Chapter 6, “Puritanism: The Rise of Egalitarian Individualism and Moralistic Utopianism,” of Kevin MacDonald’s Individualism and the Western Liberal Tradition, claims that Puritanism and the intellectual movements descending from this religion were the “most important” forces shaping the culture of the United States “from the eighteenth century down to the mid-twentieth century.” Puritanism, and the WASP culture it engendered, would cease to be hegemonic over American culture as Jews came to infiltrate “critical sectors of American life” from the early 1900s onward.
For some time, Anglo-Saxon Darwinism managed to hold Jewish influence at bay, winning the battle for immigration restriction with the passing of the Immigration Act of 1924. But the Jews were growing behind the scenes. Two million arrived from Eastern Europe between 1890 and 1924. While they lost the fight against immigration restrictions, their influence would grow unimpeded in the media, the social sciences, the legal profession and in finance. Darwinism, and the theories of race associated with this movement, would soon face defeat in academic circles, in no small measure because of the influence of Franz Boas. By 1965 Americans would come to agree with Jewish elites that their WASP nation was meant to be a “melting pot” of multiple races based on universal principles.
Jewish Infiltration of WASP Community Norms
Was there something in Puritanism and the Anglo-Saxon mind set that made them susceptible to this kind of infiltration? Contrary to common interpretations, MacDonald does not frame this debate solely in terms of WASP individualism versus Jewish in-group strategic control. He distinctly says that individualism is not incompatible with in-group strategies and collectivist norms. The Puritans had strong in-group markers. Their Anglo-Saxon descendants had a strong sense of ethnic identity, what it meant to be “distinctively American”. In fact, as we will see in our examination of later chapters, MacDonald believes that the “liberal cosmopolitanism” ruling the Western world today resembles “the Puritan tradition of combining individualistic tendencies with strong social controls”.
Western individualism has engendered its own forms of collectivism. The difference is that the collective identities the West promoted have tended to be based on moralistic/ideological principles rather than on kinship relations. Their ethnic attachments were exhibited within in-groups far larger (city-states and nation-states) than the typical clannish tribal groups we find outside the West. The argument is not that Western individualists were bereft of any communitarian ties. The argument revolves around different types and degrees of individualism in relationship with different types and degrees of “ideological” collectivism.
The type of moral communities whites created (relatively freed from kinship ties) left them susceptible to out-group infiltration. While Americans managed to create very powerful nation-state with a strong in-group WASP ethnic identity, their liberal and egalitarian values left them susceptible to out-group infiltration. The Jews successfully radicalized the Anglo-Saxon “sense of fairness and egalitarianism” against an America based on a WASP identity.
“Puritanism as a Group Evolutionary Strategy”
It marked the beginning of the end of aristocratic individualism with its strong emphasis on hierarchy between social categories and the beginning of the rise of egalitarian individualism with its ideology of social leveling and parliamentary democracy — blended with capitalism and wealth accumulation.
In other words, the egalitarian individualism that originated among northwest European hunters and farmers took the upper hand away from the aristocratic individualism which prevailed in ancient and medieval times. MacDonald notes that Puritanism originated in East Anglia, a region with a strong tradition of freedom, fond of town meetings and arguments, with the “highest average intelligence in Britain,” a larger proportion of literate inhabitants, scholars and scientists.
I would add that East Anglia was a region with a high proportion of yeomen farmers, that is, a “middle class” of farmers, just below the gentry, in possession of their own land, without subordination to feudal lords, as well as free to serve on juries and in municipal police forces, from the 15th through 18th centuries. They were also individualistic in their heavy participation in the woollen cloth industry since the fourteenth century, which nurtured a tradition of self-determination and consensual social contract.
However, the one cultural trait Puritans have stood out for historically, and Protestants generally, is liberty of conscience; every individual should be allowed to live by the faith that seems to true to him; every individual should have “direct, unmediated access to God”. MacDonald observes that the “Puritan revolution was carried to its extreme in the United States,” where they were “freed of the hereditary aristocracy and religion of England, during the Jacksonian era”. Another feature of Puritanism was its tendency to “pursue utopian causes framed as moral issues,” in terms of “appeals to a ‘higher law’ and the belief that the principal purpose of government is moral.”
