clarified doctrinal differences that polarized the (already polarized) colony.  Simultaneously Boston is blamed for doing the same. Anne is emotionally exhilarated, hence oblivious to the possible consequences to herself and her family.  First, the Winthrop faction launched a letter-writing campaign to win over John Cotton in the fall of 1636.  That winter, a meeting “calamitous” for Anne was held at Cotton’s home, assembling the “disgruntled clergy” of the colony, Governor Vane, the magistrates and Anne; Cotton would be the pacifying influence.  Anne was at first gracious, tactful and evasive when questioned about the ways she thought Cotton and Wheelwright differed from other clergy.  But under pressure from the minister Hugh Peter, she unwarily adhered to truth and duty.  Recalling Scripture (“the fear of man is a snare”), she widened the breach by candidly admitting that only Cotton (and presumably Wheelwright) preached the Covenant of Grace; then, in mystical and incomprehensible language, she likened all the rest to “the Apostles before the Resurrection, before they were sealed with the Seal of the Spirit.”  Cotton cut the meeting off and the ministers departed, some confused, some charmed, others insulted and all eventually nursing grudges.  By the meeting of the General Court in January 1637, party lines had hardened and only Cotton and Winthrop retained a conciliatory spirit.

       On Fast-Day, January 20, 1637, Winthrop noted that there were only two local causes for alarm: dangerous Indians (the Pequots) and “the dissensions in our churches.”  Both Cotton and Wheelwright preached, the latter’s sermon not provoking complaint at the moment of its delivery.  But also at this time, Anne’s followers were traveling about the colony, heckling ministers and diminishing her popularity outside Boston.  As part of a Winthrop plan to defeat Governor Vane at the next election, Wheelwright was scapegoated; his Fast-Day sermon severely criticized as incendiary and seditious.  To support him, sixty members of the Boston church signed a petition denying these allegations, but the Court, over Vane’s protests, ruled that the sermon tended to “cause disturbance” and moved the site of the May elections to Newtown, insuring Winthrop’s re-election.  Rugg saw Anne’s religious beliefs as widening and encompassing every antagonism in Massachusetts Bay: Boston versus the other towns; Wheelwright versus the clergy; young Vane against old Winthrop and Dudley; the colony versus England; a “potent” yet “unarticulate” class resentment of women and the poor against the magistrates; but most “penetrating and inclusive of all the differences,” the argument between “good hearts” and “good deeds” as hopes for salvation.

      As the narrative of “civil war” proceeds, Rugg portrays Anne as intent upon martyrdom and her following as volatile.  On Election Day, May 27, 1637, Governor Vane tried to revive the Hutchinsonian petition before the election commenced.  A “tumult” and brawl ensued with Deputy-Governor Winthrop forcing the election to proceed, insisting that Vane was out of order.  All the Hutchinsonians were voted out of office with Winthrop returned to power.  A “somewhat childish interchange of reprisals followed.” The Vane halberdiers refused to serve Winthrop; Vane and the merchant Coddington sat with the deacons, not the magistrates, in church; and Boston church members refused to fight in the Pequot War [initiated by the Connecticut Colony, May 1, intended to eliminate the Pequot threat; they had vowed to drive the English from the region].  The new General Court passed an immigration law excluding potential Hutchinsonians, further angering the populace; Henry Vane, Anne’s only civil supporter, left Boston, “glad to go.”  Soon Cotton changed and in six weeks, Wheelwright was banished.  Rugg attributes to Anne the belief that despite these reverses, “she alone, unaided, could uphold the doctrines she had taught.”  It was this irrationality that “makes martyrs.”

      Meanwhile, public excitement was “toning down” as people became less engaged with theatrics and more involved with farming.  Opinion soon softened toward the minister Wilson.  Cotton and Wilson reconciled and the Pequot War had been won without a single English casualty in battle–with Wilson, the preacher of Works, as chaplain in attendance [not true, two Englishmen had died]. [iv] A synod, the first Council of the Congregational Churches in America, was organized to uproot heresies, “clean up the colony and vindicate themselves as ‘able ministers.’”  The synod, held at Newton, lasted twenty-four days and was attended by ministers, lay delegates, magistrates, and Anne (who was not allowed to speak).  Eighty-two heresies were presented as a general smear, the ministers refusing to attach themselves to particular individuals or to allow the calling of witnesses.  This in turn prompted a walkout by some Bostonian men.  Anne was continually attacked, but not by name; women’s meetings were pronounced “disorderly” especially where a woman played minister; sermons were no longer to be discussed or questioned after delivery; church members who had theological differences with their ministers could not leave their churches unless the disagreements were “fundamental”; and worst of all, John Cotton (but not Wheelwright) apparently lined up with the enemy.

