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Published on: January 24, 2011
The Birth of the Blues

In music, as everybody knows, the blues were born in the Mississippi Delta and traveled up the river and the railroads from New Orleans to Memphis, St. Louis and on to Chicago. In politics, the blues were born farther north: in the Puritan commonwealth of 17th century New England centered around Boston.  For the Puritans, the […]

In music, as everybody knows, the blues were born in the Mississippi Delta and traveled up the river and the railroads from New Orleans to Memphis, St. Louis and on to Chicago.

In politics, the blues were born farther north: in the Puritan commonwealth of 17th century New England centered around Boston.  For the Puritans, the construction of a godly society was the first order of business.  The state was not the enemy of liberty; the state was society’s moral agent.

Today’s libertarians sometimes like to call their blue model liberal opponents “unamerican”.  Nothing could be farther from the truth: if Yankee New England isn’t American, nothing is.  If John Winthrop, Cotton Mather, the Mayflower Compact and the first Thanksgiving aren’t part of the American story, friends, we don’t have a story.  That doesn’t mean Boston is always right, much less that in its current state the Puritan big-state tradition in American has useful answers to offer, but it also means that Americans inspired by this tradition will continue to add to the discussion over our future.

And far from being dead and buried, the Puritan political tradition in America is best represented by our current president; intellectually and morally, President Obama is a distinguished representative of Boston at its best.

New England Blues

New England government was charged with the creation of a moral society.  There was nothing that was not its business: how much did a master pay his apprentices?  Who celebrated Christmas?  Who was cheating on his or her spouse?  The duty of government was to make society live right; the university, the pulpit, the newspaper — these were to be the allies of government in the struggle for good.

Even after the old alliance between church and state in New England was broken up for good (the establishment of religion at the state level lasted almost 50 years after the ratification of the Constitution in Massachusetts and Connecticut) the acolytes of New England righteousness worked to make the American government a force for the moral uplift of the American people.  Many of their causes today look prescient: the abolition of slavery and voting rights for women.  Others, prohibition, eugenics and various forms of food-nuttery matching the changing scientific fashions of the day, look weird.

Over the centuries, New England has changed its theology while remaining loyal to its cultural foundations.  The Calvinist orthodoxy of the seventeenth century yielded increasingly to Deism and Unitarianism in the eighteenth — and Harvard officially became Unitarian in 1803, dropping its belief in the divinity of Christ.  In the nineteenth century literary and intellectual New England hedged its bets, backing a range of horses from Emersonian transcendentalism to the more evangelically flavored Calvinism of the Victorian years.  During the second half of the twentieth century the mind of New England became more secular than in past generations– but nothing has ever changed the deep belief in this cultural stream that, however defined, morality exists and that it is the job of the state to enforce true morals and uphold right thinking.

Cotton Mather (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

“Political correctness” and tortured attitudes toward language and gender have long been part of the New England Way.  Victorian New Englanders pioneered feminist ideas and daring new styles of dress — but enforced rigid standards of ‘political correctness’ that stifled American literature, restricted its range of subjects, and drove authors like Mark Twain to paroxysms of rage and frustration.  In the nineteenth century Bostonian literary puritanism was so focused on sex that “Banned in Boston” was a label that helped sell books around the country.  Today’s Puritans want to regulate “hate” speech on college campuses and engage in tortured debates over topics like “heteronormative” discourse not unlike the hair-splitting theological debates their ancestors were famous for.

But there was never any doubt in the New England mind that the State was the chosen instrument of the righteous in the ongoing mission to make a better world.  Then as now New England loved urban density; in the 17th century the divines wanted laws passed to force settlers to live close to the town center to ensure better social control.  These days they support a “new urbanism” aimed at preventing the diffusion of Americans out into the exurbs where they will live as they please rather than following all the rituals and requirements that the New England mind knows are best.  The godly must keep the rabble in line or intellectual, political and social chaos will ensue.  The Bostonian mind doesn’t just believe this; it knows it, and the path of duty is clear.

To be a Bostonian meant to live in frustration during much of American history.  Before the Civil War the power of the slave owning South frustrated the far reaching plans of New England for national uplift and consolidation; after the war it was the power of the industrial tycoons and the national rush for growth that kept the best New England men on the sidelines of politics, grousing and bemoaning the decadence of the republic.

