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October 6, 2007 -- Vol.12, No.1

Radical Puritanism ‘Rediscovered’: Elements and Legacies of Extremism and Anti-Egalitarianism
by Milan Zafirovski

The paper approaches and reexamines Protestant Puritanism in terms of political extremism or radicalism. The paper argues and demonstrates Puritanism as an English-American offspring of Calvinism represents political extremism or radicalism, interlinked and mutually reinforced with its moral-religious absolutism. It ‘rediscovers’ Puritanism as an extreme or radical, anti-egalitarian  and authoritarian rather than, as widely assumed, moderate, egalitarian and democratic type of politics and ideology, just as relatedly an absolutist morality and religion. It does by exploring Puritanism’s elements and legacies of political extremism or radicalism, including anti-egalitarianism, in historically Puritan societies, especially America and in part Great Britain. The paper explores and places Puritan political and other extremism and anti-egalitarianism within a comparative-historical framework of Western societies and the 16th-21st century. It aims to contribute to the existing sociological and other literature by contributing to a better understanding of Puritanism’s role and legacy in Western societies, primarily America.

The present paper re-conceptualizes and reanalyzes Puritanism in terms of political extremism. It contends and shows that Puritanism constitutes a species of political extremism or radicalism, an extreme or radical type of politics and ideology, in conjunction and mutual reinforcement with its being moral-religious absolutism (Munch 2001) or absolutist morality and religion. To wit, the paper suspects and explores that Puritanism is ‘pure’, ‘purist’ or ‘purified’ only in its political extremism and so authoritarianism, just as its moral-religious absolutism, as distinguished from moderation and democracy in politics, as well as relativism or pluralism in morality and religion.

Alternatively, it suspects and assumes that Puritanism is political and other extremism and authoritarianism primarily because it is a special (Protestant) version of what economist Keynes would call purism in politics (including economic policy) and society overall on the implied assumption of ‘purist’ as ‘extremist’ or ‘absolutist’, including, as J.S. Mill specifically suggests by identifying ‘fanatical’ Puritan intolerance, ‘intolerant’. In short, suspicion is strong and the assumption is reasonable (logical at least) that Puritanism by being by definition ‘purist’ in Keynes’ sense is inherently extremist or absolutist, notably ‘intolerant’, and simply it cannot be otherwise.

            The paper ‘acts’ on this suspicion and examines the assumption of Puritanism as intrinsic political and other social extremism due to its defining ‘purism’ in politics and society overall. It does by exploring the elements and legacies of political extremism or radicalism, as intertwined and mutually reinforced with those of moral-religious absolutism, in Puritanism as the English-American extension of ‘disciplinary’ European Calvinism (Gorski 1993). In particular, it situates and analyzes these Puritan elements and legacies within a comparative-historical framework involving Western Europe, Great Britain and America (particularly, New England) from the late 16th to the early 21st century.

The paper proceeds as follows. It first redefines the concept of ‘Puritanism’ and specifies its meaning in the present context. Then it reexamines the relationship between Puritanism and political extremism or radicalism. This is followed by examining how Puritanism relates to political and other anti-egalitarianism considered a special facet or correlate of extremism or radicalism in politics and society. It lastly provides concluding remarks.


‘Puritanism’ Redefined

Before proceeding to explore its elements and legacy of political extremism, it is perhaps useful to redefine the concept and specify the meaning of ‘Puritanism’ in this study. As hinted above, the specific definition and meaning of “Puritanism”, to use the respective descriptions by Weber, Tocqueville and Simmel, refers to “ascetic”, “austere” (“puritanical”) and “orthodox” Protestantism. More specifically, “Puritanism” is defined and understood as continental “European Calvinism” or French Reformer Calvin’s “Reformed Church” transferred from France (and Geneva) as its original home to initially Great Britain and subsequently via the Pilgrim emigration America, alongside the rest of Europe, particularly Holland and Germany (Prussia) (Gorski 1993; Hsia and Nierop 2002; Munch 1981; Sprunger 1982). In short, “Puritanism” is the English-American transplant and designation of French Calvinism as the form of the Protestant Reformation in France (Elwood 1999; Heller 1986). For instance, ‘in England Calvinists [cum Puritans] deposed and executed a king and temporarily abolished the monarchy’ (Elwood 1999:171) to establish a ‘Holy Commonwealth’. In America (e.g. New England) Calvinists, self-designated as American Puritans, similarly created a ‘Biblical Commonwealth’ after Calvin’s ‘Genevese model of the civitas Dei where the Church dominates the state’ (Frijhoff 2002:47).

In this sense, this study specifically operates with the Protestant-Calvinist version and meaning of “Puritanism” in view of the observation that most great religious systems in history, from Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism to Judaism, early Christianity and Islam, “have all been religions of restraint” (Bell 1977:431) or simply “Puritan”. Hence, by “original Puritanism” is meant Calvinism transferred and occasionally and slightly transformed in Great Britain and America in the form of early English-American Puritan ideas, institutions and practices, as exemplified in Congregationalism and  “Independents” (Cromwell et al.) in old and New England, plus Presbyterianism in Scotland and later the new world. For the sake of this analysis, “original Puritanism” and “Calvinism” are used, as also Weber, Sombart, Tawney and other sociologists (e.g. Munch 1981; Sprunger 1982) do, as equivalent and interchangeable (though they can be, and sometimes are, analytically distinguished on theological and other, including historical and geographical, grounds, viz. as late, “Anglo-Saxon” and early, “European” creations, respectively). For example, Weber cites “Independents, Congregationalists, Baptists, Mennonites, and Quakers” as early Calvinist-Puritan groups in 17th century Europe (e.g. Germany, Holland), England and America.

            In addition to its original and specific Calvinist form and meaning, Puritanism has certain historical derivatives, functional equivalents, comparative generalizations or proxies, and so additional derivative meanings. These involve what Weber and contemporary sociologists (Lipset 1996; Munch 2001) describe as Protestant sectarianism or fundamentalism, specifically evangelicalism (Smith 2000), continuing the Puritan tradition (Dunn and Woodard 1996) and being especially predominant in America’s history and society. For example, such forms of Protestant sectarianism and evangelicalism (Boles 1999) include, in a chronological order, early proto-Puritan Presbyterianism (viewed as the original Puritan type) and Puritan-rooted Baptism (all variants) and late-Puritan Methodism (initial forms or what Spencer calls the “schism of the Methodists”).

In this sense, these forms, especially Baptism and Methodism as what Weber calls the respective, continental and English moralist and emotional revivals or intensifications of original Puritanism, including Congregationalism and Presbyterianism, can be considered Puritan derivatives or kinds of neo-Puritanism (to be distinguished from proto-Puritanism or Calvinism) by analogy to what Weber calls “neo-Calvinism”. In particular, Southern Baptism with its substitutes and allies, including surviving and self-described Calvinist groups, in contemporary America, especially the “Southern Bible Belt”, is widely regarded and described as an exemplar or indicator of neo-Puritanism or neo-Calvinism in the generalized sense and form of Protestant sectarianism or evangelicalism (Lipset 1996; Munch 2001).

In spite of that, or perhaps because, virtually no religion or church in America and elsewhere calls itself “Puritan” any longer, though curiously some US as well as European (Dutch and Swiss) religious groups still designate themselves as “Calvinist”, the term “neo-Puritanism” or “neo-Calvinism” is adopted to indicate this essential continuity between original Calvinist Puritanism and subsequent, contemporary Puritan-rooted Protestant sectarianism or evangelicalism in American society, at least the South (as the “Bible Belt” seems to imply). In this sense, one can simply say, paraphrasing Weber (and the British Queen adage), “Puritanism as the name is caput mortuum (“nearly dead”), yet long live “Puritanism” as the perennial idea, institutional system, legacy or revival”, especially in America. 

            Negatively, it is perhaps also instructive to specify what is not understood by “original Puritanism” in this context: for example, Lutheranism and (“mild”) Anglicanism considered by Weber the “least ascetic” types of Protestantism and other, in Simmel's words, liberal or moderate (also Munch 1981; 2001) non-Calvinist Protestant groups. One of these groups includes Quakers analyzed in sharp conceptual and historical contrast to Puritans by some US sociologists (Baltzell 1979; Klausner 1998), albeit classified by Weber under early “Puritanism” (cf. also Sprunger 1982).