     The clerics and other Winthrop allies now moved quickly to purge the Hutchinsonians.  Of the three Hutchinsonian deputies in the General Court, only Coddington remained; Coggeshall and Aspinwall were removed and the new Court immediately banished Wheelwright.  The Court voted that “Mistress Hutchinson be summoned for traducing the ministers and their ministry in the country.”  The criminal trial commenced in Newton, November 1637; Anne admitted, gratuitously, to “immediate revelations,” thereby convicting herself.  At its conclusion, with Anne ordered banished and imprisoned, the halberdiers were disfranchised and fined twenty and forty pounds; all the signers of the Boston Petition were called before the Court and required to recant or be disfranchised; all of Boston’s powder and arms were transferred to Roxbury and Cambridge, and seventy-five men were disarmed out of fear of riot or “suddaine irruption” as might be inspired by “some revelation.” [v]

     On March 15, 1638, the clerics held an ecclesiastical “examination” to complete Anne’s public humiliation after months of fruitless attempts to make her recant while imprisoned at the home of the Roxbury merchant Joseph Weld.  Pregnant, exhausted, and ill, she finally recanted at her trial after prolonged badgering by John Cotton and other ministers, but according to Rugg, “lost her temper” and gave them the ammunition they needed to declare her recantation a lie and cast her out of the church into heathendom.  Of her former devoted female following (just chastised by Cotton) only the future Quaker martyr Mary Dyer rose to accompany Anne as she left the Boston Church.

       Rugg completes her biography with a horrific reconstruction of the massacre that finished Anne’s life, once again intimating that her fearlessness was more foolhardy than exemplary.  Anne’s melodrama ended in 1643 when, newly widowed, she removed with her younger children from Rhode Island (which she expected to fall within the baleful influence of Massachusetts Bay) to Pelham Bay.  This was Dutch-controlled territory where relations between the “greedy” Dutch settlers and local Indians were hostile.  During an apparent lull in the period which Rugg called one of “terror and havoc,” Anne convinced a reluctant carpenter to build her a home.  “Anne, with unfailing friendliness and missionary zeal, welcomed her new Indian neighbors” and tried to convert them.  When war broke out once again, all the white settlers fled to the fort, but Anne, who trusted the Indians, was “unafraid.”  She and all but one of her family were killed, possibly, Rugg speculated, because she was known to be a friend to Captain John Underhill, a banished Antinomian and leader of the (Providential) victory over the Pequots in 1637, now fighting for the Dutch.  Thomas Weld, minister, marked this new severity as a Providential vindication of his colony’s sagacity in punishing her.[vi]

     Rugg’s evaluation of Anne’s behavior during her two “trials” demonstrates the same ambivalence and analytic confusion she revealed earlier.  On the one hand, all but three of the deputies were against her from the outset; the ministers, except for the conciliatory Cotton (who, in Rugg’s view turned on her only after her confession of immediate revelations) were out for a conviction.  Winthrop, acting as both judge and prosecutor, was convinced that dissension was destroying the colony; therefore Hutchinson was either to be rescued or expelled.  She could relinquish her religious beliefs or leave, whatever the outcome of the “trial.”  The court had no charges that could stick, hence was forced to seize upon her spontaneous admission of being privy to the heresy of immediate revelations as justification for her punishment.  Yet, as her ally Coddington pointed out, she had broken no laws, and “words uttered in uplifted moments are not deserving of extreme punishment”; there was no equity here, he charged, but she was banished, imprisoned, and eventually excommunicated nonetheless.  On the other hand, Rugg had already shown that the disempowerment of the Hutchinsonians was a foregone conclusion.  Like more recent historians who have assumed that Cotton “saved” Anne by his testimony that there were no significant differences between Anne and other ministers (i.e., he blurred the boundaries), Rugg scolded Anne for giving the elders grounds for conviction: “Perhaps it was her feeling of elation over her apparent victory…a feeling of relief that lifted her out of all common sense; coupled with her incorrigible disposition to teach, impelling her to proclaim her experience with the enthusiasm her judges hated.”  Later, Rugg noted that even if Anne had been released, she would have pushed her position even more vigorously.[vii]

