Puritan Spotting

[Related to: Book Review: Albion’s Seed]
[Epistemic status: Not too serious]

I realize I’ve been confusing everyone with my use of the word “Puritan”. When I say “That guy is so Puritan!” people object “But he’s not religious!” or “He doesn’t hate fun!”

I don’t know what the real word for the category I’m calling “Puritan” is. Words like “Yankee”, “Boston Brahmin”, or “Transcendentalist” are close, but none of them really work. “Eccentric overeducated hypercompetent contrarian early American who takes morality very seriously” is good, but too long.

Instead of explaining further, here’s a (more than half-joking) Puritan checklist. Maximum one item per red box.

The obvious next step is to rank historical figures by Puritanism Points. Here are the top five famous Americans I can find, as per Wikipedia:

Samuel Morse was born to Pastor (+3) Jedediah (+1) Morse and his wife Elizabeth (+1) in Charlestown, Massachusetts (+3), the eldest of six children (+3). After attending Yale (+1), he pursued a career as an internationally famous painter. But when his wife Lucretia (+1) fell sick, he was unable to receive the news in time to go home to her before she died, inspiring him to change careers during mid-life (+3) and become an inventor. He spent his life perfecting the telegraph (+1), but also invented an automatic sculpture-making machine (+3). In later life, he switched careers again, becoming an anti-Catholic activist (+1); he ran for Mayor of New York on an anti-Catholic platform, and wrote anti-Catholic pamphlets like A Foreign Conspiracy Against The Liberties Of The United States (+1). He was also a well-known philanthropist (+3). His hairstyle looked like this (+3).

Total Puritanism = 28

Elizabeth (+3) Cady Stanton was born in Johnstown, New York (+1), one of eleven siblings (+3) including a brother named Eleazar (+1) and a sister named Tryphena (+1). She learned Greek as a child (+1) and her disillusionment at being barred from higher education because of her gender led her to start a crusade (+3) for women’s rights, along with other timely causes like abolitionism (+3) and temperance (+3). Although she was an agnostic herself (+1), she did write The Women’s Bible explaining why the Bible should have been more feminist (+3). She described herself as a pacifist, but during the Spanish-American War, stated that “Though I hate war per se, I am glad that it has come in this instance. I would like to see Spain swept from the face of the earth” (+3). Her hairstyle looked like this (+3)

Total Puritanism: 29

Lysander (+3) Spooner was born to Asa and Dolores Spooner in Athol, Massachusetts (+3), the second of nine children (+3) including his elder brother Leander (+1). He is best remembered as one of the founders of modern libertarianism, and as the developer of the Non-Aggression Principle (+3). But he also had a brief career as a lawyer (+1) – brief because he was practicing law illegally, without a license, because he thought licensing restrictions were illegal government tyranny. Later he founded a mail delivery company, again illegally, because he thought the Post Office was illegal government tyranny (I can’t believe he doesn’t gain any points for this; I need a better checklist), and invented (+1) a new monetary system (+3) because he thought that the existing monetary system was illegal government tyranny (see eg his pamphlets Gold and Silver as Standards of Value: The Flagrant Cheat in Regard to Them, +1). Among his other works were pamphlets on his idiosyncratic religious views like The Deist’s Immortality, And An Essay On Man’s Accountability For His Belief (+1, +1, +3), and a whole host of abolitionist books and pamphlets like A Plan For The Abolition Of Slavery (+1, +3). His hairstyle looked like this (+3).

Total Puritanism = 31

Roger Babson was born to 10th-generation Massachussetts natives (+3) Nathaniel (+1) and Ellen (+1) Babson. After attending MIT (+1), he pursued a career as a businessman, investor, and philanthropist (+3). His charitable efforts included the founding of two colleges (+3) – Webber University and Utopia College – and erecting a set of giant boulders with exhortations to be virtuous on them (+3). In later life, he switched careers (+3) to become a social reformer in the Open Church Movement (+3) and run for President as the candidate of the Prohibition Party (+3); he also invented the parking meter (+1). He is perhaps best remembered for founding an organization to destroy gravity (+3, but only because I can’t give + infinity without it being unfair to everyone else), and wrote various essays on the topic with titles like Gravity – Our Enemy Number One (+1). His hairstyle looked like this (+3).

Total Puritanism = 32

Born in Massachussetts (+3), son of Josiah (+1) and Abiah (+1) Franklin, one of seventeen siblings (+3, but deserves more) including a brother Ebenezer (+1). He was too poor to go to college, but handled his own education, creating a 7 x 13 Table of Virtues that he used to guide his daily studies and behavior (+3). He became an inventor, developing not only the Franklin stove (+1), the lightning rod (+1), and bifocals (+1), but also a system of propelling naval vessels by giant kites (+3). Later he switched careers (+3) to become a Founding Father of the United States (+3) and leader of the American Revolution (+3). He also wrote books like Poor Richard’s Almanack (+1), Advice To A Friend On Choosing A Mistress (+1), and The Means And Manner Of Obtaining Virtue (this one I am giving infinity points). Called himself a Deist (+1) and wrote a pamphlet (+3) explaining his idiosyncratic semi-Christian beliefs (+3); he also wrote a Bible fanfic in which God explained to Abraham the importance of Tolerance (+3). He was President of the Pennsylvania Abolitionist Society (+3), but also invented his own racial categorization system where only Anglo-Saxons were white, and German immigration should be banned as a threat to the whiteness of America (+3); he nevertheless founded philanthropic organizations to help German immigrants (+3). He was sympathetic to pacifism and said that “There never was a good war or a bad peace”, but supported the Revolutionary War (+3), which he thought necessary. His hairstyle looked like this (+3).

Total Puritanism = infinity

Other high scorers: Dorothea Dix (in addition to her psychiatric reforms, founded several schools and wrote a whole book of overwrought poetry praising flowers), Hiram Maxim (his son, also named Hiram Maxim, was also a famous inventor), Hiram Bingham (his son, also named Hiram Bingham, was also a famous traveler), Aaron Burr (grandson of Jonathan Edwards; his son was a chairman of the Moral Reform Society), Mary Baker Eddy (“My favorite studies were natural philosophy, logic, and moral science. From my brother Albert, I received lessons in the ancient tongues, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin”), Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr (close to my heart as a doctor/essayist/reformer) and Henry David Thoreau (everything about him). Let me know in the comments if you have more.

I find this kind of thing fun, and I do better than chance at guessing whether people are Puritan or not before I know the answer. But I don’t want to say this is Objectively Right. I’m sure the checklist combines traits that are inherently Puritan (like being from Massachusetts) with ones that are more common among various groups of early Americans (like inventing things, or having large families), which means this has elements of the wiggin fallacy.

The most egregious false positive I’ve found is Mark Twain. He was born in Missouri, one of seven children (+3) including an older brother Orion (+1 – he also had a brother named Pleasant Hannibal, which doesn’t get him Puritanism Points but ought to get him something). Along with being a writer who wrote various humorous books (+3), he was also (+3) an inventor, and received patents for suspenders, a history trivia game, and a self-pasting scrapbook (+3). He was an abolitionist (+3) and Deist (+1), and wrote various books about his idiosyncratic views on religion (+3). He described himself as a pacifist, but supported revolutionary violence from Robespierre to the Russian communists (+3). His hairstyle looked like this (+3).

This gets him 26, which is pretty concerning. But it’s worth noting that his great-great-grandfather was Ezekiel Clemens of Essex, Massachussetts, so he does have some Puritan blood in him, however diluted.