Similarly, by “neo-Puritanism” is not meant, alongside European Lutheranism and Anglicanism or Episcopalism in America, contemporary Presbyterianism (despite being a form of original Puritanism), Methodism (a subsequent Puritan revival or intensification) and other moderate, mainstream or liberal Protestantism (Martin 2002), as distinguished from its sectarian, fundamentalist or conservative counterparts epitomized by (Southern) Baptism and its ramifications and allies in the US Bible Belt (Bauman 1997) and beyond. In sum, what is in the name “Puritanism” is the original English-American rendition and adaptation of Calvinism, as well as subsequent sectarian and evangelical Protestantism (Baptism) as the Puritan-Calvinist contemporary functional equivalent and legacy, i.e. simply “neo-Puritanism” or neo-Calvinism.


Puritanism and Political Extremism

This section presents relevant historical and comparative evidence for Puritanism’s political extremism, including radicalism and absolutism, intolerance in politics, total control, coercion and repression, repressive laws and Draconian sanctions, and the like.  


Puritanism and Political Radicalism

First and foremost, original Puritanism was and continues, via its derivatives, to be a species of political, just as moral-religious, radicalism and absolutism, as Weber and in part Tocqueville before observe and emphasize. Thus, Weber categorizes Puritanism under “radical Calvinism” and to that extent the “staunchest” or most extreme ascetic-sectarian Protestantism. Further, he points to original English-American Puritanism’s “uncompromising” radicalism—by analogy to “unexampled” tyranny--in politics and society derived from its theological original in European Calvinism. Similarly, Tawney (1962:204) finds that original English and subsequently American Puritanism originated and operated basically as political-religious “radicalism” and to that extent extremism.

Specifically, Puritanism was and remained extremely non-conformist, radical and uncompromising, even revolutionary while not politically and religiously dominant, just as radically or rigidly  and extremely conservative whenever in power or, as Mill puts it, “sufficiently powerful”—i.e. both revolutionary and conservative radicalism or extremism [1] . This is what Tawney (1962:212) precisely suggests by identifying “in Puritanism an element which was conservative and traditionalist, and an element which was revolutionary”, apparently considering both elements as forms or dimensions of radicalism broadly understood to include not, as usually done, revolution, including what Pareto calls a “revolutionary knighthood”, [2] but also radical or extreme conservatism, so political extremism. It is also what some contemporary economists imply by categorizing US Puritan-style neo-conservatives like Winthrop-enamored Reagan (e.g. the “shining city upon a hill”) et al. (e.g. “fallen angel” Newt Gingrich) into the “rigid and uncompromising” category of US presidents and politicians, or simply “extremists” in sharp contrast to their less puritanical counterparts (George Bush I and Bill Clinton) as “flexible moderates” (Blomberg and Harrington 2000).

Also, more recent sociological and historical research elaborates on and documents original Puritan political radicalism, absolutism and sectarianism in old and New England. For illustration, a sociological study suggests that “politically radical Puritanism” (Goldstone 1986:293; also Moore 1993) formed a component and dominant element, as the agent provocateur, of the English Revolution or Civil War of the mid 17th century, while, predictably, as Comte predicts, evolving into what he calls retrograde conservatism once victorious, as happened during the 1640s-60s punctuated by Cromwell’s holy wars or crusades against “infidels” (Gorski 2000), notably Catholicism and popery (Goldstone 1986), and theocratic “godly politics” through the “Parliament of Saints” (Zaret 1989).

Another sociological analysis suggests that the common origin and denominator of both English and American Puritanism was “Puritan radicalism”, though with the qualification that the latter subsequently “was tempered by the maintenance of the Anglican Church order” (Munch 2001:119) in Great Britain by contrast to America in spite or rather because of ante-bellum Southern Episcopalism (denounced as “foreign” or “un-American” during the Great Awakenings (Rossel 1970) as well as the American Revolution and eventually supplanted by neo-Puritan evangelicalism). In this view, English Puritanism “underwent a transformation from the absolute moral rigor of its origins to become more of a buttress for the economic individualism of the responsible entrepreneur” (Munch 2001:120), unlike its American variant essentially preserving and further intensifying, via various revivals and expansions, this Puritan absolutism in morality and politics. Also, historical research documents that Puritanism originated as political extremism or radicalism finding, for example, that after Great Britain’s defeat of Spain in the 1590s the “continued and more extreme claims of the Puritans goaded the government [that] felt that Puritan intransigence was threatening the unity within [Protestantism]” (Ashton 1965:587).

            In addition, recent sociological analyses identify and evidence neo-Puritan radicalism and absolutism in contemporary America in the generalized form of (once again) revived and expanded Protestant fundamentalism or sectarianism (Friedland 2001) which hence continues and even reinforces and expands its predominance in American history (Lipset 1996), up to the early 21st century. In particular, some sociologists adduce the “evangelist churches of the Bible Belt” (Bauman 1997:1984) as an instance of neo-Puritan or later-day Protestant political radicalism, absolutism and totalitarianism by placing them, alongside the “Islamic integrisme of ayatollahs”, into a “wider family of [proto] totalitarian solutions” to what they condemn or experience as the liberal “evil” (or “burden”) of individual liberty in (post) modern society (cf. also Davis and Robinson 2006; Friedland 2002; Smelser and Mitchell 2002; Turner 2002). 


Puritanism and Political Intolerance

First and foremost, original Puritanism was the religion and politics of intolerance of other political ideologies and institutions, as well as religions, moral values, cultures and peoples. For illustration, recall J. S. Mill identifies and emphasizes what he calls Puritan “fanatical” political as well as moral-religious and cultural intolerance in both Old and New England, as do similarly Comte, Tocqueville, Weber and others (Tawney 1962). Also, recent sociological studies detect and document Puritanism’s original political and other intolerance in early Great Britain and America alike (Munch 2001; Tiryakian 1975; Zaret 1989).

            Further, not only being originally intolerant, but Puritanism has also bequeathed a strong and pervasive heritage of political and moral-cultural intolerance especially in America and to a lesser or diminishing extent Great Britain. Thus, sociological studies suggest and evidence that contemporary US politics and society tends to be intolerant primarily due to Puritanism as the main historical source of political and other intolerance in American history, up to the mid and late 20th (Lipset 1955, 1996) and even the early 21st century (Munch 2001). For example, a sociological analysis of post-war US conservatism (specifically, McCarthyism) finds that “one important factor affecting this lack of tolerance in American [politics] is Protestant puritanical morality [e.g.] the propensity to see political life in terms of all black and all white [so] Puritanism is probably one of the main sources of American intolerance” (Lipset 1955:180). Another, corresponding sociological analysis of neo-conservatism in America since the 1980s provides the same finding suggesting that Puritan-Protestant “sectarian bred propensities for crusades and the sectarian stress on personal morality” (Lipset 1996:176) operate as the primary (albeit not the sole) source of intolerance in American politics and society.

            If the preceding is correct, it indicates that Cromwell-style crusades against “infidels” and Winthrop et al.’s “Salem with witches” (Putnam 2000:355), far from being what Mannheim calls the “dead past”, continue, even expand and intensify via neo-conservative or fundamentalist culture and violent wars against “un-American” persons and activities in contemporary America (from McCarthyism to Reaganism), thus forced to usher in the 21st century in the almost substantially same way proto-Puritan New England entered the 18th (witch-trials) and the neo-Puritan South the 19th or 20th (another “Great Awakening”, “Monkey Trials”) centuries. It also confirms that American Puritanism’s moral-political radicalism or absolutism, of which intolerance is an observed indicator or symptom, was less than its British parent “tempered” (Munch 2001) by Anglicanism (i.e. Episcopalism) and other moderate Protestantism like Lutheranism (Munch 1981) as well as by Jeffersonian liberalism and secularism (Kloppenberg 1998), reflecting the comparative historical and continuing weakness of these non-Puritan countervailing forces in America, up to the 21st century.

            In comparative terms, as expected, US Puritan-inspired political conservatism tends to be more intolerant, aggressive and so radical or extreme in imposing its moral absolutism on the polity and all society than its counterparts, let alone non-Puritan or liberal Protestantism, in Western society. Admittedly, US political-religious conservatives (e.g. Protestant sectarians) tend to be “much more aggressive in imposing their own morality on the body politic [and civil society] than their ideological compeers elsewhere” (Lipset 1996:293). This superior aggressiveness or intolerance in the coercive imposition of typically Puritan-rooted morality can be considered the supreme and the most enduring or persisting the legacy or vestige of Puritanism, specifically its intolerant “Salem with and without witches”, in America, at least American political-religious conservatism in the “Southern Bible Belt” and beyond.