In the twentieth century, Boston got a boost from an unexpected source.  The millions of European immigrants who streamed into the United States after the Civil War teamed up with native born Americans trapped in the ghastly factories and industrial wastelands of the day.  The Europeans brought with them a less individualistic, more communitarian outlook than previous generations of non-Bostonian Americans.  They looked to government to defend them against the greed of the robber barons much as their forebears in Europe hoped that strong kings would keep their feudal oppressors in check.

Many non-New England Americans instinctively saw government, and especially the federal government, as a danger to liberty.  This was not the view of Boston’s new allies.  The social-democratic and Catholic social justice ideas current in the growing cities had much in common with traditional New England ideas about the need for a strong moral state — and out of this mix came the waves of twentieth century liberalism that so powerfully reshaped American institutions and ideas for the next 100 years.

New allies appeared as Blacks moved toward the Democratic Party beginning with the New Deal.  The full force of New England reform reformers and progressives went into the Civil Rights movement and programs like affirmative action designed to use the growing power of the state to put the American nation on a firmer moral footing by breaking the power of racism once and for all.

Kennedy Ushers in a New Era

The marriage between Boston and immigrant America was not an easy one.  Henry Cabot Lodge was not fond of the Boston Irish — and vice versa.  It was not until John Fitzgerald Kennedy — a son both of Harvard and of the old Irish political machine — that the two traditions really fused.  Kennedy summoned McGeorge Bundy, John Kenneth Galbraith and all the legions of Harvard to his side; Camelot was the brief moment when Boston’s age-old dream seemed on the verge of realization.

John F. Kennedy in the Oval Office (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The marriage between the blue noses of the Yankee ascendancy and the blue collar workers of the industrial North and Midwest took longer to forge than it took to begin to dissolve.  As the children and grandchildren of northern immigrants moved to the suburbs and sent their kids to college, many of them began to gravitate away from the communal values their forbears brought from Europe and embraced the more individualistic attitudes of the American past.  “Reagan Democrats” applauded the crushing of PATCO (the federal air traffic controllers’ union that Ronald Reagan destroyed after an illegal strike) and began to wonder whether low taxes weren’t better than government programs.

Modern Blues

Currently, the blue alliance in American politics cobbles together the Yankees and their true-believing heirs, part of the old ethnic world that remains alienated from non-blue American ideas ranging from individualistic social and economic policy to religion, most African-Americans and a great many Hispanics.

For many Boston Blues, President Obama’s 2008 election was such a high point because it looked as Camelot might return.  Barack Obama does for Blacks and blues what Kennedy did for the Irish and the Brahmins; like JFK he is an outsider who bought into the New England worldview.  The high school he attended in Hawaii was founded by New England missionaries; his Ivy League education at Columbia and Harvard Law further steeped him in the values and outlook of the New England mind.  To have a charismatic Black politician sweep the nation with a campaign evoking the communitarian big state vision New England had long favored was both a vindication of core Boston values and a sign that more victories were coming.

The 2010 midterms set that optimism back, but many analysts, especially on the liberal side, suggest that the big question in American life is whether enough Hispanics will join the blue coalition to replace what looks to be a continuing drift of exurban whites in the other direction.  That’s important; in the short term one wonders whether a further deterioration of the government’s fiscal position will make the whole question moot.  If the blue model falls apart under its own weight, rather than being pulled down by its enemies, where does American politics then go?

In any case, nobody should expect blue thinking to go away.  Boston and its daughter cities of Greater New England (including Seattle, Portland and San Francisco) will be here for a long time to come.  A rich heritage, deeply woven into American life for more than 300 years, will not vanish away.  The New England way may go into political opposition, as it did during so much of the nineteenth century, but as an intellectual and creative force in American life, it is anything but finished.  Blue may go down, but it will not be out.

show comments
  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    Anti-Trust the Labor Gangs: Why should they get special monopoly privileges and not us? What makes them so special?
    The Desire for the power to order others around has been the bane of mankind. That the Blues want that power is un-American, as the founding fathers did their best to divide and limit the power of government, and it is why the US is so successful.
    As Courage can’t exist in the absence of fear, so Virtue can’t exist in the absence of temptation. So, you can legislate against sin, but you can’t create virtue by doing so. This is the great flaw of the left, and why all their programs suffer from the “Law of unintended consequences”, you can’t order up virtue.
    I sure hope we can replace the blue model, rather than ride it down as it collapses, as it would take the whole nation with it.