There was a tendency to paint political alternatives as starkly contrasting moral imperatives, with one side portrayed as evil incarnate — inspired by the devil.
This brings me to a trait MacDonald brings up right from the beginning, and it is that Puritans were also “strongly collectivist”, with clear ingroup-out group distinctions. This is why he writes of Puritanism as a “group evolutionary strategy”. It was not a “genetically closed strategy” (even though Puritans were ethnically homogeneous for a long time) since they were open to outsiders who converted to Puritanism. Puritans came to constitute, nevertheless, a very cohesive group with a
powerful emphasis on cultural conformity…and public regulation of personal behavior via social controls related to sex, lack of religious piety, public drunkenness, etc.
MacDonald calls these controls “anti-individualist” in the same vein as he designates Puritanism as an “individualistic group strategy”. This may seem confusing to those who think that individualism is inherently anti-collectivist, but it is not. The Puritan “individualist group strategy” was “remarkably adaptive in an evolutionary sense,” both in England and the United States. In the United States, Puritans “multiplied at a rapid rate, doubling every generation for two centuries”. They nurtured very strong families, with strict yet warm family practices and bonds. They emphasized literacy in both sons and daughters, supporting public libraries and schools. Within their communities, Puritans were indeed committed to egalitarian fairness “and the good of the group as a whole”, rather than allowing each individual to maximize his interests as a private agent. They had a strong moral commitment to the moral well being of others. Farmers without any educational background, for example, “voluntarily contributed some of their harvest to support university faculty and students”.
|Early Puritan in America|
At the same time, in the United States, as Puritans prospered and “became more inclined to commercialism and materialism,” the religious controls waned, particularly as the population grew, and the areas originally inhabited by Puritans grew into cities, as they were opened to waves of immigrants who were not committed to a Puritan way of life. But these developments did not bring an end to the moral commitments of Puritans, but resulted in the rise of a “secular version of moral utopianism”.
Puritan-Descended Transcendentalist Intellectuals
Transcendentalists were a very influential intellectual elite (roughly from 1830 to 1860) in America with Puritan origins. They are called “transcendentalists” because they believed that humans could transcend their animal instincts by using their minds in the creative way it was meant to be used. They believed that humans could overcome their greedy impulses, lust for sex and power, and ethnocentric biases, through socialization in the ideals of “brotherly love” and control over their bodily senses and appetites. MacDonald notes that this utopian optimism coincided with the incredible material progress American was witnessing in the nineteenth century, in science and technology. This progress inculcated the belief — and not just among transcendentalists — that a “golden age of peace, harmony, righteous behavior and material comfort” was attainable.One could get into a long discussion here about how the ability of whites to form groups freed from biologically-based kin-groups is what allowed them, not just transcendentalists, but Western thinkers from ancient times onward, to employ their minds in far more creative ways than all the other cultures combined. This creativity, witnessed in multiple fields — the arts, architecture, music — can hardly be identified as inherently naive just because it presupposes the freeing of the mind from purely Darwinian pressures. It can, and has been, the basis for Western “realism” and the formation of powerful ethnic states, and indeed the creativity behind Darwinism. This transcendence, however, can be very dangerous as we have seen aplenty in the many utopian worlds whites have concocted out of their imagination. The American transcendentalists, as was observed of Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of the main intellectuals of this group, tended to be men with a “cheery, child-like soul, impervious to the evidence of evil” — easy prey to manipulators of the mind.
Although the ideas of transcendentalists would lose their preeminence after the bloody Civil War, and American intellectuals would be influenced by ideas of progress based on realistic assessments of human nature, their illusions about a peaceful “brotherhood” across the world would continue to influence American liberalism thereafter.