            In retrospect, alongside Weber (“unexampled tyranny”), Pareto anticipates the Puritan legacy or practice of comparatively unrivalled political aggressiveness and intolerance by observing during the early 1900s that in America the “government tries to enforce morality by law” and consequently “gross abuses that are not observable in countries where there are no such restrictions.” This striking continuity between US religious paleo- and neo-conservatism in coercively imposing morality, spanning a century or more (Lipset 1996, Munch 2001), indicates how enduring and strong has been the Puritan legacy or practice of political and moral intolerance, aggressiveness and radicalism in American history and society by comparison with other less or non-Puritan societies, including Great Britain. At least on the account of political and moral intolerance and aggressiveness, Puritanism has historically over-determined and continues, via its sectarian derivatives, to over-determine America, hence subjected to a sort (as Calvin would put it and Tocqueville predicts) of Puritan predestination or path-dependence, as comparative-historical sociological research confirms (Inglehart and Baker 2000; Inglehart 2004; Munch 2001).

In essence, Pareto's observation captures what has been typically observed before and after: that Puritanism via its moral and political repression was and remains, through contemporary Protestant sectarianism, the primary (though not the sole) source of undemocratic, including intolerant and theocratic, tendencies (Lipset 1996; Munch 2001) in American history and society, from the 17th to the 21st century connected by the Puritan Biblical Commonwealths. Alternatively, it confirms what has also been known, namely that if what Tocqueville observed and extolled as democracy in (post-revolutionary) America was established and sustained, then it was as a rule in spite rather, than as claimed by its adherents and admirers, because of Puritanism and its survivals or revivals in Protestant fundamentalism and sectarianism (Lipset 1996). Hence, Pareto would infer that US Puritans, from Winthrop et al. to their fundamentalist, descendants continue and even reinforce, rather than reverse, as they claim, the long-standing and persisting tendency for, as he observes, ruling groups (“governing classes”) “to use the old religious beliefs in order to keep the people subdued.”

            Further, as mentioned, some contemporary sociologists (Bauman 2000:106) suggest, seemingly confirming or evoking Mill, that the persisting legacy of Puritanism is no less than a “sadistic intolerance to cultural otherness widespread in American society”, citing “sexual mores” as being “exploited as one of the more important footholds for intolerance” typically by neo-Puritan fundamentalist religious and political groups (also Munch 2001). In particular, as hinted, such intolerance is observed to be most extensive and intensive in the neo-Puritan evangelical Bible Belt described as a “proto-totalitarian” solution (Bauman 1997) to the supposed “burden” of individual freedom, notably the condemned “evil” of liberal-secular democracy.

Puritanism and Total Social Control, Coercion and Repression

As intimated an evidenced on various occasions, Puritanism constitutes or results in a political system of total social control, coercion and repression as an inexorable or predictable outcome and dimension of its attempted totalistic (Eisenstadt 1965) or absolute “disciplinarian” (Gorski 1993) mastery of society, including polity and government. In retrospect, among the first sociologists Comte observes and predicts, anticipating Weber-Ross’ Puritan tyranny, that Puritanism or Calvinism (e.g. Presbyterianism) is the religion and politics of “violent repression” and hence “best suited to opposition”, and alternatively unfit for (democratic) governance, an attribute of other, moderate Protestantism like Lutheranism (Munch 1981) and its British ramification Anglicanism.

However, regardless or rather in virtue of its unfitness for democratic governance, Puritanism, as a historical study indicates, “was always concerned with government” (Walzer 1963:85), notably total social control and oppression eventually reaching the no-return point of methodical “holy terror” or “Methodism” in theocratic state terrorism (Gibbs 1989). “Always” ranges from the Puritan Revolution or conquest in 17th century Old and New England to the 18th-19th century Great Awakenings to the 20th and 21st century “Southern Bible Belt” and other America, with virtually no exceptions; as seen, post-Puritan Great Britain and New England, where Puritanism was tempered or substituted by Anglicanism and liberal secularism respectively, are the confirmation of rather than exception to the “rule” or “method in the madness” (Smith 2000). 

Subsequent sociological and historical research elaborates on and corroborates Comte’s early observation or prediction, thus making it almost prophetic in the long run, in that it detects and documents Puritanism’s total control, stringent coercion and brutal repression, including “holy” terror, in Great Britain and America, especially New England. Recall, a historical study observes or predicts that the Puritan “Holy Commonwealth” in Old and in extension New England essentially functioned as or would result in the theocratic system of “Puritan terror” based on congregational “local terrorism” and exercised by an “elite of saints” a la Baxter, Cromwell and Winthrop et al., forcing people by the “sword” of repressive government “to be godly” (Walzer 1963:64-65). At this juncture, Cromwell’s crusades against “infidels” (Gorski 2000) as well as Winthrop et al.'s holy wars against the “ungodly” and “impure”, including persecutions and witch-trials (Bremer 1995; Coffey 1998; Gould 1996), operated or appeared as mechanisms or syndromes of Puritan “holy terror” or Divinely ordained theocratic terrorism.

In particular, New England’s “Salem with and without witches” can be considered the primeval and ultimate micro-cosmos, model and symbol of Puritan state terror, as well as “violent repression” and total social control. This is what a historical analysis precisely suggests by finding that 17th century New England’s “almost all Puritans” acted as either executors or adherents of Cromwell’s style “bloudy tenent of persecution” to the point of extermination (native Indians, Quakers) or exorcism (“witches”), yet predictably sanctified by the theocratic principle that the “magistrate had a religious duty to punish heresy, idolatry [and apostasy]” (Coffey 1998:962-3) and so enforce “holy terror”. In this sense, “Salem with and without witches” far from being an anomaly or exception within a ‘democratic republic’, as Puritans would claim and perhaps most Americans believe, was the integral element and symbol of Puritanism and its system of theocratic terror, an epitome of the Puritan ‘method in the madness.’

Further, even some sympathetic analyses admit that neo-Puritan evangelical groups (viz. “Christian” militia) in America, notably the South, tend to use “holy terror” or “method in the madness” (Smith 2000: 61) of theocratic terrorism either, as Comte predicts, when in governance via official terrorism or in opposition through counter-state terrorism (Smelser and Mitchell 2002) or vigilante violence (Jacobs, Carmichael and Kent 2005), including lynching and homicide in the post-bellum South (Messner, Baller and Zevenbergen 2005). To that extent, “holy terror” or theocratic-sectarian, either state or counter-state, terrorism continues to a sort of favorite pastime of neo-Puritanism as well as resurfaces and remains as the most radical or extreme case of Puritanism’s legacy of political radicalism or extremism in American history and society, at least fundamentalism and sectarianism in the Southern Bible Belt and elsewhere.   

At the minimum, contrary to its claims to (religious and political) individualism and liberty, American Puritanism historically, from New England through the Great Awakenings and the Bible Belt, as a study concludes, “did not entail or imply minimizing social control” (Israel 1966:595). On the contrary, it epitomized, especially via its New England theocratic repression, what Weber describes as the “most absolutely unbearable”, Inquisition-style, religious control of polity and society by original Puritanism or Calvinism within Protestantism and Christianity overall. No wonder, sociological and historical research identifies early American Puritanism and its New England theocracy as the “most totalitarian” (Stivers 1994) Calvinism.

In sum, rather than being, as naively assumed, radically different (i.e. individualistic and politically liberal) from oppressive medievalism, English-American Puritanism has what a sociological study describes as “a shared feature, already suggested by Weber” with medieval (Catholic and other) monasticism in that “both give rise to impressive forms of social control, favoring the bureaucratic regulation of the individual” (Silber 1993:122). At this juncture, recall Weber observed that Calvinist-Puritan social control “almost amounted to an Inquisition” impeding rather than, as in the beloved myth or naïve assumption of Puritanism, individualism and liberty, the “libration” of individuals [3] (cf. also Kaplan 2002).