Other people who seem Puritan to me but AFAICT have no genealogical or cultural link: Cyrus McCormack, Homer Hickam, Emperor Norton. Also, surprisingly many Jews. There’s a weird symmetry there: both groups started out living in in small, very strict religious communities where they wore black and had lots of kids; then upon contact with Modernity they both went the opposite route and became famous for their education, irreligion, and preeminence in various forms of liberal tikkun olam. Must be one of those coincidences.

People complain that there is too much neo-Puritanism around these days, but they usually just mean people are moralistic reformers. I have the opposite worry: what happened to these people? When was the last time you saw somebody called Hiram invent five different crazy machines, found a new religion, and have twelve children who he named after Greek nymphs? Anyone who is serious about “Making America Great Again” should be deeply worried.

The modern American caricature is the Borderers: impulsive gun-crazy fundamentalist hillbillies with country-western accents. The opposite American stereotype – the virtue-obsessed nonconformist eccentric inventor philanthropist – has almost disappeared. These people still exist – Bill Gates does a good job embodying the ideal (or for a closer-to-home example, Ben Hoffman of Compass Rose) but they’re disconnected from any historical archetype. Lots of writers have argued that if you want people to avoid a race-based identity, you need a national identity you can assimilate people into. But right now the US national identity is one that’s repulsive to a lot of people. I’m disappointed that Puritanism is no longer a thing that people can aim at.

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217 Responses to Puritan Spotting

  1. NoahSD says:

    American Enlightenment figures?

  2. phoenixy says:

    Ezra Stiles. Born in Connecticut (+1), the son of Reverend Isaac Stiles (+3), had 9 siblings (+3), son of Keziah (+1) Stiles, brother of Ashbel Stiles (+1), has a weird Biblical name (+3) and weird hair, I think it’s a wig (+3). Attended Yale (+1) and briefly practiced law (+1). Was president of Yale and a founding trustee of Brown University (+3). Per Wikipedia, in drafting the charter, Stiles combined broad-minded public statements defining Rhode Island College as a “liberal and catholic institution” in which “shall never be admitted a religious test” (+3). He became first president of the Rhode Island abolitionist society (+3). He was well known as a minister, school president, amateur scientist, and supporter of the American Revolution (+3). Honorable mentions: He was the first person to raise silkworms in North America. He also was friends with Rabbi Carregal of Newport, discussing topics such as Kabbalah with him, and was fascinated with Indian petrogylphs, believing that they were indications that the Lost Tribes of Israel had been to the United States, although he doesn’t get crazy points for this because he never wrote a book on it. His son-in-law, Abiel, was also the father of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Senior.

  3. Moorlock says:

    I only give Thoreau a 17. Raised in Massachusetts (+3) in a small family of people with ordinary names like John and Helen. He went to Harvard (+1). He participated in his local Lycaeum, which ought to count for a point perhaps. I’ll give him an atheist/deist/freethinker point (+1) though he didn’t harp on this. He didn’t write any really weird books, but Walden is at least somewhat strange and exceptional, so… (+1) maybe? He was absolutely not a social reformer (he disliked social reformers). He didn’t write a formal list of virtues, but Walden can be read as a work of virtue ethics if you squint just so, so how about another (+1) for that. He was certainly inspired by the mystical wisdom of the far east (+3), was an abolitionist (+3), and fought for A-A rights elsewise (underground railroad, propagandist for John Brown) (+1). We don’t know much about his hairstyle except for two surviving photos, one with an unfortunate neckbeard (+3).

    • MoebiusStreet says:

      If “Helen” isn’t a classical name, and “John” a Biblical one, then I don’t know what is. Also, he wrote “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience”, which ought to carry some score.

      • The Nybbler says:

        The essay was initially published as “Resistance to Civil Government “, so I guess whether or not it garners a +3 depends on whether or not “Civil Government” is an abstract construct. Given that he ended up in a concrete jail cell as a result, I’m going to have to say probably not.

      • Simulated Knave says:

        The problem is it says “weird” Bible names, not just Bible names. Then again, I know at least three Nathaniels and two or three more Nathans, so if THAT’s the standard for weird it’s harder to say. I mean, Christopher is arguably Biblical. And then there’s Jonathan, James, Simon, Timothy, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Nathaniel, Nathan, Stephen, Paul.

        If THAT’s the standard (as opposed to things like Habbakuk), I can get +6 or +7 without going outside my aunts and uncles, and so could most people I grew up with (assuming they also had a Biblical name, and a lot of the guys certainly did).

        EDIT: To be clear, you get to +7 and higher by counting weird Biblical names that are Greek as Classical instead.

        • MoebiusStreet says:

          I now think you’re right. But I read “weird Biblical names” as “Biblical names, and Biblical names are weird” rather than “names that are both weird and Biblical”. It would have been a good place for a comma (would that count as an Oxford comma?).

          • James Kabala says:

            It is kind of an “I know it when I see it” thing. You have a handful of Biblical names that are not only not weird but are some of the core first names of Western culture. Most of the names of the apostles have been consistently popular over the centuries. Then you have a second tier that is less common but also not weird. Scott gave no points to Samuel or Benjamin in his examples. He did give three points to Elizabeth, apparently on the grounds that any El- name counts even if very common.

  4. Anonymous` says:

    Don’t the Cavaliers as described in the Albion’s Seed post have all the good features of Puritans (eccentricity, high levels of education/impressive mastery of multiple fields) without the bad (with “prohibition” being the perfect center of that category)? People just don’t respect them as much because slavery is the boogeyman.

    On the other hand, the first two classic American inventors I looked up (Eli Whitney and Samuel Colt) both appear to be New Englanders, so maybe there is something here. It could be the classic “talented son benefits early from the separation granted by, and later rises above, his oddly religious upbringing” scenario we see today with e.g. Catholic homeschoolers.

    • Michael Watts says:

      Don’t the Cavaliers as described in the Albion’s Seed post have all the good features of Puritans (eccentricity, high levels of education/impressive mastery of multiple fields) without the bad (with “prohibition” being the perfect center of that category)? People just don’t respect them as much because slavery is the boogeyman.

      From a more Amy Chua perspective, I think the Cavaliers represent a societal order characterized by a market-dominant minority (which was, for the Cavaliers, the Jews rather than the Cavaliers themselves), whereas the Puritans represent a societal order characterized by a market-dominant majority. The Cavaliers needed a much larger peasant class to sustain them; the Puritans sustained themselves.

      I think there’s room to argue for either model, but I don’t think it’s as simple as “all the upside of the Puritans with no downside”.

      • Anonymous` says:

        You’re saying that Jews specifically were market-dominant in colonial Virginia? Do you have any recommended reading material about that?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m really confused by this – in my reading of Albion’s Seed, the Cavaliers had basically no upside. They got a few geniuses like Jefferson, but in spite of themselves rather than because of it, and their whole civilization revolved around oppression (most obviously slavery, but also immense inequality even among the white population).

      • Candide III says:

        As Yudkowsky says, if you’re confused, that means that you believe something that is not true.

        • Nancy Lebovitz says:

          I think Yudkowsky was talking about being confused by something in the real world, not about being confused by someone’s opinion about the world.

          • NotDarkLord says:

            Still works – maybe you misunderstood their opinion (have a false belief about their opinion), or maybe you have a false belief that their opinion makes any sense at all/is consistent.

            Not at all sure why it’s relevant here though.

          • Eponymous says:

            An opinion is a thing-in-the-world, since it resides within a human brain.

        • googolplexbyte says:

          The issue with that though is, I’m never not confused.

          • Protagoras says:

            That would be the expected result, unless you are so fortunate as to ever have been in a state where all your beliefs were true.

      • bernd says:

        In fairness, the oppressive cavalier government after restoration had to become pretty stern with the Puritans to make them stop murdering Quakers over in Massachusetts.