     While it is true that ministers and magistrates crowed over Anne’s providential admission of immediate revelations, the August 1637 synod had already crushed free speech and assembly (such as it was) where religion was concerned; the civil proceeding was at best a show trial.  Still Rugg maintains her belief in prudence, condemning the “extravagant practice” of Anne’s mysticism, while exonerating John Cotton from charges of dishonorable behavior:

“Roger Williams wrote bitterly of Cotton’s ‘fig-leaf evasions and distinctions,’ but there is something to be said for Cotton.  He was naturally a man of moderation and averse to exuberance.  It was distasteful to him to be made the spokesman of opinions that took on such guises that he revolted against them.  He cannot be blamed for not recognizing the children of his own brain after they had been stepfathered so zealously by the more fiercely partisan of Anne’s faction.” [viii]

   How the Hutchinsonians were simultaneously to save their skins and yet preserve their cherished religious beliefs (for some, grounded in close reading and freely expressed criticisms of illegitimate authority) is never explained.  And of course, Anne’s followers were not a coherent faction with identical economic interests.

     Rugg and her feminist contemporaries bequeathed to future readers a double and contradictory legacy.  First, she brought out the feminist dimension of the controversy, which suggested conflicts of interest between women and men.  She transmitted a strong sense of Hutchinson as the leader of an alternative and oppositional culture which did, to some degree, embolden women and threatened to inspirit others.  But by failing to reconstruct the full social and historical context, e.g., the need for upper-class unity in the face of potential servile revolts given legitimacy by the Reformation, she was unable to explain why “feminist” self-assertion was able to surface and become so fearsome.  She relied upon a non-explanation in describing Anne’s irrational behavior: she was irrational because she was hysterical; thus the social crisis of 1636-38 could somehow have been averted.  Perhaps had Puritan doctrinal rigidity been relaxed with a hot rum toddy of Thomism (boundaries blurred between Grace and Works), romantic revolt from below could have been averted.  There were no irreconcilable conflicts between men and women, clerics and laity, or between upper-class individuals and factions striving for dominance, and only spectral threats from below.

      Writing in response to the dramatic accounts of Augur and Rugg, the genealogist Reginald Pelham Bolton self-published a corrective biography, A Woman Misunderstood: Anne Wife of William Hutchinson (1931).  No lover of dissenters, Bolton both contrasted and conflated austere passion-stirring demagogues (like Anne’s father attacking ministers) with tolerant (yet critical) moderates like his ancestor Robert Bolton:

     “The progress of independent religious opinion, accelerated by the teachings of discontented preachers, and accentuated by the opportunity of perusal of the newly translated Bible, led to widespread religious dissension and extended into political unrest…

     “Her father’s derogatory attitude and his hostility towards the preachers of the day were conducive to a spirit of criticism on the part of a daughter, who seems to have inherited a good measure of his combative spirit and inflexible nature.  As quoted by my ministerial relative, the evangelical preacher, Robert Bolton, during Anne’s life at Alford, he wrote and printed this opinion of some of his fellow clergy in the following uncompromising terms: “Self-preaching Men-pleasers, selfe seeking and Soul murthering Dawbers who blunt and rebate the edge of the sword of the Spirit with dawbing flattery.”  You could have little confidence in the pronouncements or teachings of a minister unless he could clear himself of that accusation, and prove to your soul’s satisfaction that he was not a “Dawber” and was not “preaching with a variety of human learning, tricks of wit, Frier like conceits,” when on the contrary he should be engaged in “beating down Sinne and battering the bulwarks of the Divell.”

    ” If Anne had lived a little nearer Broughton than Boston, she might have fallen under the influence of Robert Bolton, denouncer of deceit and preacher of a “Comfortable walking with God,” rather than the specious John Cotton, and in that case we should have had no Antinomian controversy in New England, and Anne would have died in her bed, unknown to history (17-18).

   Like Anne’s, the personality of the treacherous trimmer John Cotton has been determined by the father, in his case a cunning attorney (another amoral, legalistic, switching Jew?).  In other words, “Anne Wife of William Hutchinson” was a woman under the influence of the wrong man; Robert Bolton and his descendant could have set her straight.  Given the lamentable inability of the lower orders to read metaphors without excitement, her female propensities would inflame an otherwise soluble set of conflicts: “Her Nemesis was her infatuation for eloquent men like Cotton and Whelewright.  Womanlike, she placed them on a pedestal, only to see them fall shattered.  Her spiritual exaltation generated enthusiasm and romanticism, which carried her beyond their teachings, and was communicated to others by her great personal influence (15).”

