puritans sjws
Moralistic busybodies. They've made a comeback in recent years. It's understandable. They're an American tradition, after all. 'Totalitarian theocracy' is a phrase more commonly associated with Saudi Arabia or ISIS today, but some of the earliest colonies in what eventually became the United States fit the bill. And while they've lost their religion over the centuries, they haven't lost their penchant for sanctimonious posturing and coercive authoritarianism. The spirit of the Puritans of New England lives on.

Back in the 1630s the Puritans settled Massachusetts Bay. Contrary to popular myth, they weren't bastions of religious freedom. Sure, they were fleeing one sort of oppression in England, but they weren't concerned so much about freedom of religion and conscience per se as they were about their own freedom - everyone else be damned. Essentially the Puritans wanted freedom from oppression in order to practice their own form of oppression against everyone else.

To be fair, the Puritans weren't the only ones to contribute to modern American culture. As Colin Woodard argues in his book American Nations, Canada, the United States, and northern Mexico are primarily made up of eleven distinct cultures with roots in their original settlers. In each of these identifiable regions, the mindsets of their respective "founding fathers" live on. From the influence of the Spanish and mestizo culture in northern Mexico and the southern States (El Norte), the feudal French Catholics of New France, the conservative royalists and wannabe aristocracy in Virginia and the Carolinas (Tidewater), the utopian Puritans of New England (Yankeedom), the Dutch corporate traders and merchants of New Netherland (now New York), the Barbadian slave society of the Deep South, the libertarian Quakers of the Midlands, and the clan-based warrior culture of Greater Appalachia, to those that developed more recently in the 19th and 20th centuries: the Yankee-influenced "Left Coast" of individualists, activists, and entrepreneurs; the corporate and semi-dependent "Far West"; and the re-emerging "First Nation" in northern Canada, arguably representing North America's earliest and now latest distinct cultures - they may share and cross borders, but they're noticeably distinct from each other. (Mention must also go to the Polynesian culture of Hawaii and the Spanish Caribbean south Florida.)

So when talking about "Americans", we should all be clear as to whom we're really talking about. As a Canadian, it may be fun to poke fun at my southern neighbors (I believe the feeling is mutual), but culturally, I probably have more in common with my fellow Far Westerners in the States than I do with the Canadian Left Coast, or with Canada's own Midlanders to the east. Here's a map laying out the rough borders of these often vastly different cultures:
american nations
How do these nations vote? Here's a map of the last U.S. presidential election by nation (note that many counties in each nation voted against their respective majorities, as you can see in this map):
american nations election map
In his book, Woodard covers these nations' histories, conflicts, and development from their origins to the present day, and how the cultures of the original colonists have contributed to modern mindsets. It seems to me that each nation had something to admire, even if other features marred or otherwise overpowered those more noble features. Contrast the lawlessness and often shocking levels of violence in Greater Appalachia with their focus on personal sovereignty; New France's egalitarian, consensus-driven approach, and their admirable relations with the Indians, with their feudalism; El Norte's self-sufficiency and hard work with their seemingly well-intentioned missionary work that came to resemble a slave colony; the Left Coast's innovation and various peace and protest movements, with the seedier underbellies of big tech and those same movements; New Netherland's diversity and freedom of inquiry, with its centrality as a global hub of finance, media, and fashion, all of which can either be very good or very evil.

Aristocratic Tidewater culture is dying out - thankfully, in my view. The almost unbelievably cruel slave-society and caste structure of the deep south is also thankfully gone, but its authoritarian leanings carry on, originally borrowed from the classical republicanism of Rome and the Greek city (slave) states. On the positive side, black culture in the Deep South gave us the blues, jazz, rock and roll, and at least the upper class had ideals of personal honor (even if they were reserved for a select few). As for the Puritans, we'll see them in all their flawed majesty below, but at least they prided themselves on citizen involvement in the political process and were staunch defenders of self-government. Unfortunately, that's about all that I could find admirable about them.