        A bit before that, back in England, this group of fine Christians and lawyers had led an unstable, thieving, lawless and arbitrary tyranny at the first chance they got, and got off pretty easy when everyone was good and sick of them.

        But they were hypercompetent for sure, and the cavaliers decidedly were not.

        Occam’s razer on the puritans, IMO: Winning is the ultimate virtue.

      • Eponymous says:

        Washington too.

        Seems the Cavaliers made a pretty big contribution. You Brahmins that agitated for revolution shouldn’t downplay the value of the patrician officer caste that lead the army (not to mention the caste that filled out the military ranks).

        (Mostly kidding — I’m skeptical of the whole Albion Seed analytical framework).

      • Anonymous` says:

        I haven’t read the original Albion’s Seed and it was a while since I read your review (I just went and re-read the Cavalier section).

        This is the material I was thinking of:

        No, they said, we wouldn’t be free if we had to work, therefore we insist upon not working. No, we wouldn’t be free if we were limited by poverty, therefore we insist upon being extremely rich.

        And Virginian nobles weren’t just random jerks, they were carefully cultivated jerks. Planters spared no expense to train their sons to be strong, forceful, and not take nothin’ from nobody. They would encourage and reward children for being loud and temperamental, on the grounds that this indicated a strong personality and having a strong personality was fitting of a noble. When this worked, it worked really well – witness natural leaders and self-driven polymaths like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. [continued in my next quote]

        The next few quotes sound like the kind of baseless/naive anti-Southern libel I’m used to, so I automatically applied a big grain of salt:

        [continued from previous quote] More often it failed catastrophically – the rate of sex predation and rape in Virginia was at least as high as anywhere else in North America.

        This doesn’t seem like it has very much to do with what it’s being claimed as the downside of, and not giving numbers here is mega-suspicious. Is “at least as high”, like, the Puritan rate plus 15%?

        Their cuisine focused on gigantic sumptuous feasts of animals killed in horrible ways.

        What a ridiculous spin!

        The depths to which they sank in trying to oppress white people almost boggle the imagination. There was a rule that if a female indentured servant became pregnant, a few extra years were added on to their indenture, supposedly because they would be working less hard during their pregnancy and child-rearing so it wasn’t fair to the master. Virginian aristocrats would rape their own female servants, then add a penalty term on to their indenture for becoming pregnant. That is an impressive level of chutzpah.

        How many times did that particular super-specific thing happen?

        This isn’t directly relevant to this conversation, but it’s pretty awesome:

        There were no witchcraft trials, but there were people who were fined for disrupting the peace by accusing their neighbors of witchcraft. Their church sermons were twenty minutes long on the dot.

        This actively hurts my argument (but note the distinction between being a self-driven polymath and having schools around):

        Virginia governor William Berkeley probably would not be described by moderns as ‘strong on education’. He said in a speech that “I thank God there are no free schools nor printing [in Virginia], and I hope we shall not have these for a hundred years, for learning has brought disobedience, and heresy, and sects into the world, and printing has divuldged them, and libels against the best government. God keep us from both!”

        Now getting to your reply to my comment:

        They got a few geniuses like Jefferson, but in spite of themselves rather than because of it

        My point is that setting up idle pseudo-nobles is going to directly get you some well-studied impressive people. I don’t see how this is “in spite of themselves”.

        and their whole civilization revolved around oppression (most obviously slavery, but also immense inequality even among the white population).

        Well yeah, if your founding population is made of a few British nobles and a lot of very poor people, you’re going to have a lot more inequality than a founding population made mostly out of the upper-middle class.

        And I think that “founding population made mostly out of the upper-middle class” is doing almost all of the work in the set of good things about Puritans and their descendants. And if we describe that as “Puritanism”, we’re giving unnecessary support to all of the horrible things actually specific to the Puritan ideology that it’s useful to use the word for–the witch trials, the moralizing and the meddling, the Woodrow Wilsons.

        • Forty Winks says:

          Woodrow Wilson was born in Virginia.

          • Anonymous` says:

            And to Borderer parents! But hundreds of years after all these populations were founded, and the notable thing about him is his Puritan-influenced progressivism.

        • Galle says:

          I mean, if you dismiss all their negative qualities as “baseless/naive anti-Southern libel”, then yes, the Cavaliers had no negative qualities. To be honest, though, I’d describe them not as “negative qualities” but as “anti-Enlightenment qualities”. That isn’t so much a defense of the Cavaliers as it is an explanation of how such a horrific society was able to exist at all.

          There’s fairly indisputable evidence that the Cavaliers had a thoroughly entrenched shame society, practiced slavery, and had leaders who openly considered themselves to be better than everyone else on account of various things we today would think of as negatives. Even the rare geniuses like Jefferson and Washington were held back by their Planter roots.

          Furthermore, why are you willing to exculpate the Cavaliers of all their very obvious sins, but not give the Puritans the same treatment?

          • Anonymous` says:

            Furthermore, why are you willing to exculpate the Cavaliers of all their very obvious sins, but not give the Puritans the same treatment?

            I’m trying to bring things into the proper balance. The Cavaliers have very few ideological descendants, are getting their statues torn down, and are being given an extraordinarily rough and sloppy treatment by a blog author known for his charitable readings.

            Whereas the Puritans have a direct ideological line to the purity-spiraling strain of progressivism that’s causing us trouble today, and are not only being treated here as relatively harmless and praiseworthy, but are being given credit for all the general coolness of classical American autodidacts, a group which I care deeply about.

            Yes, slavery is bad. But some of the other “sins” being raised here are ridiculous! Anecdotal sexual offenses have been used to slur entire demographic groups before ranging from Jews to blacks to homosexuals to Catholics to men to gamers to illegal immigrants, and it was a bullshit argument every single time. We should be inoculated against it by now.

    • 天可汗 says:

      The first twenty American inventors I looked up were pretty much all Puritans, but maybe agricultural societies just didn’t produce as many inventions that are remembered in 2019 as mercantile ones, and then the Puritan advantage persisted by preadaptation. I took the first Google result for “list of famous American writers”, and Yankeedom and the South seemed about equally well represented.

      (There’s also the stereotype of the strongly religious engineer — which isn’t limited to any specific religion! People usually take this as a mindset thing, but maybe it’s also preadaptation: if you’re already used to madrasas, well…)

      I do think Cavaliers are underrepresented in most fields relative to what you’d expect, but my mostly uneducated guess is that that can be explained by agriculture and climate.

      The Puritan type is still around — I’ve seen it — but IME people of the type generally don’t like cities. Compare the people who live in West Virginia or rural Maryland and commute to DC to the people who live in DC or its near suburbs.

    • aNeopuritan says:

      “At the bottom of this hierarchy of bloody games were male infants who prepared themselves for the larger pleasures of maturity by torturing snakes, maiming frogs and pulling the wings off butterflies.”

      “An old tidewater folk saying in Prince George’s County, Maryland, defined a virgin as a girl who could run faster than her uncle.”

      DHF is sometimes accused of hating the Borderers, and they of deserving of it. Replacing with “Cavaliers” makes both a lot more accurate.

    • Simulated Knave says:

      The Cavaliers as described in Albion’s Seed are lazy and take the view that they are nobility to be supported by those in the social orders beneath them. There’s violence, discrimination, more violence, and incredible entitlement.

      You have a weird view of “without the bad.”

      • Anonymous` says:

        They have a separate set of bad things. And see my reply to Scott above–I think there’s a lot of exaggeration going on here.

    • mtl1882 says:

      My take: The cavaliers share the essential confidence, aggression, and commitment to principle that encourages eccentricity and achievement. Their culture, like all others, tends to end up with certain pathologies that cause a conflict.