The congregationalists upon whom New World clerical patronage unhappily and precariously rested (34) could not be trusted.  Most crucially, the Tory Bolton revealed an unspoken irrationalist assumption of much writing about imperceptive Puritans.  Neither Anne nor her brother-in-law intended to foment rebellion; it was always a case of mistaken identity:

“The weapons of our warfare,” [Whelewright] said, “are not carnal, they are spiritual.”  But his hearers were probably less enlightened than he, and his opponents seized upon such phrases as “If we will not fight for the Lord Jesus Christ, Christ may come to be surprized,” and “we must put on the whole armor of God and must have our loins girt and be ready to fight.”  Such incitements are so much in harmony with the inherent pugnacity of mankind that they lose their impersonal character with the unthinking crowd.  There is general applause when a military band plays “Onward Christian Soldiers.”  So it is not surprising that his adjurations were misjudged.

     “To Anne it was an inspiring address, but it threw down the gauntlet to her already jealous theological opponents.  It took but little twisting of its meaning to make it appear an incentive to sedition and to violence.  It further concentrated attention on the “Antinomians,” as Anne and Whelewright were by now termed, and convinced them in prejudiced minds, of being “above and adverse to the law of Mosaic code.”  So whether Anne had influenced her brother-in-law or not, she received the chief reactions of the occurrence. [end, Bolton quotes, more below]

    Bolton’s title “Misjudged” gets clearer and clearer.  Synthesizing his views with the other genealogist Helen Augur, we may conclude that the lower orders are too literal, mistaking highly mediated texts (metaphors) for calls to revolution.  The uppity Winthrop derived from mediocre tradesmen (Augur pp.34-35), is unable to control his carping jealousy and prejudice [the will to power] and so cannot read the superior Anne and her merchant allies as assets to the community: the decapitating middle-class (personified in Winthrop) has doomed the hapless poor to hopelessness and discontent (81).  But Anne too was blind: womanlike, hence a bit mad, the romantic, hypercritical, introspective Anne herself has misjudged the effect her incendiary statements would have upon the commonweal.  As the grand climax, Anne’s distorted idealizing vision in combination with “hostile and dogmatic theocrats” (the inexperienced leaders who had misjudged her), would propel her toward the ghastly dénouement in Dutch-controlled territory:

“Cast out by [bad] decisions into entirely uncontrolled unorthodoxy, she became a center of unregulated opinions and beliefs, which still menaced the security of the clergy.  Their continued efforts, first, to conciliate her, and that failing, to dislodge her from her refuge in Rhode Island, were productive of the fright that finally overcame her resolution and drove her into the unforeseen dangers by which she and her unfortunate children perished.  The precarious situation in which she eventually placed herself and her family becomes explicable by knowledge of those circumstances which impelled her at that time to involve herself in such imminent danger and at the same to deprive her family of any effective means of defense.

    ” In regard to the immediate cause of her death, she was as much a victim of blind ignorance on the part of the natives, who included her in their general hatred of the white people, as of their innate savagery.

     “Christian ministers, fellow-believers in the gospel, and members of her own church terrified and hounded her into the situation which resulted in her death, and ignorant natives destroyed in her one of their few understanding friends.

     “She was a woman greatly misunderstood, misjudged, and mistreated [Bolton, ix].

   How could white people act like this?  Thirty years later, Emery Battis embroidered Bolton’s cautionary tale with a rampant red thread of female rudderlessness.  In other words, Bolton and his old-stock confrères are warning upper-class husbands to watch out for their very own newly enfranchised upper-class wives, biologically determined toward romantic shipwreck without kindly and empathic, but firm, male direction.

   The remainder of this paper examines more recent writers who have made gender conflict and personality the focus of their studies.  How precisely have they analyzed the significance of Anne’s class position, her politics, the character of the religious culture she represented, and the degree of legitimacy enjoyed by husbands, ministers, and magistrates within different social groups in the Massachusetts Bay Colony of the mid-1630s? Will their interpretations be based on material conflicts of interest or foolish miscalculation by leaders of warring groups of white people?  To what degree have they transmitted earlier nativist judgments that seem so crude to readers in today’s “multicultural” environment?


