Amendments, mobs, God, rights, guns, Pilgrims, Adams, etc.

Responding here to a bunch of comments posted during recent months, since I don’t like burying and scattering the discussion:

Elites versus the crowd. Working backward and starting with lacithedog’s comment on my “New Deal 2.0” post. Laciethedog is reading Declaration and comments further on the “New Deal” post here. I appreciate the interest and support. And I have a concern about the idea that the founding fathers “incited the masses” and then found “the mob” hard to control. In both Declaration and that “New Deal” post, I do discuss tensions — indeed, outright enmity, at times — between the adherents of populist democracy and the adherents of republican liberty who banded together to defeat reconciliation with England in 1776. But I think I also show that I see the alliance as a matter of mutual manipulation, with ordinary people possessing plenty of initiative, intelligence, and what the historians call “agency,” and not of a mindless mob being incited and then imperfectly controlled by elites. Not sure if laciethedog is thinking of it quite that way, but the terminology gives me pause.

War on Christmas. Laciethedog also comments on my “war on Christmas” post. Point taken. Can’t agree that anything would have made either Adams literally a Tory — but even without a time machine, John Adams’s “Good God!” on reading the radically democratic PA Constitution of 1776 (and his predicting that PA would soon want George III back), and Samuel’s calling for the death penalty for the so-called Shays rebels, made many at the time think the Adamses and others had reverted to a kind of Tory authoritarianism. Neither Samuel’s nor John’s disgust with the populism they’d collaborated with in 1776 represents a reversion, however — which is really the well-taken point of laciethedog’s comment. While they differed in influences, emphases, and personal styles, both Adamses remained pretty consistent in their elite Whig republicanism throughout the period. Whigs were not democrats.

Socialist Pilgrims. Michael Pichowsky makes a thought-provoking comment regarding my post on the “Socialist Pilgrim” flap. But even given all of Pichowsky’s nuanced understanding of the Calvinist-socialist problem, I’m still unconvinced that it’s fair to see the very specific Plymouth experience as revealing some big truth about the virtues of free markets versus a centrally planned economy. Bradford does seem to have been reading the lesson pretty much that way, though.

Inalienable rights and God. My Constitution posts are leading me toward an article that would qualify as something other than a post, more like what I call a “work” in this post — whether I end up publishing it here, on another blog, or in a magazine. Interesting comments in this regard included Martin’s, of What Would the Founders Think?. Martin raises the issue of where the in- or un-alienable rights come from and says that Glenn Beck gets it right: from God. Liberal readers may be surprised to hear me say that, in this context, I agree: Continue reading

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Socialist Pilgrims Join the War on Christmas!

ho ho ho

Moving on to the next holiday. May we now anticipate an annual revival of the past few years’ flap about the war on Christmas — i.e., how liberal secularism suppresses Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus by removing creches from village squares and forcing everybody to say “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas”?

[UPDATE: Yes, we may. See J.L. Bell’s comment on the Inhofe holiday parade, below.]

If so, I’d like to bring back those socialist Pilgrims for a reprise role and credit them with starting the war. For of course Pilgrims, and indeed all of Puritan New England, didn’t celebrate Christmas and would have severely prosecuted anyone who did, or at least did so loudly. They hated Christmas, for all the obvious reasons.

No, not because it requires putting toys together at three in the morning on Christmas Eve and having the family over when you’ve just seen them at Thanksgiving. That’s why we hate Christmas. [UPDATE: That’s just a joke.] Pilgrims and Puritans hated it because it was a pagan-based feast of the Antichrist Pope of Rome, a sacrificial revelry, a ceremony of the Harlot, and contrary to Scripture. The whole idea of a “Christ mass” was what they’d been fighting to the death for a long time, the work of the Beast.

The point isn’t, of course, that the Puritans would have been sympathetic to modern secularism. Anything but. The point is that the idea of a “Christian nation” denies the antipathy our founding Christians felt, mainly and most significantly, for other Christians. The Pilgrims came here to get away from Anglicans. If a boatload of Lutherans had pulled into Plymouth harbor, muskets would have come out. And if Samuel Adams came back to life, and were forced to walk past the Roman Catholic churches in today’s North End of Boston, he’d be sure that his entire life’s work had been for nothing, wasted in what had become a horrifying enabling of the forces of utter spiritual evil, staining what he’d once hoped would become a Christian Sparta (meaning to him a Congregational one). The ancestors of Bill O’Reilly and the ancestors of Glenn Beck would have been a lot more interested in trying to kill each other than in trying to kill, say, Jews.

Happy Holidays!

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Socialist Pilgrims? (The War on Thanksgiving)

gobble gobble gobble

Now that the Thanksgiving holiday is over, and the MSM no longer even remembers it, I will comment — I actually feel forced to comment! — on the flap about the Pilgrims as socialists that I was drawn into over the past week. The trip began when I was quoted in an interesting Sunday Times “Week in Review” piece, which lays out the controversy.

(Briefly here: For years, Rush Limbaugh and some publications of the Austrian School of economics beloved by American libertarians, and more recently Glenn Beck, have been saying that the story of the Pilgrims is a story of socialism failed — that the Pilgrims began by holding property in common in a socialist-utopian way and starved because of it, then switched to private property and thrived enough to thank God for the bounty of the harvest: the first Thanksgiving. Thus America began in a lesson about the evils of socialism and glory of property. This year, thanks to the Tea Party, the story has received new mainstream attention.)

The Times quoted me near the end of the piece, not on that subject but on the problem that I think arises when people across the political spectrum seize on some historical event and force it to serve an overdetermined purpose for a current position. Bad history, bad politics. As I told the reporter, history is always slanted. How and why it’s slanted, in particular cases, is something we should be keenly aware of. … blah blah blah.

But thanks to that one, general quote, which came with a reference to my MIT Press book Inventing American History (where I write about distortions in public history), and thanks also to my seemingly endless eagerness to promote myself, I went on both Michael Smerconish’s syndicated radio show and ABC News “Good Morning, America” (do they observe that comma?), to weigh in not on my subject, which is the way everybody across the spectrum, each of us, distorts history, but on the current controversy: whether the Pilgrims began as socialists and then learned the error of their ways.

In the interviews I tried both to wrangle with the immediate question about the Pilgrims and to discuss what is, to me, the great, non-seasonal theme, political tension in public history. I also suggested that now and then we might want to lighten up a bit on the whole “lessons of history” thing. It was fun. Smerconish gave me ten minutes, and we had what I thought was an interesting conversation (and I like his unique effort to bring talk-radio intensity to centrism). “Good Morning America,” with its very specific needs, managed to shoehorn three seconds (literally!) of a twenty-minute interview into a piece on the controversy. Not surprising, but startling to watch: my name flashed on the screen so briefly that all I can do is hope that subliminal advertising actually works.

So now that I’m a media-certified expert: Were the Pilgrims socialists?
Continue reading