      They probably enjoy life a lot more than Puritans, and almost everyone else. But because they have a strong sense of “character,” rooted in some larger principles and historical figures, their ideals are loftier than those of the Borderers etc. Their aggressive, flamboyant ambition, decoupled from puritan moralizing and misery, is really fun for a while, but naturally drifts toward a violent and showy society where performative actions become more important than real ones–putting on the best show. They kind of know this is happening, and watch as their children and cultural attainments atrophy–Jefferson himself wondered to Adams why great leadership seemed hereditary in Massachusetts but not Virginia.

      As was pointed out by commenters in the Albion’s Seed post, the Cavaliers and Borderers had a real uneasy coalition, and the southern Cavaliers tended to be much more Union-leaning, though they tended to fill leadership roles if they were in the Confederacy. They were a leadership class, smaller, and their interests pulled them in different directions. They did not think of themselves as the polar-opposite of Quakers with the Borderers being an in-between shade. They liked to think they were above the Borderers, and had their own uneasiness about their oppressive lifestyle, which led to rationalizations, which contributed further to the sense of being inauthentic. The history of Lexington, Kentucky shows some of these dynamics. They weren’t limited to Virginia, especially after the death of Jefferson’s generation.

      Without the self-righteousness of the Puritans, or shamelessness of the Borderers, they become conflicted over time, leading to the proxy stuff, until they’ve lost all sense of direction. If they enter another group, their confident competitive instincts can put them back on top. But I think they need the friction and structure of outside interaction. There’s no lifestyle with “no downside,” though certain downsides or tradeoffs can look a lot worse than others. “Lack of discipline/principle” is probably the most common downside of every attractive lifestyle.

      The self-driven polymath environment initially producing a generation of Jeffersons is precisely correct. But that is a general cultural dynamic not specific to any one of these groups, though it can manifest in different ways. It’s a healthy one that we have too little of now. Puritan culture produced a whole lot of self-driven polymaths, as this post shows. And it produced its share of Jefferson-era leaders, the Adams family being the obvious one–Ben Franklin, etc. It wasn’t like Massachusetts was underrepresented in the revolutionary period. That this backfired over time is also true. But it backfired in different ways. Adams’s kids/grandkids didn’t become spoiled jerks, but some of them suffered neurotic collapses resulting in alcoholism, suicide, etc. That was the ambitious independence without easy indulgence to satisfy them–they couldn’t measure up to their great fathers, but they weren’t filled with the confidence and spoiled entitlement of the rich Virginians. (I’d like to compare Jefferson’s sons to Adams’s directly, but we know how that went–and that is part of the Cavalier values conflict/”double life” that tortured him in later years.)

      John Adams to John Quincy Adams: “You come into life with advantages which will disgrace you if your success is mediocre. And if you do not rise to the head not only of your own profession, but of your country, it will be owing to your own laziness, slovenliness and obstinacy.” Fortunately, John Quincy was the type of person for whom this worked well, and you had the hereditary leader that Jefferson marveled at. But for every John Quincy, there were a few other sons who were not of this type. They fared badly in Puritan society. After one wayward son had a mental breakdown and committed suicide, even Adams thought he’d been too harsh. But it’s never been clear to me that the south was so impressive in statesmanship as to be beyond comparison with Massachusetts. Both seemed to work well for the right type of person. Western statesmen like Henry Clay, who tried to mediate between the factions for a while, may have been Cavaliers who moved westward, but I’m not sure. The younger sons who didn’t inherit the estate under primogeniture laws often headed west.

  5. Michael Watts says:

    You don’t think there’s a cultural link between Puritans and American Jews? Which culture do you think controlled New York? Which culture does it belong to today?

    If you read Razib Khan’s various commentaries on religion and religious groups, he states pretty often that Jews in the US were broken on the WASP cultural wheel. (Elaborating slightly: …and that’s why we have the term “Judeo-Christian values”, which are really just American WASP values. Outside the US context, Christian values are the outgroup to Islamic/Jewish values. This is my understanding of Razib’s view; I don’t know enough to take a firm position.)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I don’t think NYC was that Puritan. It was Puritan/Quaker/Dutch/its own thing.

      • 天可汗 says:

        American Nations breaks NYC out into its own thing, which seems reasonable.

      • aNeopuritan says:

        Intitally Dutch/Jewish (I think mostly Sefardic), then whatever else.

        • quaelegit says:

          In the Albion’s Seed time-frame, most American Jews were Sephardic (there also just weren’t very many of them (about 2000 in 1790). New York was an early hub, as well as other port cities (Philly, Charleston, Savannah) and some Caribbean colonies — pretty much all were merchants working the triangle trade.

    • Charles Kinbote says:

      Probably worth adding that the actual Puritans were a self-consciously Judaized form of Christanity. Hence the names, among other things.

    • mtl1882 says:

      In the early 1800s, some Jewish people essentially adopted the Puritan culture and intermarried with little fanfare, it seems, like the mother of Charles Sumner. This may not be representative, but given that it seems to have never been mentioned, it was probably uncontroversial. Her maiden name was Relief Jacob. That would suggest they shared cultural values, which makes sense. Jewish Americans ended up very numerous in Chicago, which became a commercial center that attracted everyone. Grant’s order asking Jews to leave army lines (quickly rescinded and apologized for–in no small part because some of the soldiers were Jewish) caused panic because Republicans thought they’d lose the Chicago vote. There is an interesting book “Lincoln and the Jews,” published relatively recently, that talks about the cultural, social, and economic dynamics. I’ve only read part of it but it was good.

      • Charles Kinbote says:

        What’s the source on Sumner’s mother being Jewish? The Jacob(s) family came to Hingham, Mass. in the Great Migration. There was a large Massachusetts Moses family as well–both were thoroughgoing Puritans. You could speculate that both families began with a medieval Jewish convert, but that wouldn’t make the family Jewish 400-500 years later.

        I’m having trouble thinking of any well-known Jewish outmarriages in 19th century England. If anything, it was more common in the south (New Orleans, Charleston).

        • mtl1882 says:

          As usual, when I don’t spend time down the original source first before saying something, I regret it. Secondary sources don’t cut it. I appreciate that you don’t take me at my word.

          All the sources seem to be citing this, published in 1905, here

          As luck would have it, it is mentioned in order to talk about the characteristics of people with both Puritan and Jewish ancestry, and their similarities! Which means it is probably theorizing based on the interesting ethnic determinism prevalent at the time. I’d say the ” Sumner was an old Hebrew prophet in the guise of an American statesman,” is a good characterization, but archetypes and metaphors are not facts.

          But it doesn’t quite end there. The biography by David Donald says this claim was made in an 1853 genealogical publication in the Boston area, and that it was improved upon 50 years later to make the comparison by the source I linked. Donald said he finds it “dubious,” but does not indicate if there is anything else to substantiate it. He basically says that every insult available was lobbed at Sumner over his lifetime, but no antisemitic insults were made. It’s a very good point, but Jewish ancestry (as opposed to identity/culture) does not seem to have been the popular “other” obsession of the moment. They were more likely to accuse him of wanting to live in a society in which whites were subordinate and in which he had a black wife, and did make that accusation. And it is such a sadly recurring smear that I would expect it to be made regardless of ancestry–I’m sure some idiot threw it out there at some point. They were accusing lots of politicians of having “African blood,” and all that, so it wasn’t like truth was a defense there.