In contrast to the Puritans, the Quakers of the Midlands were actual defenders of religious freedom, and their distrust of big government and state intervention continues today. They were also some of the first Americans persecuted for their religion - by both Tidewater aristocrats and Yankee Puritans. Murray Rothbard, in his libertarian history of pre-Revolutionary America, Conceived in Liberty, gives one example:
An English Quaker, George Wilson, upon arriving at Jamestown in 1661, was thrust into a dungeon, scourged, and kept in irons until death. While dying, he wrote, in a truly saintly manner: "For all their cruelty I can truly say, Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." The previous year 1660, the Assembly had passed an act outlawing "an unreasonable and turbulent sort of people commonly called Quakers ... [who are] endeavoring ... to destroy religion, laws, communities and all bonds of civil society." Apparently these "bonds of civil society" were to rest, not on voluntary consent, but on the dungeon and the torture rack. ...

... Quakers were people who had no priests, declined to swear oaths, and refused determinedly to fight or bear arms. They were, accordingly, highly unpopular wherever adoration of the state ran high. They proclaimed, indeed, that they were "governed by God's laws and the light within and not by man's laws." In Maryland the Quakers were steadily persecuted; forty were publicly whipped within one year. Finally the Quakers were branded as "rebels and traitors," and in a law of 1659 Maryland ordered their expulsion from the colony. The law decreed that "any of the vagabonds or idle persons known by the name of Quakers, who should again enter the province, should be whipped from constable to constable out of it."(vol. I, p. 81, 108)
The Quakers, along with a few notable individual exceptions in the other colonies, made it a practice of buying land from the Indians, not simply stealing it. Like the French farther north, they went on to have good relations with the Indians, "assured by the provision that any Indian claim of injury would go to a jury of six whites and six Indians" (p. 388). Contrast this to what passed for justice in the other colonies, where entire tribes would be held collectively responsible for the crimes of one Indian.

The Puritans went so far as to order the mutilation of all Quakers by cutting off one ear each, which soon escalated to outright murder. What was to hate about the Quakers? One Puritan leader denounced them for their custom of keeping their hats on in his presence and using his name instead of his official title, "and thus showing contempt for constituted authority," as Rothbard put it (p. 232). "The Quakers quickly replied that the only honor due to all men is love, and that the Bible never required people to take off their hats before magistrates." They also weren't fond of taxes, or government. In West Jersey in the late 1600s:
...the settlers found that they had little need for courts. The Quakers settled their disputes out of court, voluntarily through informal mediators. This simple, direct, peaceful, rapid, highly efficient, and purely voluntary method of settling disputes was embodied in the phrase 'Jersey justice,' which stemmed from Thomas Olive's practice of mediating disputes while plowing in the fields. Thus, in the entire year of 1680, there were only two or three court actions in the whole colony. (p. 418)
When a new deputy governor was sent to the colony in 1688, he "had difficulty finding the officers of the government. . . . [He] found the Council room deserted and covered with dust and scattered papers. The wheels of government had nearly stopped turning" (Rothbard, p. 398). It worked, and the Quakers liked it that way, but it wasn't to last.

Enter the Puritans, utopians of a type that resembles the worst features of the Communists or the Borg. This is how Woodard put it (p. 5): "For more than four centuries, Yankees have sought to build a more perfect society here on Earth through social engineering, relatively extensive citizen involvement in the political process, and the aggressive assimilation of foreigners." They saw themselves as God's chosen people with the mission of imposing their morality and ways of life on everyone else, and they continue to see government as the best way to enforce morals and better society. It's from the Puritans that we get the first seeds of American Exceptionalism and Manifest Destiny.

In contrast to the Quakers and the French, the rest of the colonies' approach to Indian relations was deplorable (as noted, however, there were individual exceptions - they just never won out in the end). Rothbard summed it up like this:
(1) Indian guilt was always treated as collective rather than individual and punishment was never limited to the actual individual criminals; (2) the punishment was enormously greater than the original crime; (3) no careful distinctions were made between Indian tribes, the collective guilt being extended beyond the specific tribe involved; and (4) surprise attacks were used extensively to slaughter men, women, and children of the tribe. (pp. 217-218)
Consider the fact that even in battles between rival colonists, it was apparently common practice to offer safety to the surrendering side, only to assault or kill them once they had disarmed and met for negotiations. The Puritans in particular would often attack neutral or friendly Indian tribes while warring with some other group. In 1636, some Block Island Indians murdered a trader, John Oldham, which set off a war and ultimately led to the extermination of the Pequot tribe:
...immediately after the death of Oldham, a party of whites under John Gallop shot at and rammed the unarmed Indian crew that had committed the crime, until all but four of the Indians were drowned. Of the four, two surrendered and one of them was promptly thrown overboard by Gallop.