  • John Skookum

    I would note that this thread still runs through the conservative tapestry too, but not just in the moral scolds of the Puritan stereotype. The “national greatness” big-government conservatives draw their inspiration from Winthrop’s shining city on a hill, even more than Reagan did. The Upstate New Yorkers who founded the Mormon church, an important if unofficial component of today’s conservative coalition, were mostly of New England stock and mindset, and an echo of the Massachusetts Bay Colony can be heard in Utah’s convoluted liquor laws and the LDS church’s penchant for close attention to the private lives of its members. Even the neo-cons’ focus on Israel has its parallels with the founders of the New Jerusalem, who taught their ministers Hebrew from the very earliest years of Harvard and Yale.

  • Brad

    The common political heritage mentioned in this article is not reflective of the realities of the 21st century. Nothing lasts forever especially when you’re broke.

  • Jeff

    It doesn’t matter how smart you are, or how politically correct you are, or how distinguished your ancestors are, or even how good-looking you are: when you are broke you are always a loser.

    Blue America is bankrupt and broke. They are losers.

    The New England culture has had a good long run of scamming: their big government scam, education scam, medical scam, insurance racket, banking Ponzi, etc. But now their scams are finally coming unraveled. You can fool some of the people all of the time, etc.

  • CatoRenasci

    A perceptive essay, especially in the almost tossed-off parenthetical observation that Northern California and the Pacific Northwest states are closely related to the New England model. Indeed, the largest part of the early American immigration into the Pacific Northwest and Northern California in mid-to-late 19th century was from New England, or from parts of the mid-West settled by New Englanders. There was a time within living memory that the First Congregational Church in San Francisco was one of the largest private landowners in the city, and in many parts of the Pacific Northwest and Northern California, up through the 1950s, the Congregational Church was the most socially prominent in many cities and towns.

    One point you do not make, however, which I think is important, is that there is a substantial amount of tension between the New England use of the state for enforcing morals and uplift, and the Enlightenment ideas, especially the English Whig tradition and its philosophical basis (Locke, Hume, Stewart, Smith, etc.) which also motivated the Founders.

    Much emphasis is given to the way in which the Constitution compromised in dealing with the incompatibility between the Founding principles of liberty and equality, and Southern states insistence on maintaining slavery, perhaps more attention needs to be paid to the way in which the Constitution also compromised its principles of liberty and equality in permitting individual states to establish religion and enforce moral laws perhaps as odious to those who disagreed with them as slavery was to those who favored abolition.

  • Allan Blackwell

    Of course, Puritan New England was the creation of like-minded men and women who wanted the authority of their magistrates. New England and its geographic offshoots are one of the branches of English libertarianism; the problem comes from imposing the vision on the otherwise-minded. Puritanism itself was dead by 1700, but the ordered, lawful society it made lasts in many ways. By the way, I find it interesting that the only HQ of the Black Panthers which was not in financial disorder back in the day was in Connecticut.

  • CS

    It would be fun to see further pieces on:

    1. The extent to which “city on a hill” notions of US exceptionalism are grounded in statist puritanism (and thus may be economically or fiscally doomed) and other bases for exceptionalism that may have a shot at post-blue viability.

    2. Ringing the Albion’s Seed changes on other Fischerian folkways, especially mapping the Friends/Mid-Atlantic archetype onto independent/swing voters.

  • http://redneckoblogger.blogspot.com/ RedNeckoBlogger

    From what I’ve observed, this “Blue” philosophy is the very definition of “the road to Hell (and tyranny) is paved with (someone’s)’good’ intentions”!

    Progressive/Liberal/Left philosophy has morphed into an odd non-theistic (or theistic lite) version of Calvinism (the elect and reprobates). Even though lost to “Hell”(our lifestyle destroys Earth), the (self-appointed)“elect” must force the “reprobate”(us the unwashed) into “moral correctness” (aka: liberty limited Nanny State with curly lightbulbs, HIGH taxes and mucho top-down regulation). Or so it seems… one’s utopia is another’s tyranny.

  • Low On Prozac

    A very insightful interesting article. Dogmatic religious belief is alive and well on the Left. They threw the baby Jesus out and kept the bathwater.

  • Charlie

    Seems that both libertarians and conservatives owe a debt to our Pilgrim forefathers, less so “blue model liberals.” Distinctive to the Puritans, as opposed to the other reformed protestant denominations that settled America were several complex ideas on ordered liberty including “soul liberty,” the idea that the state can in no way restrain someone who is about God’s work.

