… by claiming Democrats embody their values.
In her recent column, “Progressives Are The Modern Puritans,” Dowd tiresomely reprises the often-quoted comment of H.L. Mencken, “Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” Responding to lefty scolds, she writes:
Yo, proletariat: If the Democratic Party is going to be against chocolate, high heels, parties and fun, you’ve lost me. And I’ve got some bad news for you about 2020.
The progressives are the modern Puritans. The Massachusetts Bay Colony is alive and well on the Potomac and Twitter.
Historians, however, have known since the middle of the last century that Mencken’s stereotype was unjustified and inaccurate, a caricature that was far off base. Led by Perry Miller of Harvard and one of his star students, Edmund S. Morgan of Yale, scores of books and articles have been written pointing out, as Morgan wrote early on, “The Puritans were not ascetics; they never wished to prevent the enjoyment of earthly delights. They merely demanded that the pleasures of the flesh be subordinated to the greater glory of god.”
Some of this evidence was nicely summarized in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece over 20 years ago, “The Puritans Weren’t Puritanical.”
Many of the Puritans’ contemporaries actually criticized them for having too much fun. The Quaker George Fox objected to their “ribbons and lace and costly apparel,” as well as to their “sporting and feasting.” The great Catholic Thomas More charged that William Tyndale and his early Puritan followers “eat fast and drink fast and lust fast in their lechery.”
More was scandalized by the Puritan insistence that celibacy wasn’t superior to marital sex. He was also shocked that these Protestants “loved no Lenten fast.” The Puritans viewed Lent as a man-made tradition imposed without scriptural warrant. Regardless of which side was correct, clearly More was more “puritanical” in today’s meaning than the Puritans were.
Wheaton College’s Leland Ryken, whose book “Worldly Saints” analyzes Puritan beliefs, notes that most of today’s conventional wisdom about the Puritans is false. Puritanism was a youthful, highly educated movement. The Puritans revived Cambridge University and founded Harvard only six years after founding the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Puritans celebrated the material world, with Richard Sibbes affirming that “this world and the things thereof are all good, and were all made of God, for the benefit of his creature.”
Today’s progressives are moralistic (if selectively), priggish, holier-than-thou harpies, but they are not Puritanical.