The Clare Spark Blog

January 8, 2014

The Frontiersman/Settler as all-purpose scapegoat

JacksonAs everyone knows who has followed this website, I have been trying to separate the early progressives from the post-New Left progressives, all the while noting shifts in the Leninist line. I have used changes in the teaching of the humanities as my guide to larger cultural shifts.

During the last week, I have been slogging through Sydney E. Ahlstrom’s A Religious History of the American People (Vol1 Yale UP, 1972, Doubleday, 1975, second ed. Yale UP: 2004). It is the most boring possible book, more of antiquarian interest than historical interest, because Ahlstrom, a Yale professor of note, followed Max Weber’s lead, and stigmatized “economic determinism” as reductionist. So the reader is subjected to such notions as “the American character”, “the American mind” and “Puritanism” (especially the English variety) as the primary source of evil in the settling of the American continent. Indeed, Ahlstrom, seemingly attached to the medieval order,  trashes the Radical Reformation and the English Civil War, failing to note that puritanism changed its concrete content depending on what social movement it was attached to.

In my series on the Anne Hutchinson historiography (, or, I quoted from an unpublished paper by UCLA professor Robert Brenner in part four on the subject of historicizing puritanism:

“…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.”

This interaction of economic interest and culture is what I have attempted to trace throughout the website, distinguishing between “moderate” Enlighteners (i.e., social democrats) and the more materialist figures, whether these be on the Left or Right. By contrast, Ahlstrom’s book positions itself in the timeless Center. He welcomes the Enlightenment and science, but splits the difference, praising John Locke for his book The Reasonableness of Christianity.  What Ahlstrom detests is of course Indian killing, slavery, and uncouth religious revivalism on the frontiers, along with their uncertified lay preachers and circuit riders. Since these are labeled extremists and weirdos (along with women-led movements such as temperance), one can assume that we are in the territory of the moderate men, especially since Yale professor David Brion Davis is singled out for outstanding scholarship. Along with Ahlstrom, Davis had written an article condemning the anti-Catholicism of the mid 19th Century, when German and Irish immigrants poured into the still expanding continent. Indeed, “ethnicity” is Ahlstrom’s major analytic category.

Opinion on the Jacksonians drastically changed in the US field since the days of Claude Bowers (a racist Democratic politician: see  Such luminaries as Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and numerous other historians looked  to the Jacksonians as defenders of the Common Man, the stalwart enemy to bankers and other exploitative elites.

But all that changed with the ripening of the New Left, aroused by the civil rights movements and opposition to the war in Viet Nam.  My late friend and Forest Hills High School classmate Michael Rogin made a huge splash and engendered much controversy when he published his “Marxist “ “psychohistory”  Fathers and Children: Andrew Jackson and the Subjugation of the American Indian (Knopf, 1975). Rogin’s argument apparently lined up with critics of US imperialism such as William Appleman Williams, but the latter attacked Rogin’s thesis. (See Rogin’s response to Williams here:

Michael Rogin

Michael Rogin

Rogin pulled together all the 1960s major themes:  the monomaniac Jackson (another Captain Ahab) committed genocide against the native Americans, providing a model for future adventures in white domination, militarism, and violence. About this time, we renewed our friendship, and Rogin supported my work at Pacifica and at the Yankee Doodle Society. I know how shocked he was at the reception of his book, and also that he was in a friendly correspondence with David Brion Davis of Yale, who had taught American intellectual history at Cornell while I was still there, decades earlier. What I did not see at the time was that the turn toward ethnicity (as opposed to class) was a calculated response to the red specter, made worse by the Soviet upheavals in 1905 and 1917. (For an example, see quotes from Horace Kallen here:

Rogin also recommended that I read Richard Slotkin’s Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier (Wesleyan U. Press, 1973). It was the same attack on popular Protestant religion in the 19th century that had earlier been mounted by D. B. Davis and Sydney Ahlstrom.

It was Lenin, not Marx, who criticized the imperialists, for him these were generically the international Jewish conspiracy of finance capital, as publicized by J. A. Hobson.  (By contrast, Marx hoped that the workers and their allies in the advanced industrial democracies made possible by the progressive bourgeoisie, would lead the way to socialist revolution. He was not anti-American, but rather praised the Northern victory in the Civil War as a great achievement.)