    Rather than use government to enforce religious preferences, the Puritans switched it the other way around. Govt was kept small (townhalls, selectmen and small courts) to take care of the mundane realm not managed by religious authority. For Puritans, as opposed to Anglicans, marriage and divorce were mere civil matters.

    Puritans also gave capitalism its start by declaring the commonplace religious edicts against usury absurd. Money should be put to work at interest they felt.

    I’m no authority on reform protestantism in 17th and 18th century America. Perhaps Quakers and Unitarians fit you argument better, but from what I know libertarians owe the greatest debt to the Pilgrims.

  • Genuine Liberal

    Mr. Mead,

    Libertarians don’t call blue model liberals un-American because they were absent from this country’s history. We call them un-American because their view that “There was nothing that was not its (the government’s) business” is anathema the foundational ideas of the country. After all, there is no one more hostile to liberty than a so-called “Liberal”.

  • Jim

    I found this post riveting, as I have found all the posts in the Liberalism 5.0 series. This particular post really made me re-think the Americanness of blue liberalism and the significance of President Kennedy.

    The series as a whole is among the most important writing in America today, I think, because it’s really the first time a liberal has discussed the future of liberalism with a recognition of the inevitability of the end of the Fordist blue model. In 1988-89, I wrote my college thesis on the inevitable disintegration of the blue socioeconomic model (in different terms, of course) in the face of technological change. I have been surprised and disappointed at its staying power, and I fear that the reactionary liberal determination to hang onto the dream of restoring 1962 until the bitter end will wind up sinking the country in an economic and financial morass.

    Though I call myself a conservative, I’ve realized from this series that I’m really a 3.0 liberal who believes that the statism of Liberalism 4.0 has led liberalism down a dark path that has destroyed many of its fundamental tenets, and that the problems of Liberalism 3.0 could and should have been addressed in different ways. Theodore Roosevelt made a promising start with his trust busting, but somewhere between his administration and Wilson’s, the focus of reform shifted from re-establishing a balance of power through competitive markets to creating a managerial state. The relativism and post-modernism added to the mix in the 1960s only compounded this terrible mistake. The result was not, to use Jonah Goldberg’s term, liberal Fascism, but rather fascist Liberalism. There is an excellent reason why this term strikes us as paradoxical.

    Today, this managerial state is a threat not only to our freedoms, but also to our prosperity. You are correct, Mr. Mead, that we cannot turn the clock back to 1890 any more than we can to 1960, and even if we could, that would not be desirable. However, I think Liberalism 5.0 is going to have more in common with Liberalism 3.0 than with Liberalism 4.0. It must be based on ideas derived from ecology, systems analysis, behavioral economics, and fractals, rather than machines and engineering. It must be more inductive, more holistic, and more decentralized. This kind of model naturally lends itself to competitive free markets rather than monopolist dirigisme.

    I’m really looking forward to future installments in the series!

  • Louis Wheeler

    Freedom is the enemy of authority.

    The Blues have taken authority, power seeking and expertise as far as anyone could. They centralized decision making and opinion creation. They created media centers to tell their minions what to believe. They captured the means of information transfer and indoctrination in education, art and the press. But, their institutions are coming undone because of the clarion call of freedom.

    Partly, this is because bad results are coming home. Their great collectivist plans are producing undesirable results. Their interference in the economy produces stagflation. Their grandiose constructions, built on the welfare state, deficit financing and fractional reserve banking, are in decay. Their flagship indoctrination centers, like New York Times, are approaching bankruptcy. Technology is pushing a wedge between the Blues and the masses.

    The Blues are centralized when the world is rapidly decentralizing. The Internet has made their power centers obsolete. Computerized home schooling teaches better, because of the lack of indoctrination. Their cities are no longer necessary.

    The Blue’s contempt for the unruly hinterlands is self evident, but that hinterland is becoming politically and economically dominant. Their cities, in decay, are filled with the unproductive. These unprofitable classes are both the poor and the bureaucracy which feeds on them.

    Their efforts will soon go to pieces, because America can no longer afford them. What use is there of petty fuhrers in a rapidly decentralizing world? What happens to Universities which have abandoned the task of passing on the wisdom of the ages? What happens when higher education is deformed into creating acolytes for absurd political, social and economic cults? What happens to Anthropological Global Warming activists who cannot look out their windows and perceive that the world is getting colder? The Blues are destined to become sidelined, marginalized and impoverished. Like Detroit, their cities will decay or return to farmland. America will turn elsewhere.