Further, Weber intimates that Puritanism actually adopted and applied Inquisition-style repression and punishment to society as a whole, thus expanding it beyond the original, relatively limited realm of religious heresy or blasphemy. He does so by observing that Puritanism extensively applied what he identifies as the “rule of the Catholic Church, ‘punishing the heretic, but indulgent to the sinner” through adopting and extending ‘punishing’ to both heretics and sinners, so all humans, yet denying ‘indulgence’ (usually considered, as Weber implies, the immediate moralistic impetus of virtually all Puritan revolutions and movements, even the Protestant Reformation itself) to everyone (perhaps minus Puritan saints). He also does by citing the commandment of Calvinism or Puritanism “you think you have escaped from the monastery, but everyone must now be a monk throughout his life” so live a society as a sort of monastery, through the Calvinist-Puritan “radical elimination of any distinction between an ethics for the priests and an ethics for the laymen” (Munch 1981:731), and consequently between heretics (and, for that matter, criminals) and sinners. Hence, in the sense and form of universalizing (Walzer 1963) control, coercion and repression from the sphere of religious heresy and heretics to sins and sinners or all humans, i.e. from monastery to society as a whole, including polity, Puritanism effectively universalized or expanded Inquisition-style practices. In Weber’s words, in substantive or sociological (distinguished from formal or legal) terms, it tends to universalize or expand, just as it functions ‘almost’ as, the medieval Inquisition.

If Weber is correct in his equation or comparison of Puritan control and repression to an Inquisition, those Catholic medieval monks, Inquisitors, their victims or heretics, and scholastics (and popes) would be probably correct if proclaiming “nothing new under the sun” of supposedly exceptional or different American and other Puritanism in respect with social control and repression, including “holy terror”, and its theological (Divine-Right) sanctification (Weber’s theodicy) and/or sociological rationalization (i.e. sociodicy in Bourdieu 1998). At least, this is what Comte suggest observing that Puritanism (and Protestantism) via its revolution “produced no innovation in regard to discipline, ecclesiastical orders or dogma” within official medieval or ancient Catholicism. Or perhaps, as he implies by identifying rigidity, repression, intolerance and theocracy in Puritanism, its ‘innovation’ was to make such ‘discipline, ecclesiastical orders or dogma” more rigid, repressive, intolerant and theocratic, so more authoritarian, than ever before within pre-Puritan Christianity.


Puritanism and Repressive Laws and Draconian Sanctions

As a special corollary and facet, as well as an effective mechanism and instrument of, its total control, coercion and repression in polity and society, Puritanism constitutes, engenders and leaves a legal-political system of what Durkheim calls penal law and repressive sanction, including severe, near-Draconian punishments. As known, in Durkheim’s view, such a legal code, just as what Spencer calls the social “system of status”, is the defining feature of primitive, barbarian or militant societies, specifically an indicator of their “mechanical” solidarity, in contrast to modern civilized and industrial society featuring civil law and restitutive sanctions, as well the commercial “system of contract”, as the index of their “organic”, “contractual” solidarity. Hence, in Durkheim-Spencer’s framework, Puritan and any other functionally equivalent (viz., as Weber suggests, Islamic, cf. also Davis and Robinson 2006) repressive legal-judicial system is primitive, barbarian or militant, and conversely, which reflects Puritanism’s primitivism, barbarism or militancy, discussed later.

Anticipating and specifying Durkheim and Spencer, Tocqueville specifically identifies what he describes (and overlooked by his conservative and other US admirers, viz. Lipset and Marks 2000) as “repressive and fantastic” [sic!] Puritan laws and sanctions, reflecting “even more austere and puritanical” customs and values, in colonial America, especially New England. In a seemingly grotesque, yet indicative and prophetic illustration (viz. of neo-Puritan Prohibition, the neo-conservative war on drugs, anti-smoking and anti-gambling [4] paranoia), Tocqueville illustrates such laws observing that New England Puritans’ “zeal for regulation induces [them] to descend to the most frivolous particulars: thus a law is to be found in the same code which prohibits the use of tobacco [and alcohol].” In other near-grotesque, but indicative and prophetic instances, he adduces the Puritan “ten or twelve enactments” that were “copied verbatim” from the Holy Writ, and punished with death or other Draconian punishment blasphemy, witchcraft or sorcery, plus rape and adultery (also a capital offense in traditional and even often contemporary Islam). Notably, Tocqueville finds that the death penalty was “never more frequently prescribed by statute” than in Puritan-ruled New England, thus effectively specifying Weber’s meaning of Puritanism’s “unexampled tyranny” or “most unbearable” social control, as well as Durkheim’s primitive-barbarian penal law and repressive sanction, and Spencer’s militant status-based society. Overall, Tocqueville infers that “there was scarcely a sin which was not subject to magisterial censure”, suggesting an equation of sins with and their punishment as crimes, in Puritan New England, anticipating Pareto's [5] diagnosis and prediction of the US government’s Puritan-inspired penchant to “enforce morality by law”, from Prohibition to “dry” (Bible-Belt) counties (Merton 1968), the “war on drugs” and other temperance or culture wars (Wagner 1997).        

A more recent sociological study confirms Tocqueville's observations, suggesting that American Puritanism, via a harsh magistrate or Draconian judicial system defining, typifying and punishing sins as crimes, took on the self-ascribed role or self-designed emperor-style cloth of “God’s vice-regent” (Zaret 1989:170), thus effectively creating or prefiguring the neo-conservative vice police (anti-drug, anti-alcohol, anti-prostitution) in contemporary America, especially, as expected, the Bible Belt, another peculiar, near-grotesque (yet for victims tragic) case and symptom of the Puritan overall legacy of repression, coercion and total control, including “holy” or “providential” terror .

            This curious case suggests that, like in the previous instances of its political and other authoritarianism, Puritanism was not only originally a system of these “repressive and fantastic” laws and punishments in America and to a lesser extent or temporarily in Great Britain. It also bequeathed a pervasive, expansive and strong legacy of such legal-penal institutions, instruments and policies primarily in America, while secondarily Great Britain, up to the late 20th and early 21st century, given its dominant influence during most of American history as well as its being less moderated by countervailing religious and political forces like Anglicanism (Munch 2001) and liberalism or secularism (Zaret 1989) than its British original.

            Thus, sociological studies suggest that this remarkable legacy or vestige of Puritanism is evidenced by neo-conservative Puritan-inspired repressive laws and “tough on crime” institutions and policies in contemporary America. These neo-Puritan penal practices predictably feature what is described as “Draconian severity” (Patell 2001:187) and have rendered or perpetuated America as the Western and all “world leader” in mass incarceration mostly for sins and/or minor crimes (e.g. drug and alcohol use accounting for more than 60 % percent of US federal prisoners, “three-strikes” state laws punishing repeated offenses like petty theft with life in prison). Notably, they have reestablished America’s “leadership” within the “free world” (and often beyond, alongside theocratic or secular dictatorships like Iran and China) in Puritan-style executions, not rarely of innocent persons (e.g. as reported for Illinois, Texas and other states), for both sinful and criminal transgressions (e.g. drug trade as the Federal capital offense).

To that extent, via its original practice and enduring legacy of executions, plus other Draconian, inhuman and degrading punishments for both sins and crimes, Puritanism continues to over-determine, predestine or make path-dependent modern America, notably its death and all criminal-justice system as what sociologists describe as a “unique anomaly of the late 20th century” (Pager 2003:962) among Protestant and other societies including historically less Puritan (or more Anglican) Great Britain. By implication, this is unique anomaly or salient deviation (Inglehart 2004) insofar as modern political democracy premised on what Mannheim and Weber Enlightenment-rooted liberal humanism and optimism, is basically or ultimately incompatible with a death penalty (at least for sins) and Draconian legal system overall, expressing penal maximalism characteristic of Durkheim-Spencer’s primitive, barbarian and militant society, and conversely, consistent with an enlightened “mild” code reflecting minimalism proper to its modern civilized and industrial version (Rutherford 1994). As a case in point, Puritan-inspired Draconian (“tough”) judicial institutions and policies have resulted in America’s highest imprisonment rate in Western society (Becky and Western 2004) and even the largest prisoner population in the world, surpassing those of dictatorships like China and Iran.

In another instance, primarily as a result of Puritan-rooted legal institutions and sanctions, America has, as seen, reestablished itself as the Western country with most executions with virtually no modern parallels or rivals within the West (expect for perhaps eventually Catholic Poland if it continues its theocratic tendencies since the 1990s), while its main non-Western or Third-World functional equivalent or serious rival cum enemy being, alongside communist-capitalist China, predictably [6] the theocratic “Islamic Republic” of Iran (incidentally also called “republic” like New England’s Puritan theocracy, both apparently sharing anti-monarchism, thus confirming that republicanism is, contrary to prevailing US views, not necessarily democratic or liberal-secular).