          They also had great fun over the rumors his marriage fell apart because he was impotent, but that explicit discussion didn’t lead to homosexual jokes that would be a go-to in other eras (especially given his life up to that point–this is a different discussion, but the popular litany of insults its interesting in its omissions.) I own a more recent biography of him which I let someone borrow and which is not available as an ebook. I’ll have to check it to see if it says anything, but I’m guessing it was lore based on the names, though it may have been prevalent local lore. As the source shows, they liked to pinpoint the alleged origin of traits. In an effort to provide a substantiated example, I have definitely confirmed that the Gratz family intermarried with Kentucky elites. Benjamin Gratz and his family were pretty well accepted, but unsurprisingly not by everybody.

  6. hogganbeck says:

    Are there things that would be non-Puritan qualities? So that you’d get negative Puritan points? eg. “Had child out of wedlock” = -2 pts or “Was a Copperhead during the Civil War” = -5 pts?

  7. kaakitwitaasota says:

    New England WASP here. Another common Puritan convention is to give your son an ancestor’s surname, particularly his mother’s maiden name–thus, when Increase Mather married Anne Cotton, they had a son named Cotton Mather.

    I am skeptical that there’s much neo-Puritanism these days. Rereading Albion’s Seed a few days ago I was surprised just how strange Puritan New England was. Blue Tribe looks like it’s a combination of Puritans and Quakers, but that’s not quite right–culturally, it is almost entirely Quaker. The Puritan strain mostly died out after the Second World War if not before, and is now mostly relegated to a few stray cultural practices. Blue Tribe doesn’t engage in will-breaking, it celebrates lots of holidays, it isn’t interested in the sort of socially-conservative-bordering-on-fascist republicanism of ordered liberty that the Puritans had–indeed Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine are now some of the most libertarian parts of the country, in spirit and practice. …southern New England, not so much.

    If you’re looking for Puritans, you can go to Utah, but Mormons are not as Puritan as you’d think–linguistically, for example, Utah doesn’t look anything like New England; it’s just a normal part of the West. (Salt Lake City and Provo actually have pin-pen merger, which is a classically Southern feature).

    The strange biblical names are probably gone forever. My mother opposed my naming a hypothetical son Increase, but thankfully not Winthrop.

    • Michael Watts says:

      I don’t see anything surprising in the idea that a group can remain culturally very distinctive while speaking exactly the way the locals do. You have to talk to the people you’re near. But you may not have to act like them.

    • Incandenza says:

      I occasionally wonder if it’s the Mormons’ destiny to remember their Puritan roots and become New England-style moralistic progressives, once they grow out of their awkward still-believing-in-religion phase. Their wariness about Trump suggests the cultural DNA is still there, but it’s hard to envision a full transition anytime soon.

      • Candide III says:

        Most Trump voters are wary about Trump, with good reason too, so I wouldn’t put much store by it.

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          Trump has a 90% approval rating among Republicans. The sorts of Republicans you see on TV (except Tucker Carlson) are wary about Trump, but “most Trump voters” are not wary about Trump.

          • Candide III says:

            That approval rating doesn’t mean they aren’t wary. They just know that there isn’t somebody else who they would like better. Google Sam Altman’s essay on talking with Trump voters.

          • Conrad Honcho says:

            I don’t need to read about somebody else talking to Trump voters like they’re on a wilderness safari, I am a Trump voter.

            I ddg’d for “obama approval among democrats” and found this article from 2013 that Democrat approval of him was ~80%. Were Obama voters more wary of Obama, given his lower approval rating among his base? Your assertion sounds an awful lot like “the outgroup secretly agrees with me and is being dishonest about it.” No, the ougroup probably mostly believes the things they profess to believe.

          • Incandenza says:

            Something something compositional effects. I agree that Trump is very popular among Republicans, but that might be in part because the sort of Republicans who didn’t like Trump are no longer Republicans. Based on the 2018 results, a lot of such people seem to live in places like Orange County, CA, the Texas Triangle, the suburbs of Atlanta…

          • Candide III says:


            Were Obama voters more wary of Obama, given his lower approval rating among his base?

            I don’t think the relationship between approval ratings and such nebulous factors is anywhere near strict enough for one to make such deductions. I bet they thought Obama wasn’t moving fast enough and/or selling out to greedy corporations or whatever. Maybe I misunderstood what sort of wariness Incandenza was talking about, though. I meant not that Trump voters are wary, because of their being honest God-fearing Americans, of Trump’s alleged racism, sexism, anti-democratic tendencies or whatever other insufficiently-far-from-the-right-edge-of-Overton-window crap one might care to substitute, but rather of him not being reliable enough to protect their interests.

            Your assertion sounds an awful lot like “the outgroup secretly agrees with me and is being dishonest about it.”

            You’re way off the mark, man.

          • Dan L says:

            Partisan approval rates are a clean case of conditioning on a dependant variable. I haven’t called out this particular case of statistical illiteracy before on SSC since it’s distressingly common these days, but if you’re going so far as to make comparative assessments you need better controls.

            (PDF link via Google. Let me know if it breaks and I’ll look for another source of the working paper.)

      • rodan32 says:

        I think about this a lot, being that I’m a Mormon. I think, cautiously, that the great barrier is the “still-believing-in-religion” thing. Mormon belief is so tied to Mormon culture that you can’t have the one without the other. There’s also a surprisingly strong libertarian streak in Mormon culture; the reason we’re in Utah is that’s where we could be our weird selves, and even then they still sent the army out. I know there are puritan impulses in the culture, sure, but I’m not sure they outweigh the “leave us alone” impulses.

        • Incandenza says:

          This sounds like it would be compatible, in theory, with other brands of civil libertarian-leaning Western progressivism. As it is, if Utah weren’t founded by Mormons, you’d expect such an urban western state to be politically more like Colorado, Nevada, or Oregon.

          As for Mormon belief being so tied to Mormon culture… well, you’d have said the same of 17th-century Puritans, no? But like I say, I’m not expecting that religious belief to vanish anytime soon.

        • EchoChaos says:

          even then they still sent the army out.

          To be fair, that’s because of the whole “killing non-Mormons” thing.

    • Doctor Locketopus says:

      > Blue Tribe doesn’t engage in will-breaking

      Really? Try posting something non-PC on Twitter and see what happens. The Marxist “struggle session”, the Blue Tribe “call-out culture” and the Puritan “will-breaking” are just different names for the same vile tactic used by different sets of assholes.

      It’s a good thing that the Blue Tribe doesn’t have the power to hang or burn people for heresy, or they’d be doing it.

      Fortunately, the much-maligned Borderers are the ones who have all the guns. Also all the food, water, and energy. Also the people who drive the trucks, do the plumbing and electrical work, and all the other things to make sure the food, water, and energy get to the Blue Tribe in the cities.

      • broblawsky says:

        How is this necessary or kind? You might believe it’s true, but as a member of the Blue Tribe i’m pretty sure we wouldn’t be burning people even if we could, so I don’t think you can claim that either. It just looks like chest-beating to me.

        • The Nybbler says:

          If it is true, it is necessary as the opposite claim (which is, under these assumptions, false) was made.

          • Galle says:

            The part about will-breaking versus callout culture, sure.

            The last two paragraphs, though, are just shouting “Red Tribe Good Blue Tribe Bad”.

        • ksvanhorn says:

          Anecdotal evidence of a “burn the heretics” faction in Blue Tribe:

          ‘Lock ‘Em In And Burn It Down!’ Cries SJW

          • Galle says:

            The article calls that a joke, though. I think if you pass it through a reasonableness filter then they probably aren’t actually interested in genuinely burning the heretics, they’re just very unhappy about being forcibly associated with heretics against their will.

        • Doctor Locketopus says:

          > but as a member of the Blue Tribe i’m pretty sure we wouldn’t be burning people even if we could

          Twiitter evidence indicates otherwise.