Why is this relevant today? The Leninist Left and the Social Democratic Left seem to have merged sometime after the 1960s upheavals, but they drew upon longstanding efforts by “progressives” to fend off the red specter, with the Left upholding Popular Front antifascist politics. Today, white males are seen as the enemy by the reigning academics in the humanities: like Ahlstrom’s frontiersmen they are individualistic, self-reliant, overly emotional, antinomian, ecocidal, racists, sadistic killers (Cormac McCarthy’s targets in Blood Meridian? or see, and probably given to (communitarian) country music, even some rock and roll. And white males (especially those in the wild South and West) are the chief villains of US history, and of course comprise the unregenerate population of the Republican Party and the even more unspeakably “anti-Christian” conservative movement. For a related blog see

Jackson swatting Indian

Jackson swatting Indian

May 15, 2010

Blog Index to Anne Hutchinson series

From the feedback I got on this series, there is nothing even slightly resembling it in print. It is long, so I broke it into four segments. The second section takes you by the hand to understand how Anne H. got into trouble with the establishment, so skip if you are already familiar with the chronology. Has footnotes, and I am proud of it. If you get through it, you might understand better why I wrote the blog “Evil Puritans” linked here: Anne Hutchinson was the perfect autodidact, strong woman, and prefiguration of free market economics. The literature about her is wildly misogynistic, including Hawthorne’s sketch of “The Woman” that one scholar (the brave Michael Colacurcio) has linked to The Scarlet Letter, with the “A” standing for Anne Hutchinson. Since primary sources (as opposed to rumors) are scarce for AH, I focus on the distortions visited upon her career by liberal 20th century sociologists and historians. 

And for a related blog on fear of The Woman, see “Who shall educate the educators?”

April 5, 2010

Is POTUS Crazy?

Edgar Allan Poe

[I am adding this query to what was a popular blog: If Obama is actually suffering from a narcissistic disorder, what might be the effect of close advisors stepping down? What would be the effect of substantial Republican gains on November 2?  For a follow-up blog that quotes this one see]

Roger Simon, CEO of Pajamas Media, posted his article “President Weirdo” on April 3, 2010, postulating the Obama’s conduct suggested a serious personality disorder. It generated 263 or more comments, some of them exhibiting great fear of what may lie in store for us. I posted Roger’s article on my Facebook page, and was reminded that Charles Krauthammer, trained in psychiatry, had also mentioned that Obama was narcissistic,* while Michael Callis, another of my Facebook friends, a professional psychologist, thinks that Obama may be a “malignant narcissist.” By contrast, Victor Davis Hanson wrote a piece, published in Pajamas Media today, on Obama as a postmodernist (i.e., as a Third World ideologue), without additional commentary as to his possibly pathological mental states.  Still other highly visible opponents of Obama (Glenn Beck for instance) continue to see him as a Leninist/progressive with an agenda derived from community organizer Saul Alinsky. (The latter two diagnoses are close to democratic leftist law professor and blogger Stephen Diamond, who comments on the “social justice” mafia pushing identity politics as Obama’s chief allies. Cf., posted today, April 8).

This blog will try to place these diagnoses in an historical context, and comment too on the uncertainties that historians face when describing the personalities of great men and women.

It was not long ago when psychohistory was all the rage in political science and history circles. Figures such as Michael Rogin (authors of studies of Nixon, Reagan, and Andrew Jackson) and Peter Loewenberg became celebrities in their respective fields. But by the time I hit graduate school at UCLA in 1983, such studies were thought to be ridiculously reductive. I remember (Trotskyist) Professor Robert Brenner, with (social democratic) Professor Loewenberg in attendance, telling his seminar that in his view, putting all your analytic eggs on relationships in the family of origin was absurd. And before this instance, Philip Rieff took  Freud to task for ignoring history as the engine for human conduct. Similarly, professional psychiatrists, epistemological materialists that they are,  tend now to dispense medication for problems ranging from anxiety attacks to schizophrenia.

Psychoanalysis is often mocked as the ineffectual and expensive “talking cure,” while clinical psychologists are as divided among themselves as to clinical method as are psychoanalysts, with their famous internal debates between Kleinians, Jungians, orthodox Freudians, neo-Freudians, eclectics, etc.     So it takes a lot of self-confidence for someone without a Dr. after his name to propose that the President of the United States might be possessed of mental states that are dangerous to our national and personal security.  I am siding with Roger Simon here, perhaps because I am defending my own work as an intellectual historian along with his and that of every honorable artist. Although existentialists and their postmodern descendants will scoff at his/my (bourgeois) hubris, if you can’t think yourself into another person’s head, if you cannot piece together a history of thoughts and actions in your subject, then you have nothing to say, and nothing to give to the world but received opinions and other official platitudes. You might as well put down your pen and find a job that earns you an honest living.