As an instance or symptom of this usually overlooked and even denied (by both Puritans and others) functional equivalence of American Puritan-rooted political-religious conservatism with contemporary fundamentalist Islam, as well as authoritarian communism-capitalism, in repressive laws and Draconian or inhuman and cruel punishments, some sociologists observe that “U.S. execution frequencies are equivalent to those in authoritarian states such as China or Iran” (Jacobs et al. 2005:675; also Davis and Robinson 2006). Further, primarily owing to its Puritan-rooted judicial institutions and sanctions, America has persistently and proudly (expressing what Merton [1939] calls Puritan-rooted nativism) remained virtually alone among Western democracies with the death penalty for a wide spectrum of crimes and even potentially sins, and to that extent ushering in the third millennium in the identical way medieval Europe under what Pareto calls the “Roman theocracy” [7] (the Vatican) and its Inquisition reentered the Dark Middle Ages, notably proto-Puritan Old and New England entered the 17th-18th centuries.

            In turn, just as original Puritanism was a sort of Calvinist Machiavellianism in Pareto-Merton’s sense of ends justifying or sanctifying means, neo-Puritan Draconian “tough-on-crime” institutions and policies in America persist and operate as an almost invariably efficient political Machiavellian strategy of continual power and domination, including (re)election, in American polity and society, rather than as an autonomous, authentic and sincere effort to really eradicate or reduce crimes (or exorcise “witches”) independent of “politics as usual”. Thus, an economic analysis finds that such Puritan-inspired conservative policies tend to increase the police force solely or primarily during local (mayoral and gubernatorial) election years to the effect that, for example, the “number of sworn officers grows by 2% in election years, but is flat in nonelection years” (Levitt 1997). Most analysts would cite the “war on drugs” (e.g. Hill 2002), a major front in the new temperance and culture wars (Wagner 1997) in America, as the salient and dramatic instance of such Machiavellian exploitation of Puritan-rooted penal institutions and policies for neo-Puritan conservative political and material interests.

The above suggests that Puritanism’s authoritarian legacy in America involves not only repressive laws and Draconian sanctions, but also their exploitation or manipulation for political ends, a sort of criminal-justice and other Machiavellianism, thus a perversion or subversion of legal justice in Durkheim’s sense of a fit between crime and punishment, regardless of politics and power as well as wealth and money.  Hence, metaphorically, like in original Puritanism as well as fascism and McCarthyism, “Salem with witches”, i.e. the process of their simultaneous reproduction and exorcism, is instrumental (“functional”) a la Machiavelli in perpetuating conservative political and cultural predominance and thus the practice and legacy of Puritan repression and control in American society. To that extent, “Salem without witches” has been and is likely to remain a historical-empirical impossibility, as well as  logical contradiction, in both original Puritanism and its derivatives, just as is a political regime without “objective enemies” in fascism (Bähr 2002), as “witches” (or “Satan” overall) strategically in Machiavelli’s sense supply “life blood” (rationale) to proto-Puritan crusaders and neo-Puritan “crime fighters”, ranging from Cromwell and Winthrop et al. to Reaganites and other “tough on crime” neo-conservatives. In sum, Puritans and “witches”, including neo-Puritan conservatives and “criminals” or sinners, reproduce, predict and reinforce, even (especially the first) need (“love”?) each other in America, just as do fascists and their “objective enemies” in European fascism, thus the reality or outcome in both cases being an Orwellian world of self-generating and -rationalizing repression via never-ending witch-trials (both as an actual or metaphorical practice).

            Another curious, almost grotesque, albeit frequently and potentially tragic, example of the Puritan practice or legacy of a repressive legal system and Draconian punishment comprises what Americans call, somewhat confused and bemused alike, “dumb” laws. These are primarily (albeit not solely) Puritan-rooted oppressive, harsh, moralistic and irrational survivals or revivals in historical and contemporary America, particularly surviving or even reviving from the “dead past” in the morally traditionalist, repressive and intolerant, religiously evangelical or theocentric and politically under-democratized South, even as ushering in the 21st century. In a sense, Tocqueville effectively anticipated these oppressive “dumb” laws by registering “repressive and fantastic” Puritan laws, judicial institutions and punishments in New England. This observation has proven almost prophetic, as evidently these original legal creations of Puritanism have subsequently expanded to the rest of America, notably the old non-Puritan (Episcopal) South, through various neo-Puritan revivals, starting with the evangelical Great Awakenings of the 1740-1800s and continuing with the fundamentalist revival of the 1980-2000s.

In this sense, Puritanism has historically over-determined or pre-destined and apparently, via its derivations, continues to do so America through its legacy or vestige of “dumb laws”--still, as Weber would say, formally valid (“in the books”) and selectively enforced by the puritanical “vice policy” as part of the police state--which function as the peculiar expression or tragicomic symptom of Puritan repressive legal institutions and Draconian sanctions, as well as irrationalism. And it would require another study to even exemplify these Puritan rooted, inspired or like “dumb laws” typically criminalizing and harshly punishing moral sins or vices and even religious non-belief, dissent or blasphemy as supremely “un-American” (Edgell, Gerteis and Hartmann 2006), just as their enforcement by the puritanical vice police in America, especially the conservative South.


Puritanism and Anti-Egalitarianism

This section elaborates on and evidences Puritanism’s political and other anti-egalitarianism considered to be, as even Popper (1973) and many contemporary economists (Acemoglu 2005; Putterman, Roemer and Silvestre 1998; Pryor 2002) suggest, a particular dimension or at least correlate and complement of authoritarianism and so extremism or radicalism in politics and all society. It explores Puritanism’ elements and legacies of political and economic inequality as well as its links of inequalities in the economy with repression in the polity.


Puritanism and Political Inequalities

As intimated, Puritanism intrinsically constitutes or creates and leaves as its legacy a system of political and other inequalities or anti-egalitarianism, sanctified as a “part of providential design” (Bendix 1984) and via Weber’s theodicy cum sociodicy (Bourdieu 1998), in politics and society.  Original Puritanism was anti-egalitarian in political and economic terms, and also bequeathed as a sort of “God’s providence” an enduring and strong legacy of anti-egalitarianism in politics as well as economy within historically Puritan societies, particularly America and to a lesser extent Great Britain. Specifically, proto-Puritanism initially was and neo-Puritanism, in the derived and generalized form of modern Protestant sectarianism, remained, with some prudent adaptations, essentially aristocratic, oligarchic or hierarchical and to that extent politically anti-egalitarian and so (as implied in Popper [8] 1973; also Acemoglu 2005; Putterman et al. 1998; Pryor 2002) authoritarian and repressive, thus extreme or radical in this sense.  

            As an early though transient historical instance, in the wake of its Revolution (the 1640s-60s) victorious Puritanism in England (re)established and ruled as narrow repressive aristocracy and medieval-style political hierarchy overall opposing any democratic innovations in politics (Goldstone 1991; Gorski 2000), specifically exclusive theocratic oligarchy. It did so in the form of what Comte and Weber call the “reign” or aristocratic domination of the “sinful world” by Puritan religious virtuosi with self-assigned Divine Rights to rule, embodied by Cromwell and his “holy wars” (Gorski 2000) and the “Parliament of Saints”, yet couched in the anti-monarchical facade and rhetoric of “republic” in opposition to the Monarchy and the Anglican Church.

In a sense, English-American Puritanism was the “providential design” and institutional system of political (and economic) inequality, exclusion and oppression from its very genesis, derivation or extension from, as Weber and other sociologists (e.g. Eisenstadt 1965) note, already staunchly anti-egalitarian, exclusive and oppressive, medieval-style, European Calvinism to Old and New England in the late 16th and early 17th century. Thus, according to a historical study, what is connoted the “significant career of Puritanism as an ideology of exclusion” (Ashton 1965:587) commenced with its Calvinist (re)birth and expansion in England during the 1590s (e.g. after the English defeat of Spain).

