Is it possible to admire the Pilgrims/Puritans and hate big, intrusive government? The answer is an emphatic NO. And yet not a few conservatives try to ignore the contradiction. One hates to focus too much on one target, but it is Rush Limbaugh again who provides one of the best examples of this contradiction.
First we have this quote of his on Puritans and the American Founding/Constitution.
‘Just surviving was the primary occupation of most people in the world. The history of the world is dictatorship, tyranny, subjugation, whatever you want to call it of populations -- and then along came the
. Pilgrims were the first to come here seeking freedom from all of that. They were oppressed because of their religion. They were told they had to believe in the king and his god, whatever it was, or they would be imprisoned. United States of America
‘They led an exodus from
Europe to this country, people of the same mind-set. They simply wanted to escape the tyranny of their ordinary lives. This country was founded that way. For the first time in human history, a government and country was founded on the belief that leaders serve the population. This country was the first in history, the EXCEPTION -- e-x-c-e-p-t, except. The exception to the rule is what American exceptionalism is.
‘It is because of this liberty and freedom that our country exists, because the founders recognized it comes from God. It's part of the natural yearning of the human spirit. It is not granted by a government. It's not granted by Putin. It's not granted by Obama or any other human being. We are created with the natural yearning to be free, and it is other men and leaders throughout human history who have suppressed that and imprisoned people for seeking it.
‘The US is the first time in the history of the world where a government was organized with a Constitution laying out the rules, that the individual was supreme and dominant, and that is what led to the US becoming the greatest country ever because it unleashed people to be the best they could be. Nothing like it had ever happened. That's American exceptionalism. Putin doesn't know what it is, Obama doesn't know what it is, and it just got trashed in the New York Times. It's just unacceptable.’
First, let us point out that there have been many places in the world where human flourishing in a high degree has been known: ancient
Greece; medieval Ireland, Gaul, England, and Serbia; Russia; European cities such as ; and the South herself as an ‘alien culture’ within the broader American Empire. Vienna, Austria
In fact one may say that people have flourished better outside the
than in, for within the American Empire, as Alexis de Tocqueville, Leopold Kohr, and others saw, there is a tremendous pressure to conform to the majority opinion of the mass democracy. This suffocates rather than nurtures individuality. The only way one may take United States to be a tremendous success is materially, economically, industrially, in moneymaking (which is a poor legacy to leave behind and generally not the way to invite God’s favor upon one’s country). This in itself is proof of the Puritan domination of the States today: The preoccupation with profit-making has always been a dominant characteristic of Puritan communities. America
But let us look more closely at the Pilgrims themselves. Did they merely want ‘to escape the tyranny of their ordinary lives’, as Rush puts it above, to live and let live? Absolutely not. That is the opposite of the Puritan ideology, which is a gnostic ideology. Eric Voegelin explains:
‘In the first place, all ideology comes out of the classic and Christian background (beginning with enlightenment)—so one element always is the survival of apocalypse, the idea that this present imperfect world is to be followed by a more perfect phase. A second element is gnostic, that is, knowledge of the recipe for bringing about the more perfect realm. (That is gnostic: the recipe.) Third, immanentization, as distinguished from older apocalypses.
‘In old apocalypse, the new realm—the Fifth Monarchy [Dan. 2:44]—is brought about by the intervention of God, or by a messenger of God, by an angel. In modern immanentist ideologies, it is always brought about by human action. That begins even earlier; you might say Oliver Cromwell's army takes the place, in apocalyptic speculation, of the messenger of the Lord in Revelation chapter twenty. Then occurs a certain intellectual misplacement, due to the immanentization of this question of the ground. The temptation to extend "positively" a new science or immanent world physics as a model to other areas where the model doesn't apply—the element of scientism— is always there too, from Marx as a scientific socialist to Mary Baker Eddy and Christ-come-as-Scientist.’
The Puritan/Pilgrim leaders, who saw their settlement in
New England as the New Jerusalem, thought they held the knowledge needed to usher in the Millennium, heaven on earth. Their delusional pride over the divine mission they believed they had been given did not create an atmosphere for human freedom and flourishing but one of repression and conformism. Ultimately it led to war between North and South on this continent, with acting the part of the messenger of God spoken of in Voegelin’s quotation, the one who will usher in the more perfect world by leading the forces of light against the forces of darkness. See, for example, Lincoln
(Two centuries earlier, the Puritans in
, led by Oliver Cromwell, brought about the English Civil War.) England
For this reason, in the Puritan world, there cannot be dissenters. Prefiguring Pres Bush, you are either for the ideas put forth by the Puritan leaders (who, remember, have been given divine knowledge of how to remake the world in perfection) or against them.
And so the Puritan victory over the South did not have the effect of ‘unleash[ing] people to be the best they could be’ (Limbaugh, above quote). It has instead made most of them along with the peoples of the other States dependent on an oversized, inhuman corporation of some kind or another; destroyed the independent, self-sufficient family farm and small craftsman and most other kinds of small, local, family businesses; destroyed creativity and joy in the work one does; brought about a fake culture of television, mass-produced music and other arts, Facebook, etc. as people seek respite from the monotony of their work; and substituted worship of money for worship of the True God. All the while, the central government, as the repository of divine light and knowledge, grows in power and importance.
Therefore, when Rush condemns the federal department of Housing and Urban Development for its desire to regulate local zoning laws in the name of diversity (which is nothing more than the latest manifestation of the Puritan busybody forcing his mysteriously divined law upon benighted mankind), he condemns himself.
If he knew who the Puritans really were, and what they really believed, he would realize that to praise them is to give support for the all-powerful state he says he despises. Wherefore, let us all hope that his latest book, Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims: Time-Travel Adventures with Exceptional Americans, set for release this October, is a spectacular failure.
As has been mentioned before, much better teachers on the true character of the Puritans/Pilgrims may be found in Eric Voegelin and M. E. Bradford. Seek out their books and essays to guard your mind against the errors of Limbaugh et al.