          People are being hounded from their jobs, having SWAT teams falsely called on them, being attacked while attempting to enjoy a quiet meal in a restaurant with their families, and being physically assaulted on the street for wearing a hat the Blue Tribe doesn’t like.

        • Doctor Locketopus says:

          > You might believe it’s true

          P.S. I’m not quite sure what the antecedent of “it” is in this sentence.

          That the Red Tribe owns vastly more guns? That most of the energy, food (and, for California) water comes from Red Tribe regions? That long-haul truck drivers are considerably more likely belong to the Red Tribe than (say) UX designers in San Francisco?

          I feel confident that I could demonstrate all of those things, and will be happy to search out appropriate references *IF* you can convince me that you’re truly skeptical about any of them.

          But, you know, I don’t actually believe that you are.

          • broblawsky says:

            I meant that the Blue Tribe would be burning people for heresy if they could. Your evidence got this seems to be based on cherry-picking the worst examples from social media. Based on an equivalent standard of evidence, i’m pretty sure I could assert that all Red Tribe members are racist. Judge not lest ye be judged.

          • Doctor Locketopus says:

            broblawsky: > I meant that the Blue Tribe would be burning people for heresy if they could.

            Given that every mega-murder-by-government of the 20th century but one (the Turks against the Armenians) has been carried out by a self-described “socialist” regime, I hardly think believing they might do it again it counts as “cherry-picking”.

            > Based on an equivalent standard of evidence, i’m pretty sure I could assert that all Red Tribe members are racist.

            You very likely do that anyway. I’ll rebut your “judge not” aphorism with “sauce for the goose”.

            Besides, “racist” is a matter of opinion. The term has been so tortured and distorted that nowadays it simply means “disagrees with a leftist about anything whatsoever”.

            Dead bodies, by contrast, are matters of fact.

          • Dedicating Ruckus says:

            The question was about Blue Tribe in its modern American incarnation, not 20th-century non-American socialists. Relatively few Blue Tribers actually even call themselves “socialist”, and those who do typically explicitly distance themselves from any of the notorious historical acronyms that happen to contain that word.

            The original question — whether “Blue Tribe” would burn people for heresy, if they could — seems ill-formed. Presumably the answer is that some would and some wouldn’t, and whether this makes it just to describe “Blue Tribe” as a whole as having this tendency is just down to your prejudices.

      • Incandenza says:

        The scenario where Borderers are commuting in from Appalachia to do the plumbing and electrical work in the big cities is an interesting one. In my own personal liberal coastal metropolis the working class is mostly hispanic and black.

        • SamChevre says:

          If you want to understand why immigration and affirmative action are hot-buttons, there you have it; a generation ago, the trades were absolutely dominated by white ethnics, including Appalachia.

          • Doctor Locketopus says:

            This is a good example of the cultural blindness of what we seem to be calling the “Blue Tribe”.

            They campaign on issues like open borders, putting coal mines out of business, and “free trade agreements” (which are generally nothing of the sort) and then get shocked when the coal miners and factory workers they’ve put out of work don’t vote for them. The only possible explanation they see is “racism”.

            Perhaps we could have a “free trade agreement” on higher education that required degrees from (say) India where instrution was delivered via the Internet by Indian professors (making Indian wages) to be fully accredited.

            What do you suppose the reaction of the academic “Blue Tribe” would be to that?

          • Doctor Locketopus says:

            I mentioned India specifically here not out of any animus toward Indian academics; quite the contrary. Some of the best professors I had in both undergrad and graduate school were from India.

            However, Indian professors who are actually living in India make a lot less money, as do Indian university administrators and university paper-pushers.

            The same could be done with other professions, for example, medicine.

            I understand that a lot of radiology work is already being done in India (it’s pretty easy to transmit images over the net). Other medical specialties may soon follow. Of course, you’d still need a local technician to draw blood, take blood pressure, etc. but most practices already farm those jobs out to non-doctors anyway.

          • Theodoric says:

            Perhaps we could have a “free trade agreement” on higher education that required degrees from (say) India where instrution was delivered via the Internet by Indian professors (making Indian wages) to be fully accredited.

            What do you suppose the reaction of the academic “Blue Tribe” would be to that?

            Quite honestly, in this example, probably not too strongly against, as a degree from Online Indian University would probably be regarded by employers as at best on the level of University of Phoenix, so there would be plenty of demand for US based professors.

          • Doctor Locketopus says:

            > Quite honestly, in this example, probably not too strongly against, as a degree from Online Indian University would probably be regarded by employers as at best on the level of University of Phoenix

            I’m talking about an actual law requiring employers to treat Indian degrees the same as U.S. degrees, or face the same penalties they face for other types of discrimination.

            Or perhaps cutting off student loan funding for U.S. institutions and only allowing it for the (less expensive) Indian universities would do the trick.

            Perhaps both.

        • Doctor Locketopus says:

          > The scenario where Borderers are commuting in from Appalachia to do the plumbing and electrical work in the big cities is an interesting one.

          Oh, they’re not “commuting”. They just don’t live in your neighborhood (but rather in declasse places like Bakersfield), and you ignore them when you do see them.

          • Incandenza says:

            Haha, I live in a working/middle-class neighborhood and make a lot less than the average plumber. Tell me more about who my neighbors are and how I treat them.

            ADD: Two kinds of reductive thinking that I find super-annoying: 1) Assumptions (often by wealthy/educated liberals) that much of America between the coasts is a cultural and political wasteland, though they “hear Austin is cool.” 2) Assumptions (often by cultural conservatives) that someone who is socially liberal must be a rich white person. America is much more diverse and interesting and weird than any of this polarized thinking presumes!

          • Doctor Locketopus says:

            > Tell me more about who my neighbors are and how I treat them.

            Well, you certainly don’t live in a typical neighborhood if none of the truck drivers and tradespeople are white.

            From something you said below, you appear to either live in Texas or at least are from there.

            I can totally believe that a higher proportion of these jobs are filled by blacks and Latinos in Texas, but Texas is not the whole country.

            Here’s a report that a casual web search turned up for the Milwaukee MSA:


            Only 2.9% of electricians in this region are black, 4.4% of carpenters, 4.4% of plumbers, and 6.5% of masons.

            For Latinos, the numbers are 3.3% of electricians, 5.6% of carpenters, 35 (total number, no percentage given) of plumbers, and 0 masons.

            Milwaukee is an extremely blue city. Even though the state as a whole went for Trump in 2016, Milwaukee went for Clinton by 65%-28%.

            Perhaps before chiding others for parochialism, you should examine yourself for the same.

          • Doctor Locketopus says:

            With respect to truck drivers, a survey by the American Trucking Association indicates that 74% of drivers are white, 12% are black, 10% are Hispanic/Latino, 1% are Asian, 1% “Other”, 2% refused.


            (used an URL shortener here because the actual URL is extremely long and ugly)

          • Plumber says:

            @Doctor Locketopus

            I’m not who you were addressing, but I’ll cop to being extremely parochial, which is why in my post elsewhere in the thread I listed what counties I was basing my impressions on.

            I’ll add here that when I worked construction for some months just north of Hollister, California I noted that while the workers in the tomato and garlic fields looked Latino, and Spanish was spoken at the construction site more than in the San Francisco Bay Area, the staff at drive through fast food places looked like young whites, instead of the middle-aged immigrants that I usually saw in the bay area, so different jobs in different areas had different ethnic make ups.

        • Eponymous says:

          In the “liberal coastal metropolises” I’ve lived in, a lot of the trades (including plumbing and electrical) are still quite white. Though they probably aren’t Borderers. Same in my current location, though it doesn’t fit that description.