Hence, in terms of exclusion or anti-egalitarianism, European Calvinism, basically rooted in anti-egalitarian medievalism and even seeking to recreate a “purer medieval past” (Eisenstadt 1965), historically over-determined (Sprunger 1982) or, as Calvin himself might say, predestined English and in extension American Puritanism, just as the latter did historically Puritan societies, primarily America, secondarily Great Britain. In short, English and then American Puritanism was “created unequal” (Galbraith 1998) or anti-egalitarian by European Calvinism as its historical Creator, rather than, as usually and naively assumed (Coffey 1998), “equal” in the sense of egalitarian and liberal-democratic. Then, Geneva’s Calvinists and European medieval theocratic aristocrats or oligarchs (and rationalizing scholastics) would be justified in finding, in respect of anti-egalitarianism and authoritarianism, “nothing new under the sun” of English and then American Puritanism, contrary to its venerable claims to novelty and exceptionality from anti-egalitarian medievalism or the old world, if not Calvinism (as “foreign”).

As intimated on various occasions, another, more enduring and probably more pertinent historical exemplar is provided, to recall, by New England’s proto-Puritan mixed aristocracie of Winthrop et al. At this juncture, this curious Puritan political creation originated or operated as a medieval-style aristocracy of hierarchy and exclusion (Bremer 1995; Gould 1996), notably a narrow oligarchy of sectarian persecution and theocratic oppression (Munch 2001; Stivers 1994), exemplified and symbolized by “Salem with witches” (Putnam 2000:355), though, predictably, following its English original and/or displaying what Weber calls American Puritanism’s “pure  hypocrisy”, couched in and rationalized by the official formula or, in his words, formal rationality and democracy--in a charitable interpretation given Winthrop et al.'s hostility or suspicion toward “democratical government”--of “Republic.” In turn, this official formula of New England’s “Republic” seemingly misled sympathetic Tocqueville into depicting American Puritanism as being “not merely a religious doctrine”, but also corresponding with the “most absolute democratic and republican theories” or liberalism, including egalitarianism, and republicanism, as still do his US admirers (e.g. Lipset and Marks 2000), and perhaps even more skeptical Weber to suggest its “anti-authoritarian tendency”, though not Comte, Pareto and other critical European sociological observers of Puritan America. These observers basically regarded New England’s “Republic” as a medieval or pre-medieval exclusive and repressive aristocracy, notably theocratic oligarchy or oligarchic theocracy, in changed Puritan clothes, a sort of “old wine in the new bottle” (though not the best of metaphors given US Puritanism’s condemnation and prohibition of and perpetual obsession with alcohol in the style of, if not emulating and inspired by, Islam). And, even were it really a “republic” in the traditional sense, it was far from being a liberal-secular (and any) democracy as a system of political freedom and equality, as historical and sociological studies suggest (Bremer 1995; Munch 2001; Stivers 1994), which thus contradicts the “naïve assumptions of Puritanism and liberty” (Coffey 1998).

Hence, in virtue and to the degree of Winthrop’s mixed aristocracie, contrary to its claim to egalitarian and democratic exceptionalism (Lipset and Marks 2000), original American Puritanism was basically almost as politically anti-egalitarian and so authoritarian as its British parent and in extension European Calvinism as their common basis, as well as medieval (Catholic-based) feudalism and despotism. The above holds true, with some variations, of derived American Puritanism in the form or sense of Protestant sectarianism (Lipset 1996) generalized and even become predominant, via various neo-Puritan revivals since the Great Awakenings, to most of America, notably the “old” (Episcopal) South transformed into a sectarian “Bible Belt”. Thus, some sociologists implicitly identify another instance of Puritanism’s practice or legacy of exclusion and anti-egalitarianism in American politics by detecting and emphasizing narrow, exclusionary political rule (a la “good old boys”) and selection processes (Amenta, Bonastia and Neal 2001) and a myriad of other deformations of democracy (Cochran 2001) in the “new”, Puritan-remade South (Boles 1999; Mencken 1982).

Such persisting Southern political eccentricities or anomalies, even when placed within Puritan America itself (as implied in Cochran 2001), demonstrate and confirm that this region continues to exhibit the salient degree of oligarchic, exclusionary and anti-egalitarian, just as theocratic, so authoritarian continuity with proto-Puritan New England’s mixt aristocracie andtheocracy (“Biblical Commonwealth”). As intimated, these continuities historically originated in and initiated with the Puritan-incited Great Awakenings aiming and eventually succeeding to expand Puritanism and thus its anti-egalitarianism and authoritarianism from its New England point of origin to all America as the final destination. To that extent, at least the still politically exclusionary (plus religiously sectarian), oligarchic and under-democratic South continues to epitomize and reflect Puritanism’s institutions, practices or legacies of political (and other) anti-egalitarianism, exclusion and authoritarianism in contemporary America. In terms of exclusion and anti-egalitarianism, like authoritarianism, notably theocracy, the post-bellum neo-Puritan South has become what colonial proto-Puritan New England was—i.e. a system of exclusionary politics as well as sectarian religion in the model or image of “Salem with witches” (for example, in the updated form of “Monkey Trials” and other actual or metaphorical witch-trials of enemies). Moreover, during the late 20th and early 21st century, in these terms the South basically (and seemingly proudly) remained (a functional equivalent or historical successor of) what New England was from the 17th to 19th century. This indicates that some, anti-egalitarian, as well as authoritarian, notably theocratic, institutions or things almost never change—or, as in the French proverb, “the more they change, the more they stay the same”—in the long and seemingly never-ending historical and geographical march of Puritanism, from Reformation France (and Geneva) and Calvin to England and Cromwell, to New England and Winthrop et al. to the South and Bible-Belt sectarians, to modern American religious-political conservatism as a whole (viz. McCarthyism and Reaganism).


Puritanism and Economic Inequalities

Relatedly, as intimated, Puritanism also constitutes, creates and leaves as its legacy the system of economic inequalities or anti-egalitarianism in economy, just as politics, to form an integral and usually consistent complex and “method in the madness” of pervasive inequality and exclusion in society. Perhaps even more than or decreasingly so (at least in its formal declarations or rhetoric) in politics due to countervailing democratic-egalitarian political forces (e.g. Jefferson’s “created equal”, modern civil-rights movements, global human rights conventions), Puritanism’s original attribute as well as historical creation and contemporary legacy has been anti-egalitarianism in economy or sharp and widening wealth and income inequalities, especially in America and to a comparable, but lesser extent, Great Britain.

Simply, if not so much or openly in political terms, Puritanism has always been and continues to be, via its generalizations in religious conservatism and sectarianism as in contemporary America, economically anti-egalitarian or exclusionary both through its institutions and practices and in its religious-political ideas or preaching (“sword and word”). It typically creates and perpetuates material inequalities and exclusions as well as mounts an overt, uncompromising and unapologetic defense of them sanctified, like political inequality and exclusion, as part of Providential “intelligent” design, plus rationalized, as done by US neo-conservatism, in terms of “merit”, thus through a mix of Weber’s medieval-style theodicy a la Divine Plan and Rights with sociodicy (Bourdieu 1998) or social neo-Darwinism. Alternatively, Puritanism tends to eliminate or reduce economic egalitarianism and inclusion as well as engage in an equally open, categorical and stringent condemnation of material equality as contrary to “God’s Providence” and Divine Rights of Puritan masters (theodicy), just as, as does US neo-conservatism, “undeserved”, “inefficient” and even “destructive” to the economy (sociodicy).

            Historically, following Calvinism’s theological rationalization of economic inequality, original Puritanism’s economic anti-egalitarianism was manifest in creating and/or justifying sharp wealth inequalities and so class divisions as Divinely Ordained destiny analogous to and, as Weber suggests, rooted in the Calvinist dogma pre-destination, as well as anti-charity (or anti-welfare) ideas, institutions and practices, in those societies it temporarily or enduringly governed like Old and New England, respectively. This is what Weber suggests observing that Puritanism since its gestation in Calvin’s writings and activities tended to institute and advocate the “unjust, but equally divinely ordained, distribution of wealth” or class divisions, and was to that extent, contrary to its claims to novelty, basically no different from also anti-egalitarian Lutheranism and medieval Catholicism. In essence, Calvinist Puritanism fully embraced the medieval or older theological dogma of official Catholicism that, as Weber puts it, the “unequal distribution of the goods of this world was a special dispensation of Divine Providence”--i.e. a sort of theodicy of material inequality and class divisions (i.e. justification, and perhaps eventually Machiavellian-like exploitation or invocation, of God by economic anti-egalitarianism). Thus, a historical study concludes that Puritanism has always been a “class ideology” (Folsom 1948:424) of sharp wealth divisions, from Calvinism to its English and American variants in Old and New England.