The suggestion that POTUS might be a “malignant narcissist” is particularly intriguing to me. And here is where one might be able to collapse all the competing narratives as to Obama’s mental states into one historical explanation.  Read the Wikipedia article on that diagnosis, and note that “malignant narcissism” is not in DSM-IV, though narcissistic personality disorder is, and narcissism is a feature of other personality disorders as the authors of DSM-IV defined them. It is conceivable to me that Obama’s family history (especially the abandonment by his father and who-knows-what-relationships with his doting mother and doting grandparents), set him up to be the perfect candidate for ambitious politicians in Chicago, who could count on the incoherent constituencies of the Democratic Party (big labor, public sector employees, cultural nationalist minorities, dependents of the welfare state, feminists, gays, veterans of the civil rights movement, wealthy liberal Jews, post60s academics and journalists, liberal internationalists, environmentalists) to be taken in by his charisma and passionate promises for a national healing that would reconcile the irreconcilable demands and interests of  his base, an equally apocalyptic change inside the Washington  Beltway, and an avowedly anti-imperialist foreign policy. It makes sense too, in explaining his obvious rage at being criticized and blocked, to suspect that his “narcissistic supplies” are threatened. As for the grandiosity that characterizes the narcissist and other would-be healers or “moderates”, such a high opinion of himself attracts others who aspire to greatness and a cohesive human community, and who therefore tend to idealize him and overlook his contradictory statements and broken promises–for he could not and can not please the diverse elements of the base that elected him and continues to support him.

I recall that one analyst of pathological narcissism (Kohut? Kernberg? Klein?) mentions the coexistence of grandiosity and emptiness that exists simultaneously in the same breast.  If you read the Wikipedia article, note that the more power the malignant narcissist gets, the more dangerous he becomes, and the more paranoid. Even if you do not find this suggestion of a pathological personality disorder to be persuasive, and prefer an ideological explanation instead (“transnational progressivism,” postmodern anti-imperialism, crypto-Leninism), there is no way to please everyone in a “mixed economy” that depends on redistribution alone to stave off “disruption” or worse. One must step outside the premises of progressivism with its incoherence and double binds (see in which I criticize JG for not seeing the double bind inflicted by the authoritarian liberals who are at bottom organic conservatives averse to rupture, though they do not call themselves that).

In closing, I must add that when I read Obama’s first book in early 2008, I became alarmed and suspicious, for it was obvious to me as a reader that there was not one coherent voice in the narrative (could there be, given the diverse interests of his audience?), and moreover, that he could not possibly have remembered all the incidents from his childhood in such detail. In the acknowledgments, he thanks his mother for refreshing his memory and helping him with the writing (tell me, reader, if I am wrong). I should also say that all the opinions expressed in this blog are provisional and speculative, but then so is medicine and its related fields in mental health. But without the power of such free thought, tireless in its search for clues, we are mindless followers, not citizens. Hail to thee, Roger L. Simon, C. Auguste Dupin, Captain Ahab, John Milton (!), Sigmund Freud, and all those other Prometheans who have leaped from light into darkness.

*Obama was described as “narcissistic” by David Remnick in his Jon Stewart interview,  4-8-10. Remnick’s bio is entitled The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama. Has anyone commented on the odd title? Is Obama the Savior who has rescued America from right-wing materialism and racism? There is narcissism and narcissism. One definition of healthy narcissism refers to the ability to soothe oneself without “supplies” from the outer world. But for centuries the myth of Narcissus was deployed by organic thinkers to stigmatize the dissenting individual/mad scientist, who was deemed indifferent to Echo (the call of community and social responsibility). Think Dollhouse; think Flash Forward.

[Added, Dec.15, 2010: Narcissistic personality disorder is being dropped from DSM-V. We don’t know why. Has Obama become more dangerous since November 2 as his narcissistic supplies fade away? Dinesh D’Souza diagnoses him as a post-colonialist; Dick Morris sees him as a conventional social democrat (not a communist). His most left-leaning base is predicting a one-term presidency. And I continue to be baffled, but most impressed by the incoherence of both political parties, and his erratic behavior, moving from committed radical to “centrist” compromiser as opportunistic and a sign of his determination to stay in power. Meanwhile, Robert Reich calls for a vast new statist initiative to reinstate the WPA, rebuild the country’s infrastructure, financed with a perfectly reasonable 70 % federal income tax on the idle, non-consuming enough rich. Thorstein Veblen, where are you when we need you?

I had a thought that was cut off on Facebook. All this speculation about Obama’s mental states sells books and rivets audience to the great mystery of his personality. I say, go back to the coalitions that comprise both major parties and ask yourself how you could please everyone in your party if you were president. The No Label, neo-moderate solution is yet another evasion of the conflicting interests that have always characterized our democracy, and that no amount of compromise can resolve. We are not yet fully modern. Remnants of tribalism, antiquity, and feudalism remain undefeated and there is little agreement on what is truly “modern.”

Is the essence of modernity irrationalism? I hope not.

September 29, 2009

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

Filed under: 1 — clarelspark @ 10:43 pm
Tags: , , , ,

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)

Create a free website or blog at