12. Winnifred King Rugg, Unafraid: A Life of Anne Hutchinson (Cambridge, 1930): 2, 3.  Samuel Eliot Morison reviewed Rugg’s book along with biographies by Helen Augur and Edith Curtis in New England Quarterly 3 (April 1930), describing Rugg as a “member of Boston’s sporting intelligentsia,” and finding Anne Hutchinson “more tedious, the more often her story is told.” But he compared Rugg’s book favorably with other works under review: Rugg’s biography, “though somewhat sentimental, is the most careful and fair-minded.”  She could see the point of view of the Winthrop faction.  He also noted that Hutchinson was no advocate of toleration. “There was nothing in her creed that would have given New England more love, beauty, or civility.  There was much in it that would have inaugurated an era of hot-gospelling and holy-rolling” (358-359).

13. Rugg, Prologue, Chapter I, passim.

14. This was a judgment similar to that of the nineteenth-century historian George E. Ellis, The Puritan Age and Rule in the Colony of the Massachusetts Bay 1629-1685 (Philadelphia: Burt Franklin Press reprint 1970): 300-362.  The Puritans were protecting their image in England.  Ellis’ focuses on the tumultuous aspects of the affair, owing to the fact that “comparisons and personalities were the raw material of strife; and some persons other than the wholly illiterate began to use words new to them.”  Most people were unable to follow the debates “with any clear mental apprehension” (309); he reiterates the point on p. 322. Ellis also draws a distinction between Boston and the country towns, hinting that mass political emotions were a phenomenon of commercial cities.

15. See Major Mason, Brief History of the Pequot War, with an Introduction and some explanatory notes by Rev. Thomas Prince (Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, reprint 1971): 9.  According to Mason, there were two killed and twenty wounded during the assault upon the Pequot fort at Mistic, Connecticut.

16. See the Colony Records quoted by John Savage, The History of New England (Boston, 1825): 247-248, footnote.  The source specifically mentioned the German (Anabaptist) revolt.

17. By this point Rugg’s psychological diagnoses have undermined her feminist analysis that had acknowledged the real grievances of women.  Compare her description of the trial with Erikson’s and Morgan’s: Kai Erikson wrote “Perhaps she wanted to take advantage of the momentary confusion; perhaps her high sense of theater got the better of her. Or perhaps deviants of her kind are compelled by some inner urgings to make a “profession” of feelings which their judges can only receive as “confession….” (97).  Cf. Edmund Morgan, The Puritan Dilemma: The Story of John Winthrop (Boston, 1958): 143, 151.  Morgan described Hutchinsonians as “nihilists” and “religious fanatics…not content to march quietly along their short cut to heaven.”  On the turning point in the trial: “…the revered Mr. Cotton had knocked out the props from under the only remaining charge.  The triumph was too much.  Hitherto Mrs. Hutchinson had been on guard and had dextrously parried every thrust against her.  Had she been content to hold her tongue at this point, the judges might have felt obliged to dismiss her with a censure.  But instead she now proceeded to justify herself by a torrent of divine revelations.  Winthrop tried to stop her, but the floodgates were opened–perhaps by hysteria.  Suddenly he must have seen where this outpouring might lead and was silent.”

18. See David Hall, Antinomian Controversy, 200, fn4.  The first edition of John Winthrop’s Short Story….(1644) was entitled Antinomians and Familists Condemned by the Synod of Elders in New-England; with the Proceedings of the Magistrates Against Them, And their Apology for the same.  Weld ordered Winthrop’s documents, wrote a preface and changed the title to John Winthrop: A Short Story of the Rise, reign and ruine of the Antinomians, Familists, and Libertines, that infected the Churches of New England.  It was published in England as the “Antinomian sects” were beginning to appear.  This indicates that the Hutchinsonians’ fate was sealed at the Synod; the trial could not have reversed the tide.

19. Compare Perry Miller, The New England Mind from Colony to Province (Cambridge, 1953): 58-60, with Larzer Ziff, The Career of John Cotton (Princeton U.P., 1962): 49, 147 with regard to John Cotton’s character.  Where Miller saw “a feeble reed” “beaten down by practical men,” Ziff portrayed him as cautious, prudent and judicious.  Michael Colacurcio has argued that Cotton’s behavior during the Antinomian controversy was sufficiently complicated to inspire Hawthorne, who recreated his dilemma in The Scarlet Letter,  see fn. above.

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