            In turn, Puritanism’s legacy of economic anti-egalitarianism or class divisions, including anti-welfare institutions, ideas and practices, has been particularly manifest, pervasive and enduring in America and to a lesser extent Great Britain, probably reflecting its long and total mastery (New England) and subsequent dominance (the South) in the first case, and its brief rule (Cromwell) and eventually “abortive” Revolution in the second. As mentioned, judging by the comparative indexes of economic egalitarianism (Putterman et al. 1998) or universalism (Pampel 1998), this Puritan anti-egalitarian legacy remains strong, pervasive and enduring in contemporary society. Thus, historically Puritan societies, primarily America, secondarily Great Britain, are estimated to have the lowest scores of official economic egalitarianism or universalism (“collectivism”) in the sense of universal welfare or public material benefits, conjoined with its political form expressed in consensus democracy and absence of violent political conflict, in modern Western democracies (Pampel 1998).

And probably in consequence to this government anti-egalitarianism rooted in Puritanism, historically Puritan societies like America and to a lesser or diminishing extent Great Britain have as a rule the greatest degrees of actual economic inequality among Protestant and other Western countries. Thus, these Puritan societies’ lowest (and negative) scores on public egalitarianism or universalism are typically correlated with their highest levels of income and wealth inequalities (e.g. Gini indexes, the wealth share of the richest 1 percent) among these countries. As expected given its Puritan destiny or over-determination, this especially holds true of America that epitomizes more than any other Western Protestant and other society this link. It does so by continuing to be, by the 21st century--as has been mostly in the past (since the robber-barons era or the 1920s)--a kind of Western leader both in public anti-egalitarianism and actual wealth (Wolff 2002; also Keister and Moller 2000) and income inequalities (2000 Luxembourg Income Study), as indicated by virtually all statistical data and measures (e.g. the share of the top 1 percent and Gini indexes).

Particularly and predictably, some economists and sociologists identify and emphasize anti-welfare neo-conservative Puritan-rooted or -style government economic policies in America as well as Great Britain (Hudson and Coukos 2005; Quadagno 1999; Smeeding 2006; also Chaves 1999). In this view, the “harsh moral tenor” of English and American welfare institutions and policies, spanning from the late 19th to the early 21st century, is “rooted” in Calvinist Puritanism, the legacy of which primarily explains “why English and American hostility to public aid is not shared by other Protestant countries”, with the link being particularly “explicit” between Reaganism/Thatcherism and Methodism (Hudson and Coukos 2005:5) as what Mill and Weber consider a late-Puritan revival and (emotional) intensification. A likely specific indicator or proxy of this Puritan-rooted antagonism to the welfare state in America is also non-egalitarian (non-progressive) as well as non-redistributive taxation, as exemplified by the US lowest marginal taxes and the highest income threshold for the highest marginal tax (Smeeding 2006) among other Protestant societies. In short, the above suggests that Puritanism is at the root of what sociologists identify as the “new American exceptionalism” (Quadagno 1999) and even “backwardness” (Amenta et al. 2001) in terms of a welfare state within the Western world.

            As indicated, a salient aspect of this Puritan legacy of economic anti-egalitarianism in the economy includes traditionally high, even recently (as during the 1980-2000s) further increasing economic inequalities in America by comparison with other less or non Puritan Protestant as well as Catholic societies. As known, primarily in consequence of neo-conservative anti-egalitarian (including anti-welfare and taxation) Puritan-rooted economic institutions, policies and ideas, America has by far the greatest income inequality by virtually all relevant criteria, including the highest and ever-growing comparative Gini index (Deininger and Squire 1996; Gottschalk and Smeeding 1997). Among such indicators, since the 1980s America features the greatest share of the top 20, 10 and 1 percent of the population in national income and wealth alike (Wolff 2002), highest executive (CEOs) total compensations both in absolute terms and as a ratio to worker pay (Abowd and Kaplan 1999), as well as among the lowest worker wages (e.g. hourly compensation for manufacturing workers), the lowest paid working poor (Smeeding 2006), and the lowest minimum wages within Western societies.



            Another correlated dimension of Puritanism’s legacy of economic anti-egalitarianism, specifically its, as Weber, Tawney and others stress, original condemnation and attack of the poor through anti-charity and anti-welfare (Hudson and Coukos 2005) preaching, institutions and practices, in America is widespread, persistent poverty, just as a non-existent or minimal welfare state, by comparison with other Western societies. As well-known, among Western societies, America has traditionally had and continues to have by the 21st century the highest poverty (including child poverty) rates (invariably double-digit figure, around 12-20% depending on the measure used) as well as the lowest social benefit and other welfare


expenditures as a key factor in the persistence of the American poor (Korpi and Palme 1998; Smeeding 2006).

Alternatively, all non or less historically Puritan, Protestant as well as Catholic societies, ranging from Great Britain and Canada to Scandinavia and France, have substantially lower (regularly, single-digit) rates of poverty either in general or in its particular dimensions (e.g. children in poor families). For example, data show that, as the Western country with the highest level of child poverty (alongside Italy), the United States contributes the least assistance to children as a percentage of GNP (Smeeding 2006), and overall has the lowest public expenditure or so among industrial countries (Tanzi and Schuknecht 1997), except for the military and other mechanisms of social control and repression (the police). Consider this remarkable American-Mexican convergence: For example, (as a 2000 UNICEF report finds) “Mexico and the United States now top the list of OECD countries where children live in “relative” poverty: More than one in four children in Mexico (26.2%) and more than one in five in the United States (22.4%) are poor” (cf. also Smeeding 2006). 


Puritanism, Economic Inequalities and Political Repression

The preceding implies that both in original Calvinist Puritanism and its subsequent derivatives in Great Britain and America economic inequalities are intertwined and mutually reinforcing with political anti-egalitarianism and repression, thus epitomizing and confirming a general link of inequality, exclusion and oppression in economy with those in politics and society overall. As emphasized by some contemporary economists, Puritan-rooted conservative and any other “economic institutions that lead to a very unequal distribution of income and wealth are only consistent with a similarly unequal distribution of political power, i.e., with dictatorships and other repressive regimes” (Acemoglu 2005:1041). In this view, the slave-plantation economy in the ante-bellum, ultimately neo-Puritan US South, just as by implication New England’s proto-Puritan “trade in slaves and rum” (Foerster 1962:4), was impossible “together with democratic political institutions” (Acemoglu 2005:1041), and conversely possible to establish and endure only by a repressive state-church in a way of what Weber identifies as Puritanism’s alliance with or control of political power in early Great Britain and America.

Specifically, some economists implicitly detect and predict a link between conservative-produced or Puritan-rooted economic and political inequality and repression in America by identifying or predicting the movement of the US economy and polity toward an authoritarian, specifically oligarchic, economic and political system in which repression of the population persists and even tends to increase (Pryor 2002). In this view, “ever greater” wealth and income inequalities in America will eventually lead to “greater social unrest and crime” and consequently “harsher” repression of “un-American” economic-political groups--viz. workers and unions reduced to non-entities or nuisances resulting in an economy emptied of industrial democracy and so operating as a functional equivalent of a one-party political system--by a conservative policing state or repressive government through Puritan-inspired Draconian (“get tough”) institutions (Pryor 2002:359-64). In addition, economists and other analysts find that increasing economic inequalities in America under neo-Puritan conservatism result in lower rather than (as often supposed) higher, social mobility (Bjorkland and Janti 1997; Breen and Jonsson [9] 2005; Solon 2002) than other Protestant, especially Scandinavian, societies, thus effectively subverting, rather than promoting, the American Dream of “moving ahead” (Becker and Murphy 2000), just as linked with corruption [10] (You and Khagram 2005) in economy and politics. 


Concluding Comments

The paper has re-conceptualized and reanalyzed Protestant Puritanism in terms of political extremism or radicalism. It has argued and evidenced that Puritanism intrinsically represents or eventually generates political extremism, intertwined and mutual reinforced with its moral-religious absolutism or radicalism. It has ‘rediscovered’ Puritanism an extreme, radical politics and ideology, just as absolutist morality and religion, specifically ‘iron’, ‘hotter sort’ (Gorski 2000) of Protestantism, reciprocally related and intensified. Hence, suspicion has been confirmed that Puritanism is ‘pure’ or ‘purist’ solely in political extremism, including intolerance, and so authoritarianism, like moral-religious absolutism, in contrast to moderation, toleration and democracy in politics, just as pluralism or relativism in morality and religion.