Anglo-Saxon Individualism and Ethnic Identification
Some Anglos were more radical in their individualism, advocating individual freedom from all remaining Puritan social controls; identified by MacDonald as “early precursors of 1960s’ hippiedom, celebrating self-discovery, emotion over logic, intuition, rebellion free love, Black jazz”, but others were on the right of the Anglo-Saxon spectrum, influenced by Darwinian theories of race. While we can say that the Anglo-Saxons intellectuals who advocated assimilation were voicing the majority view among Americans, MacDonald identifies the long period from 1880 to 1965 as a period of “ethnic defense” in acknowledgement of the considerable influence that Social Darwinian ideas (developed by Arthur de Gobineau, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Gustave Le Bon, Herbert Spencer, Madison Grant, and Lothrop Stoddard) played in ensuring the Immigration Act of 1924 and keeping the borders close until 1965. For these Darwinians, racial differences were real, and the races were “in competition with each other for supremacy”.
For MacDonald, then, the WASP culture of Americans, had nurtured within itself a strong Darwinian movement capable of instilling a solid sense of ethnic identity among white Americans. But this current would not last. Right from the beginning, as this school held sway, a cadre of Jewish immigrants, freshly off the boats, set out to argue that the American ideals of individualism and universalism were inconsistent with any notion of America as an Anglo-Saxon ethnic state.
Between Jewish Universalism and Jewish Nationalism
Some Jews argued that all races, including Jews, should dissolve themselves within an American melting pot of races. But the more influential Jews, themselves influenced by Darwinian race theories, believed that Jews, in the words of Felix Adler (1851-1933), should only “universalize themselves out of existence when the task [of ethnic dissolution of non-Jews] was complete”. The Jews had their own unique universalist ethics, with a commitment to bring an end to the ethnic and racial identities of Americans (and the rest of the world). Jews should preserve themselves as the harbingers of a new world order. At the same time, Jews should build their own nationalism in order to protect themselves in a world full of antisemitism. Some Jewish intellectuals (Israel Zangwill, for example) would argue that “Jews were a morally superior race” with a morally superior religion—Judaism—with a “moral vision” to become the shinning light for a future America bereft of its historic Anglo-Saxon identity.
I was very surprised to learn from MacDonald (when first I read some four years ago his article, “Jewish Involvement in Shaping American Immigration Policy, 1881-1965“) that Jews were the first to articulate the idea of multiculturalism. I thought the theory of multiculturalism was quintessentially Canadian. While I still think that Canadians, such as Will Kymlicka and Charles Taylor, would go on to develop a full explanation of how multiculturalism, not assimilation, was consistent with Western liberalism, it continues to surprise me (reading this chapter) that back in the early 1900s Jews were already making the case that America was meant to be a “polycentric” nation characterized by cultural pluralism. To compel immigrants to assimilate to a dominant Anglo-Saxon culture, Jewish intellectual were arguing long ago, would constitute a violation of their “human dignity”. Assimilation entailed the denigration of the culture of immigrants. The nation of America must be de-linked from its Anglo-Saxon ethnic core. Anglo-Saxon culture should be seen as just one culture among many others.
|Jews arriving in America|
Worse than this, actually, for Jews the Anglo-Saxon majority culture in America was never meant to be a particular culture in its own right, but a culture inherently open to multiple cultures with their own particular identities. This view was only a few steps away from the Canadian idea that immigrant minorities deserve special group rights to protect themselves from the majority European culture with its inherent tendency to be racist and discriminatory.
It does not seem quite accurate to say that collectivist Jews exploited the inherent inability of American individualism to generate any form of ethnic identity. It seems more accurate to say that they hijacked Anglo-Saxon moral communities. The same Jewish intellectuals who would “expose the power structures of white America” would come to create a rigid ideological community with norms prohibiting debate on race differences, biological differences between the sexes, criticism of mass immigration, and white identity. A strange social order would appear, characterized by the decline of the family, paternal authority, and genuine individualism. The Anglo-Saxons were genuine individuals in their appreciation of the capacity of the rational ego to decide what is the good life in communication with others. But this rational self, capable of choosing its own religious beliefs, was substituted by what Christopher Lasch would call in the 1970s a narcissistic individualism entrapped to a world of consumerism, helpless, dependent and passive, but assured by the politically correct community that he is living a meaningful life as long as he accepts diversity without rational criticism, views whites as inherently racist, praises non-whites for their authentic culture and longs for a multicultural world across the West.