29 April 2006

More About Puritans and Policy

little.hoot.owl said...
It seems to me that Wilsonian politics are also based on the 19th century idea of Manifest Destiny. What do you think?

I think that's a very astute observation, so I decided to post a bit more about it.

Actually... this may be simplistic, but I would say that Wilsonian politics and Manifest Destiny are branches on the same tree. Moreover, I would probably trace the roots of that tree to Puritan exceptionalist ideals. Puritan poet Michael Wigglesworth wrote these lines in his 1662 poem, "God's Controversy with New England."(The narrator is the voice of God):

[The Puritans] I brought and planted on the western shore,
Where nought but bruits and salvage wights did swarm
(Untaught, untrain'd, untam'd by vertue's lore)
That sought their blood, yet could not do them harm?
My fury's flaile them thresht, my fatall broom
Did sweep them hence, to make my people elbow-room.

Notice a few intriguing things here:

1.) God's own hand, like that of a master gardener, is the agency for planting the Puritans in their new land.

2.) The salvages in the new land "sought" the Puritans' "blood, yet could not do them harm." Note the interesting lack of any suggestion that said salvages were justified in their attacks, according to the U.S. Constitution. (hehe, I know it's anachronistic, but it's true.) Also note that any possible atrocities were justified by the fact that the Puritans' victories were one-sided enough that the hand of God was apparent. Also note the frustrating circular inner logic of that assumption. :-)

3.) God crushed the salvages and removed them so the Puritans could have their land... very similar, in many ways, to the book of Joshua in the Hebrew scriptures.

4.) Apparently, God has a "fatall broom."

5.) God, like Hitler, wanted to make his people "elbow room," and was willing to displace pre-existing populations to do it.

6.) The rhyme of "fatall broom" with "elbow room" is one of the most ingenious end-rhymes this reader has ever encountered. :-)

I hear resonances from this piece throughout modern U.S. foreign policy... especially beginning with Monroe, and then trickling down through the years until Wilson, when it got another shot in the arm from his ideologically charged policies.

With that said, it's kind of scary to think that we're relying on 17th-century Puritan ideology as a major part of our foreign policy. But what do I know?

(ooh, fun side note: the full title of Wigglesworth's poem is "GOD'S CONTROVERSY WITH NEW-ENGLAND. Written in the time of the great drought Anno 1662. BY A LOVER OF NEW ENGLAND'S PROSPERITY.")

1 comment:

Iris said...

Very nice poem, I'd wondered about the Puritan connection as well.

Oh,and the fatall broom was brilliant. I wonder if that's what God is using in SW Kansas now to clear Latinos some elbow room? (great rhyme, love it)