But this swift punishment of the actual criminals was of course thought insufficient. Governor Vane of Massachusetts Bay quickly outfitted the tough John Endecott with an armed troop to slaughter more Block Island Indians. Now the Block Islanders had nothing to do with the Pequots. But somehow even the relatively liberal Vane concluded a priori that the Pequots must be harboring some of the murderers and he ordered Endecott to include the Pequots in the rigors of collective "punishment." Specifically, Endecott was instructed to massacre every male Indian on Block Island whether guilty or innocent of the crime, and to kidnap all the women and children - in short, to depopulate Block Island of native Indians. He also instructed to demand from them a thousand fathoms of wampum and to seize a few Pequot children as hostages for their good behavior. (p. 218)
When they left survivors, the women and children were sold into slavery.

Americans also have the Puritans to thank for founding the first compulsory public schools. On the one hand, it was a positive: the Yankees had high literacy and were "well-educated". On the other, public education was really a system of indoctrination to create an elite ruling class (no Catholic schools were allowed, for instance). Rothbard again (pp. 167 ff.):
There would be no point to government schools for indoctrinating the masses, if there were no masses to be indoctrinated. Vital to the system, therefore, was a law compelling every child in the colony to be educated. This was put through in 1642 - the first compulsory education law in America - and was in contrast to the system of voluntary education then prevailing in England and in the Southern colonies. Parents ignoring the law were fined, and wherever government officials judged the parents or guardians to be unfit to have the children educated properly, the government was empowered to seize the children and apprentice them out to others.
This indoctrination applied to all facets of Puritan life. You can tell where Rothbard stands on the topic. Can't say I disagree:
One of the essential goals of Puritan rule was strict and rigorous enforcement of the ascetic Puritan conception of moral behavior. But since men's actions, given freedom to express their choices, are determined by their inner convictions and values, compulsory moral rules only serve to manufacture hypocrites and not to advance genuine morality. Coercion only forces people to change their actions; it does not persuade people to change their underlying values and convictions. And since those already convinced of the moral rules would abide by them without coercion, the only real impact of compulsory morality is to engender hypocrites, those whose actions no longer reflect their inner convictions. The Puritans, however, did not boggle at this consequence. A leading Puritan divine, the Rev. John Cotton, went so far as to maintain that hypocrites who merely conform to the church rules without inner conviction could still be useful church members. As to the production of hypocrites, Cotton complacently declared: "If it did so, yet better to be hypocrites than profane persons. Hypocrites give God part of his due, the outward man, but the profane persons giveth God neither outward nor inward man."
The following are just a fraction of their rules:
One requisite for the efficient enforcement of any code of behavior is always an effective espionage apparatus of informers. This apparatus was supplied in Massachusetts, informally but no less effectively, by the dedicated snooping of friends and neighbors upon one another, with detailed reports sent to the minister on all deviations, including the sin of idleness. The clustering of towns around central villages aided the network, and the fund of personal information collected by each minister added to his great political power. Moreover, the menace of excommunication was redoubled by the threat of corollary secular punishment.

Informal snooping, however, was felt by some of the towns to be too haphazard, and these set up a regular snooping officialdom. These officers were called "tithing men," as each one had supervision over the private affairs of his ten nearest neighbors.

One Puritan moral imperative was strict observance of the Sabbath: any worldly pleasures indulged in on the Sabbath were a grave offense against both church and state. The General Court was shocked to learn, in the late 1650s, that some people, residents as well as strangers, persisted in "uncivilly walking in the streets and fields" on Sunday, and even "travelling from town to town" and drinking at inns. And so the General Court duly passed a law prohibiting the crimes of "playing, uncivil walking, drinking and travelling from town to town" on Sunday. If these criminals could not pay the fine imposed, they were to be whipped by the constable at a maximum rate of five lashes per ten-shilling fine. To enforce the regulations and prevent the crimes, the gates of the towns were closed on Sunday and no one permitted to leave. And if two or more people met accidentally on the street on a Sunday, they were quickly dispersed by the police. Nor was the Sabbath in any sense a hasty period. Under the inspiration of the Rev. John Cotton, the New England Sabbath began rigorously at sunset Saturday evening and continued through Sunday night, thus ensuring that no part of the weekend could be spent in enjoyment. Indeed, enjoyment at any time, while not legally prohibited, was definitely frowned upon, levity being condemned as "inconsistent with the gravity to be always preserved by a serious Christian."