    New centers of power are forming. This is not only due to population shifts. Nothing succeeds like success and the Blues are no longer successful. They are economically self destructive. Their Progressive anti business policies cause their tax base to flee. I could speak of any of the territories they control, but California, Illinois and New York State spring to mind.

    The Blues are reaching for nirvana, but their goals are hostile to freedom and reason. There is no need to kill them; they will destroy themselves. They cannot cope with the changes which are almost upon us.

  • VanillaMan

    Also, please note the strong similarities between Puritan thoughts and the environmental movement. Both are determined to recreate a Garden of Eden untouched by mankind’s evil. Both believe that sinfulness is inherent and to prevent the complete desecration of the purity of Earth, mankind is to be prevented from entering the Garden.

    A society that believes that mankind is inherently evil will build social structures they believe can rehabilitate mankind. While Puritans and Liberals believe that mankind can be made better, they also believe that mankind can never attain a level of betterment that could satisfy their demands for purity.

  • Randy

    Dr. M,

    You leave out a key detail about Obama. He may have bought into parts of the New England worldview but he cut his political teeth in Chicago. Along those lines, it’s also notable that you didn’t mention Chicago as one of New England’s “daughter cities”.

    Two prominent distinctions of Chicago’s (and by extension, Illinois’) blue state model, both of which are related: 1) there is still a Tammany Hall around, and 2) there is no substantial counterbalance to it. Add that to Obama’s lack of executive experience, and you come upon the realization that our president has never really been tested.

  • DensityDuck

    And the blues even have their own “sinners in the hands of an angry god”, viz. “No Pressure”.

    It’s remarkable how many stone atheists copy the attitudes, goals, methods, and even the language of historical evangelists they profess to despise!

  • ed

    The first day of Thanksgiving was on December 4, 1619 at the site of Berkeley Plantation in present-day Charles City County, Virginia.

    see, e.g., http://www.berkeleyplantation.com/

  • http://TheAmericanView.com John Lofton

    President Obama, who is NOT giving us Biblical/Godly civil government, who thinks murder-by-abortion should be “legal,” who continues two unGodly/unConstitutional wars, is one who “best represents” the “Puritan political tradition” in our country today?!!! Certainly you jest and/or know NOTHING about the Puritan political tradition.

    John Lofton, Editor, TheAmericanView.com
    Communications Director, Institute On The Constitution
    Recovering Republican
    JLof@aol.com

  • richard40

    One big problem with your thesis. While the Puratins may have been for their own state extensively regulating their lives and morality, they were extremely suspicious of any gov entity outside of their state regulating their lives. They could trust their own state to be Godly, but the mother country, or a fed gov dominated by other states, was likely to not embody their values. Thus in todays debate, they would be for vastly reducing federal power, and returning it to the states, what by todays standards would be considered a libertarian/conservative notion.

  • Tenther

    Interesting post. I would say though that rather than “prohibition, eugenics and various forms of food-nuttery … look[ing] weird”, they are alive and well, and if anything support your case.

    Prohibition: the Drug War continues to be cheerfully pursued regardless of who is in power, sending millions of people to jail and billons of dollars to criminals and terrorists.

    Eugenics: Forty percent of aborted babies are black. Intentionally or not, liberals seem to have arranged for the mass extermination of black babies in the womb–so much that the African-american proportion of the population is actually declining. This is fully in keeping with early eugenic goals.

    Food-nuttery: Good grief–take one example: the number of peanuts (widely accepted even among professional nutritionists now as being very healthy) sold in the US is still one third of what it was in 1980. This largely due to relentless Federal badgering over fatty foods, whose damaging effects have never been demonstrated conclusively.

    It is indeed all very weird, but ubiquitous.

  • http://grimbeorn.blogspot.com Grim

    This is a good piece, Mr. Mead. You’ve been consistently interesting lately.

  • John Barker

    Although, I am more at home in the Wild West, I love to visit Portland. There is something undeniably attractive about Portland’s version of urban life-music everywhere and great bookstores, free and convenient transportation, and amiable people who like to linger and talk over a glass of wine. I could be converted.

