Puritan Origins of the American Left and Right: An Historical Approach to the Rebalancing of a Once Integrated Puritan Dichotomy

By Joan Wines and Bruce Stevenson.

Published by The International Journal of Civic, Political, and Community Studies

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: October 31, 2014 $US5.00

Economists and American Studies scholars have suggested that in the early Puritan community, the seemingly opposing mind sets of self-interest and the common good were not at all oppositional, but rather co-existed comfortably. We show how this perspective emerged from the dominant religious belief that social commitment was necessary for individual salvation—fostering a Puritan self-interest and social obligation merger that advanced both individual and community successes. By the early eighteenth century, the religious strands of the self-interest/common good dialectical knot had unraveled in what had become a more secularized, more political American heart. Today, a clear division of these two poles is reflected in “two radically different visions for America”—one focused on the liberties of individual self-interest and the other on social responsibility. A once polarized yet cohesive collective consciousness appears today as a collective consciousness bipolarized to the point of dysfunction. Oddly enough, those who most insistently emphasize the sovereignty of individualism often tap religious (sometimes even Puritan) reference points, missing the point that it was religion that insisted upon and ensured the integration of both individual interest and communal commitment.

Keywords: Governmentality, Community, Identities

The International Journal of Civic, Political, and Community Studies, Volume 11, Issue 4, October 2014, pp.25-32. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: October 31, 2014 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 490.443KB)).

Dr. Joan Wines

Director, Center for Teaching and Learning, Department of English, California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, CA, USA

Dr. Bruce Stevenson

Associate Professor, English Department, California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, California, USA