          • Doctor Locketopus says:

            > Though they probably aren’t Borderers.

            Have you actually talked to any of them? You might be surprised.

            Tradespeople on the East Coast may be of Irish or Italian descent (same in Chicago, with Polish added to the mix). Anywhere else? Likely of pure “Borderer” descent, though perhaps they have have lost the accent.

          • The Nybbler says:

            We’ve got Polish tradespeople (recent immigrants, often) on the East Coast as well. And don’t-call-us-Hispanic Portuguese tradespeople also.

          • Incandenza says:

            Yeah, this is probably true actually – the higher-income working-class jobs tend to go to ethnic whites, though certainly not exclusively, while the lower-income jobs (delivery truck drivers, uber drivers, kitchen work, unskilled laborers) tend to go to non-whites.

          • aNeopuritan says:

            Nybbler: what do you think about telling the next Portuguese to complain that Camões described his people as “a most strong people of Spain”? (Better if you learn how to say “Uma* gente fortíssima de Espanha” with a Lusitan accent. *: “Ũa” in the original orthography.)

          • The Nybbler says:


            If I ever have a desire to start a barfight in the Ironbound, I’ll keep that idea in mind.

          • m.alex.matt says:

            Have you actually talked to any of them? You might be surprised.

            I’ve worked with most of them.

            I’ll be honest: Where the hell do you all live where the tradespeople who are white aren’t just native whites? Few of them are ‘Borderer’ here in the Philly area, they’re all just native Philadelphians. Some you can trace back through various immigrant groups over the last few centuries, some have been here forever (I worked in a package shipping shop with a guy who had lived in my hometown since he was born in the late 70’s and whose family had lived there since the 18th century — an ancestor of his shows up on local tax records from the early 1700’s: Propertyless).

            Doctor, I think you may have a bit of a persecution complex. The ‘Blue Tribe’, as it would be understood from Scott’s initial post on the matter, isn’t just ‘rich, urban whites from coastal cities’, it’s a lot of different types of people.

        • Plumber says:

          I’ve worked construction/trades in California for over 20 years in four counties (Alameda, San Francisco,  San Mateo,  and Santa Clara) with most of my work hours in or near Palo Alto and San Jose, and the ethnic make-up of who’s doing the work depends on where, when, and what.

          In and near Oakland, California with my Dad in the 1970’s and 80’s it was mostly U.S. born blacks and whites doing the work, and now it’s much more Hispanic/Latino.

          In the 2000’s unionized “commercial”/”industrial” construction was much more U.S. born than non-union “residential” work, in San Jose at all-union jobs they’d typically be about 50% white and 40% Latino, but both mostly U.S. born, on “two gate” jobs the ratios would reverse, and there’d be more immigrants (including Bosnians on one job-site), the more non-union the more Asian, European (the Bosnians), and Latino immigrants, the more union there’d be more U.S. born blacks (a small number) and whites (and some ex-Soviet Union, Filipino, and Vietnamese) in the 2000’s. 

          San Mateo County was a bit more white than Santa Clara County, San Francisco County is much more Asian and black and less Latino.

          For U.S. born blacks and whites it’s a mix of “Borderer”/”Greater Appalachia” and “Puritan”/”Yankee”, often those that would commute from “in-land” and north would still have the “Okie” accents of their parents and grandparents, though I did know two brothers one of which moved to Stockton and had an “Okie” accent and listened to Country-Western music, and the other who stayed in San Jose, listened to “Rock” music and didn’t have an “Okie” accent (their father was also in the union and only let an “Okie” accent come out if he’d been drinking).

          A curiosity is that on multiple occasions I observed that the self proclaimed “red necks” would often tell pretty vile anti-black “jokes” but when working alongside black men they’d usually became fast friends, which puzzled me at first.

          San Franciscans in the trades used to be predominantly Irish and Italian,  which is less true now, but there’s remnants (most union officials will have gone to the same Catholic schools), the old Oakland plumbers union (which got absorbed by the Concord steamfitters union) used to be predominantly Portuguese but there’s little trace of that now.

          • mdet says:

            the self proclaimed “red necks” would often tell pretty vile anti-black “jokes” but when working alongside black men they’d usually became fast friends, which puzzled me at first.

            “At first”? What changed or clarified it for you?

          • Plumber says:


            Mostly just seeing the same pattern repeated, while they’d decry “Hillbillies” and “N.. [not going to type it, I’m just too Puritan]s” as a group, they tended to get along well individual-to-individual together, maybe a shared interest in barbecue, fishing, religion, sports, V8 engines, and other things from our host’s “Red Tribe” list?

            In another thread I noted that on my commute from San Francisco to my home 15 miles away in going through Berkeley and Oakland I note that I see more “Black Lives Matter” signs in the majority white neighborhoods, in majority black neighborhoods I see more “Jesus is Lord” signs which I imagine I would see more of in “Red state” white neighborhoods as well.

            While younger and white collar blacks (especially the women) seem more “blue tribe”, the older black men I worked alongside seemed more “Red Tribe” except for being Democrats and liking R&B instead of Country, but that was true of the older white men as well, they’d tend to be “union-men” Democrats, while the younger white men were Republicans and complain about not being hired by the Fire department because of “Affirmative Action”.

            Young black men in the trades were much scarcer than older ones, I only had one in my apprenticeship class, and I did note that on the one job we had together he was being given a harder time by the Journeymen (despite his father being in the union as well) than the white and Hispanic apprentices, but it wasn’t the “hillbillies”/”red necks” giving him a hard time, they were verbally racist but not in shoulder-to-shoulder on-the-job deeds, if that makes any sense.

      • kaakitwitaasota says:

        This is done by institutions, though, rather than parents; I don’t think it’s via direct memetic descent. My semi-Puritan father accepted that I was a strange child early on and mostly left me alone.

        (He’s terrifying when angry, though, and I’m easily terrified–I think that alone kept me in line, for the most part.)

    • Tarhalindur says:

      You’re a little off on your timing – AFAICT the Puritan/Midlands* merger happened in the latter half of the nineteenth century, driven by the collapse of the Congregationalists. You know how the Protestant mainline collapsed in the second half of the twentieth century after it got too caught up in politics (the Social Gospel) and the kids stopped coming? AFAICT that’s pretty much exactly what happened to the Congregationalists after the Civil War (though instead of Prohibition they foundered when their grand effort to evangelize the Midwest failed and industrialization shredded their preferred vision of society), and their kids rebelled and moved to what’s now the mainline. (I’ve read that there were major Congregationalist campaigns against the Unitarians after they emerged during the Second Great Awakening.)

      * – Using the American Nations word for that region instead

  8. TDB says:

    Why not Quakers? They were also quirky New Englanders but they didn’t produce any historical horrors until Nixon. The real puritans were assholes.

    Quakers and Puritans had sort of a religious war, or as close as you can come when one side is pacifist. The casualties were a bit one-sided.

    • Space Ghost says:

      > they didn’t produce any historical horrors until Nixon

      Except worldwide industrial scale whale slaughter.

      • kaakitwitaasota says:

        Those were Puritans–the Quakers were Pennsylvania/New Jersey (and, after the Dutch capitulated, New York).

        • Charles Kinbote says:

          There were plenty of Quakers in New England. Rhode Island and Nantucket in particular–Nantucket of course being a leader in the whaling trade. Nantucketers were essentially Puritan converts to Quakerism, and they went through a few other permutations of Christianity on their way there. The earliest examples of the religious heterodoxy this post is highlighting.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            There were plenty of Quakers in New England. Rhode Island and Nantucket in particular–Nantucket of course being a leader in the whaling trade.