  • FeFe

    Schools now feed the children up to 3 meals a day too. Government as parent. However, what happened to the Motherland or Fatherland love? Sure, there were some who went back to fight for Germany during WWII (and WWI?) but they were not the majority (nor did they protest over it?). Clearly, the prevailing sentiment at the time was with our “cousins” the Brits. Those millions of 20th century European immigrants seem to have easily forgotten their homelands upon arrival. Maybe they were like the Times Square Bomber, too busy taking with both hands? No, Faisal Shahzad ran up debts on the American taxpayer’s back to train him in jihad and planned to skip town back to the muslim umma. Perhaps they are like the South American invasion, urgent to get as many members of their family here as possible? No, the Europeans integrated and did so lawfully, and were willing to bear the financial cost for something they valued beyond a day labor job, citizenship.

    When did it shift that the immigrant had no ethical regard for the family they left behind? Just throw money at the problem through remittances and ignore the manner in which their ancestral family or parents are governed. When did coming to the Land Of the Free mean never wanting to export such freedom back home? After all, we have always embraced foreign royalty visits. Did the 1960s Teddy Kennedy immigration reform so alter matters as to stop exporting American values? Alter integration? However, President Ronald Reagan spoke Dec 1981 to the nation of the “courageous Polish people. They have been betrayed by their own government.” Much like everyone is Irish and kissed on St. Patrick’s Day, the nation was Polish and burning candles in their window in support of political freedom. But we now admit and subsidize to boot those who work to bring socialism to America – no Illegal-Alien Pilot Left Behind. So kill the golden goose with a two-state solution, Balkinization of America, cultural cringe? It seems most of the Marxists advocating for socialism today are bourgeois radicals, Latino or victims of race and gender based studies. Hardly a European immigrant among them. Sorry, European Union (EU) immigrant among them. The New England way wont be satisfied rubbing runaway noses in their statist moral agent society until they unleash Mr Goodbar. In the meantime, who will bypass those blue noses and blue collars to work to reverse the export and integration trade deficit of American values? Who is John Galt? Who is Neda?

  • Glen

    Plymouth and Jamestown are the two founding colonies of America. But while Plymouth has maintained an outsized prominence in our collective imagination, its core values are held today by only a small fraction of Americans. Instead, it is the spirit of Jamestown that animates our national soul.

    This is true even more so for new arrivals: few Hispanics (or Indians or Chinese) arrive in America wishing to join a Puritan society determined to make them “live right.”

    Your continued focus on “Blue Model” dead-enders puts at risk any relevance you may have towards its eventual replacement.

  • Luke Lea

    “In the twentieth century, Boston got a boost from an unexpected source. The millions of European immigrants who streamed into the United States after the Civil War teamed up with native born Americans trapped in the ghastly factories and industrial wastelands of the day. The Europeans brought with them a less individualistic, more communitarian outlook than previous generations of non-Bostonian Americans. They looked to government to defend them against the greed of the robber barons much as their forebears in Europe hoped that strong kings would keep their feudal oppressors in check.”

    I think this is true. But you might also have emphasized the importance of the Jewish element: it was Jewish labor leaders like Samuel Gompers who lobbied for immigration reform and a shorter work week, and New England blue bloods like Francis Perkins who lobbied for things like worker’s compensation, old-age insurance, and an end to child labor, who made of golden age of post-WWII America a living reality.

    And don’t forget the influence of Roosevelt’s 12 years spent in Warm Springs, Georgia, which led to his sympathetic inclusion of the Scots-Irish in his New Deal coalition.

    Perkins in particular, through her influence on Roosevelt, was probably the single most effective social reformer in American history. Her oral history is online and makes tremendous reading.

  • pbaseoul

    Today’s libertarians sometimes like to call their blue model liberal opponents “unamerican”.

    What libertarians?

  • Louis Wheeler

    Freedom is the enemy of authority.

    The Blues have taken authority, power seeking and expertise as far as anyone could. They centralized decision making and opinion creation. They created media centers to tell their minions what to believe. They captured the means of information transfer and indoctrination in education, art and the press. But, their institutions are coming undone because of the clarion call of freedom.

    Partly, this is because bad results are coming home. Their great collectivist plans produce undesirable results. Their interference in the economy produces stagflation. Their grandiose constructions, built on the welfare state, deficit financing and fractional reserve banking, are in decay. Their flagship indoctrination centers, like New York Times, are approaching bankruptcy. Technology is pushing a wedge between the Blues and the masses.