            Alternatively, the question may arise as to why Puritanism is political, as well as moral-religious, extremism, radicalism or absolutism,  and to that extent authoritarianism. As previously intimated, its claims to ‘purity’ and ‘absolute truth’ in politics, just as in morality and religion, probably inherently renders Puritanism a type of political, as well as moral-religious, extremism or absolutism. In short, Puritanism is extremism or absolutism in politics, as well as morality and religion, because it is what economist Keynes would call political, just as moral-religious, purism. For example, Keynes (1936) implies that what he denotes as ‘financial purism’ (identified as a major policy factor of the Great Depression) represents or results in a sort of economic and political extremism or radicalism.

By analogy, political and moral-religious purism, as defining of Calvinist (or other) Puritanism, constitutes or produces--and hence defines the latter in terms of--extremism, radicalism or absolutism, including what Mill and contemporary sociologists identify as Puritan ‘fanatical’ and ‘sadistic’ (Bauman 2000) intolerance, in politics as well as morality and religion. Alternatively, this implies that virtually no political and moral-religious purism has been or is likely to be moderation, including tolerance, democracy, relativism or pluralism in politics as well as morality and religion simply because it is ‘purist’ or ‘puritanical’ in a general sense.

In this respect, Puritanism as intrinsic purism in politics as well as morality and religion is inherently either a species of political extremism, including intolerance, just as moral-religious absolutism, or is not ‘Puritan’ at all. If the Keynes implied equation of purism in general and extremism is correct, then it perhaps cannot be otherwise in respect with Calvinist Puritanism in particular conforming to the rule and pattern, unless one claims, as especially US Puritans and their conservative descendents do (Dunn and Woodard 1996), that the latter, notably its American, version is an exception, viz. moderate, liberal-democratic, egalitarian, pluralist, and the like. In short, political and other extremism or absolutism is what is in the name ‘Puritanism’ as the particular, Protestant rendition of ‘purism’ in politics and society.   



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[1] In a certain tension and perhaps contradiction with his description of it as “radicalism”, if considered or understood as actually or potentially un- and at most quasi-democratic, Tawney (1962: 271) states that Puritanism made an “enormous contribution”  to political liberty (and social progress), even that modern democracy “owes more to Nonconformity [Puritanism] than to any other single movement.”

[2] Generally, Pareto implies that original Protestantism was revolutionary by registering the rise of a ‘revolutionary knighthood’, embodied by what he calls the ‘robber barons’ (e.g. Sickingen and Hutten), in the wake of the Protestant Reformation.

[3] Kaplan (2002:13) comments that in early Holland for their opponents Calvinism ‘merely replaced the old Spanish Inquisition with a new Genevan one’, including ‘violent efforts to suppress Catholicism’. For example, ‘Gent’s Calvinist theocracy was referred to frequently, in tones of dark foreboding.’

[4] For instance, following the US puritanical government (Congress) ban on Internet gambling in the 2000s, Great Britain's culture secretary commented that “America should have learnt the lessons of Prohibition”, warning that such bans would make (unregulated) sites abroad the “modern equivalent” of illegal bars (“speakeasies") that opened in  America during the 1920s after alcohol was prohibited. Yet, apparently US Puritan-inspired religious conservatives have virtually never learned these lessons, as indicated by a wide repertoire of functionally identical practices, including, alongside the above ban, new alcohol prohibitions (e.g. Southern “dry” counties) or restrictions (the federal legal limit of 21 year) and the “war on drugs”, as a supreme “modern equivalent” of  Prohibition (as admitted by Friedman 1997; also Reuter 2005). American Puritanism has never learned--and perhaps never will via modern fundamentalism--the long-standing historical lesson that Prohibition in the sense of what Pareto observes (for the US government) as enforcing “morality by law” simply does not work and produces perverse effects (e.g. organized crime and vice, including mafia) exactly opposite to those intended (moral virtue). In this sense, it has always had and maintained by the 21st century what Veblen would call a “trained incapacity” to learn such lessons.

[5] Pareto implies that this Puritan equation and punishment of sins with and as crimes is based on Puritanism’s extreme asceticism and its condemnation of pleasure as sin or even crime. Thus, he agrees with the view that “pleasure and crime were synonyms in the monastic [and Puritan] idiom”, adding that “they still are to our modern ascetics”. For example, he cites an old Puritan code (of the Scotch Presbyterian clergy) dictating that “all the natural affections, all the pleasures of society, all the pastimes, all the guy instincts of the human heart were so many sins.” Pareto adds that “long before, the monks had carried this kind of [Puritan] insanity [or follies] to the utmost limit”, thus suggesting that Puritanism is a historical déjà vu even in respect to its celebrated (or hypocritical) moral purity or austerity.

[6] This is predictably, at least in view of what Weber and other sociologists (Bauman 1997; Friedland 2002; Turner 2002) identify and document as affinities or similarities between Puritanism and fundamentalist Islam in social control and repression, including Draconian sanctions for sins and crimes alike.

[7] Pareto’s full statement is that “the religion of Christ, which seemed especially made for the poor and humble, has generated the Roman theocracy”. Moreover, he implies that Protestantism generated the identical theocratic or aristocratic, and so undemocratic, outcome through its “revolutionary knighthood”, by observing that, following the Reformation, the new Protestant elite “leaned on the poor and humble; as usual they were deceived, and the yoke weighed even heavier on their shoulders than before.” In particular, Pareto suggests that the Protestant Reformation was caused or precipitated by that what calls the previous Catholic “theocratic upper classes became skeptical” (with the popes being “more concerned with terrestrial than with celestial interests”)  and in reaction to this skepticism (and papal “worldliness”) it “began among the rough people of the North where Christian religion sentiment was more alive, while it made few proselytes in refined and skeptical Italy”. In turn, Pareto also, with some sarcasm, predicts that modern official Catholicism will continue to be repressive or theocratic by predicting that “our neo-Catholics would be liable to send [Galileo] back to prison right away!”

[8] Popper (1973:268) describes political anti-egalitarianism as authoritarian and “just criminal”, even ultimately used to “justify murder”, in that it provides a “justification of the attitude that different categories of people have different rights; that the master has the right to enslave the slave; that some men have the right to use others as their tools.”

[9] Breen and Jonsson (2005:233-4) review and find that comparative empirical analyses of inter-generational (father-to-son)  income mobility “show the United States to be noticeably more rigid than the countries with which it has been compared (mostly the Nordic countries).” For example, they cite the findings that father-to-son correlations (or elasticities) are 0.45 in the US (and England), while 0.13 in Sweden, 0.28 in Finland, and 0.34 in Germany. They comment that “even if Americans live in a fairly open society, the prevailing inequalities are more ‘costly’ for a disadvantaged American and more profitable for someone privileged” (Breen and Jonsson 2005:234 ). Also, Solon (2002:63-4) remarks that comparative studies ‘strongly suggest that Canada and Finland, like Sweden, are more mobile societies than is the United States’ or alternatively the second (plus Great Britain) is ‘less mobile’ than the first. Notably, he confirms that the ‘contrasts between Sweden and the United States in both inequality and intergenerational mobility may be related’ Solon (2002:65), as indicated in a study by Bjorkland and Janti (1997).

[10] According to Transparency International, among Western societies, America has one of the highest indexes of corruption (“Corruption Perceptions Index”), perhaps a likely legacy or survival of what Weber and others observe as Puritan “pure hypocrisy.” As Weber intimates, non-Puritans may object that only or mostly on the account of its “pure hypocrisy” American and other Puritanism deserves its claim to “purity” rather (or more) than what Tocqueville calls “austerity” and “purity” of its principles and practices. A Tocquevillean-Weberian joint solution would that both the a priori purity of their principles and the a posteriori “pure hypocrisy” (a la Pharisees described by Weber as “Puritans”) in pursuing such a “purer” life give and justify, to quote Tocqueville, the “name of Puritans.” In turn, You and Khagram (2005:152-3) in general find that ‘greater inequality causes higher levels of corruption, and higher levels of corruption intensify inequality’, thus detecting ‘vicious circles of inequality and corruption’ or conversely ‘virtuous circles of equality and integrity (freedom from corruption)’. 


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