America and the Word: A Conversation with Mark Noll

nollAs the author of numerous influential histories of religion in America, Mark Noll is considered to be the master historian of this subject. In this edition of Liberty Law Talk, Mark Noll joins us to discuss his latest book, In the Beginning Was the Word. Noll describes how the Bible shaped the foundation of public life in early America. He traces this influence directly in the Puritan biblical commonwealths in New England, to the narrow and intense Protestantism unleashed by the First Great Awakening, and the ways both Loyalists and independence-minded colonists used scripture during the Revolutionary War.

Making Americans

The Early Puritans of New England Going to Church, George Henry Boughton (1867).

English settlers in America might have intended to transmit the traditions of the mother country to subsequent generations. This didn’t exactly happen—partly because the settlers disagreed amongst themselves about which of those traditions deserved preservation, and partly because the experience of life in North America challenged many of the traditions they did want to preserve. The disagreement and the adaptation together led, eventually, to a political revolution.

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From the Puritans to the Tea Party

Where does the Tea Party come from? William Galston recently argued that the Tea Party represents an update of the “Jacksonian tradition.” Drawing upon the work of Walter Russell Mead, Galston says that they “embrace a distinctive code, whose key tenets include self-reliance, individualism, loyalty and courage.” That’s true to a point but it also misses something fundamental. There are also some Puritan elements in the Tea Party.

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Puritan Boston, Quaker America

A recent visit to Boston prompted me to reread E. Digby Baltzell’s Tocquevillean classic, Puritan Boston, Quaker Philadelphia: Two Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Class Authority and Leadership (1979).  Baltzell’s appreciation of the enduring effects of the seemingly dead hand of religion on the politics of two cities is sobering and bespeaks the entire American condition today. Does American politics more resemble Puritan elitism or Quaker pluralism? Are Americans better portrayed in Good Will Hunting or Rocky? The greatest American historian Henry Adams described Pennsylvania as “an ultra-democratic State, …. “the ideal American State, easy, tolerant, and contented.” Thus, “the…

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The Scale of Our Devotion: The Law of the Nation-State v. The Arts of Association

Progressives use laws and regulations as a means of narrowing the social space in which individuals and groups make choices.  The objective is moral in nature and Progressives take freedom, of a certain sort, very seriously.  The highest liberty is to do what is right and good and therefore they believe that an extensive, detailed, objective, and rational, legal (and regulatory) system is a necessary component in nudging people to their freedom.  Working in tandem with a national media that presents a vision of a redeemed community, and a progressive educational system in which children internalize the moral vision of the national community (a subject I explored here), a comprehensive legal structure guides, shapes, and reminds citizens about virtuous living.

Much about the Progressive version of moralized politics is deeply American. 

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