    The Blues are centralized when the world is rapidly decentralizing. The Internet has made their power centers obsolete. Computerized home schooling teaches better, because of the lack of indoctrination. Their cities are no longer necessary.

    The Blue’s contempt for the unruly hinterlands is self evident, but that hinterland is becoming politically and economically dominant. Their cities, in decay, are filled with the unproductive. These unprofitable classes are both the poor and the bureaucracy which feeds on them.

    Their efforts will soon go to pieces, because America can no longer afford them. What use is there of petty fuhrers in a rapidly decentralizing world? What happens to Universities which have abandoned the task of passing on the wisdom of the ages? What happens when higher education is deformed into creating acolytes for absurd political, social and economic cults? What happens to Anthropological Global Warming activists who cannot look out their windows and perceive that the world is getting colder? The Blues are destined to become sidelined, marginalized and impoverished. Like Detroit, their cities will decay or return to farmland. America will turn elsewhere.

    New centers of power are forming. This is not only due to population shifts. Nothing succeeds like success and the Blues are no longer successful. They are economically self destructive. Their Progressive anti business policies cause their tax base to flee. I could speak of any of the territories they control, but California, Illinois and New York State spring to mind.

    The Blues are reaching for nirvana, but their goals are hostile to freedom and reason. There is no need to kill them; they will destroy themselves. They cannot cope with the changes which are almost upon us.

  • JLK

    How depressing. Not only am I a distant descendant of the co-founder of New Haven, Conn as well as Dartmouth and Yale Universities, I also live in Blue, blue Portland. So why is it I am a moderate Red?

    I love Dr Mead’s historical threads in analyzing the development and disintegration of 19th Century Liberalism. One thing that is missing though: the 180 degree turnaround in the party representing a “muscular foreign policy”. It seems a very short time ago that Harry Truman (my favorite 20th Cent POTUS), Scoop Jackson and others were the go-to guys for American Exceptionalism.

    Was Vietnam combined with the Narcissistic movement called, for want of a more precise term, “the Sixties” such a traumatic experience? Does that alone explain Liberals turning into a bunch of world-class wussies ridiculed for earth-shaking events such as the “attack of the killer rabbit”, Dukakis in the tank, and [our current president — ed] doing a full 90 degree bow for the Japanese Emperor?

    Keep it up Doc and maybe the mystery will be solved.
    JLK

  • ChrisP

    Walter, this is a great series. You are doing some of the most original political thinking out there right now. A couple comments:

    1. Thank you for realizing that the Puritans would have been shocked to have been cast as ultraconservatives by future generations. The most representative Puritan, Cotton Mather, has had his reputation utterly distorted by the Salem witch trials. With that one (glaring) exception, he was one of the primary advocates of rationalism and science. He was a proto-Enlightenment figure. Its always worth mentioning that the Puritans were the “liberals” of the day (Liberalism 1.0). The line from Mather to Obama is clearer than at first glance.

    2. I disagree to a large extent with the assertion that non-Puritan traditions in New England blended easily with the existing Puritan ethos. Think of the Kennedys as the best case of this. Joe Kennedy’s politics were very different than his Yankee peers. He was an isolationist and harshly anti-English, which is clearly the opposite of how New England Yankees thought at the time. RFK was an aide to Joe McCarthy, who is almost the living antithesis of the Puritan tradition. For the Kennedys, they eventually abandoned what was an observable Boston Irish Catholic political tradition and adopted the beliefs of twentieth century Puritanism. They are now exemplars of that tradition, but they did abandon a contrasting political tradition.

  • Reed

    Fascinating essay, as always, Dr. Meade. However, I respectfully disagree with your contention that “the Puritan political tradition in America is best represented by our current president”. The Puritan political tradition contained very strong philo-Semitic strands and huge emphasis on personal obligation and responsibility, among other things. Our current president is anything but a philo-Semite – the evidence is he is probably the most anti-Jewish, and certainly the most anti-Israel, of all the post-WWII presidents. Furthermore, Obama has hardly been a proponent of rugged individualism or the notion of individual duty. The Puritanical drive that, for example, led tens of thousands of New England boys to march into war against Southern slavery is just not a part of Obama’s (or the current “Boston’s”) world-view. It is absolutely fair to say Obama reflects the Victorian sensibilities of today’s Boston blue bloods. But he is certainly not a Puritan.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @ Reed. Only African-Americans have supported (and still support) President Obama more consistently than American Jews. Israelis don’t like him very much, but the President’s views on Israel (strong US support for its safety and security combined with a belief that Israel for its own sake needs to make peace with the Palestinians) resonate with most American Jews. It is very hard to make a case from his appointments or his associates that President Obama is hostile to American Jews in any way shape or form.