Kissing one's wife in public on a Sunday was also outlawed. A sea captain, returning home on a Sunday morning from a three-year voyage, was indiscreet enough to kiss his wife on the doorstep. For this he was forced to sit in the stocks for two hours for this "lewd and unseemly behavior on the Sabbath Day."
You can almost hear the pearls being clutched - if the Puritans had allowed such a display of ungodly wealth as pearls, that is. You could be fined for failing to go to church, for falling asleep in church, for gambling (but government lotteries were permitted), for wearing nice clothes, for having your hair too long: "Also prohibited, however, were games of skill at public houses, such as bowling and shuffleboard, such activities being considered a waste of time by the people's self-appointed moral guardians in the government."
Idleness, in fact, was not just a sin, but also a punishable misdemeanor - at any time, not only on Sunday. If the constable discovered anyone, singly or in groups, engaged in such heinous behavior as coasting on the ice, swimming, or sneaking a quiet smoke, he was ordered to report to the magistrate. Time, it seems, was God's gift and therefore always to be used in His service. A sin against God's time was a crime against the church and state.
Why does all this matter? Well, if you strip away the religious gloss, the same mentality is alive and well today. The Puritans themselves would have branded their cultural descendants as heretics and licentious idol-worshipers, of course, but today's social-justice warriors are proudly carrying the torch of sanctimonious BS. It's as if all the worst features of Yankeedom, the Left Coast, and New Netherland have gotten together to create a Rosemary's Baby of horrific proportions.

For example, the Left Coast's sexual revolution has resulted in a culture of frivolous, promiscuous sexual encounters where anything goes. But combine that with a Yankee drive to impose those values on everyone else with the full coercive force of government and you get the schizophrenic crazy-making we see today. On the one hand, anything goes, and you must accept that anything goes under penalty of law. Yet on the other hand, from the very same people you also get a renewed drive to legislate sexuality itself. The sexual lives of college students, for instance, must be tightly controlled and regulated: continuous verbal consent at every stage of physical intimacy - otherwise it's rape. This culture promotes a hypersexualized ideal only to affect an air of moral indignation when this naturally results in sexual behavior that is not welcomed. You can't have an 'anything goes' attitude and pick and choose at the same time. That's not the way human nature works.

Then you've got the swing from "prostitution is an empowering female profession" to banning women from taking jobs as ring girls, despite the fact that these women like their jobs. But no, it's immoral for women to parade their good looks in front of men who enjoy looking at them, and our "self-appointed moral guardians" are happy to legislate these women out of a job in the name of wholesome goodness.

Combine Yankee Puritanism with New Netherland diversity and you get something similar: paternalistic affirmative action (which hides its own racism: "minorities are inherently inferior, therefore they must be given special treatment in order to catch up with white people"), rigid enforcement of diversity dogma ("everyone who doesn't agree with me is racist"), and the legislative ballooning of concepts like "hate speech".

The net effect of all this is, like Rothbard observed of the Puritans, the creation of a vast horde of hypocrites whose outer behavior conforms to the norms of this strange morality, but whose inner convictions do not align with their actions. Case in point: male feminists. But like their Puritan forebears, the resulting hypocrisy is a worthy compromise in their eyes. Better to simply conform to the dictated morality out of fear and coercion than to express opinions, thoughts and feelings that do not align with the accepted dogma. Such expressions will be discovered - using a Puritan-like league of informers trawling through the potential offender's social media accounts - exposed, and the offender figuratively tarred and feathered.

These modern Puritans are as humorless as their templates, sucking the joy, fun, and enjoyment out of most forms of sport and entertainment, from movies and TV to football, fighting, and car racing. Even politics and academia - not things traditionally associated with emotions like joy or levity - have been drained of life. (Trump is an exception to this rule.) Like the early New Englanders, they use the compulsory education system to indoctrinate the youth with their faddish morality, from kindergarten to post-secondary. And like those mutilators, torturers and murderers of old, for them collective punishment is a virtue to be meted out to all men when convenient, all whites, all heterosexuals or "cisgendered", or whatever privileged class you happen to belong to through no real choice of your own.

Margaret Atwood was wrong. The future dystopian Puritan nightmare is unlikely to be as she envisioned in the Handmaid's Tale. It's more likely to be led by a gang of interventionist busybodies legislating "woke" ideology on the masses. It's practically already here.