  • steve smith

    I’m a little tired of the false equation New England=America. There were Southern colonies too. This isn’t a “Land of the Pilgrim’s Pride.” It is a land of individuals who join a collective only when it makes sense to do so. The individual, Scotch-Irish mentality has been neglected for far too long. This is a land of Agrarian Pride just as much as some kind of utopian City on a Hill. I’d rather get drunk with Andrew Jackson than pray thrice daily with Cotton Mather, or Barack Obama for that matter.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @ steve smith
      My choice would be to smoke a corncob pipe with the General’s wife!

  • vanderleun

    “Boston and its daughter cities of Greater New England (including Seattle, Portland and San Francisco) will be here for a long time to come.”

    File under: Unitarians of a feather flock together.

  • Tom Holsinger

    Here’s a factoid to put this in better perspective. The “blue” model described here involved incredibly intrusive activity by social workers which has been transformed into something quite different. Social workers in the New Deal era were allowed to, expected to, could, and did, remove minor children from parents on welfare and put the children in orphanages and foster homes when the parents did not obey the many effective and quite justified lifestyle behavior requirements imposed as conditions of receiving welfare.

    Basically the adults on welfare had to maintain clean homes, adequately discipline and instruct their children by the standards of the day, provide wholesome food, and generally live morally upright lives insofar as the social workers could determine. And the social workers were quite diligent and effective in supervising the lifestyles of welfare recipients. The idea was to force successful lifestyles onto poor people, and it generally worked.

    Those days are long gone, and the energies the old Yankee blue noses used to put into the policing of poor people’s lifestyles have gone into harassing the lifestyles of almost everyone on putative environmental grounds, to growing outrage by Jacksonians.

  • Chris Anderson

    Interesting article. I would add Cleveland to your list of New England daughter cities. The democrats hold a heavy edge in the (Connecticut) Western Reserve, which is NE Ohio including Cleveland, Akron and Youngstown. This is one of the factors in Ohio being a perpetual swing state. That it may come from a New England influence that is more pronounced than in the rest of the state is something to ponder.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ralphthayer?sk=info Ralph Thayer

    Scripture was society’s moral authority, and the church “society’s moral agent”. To say “the state was society’s moral agent” may be technically correct insofar as Massachusetts was a theocracy, but the attribution gets the analysis off on the wrong foot as the eventual differentiation of sacred and secular authority historically evolved in New England.

    Roger Williams and Thomas Hooker found that the state WAS “the enemy of liberty”; ergo Rhode Island and Connecticut.

    Yankees did not take up arms in 1775 so “strong kings would keep their feudal oppressors in check”; but so natural law, English common law, and the Magna Carta would check an over-reaching government.

    Prior to July 4, 1776, Yankees were proto-Americans. The Declaration defines Americans as “We [who] hold these truths to be self-evident (i.e. axioms)…”

    Yankees as blue big-federal-nanny-statists? T’aint so.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @ Ralph Thayer: Yet as you acknowledge, Massachusetts was a “theocracy.” So was Connecticut. I think if you think that through a bit you will see the point I was making.

  • Dave Prentiss

    Perhaps what is at the bottom of the blue model is what could be called the “reformist impulse.” This impulse is embedded in human nature and was brought to America by the Puritans. Nathaniel Hawthorn explored this human phenomenon in his writings, including its evolution into a more secular, systemtic version (The Bilthedale Romance). The rise of the progressives are another example of this impulse, best seen in Croly’s Progressive Democracy, with its secular/historicist vision couched in religious-fervor rhetoric. One possibility to consider is that the reformist impulse can take one of two fundamental forms: the more intense version has tendencies towards utopian, immoderate programs that are religious or historicist in orientation, and the moderate version is rooted in a more conservative view of human nature and its possibilities and limitations. In this sense, Locke and the Founders had their reformist impulse too.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Dave Prentiss: Thanks for the thoughtful and interesting response. I get many compliments on the high quality of the comments these posts receive. Yours is an example; thanks for taking the time to send it in. WRM

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