            There once were some men from Nantucket, whose Moby Dick was so long they…

      • TDB says:

        Oh yeah, I forgot about that part of the Quaker service where they sacrifice a whale.

    • m.alex.matt says:

      Why not Quakers? They were also quirky New Englanders but they didn’t produce any historical horrors until Nixon. The real puritans were assholes.

      Eh, they don’t even come from the same parts of England. Puritans were usually East Anglian/Essex/London people, the Quakers were more middle/north England.

      The Puritans were an older sect, stretching back to the initial conversion of England to Protestantism (and immense frustrations over Henry VIII’s eccentricities), while the Quakers were part of the religious enthusiasm and experimentalism of the Commonwealth era.

  9. tayfie says:

    Great post, Scott!

    With regard to why there seem to be fewer virtue-obsessed nonconformist eccentric inventor philanthropists, I have a couple explanations.

    The first has to do with being a polymath seems genuinely harder these days. This is possibly because many fields have picked the low hanging fruit and learning enough to contribute meaningfully to a field is harder, so people can’t contribute to many. It might also be because people are less intelligent today.

    Another possibility is the removal of eccentricity through mass media and public education. Both of these things bring huge biases towards conformity. They make sure every kid grows up thinking very similar things. The conformity effect also brings the same bias against new endeavors generally. Can you imagine trying to start a new religion today? You would never get any traction before being swamped by people laughing you out of polite society.

    With regard to your caricatures of Americans, I fail to see how they are opposites. Really I think they are similar values expressed differently. Both are nonconformist/independent, both are obsessed with virtue/religion, both are makers and doers, both are charitable. If the borderers are your caricature of America and that is seen as a bad thing, why are they the caricature? The borderers don’t control the media and they rarely touch the halls of power. Most of that happens in the NY, Boston, DC triangle. They can’t be promoting themselves.

    If the national identity is disgusting, I have to ask, to whom? My wild conjecture is that this feeling comes from Puritan self-flagellation to escape their legacy of seeing every new moral paradigm as the universal one and committing whatever atrocity needed to implement.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      There’s also survivorship bias. Scott’s looking at the most famous, successful eccentrics who wrote about their Christian heresies…but 1) how many people actually read their pamphlets 2) how many pamphlets were written by crazies who never became famous and 3) people do this ALL THE TIME today. Every other teenager writes some screed on FaceBook about how they’re “spiritual but not religious” and they know the REAL lesson of Jesus was being nice/socialist/not being racist but definitely NOT actually having to go to church or professing to believe anything, etc. That’s the heresy pamphlet in 2019.

      • Ozy Frantz says:

        Oh, come on, that doesn’t count. That is in no way an original Christian heresy.

        • Joseph Greenwood says:

          Clarification: that heresy predates Christianity, or that heresy has happened before in Christianity, or something else?

        • Conrad Honcho says:

          How many of the heresies are really original? An awful lot of them are just “blah blah blah the pope is satan” is anyway.

          • watsonbladd says:

            It’s really, really hard to come up with original heresy. There are just too many prior instances!

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            If your heresy is “Cain’s and Seth’s wives were created by removing additional ribs from Adam and Eve, which turned them into snakes,” then you can get your point.

            But “Jesus is a socialist” is not in any way an invented heresy unless you live in the 19th century.

            I realize that lots of people have invented heresies and there’s a high likelihood that some random Gnostic thought of the snake thing. But I feel in order to qualify as “invented your own heresy” there has to be at least some chance that you were the first person to think of it.

    • AG says:

      I mean, you’re writing about the difficulties of starting a new religion on this blog of all blogs?

  10. hiblick says:

    MIT Hacker Culture is a good transmitter of a modern variant of this model of Puritan values. Richard Stallman scores pretty highly.

    • Conrad Honcho says:

      I was thinking the same thing. “Where have the eccentric inventors gone?” Open source software?

    • VivaLaPanda says:

      I don’t know if it’s just my perception, but it seems like open source/hacker culture isn’t doing too great right now. I don’t really know of a 20’s/30’s Stallman equivalent (maybe someone in crypto like Vitalik?). People getting sucked into industry by high pay is probably a good chunk of it, but I also wonder if the lack of general counterculture sentiment is part of it.
      Who knows

      • Null42 says:

        Was it successfully wiped out by social-justice types? I did see Linus Torvalds was forced to resign from Unix. This is an honest question, it’s been years since I read Slashdot and have only the faintest third-hand knowledge of those circles at this point.

      • Aapje says:

        Isn’t there actually a surplus of counterculture sentiment by people who are mainstream culture?

  11. sharper13 says:

    I thought the obvious thing was to score yourself on the scale in order to compare. I scored 23, and I’m not even from New England…

    • shakeddown says:

      18. How’d you get to 23? There’s a lot that seem pretty impossible without being a famous inventor.

      • yodelyak says:

        Hmm. I could get as high as 26 depending on whether certain things count as “books” and whether I credit my knowledge of what my father’s wishes were, if he hadn’t died unexpectedly while still quite young. (I have three siblings, but he wanted to adopt out of Christian charity, since they had such a good family and it would be wrong to hoard that good family to the mere six of us, counting him and my mother (who’d drawn the line and said no more kids), when kids who’d had less good fortune couldn’t get adopted because people only seemed to want to adopt infants. He had finally won the argument, or anyway that’s how the story is sometimes told by my mother, by suggesting they adopt siblings. Likewise, he had finally won the argument that he wanted to go to seminary. So it was probably a question of a few years, if he hadn’t died before reaching his fourth dozen year.)

        If we count the extra +1 for four siblings, and the extra +3 for a father in the clergy, and the book-length set of weird Eastern-inspired religious-philosophical essays I wrote addressed as letters to my mother when I was ~12, and the C.S. Lewis fan-club I started in College (and subsequent phases of religious tolerance fanaticism and then religious heresy) and my period as a climate change crusader… oh, and I do have a law degree and I’m completely unable to avoid the charge of atheist/free-thinker/deist or what-have-you. Yep, 26.

        I could have even scored myself higher. I have written multiple screeds about how to maintain one’s virtue while interacting online, but I didn’t count that/those as a virtue list. (I wrote one just today, quoting the true-kind-necessary gates, > 3,000 words!) I didn’t attend Harvard/Yale/MIT, but I did ask for letters of reference to apply (I never finished the application) to Yale’s joint forestry-divinity program, and I did attend a different Ivy for undergrad.

        I don’t think this type is gone. E.g., while at undergrad, I had someone introduce himself to me, within a few minutes of meeting me, as a “Jewish Atheist Quaker.” He has since attended MIT, runs an admissions company to help disadvantaged kids get admission to Harvard / Yale / MIT, and has adopted a child in Western Africa. It also seems to me that our host, and the EA community, obviously score high.

        Obsession with tolerance? How to be virtuous? Names like Eleazer or Noah or David?

        But truth is, I do feel lonely. It’s like most people don’t even see what I’m trying to be. I haven’t been particularly successful, or so it seems to me.

      • sharper13 says:

        My less “normal” points are probably:
        7 siblings
        3 inventions, including an eccentric one and achievements in multiple fields (I’m an autodidact and it doesn’t specific well-known inventions, so I assume anything patentable would count)
        Wrote a book about my heterodox religious views
        Wrote 3 really weird books (Only two are currently in print, but it says wrote)
        Founded their own school (technically founded three different schools, of which two are still going strong, but only took 3 points here)
        Waged a crusade against an abstract concept (I’ll admit, not a literal cut their throats crusade)

        Plus of course many of the common ones, like abolitionist (who isn’t, nowadays in the U.S.?)

        I’m not sure I could get much more specific without posting my life story and dox’ing myself. It probably helps that I’m while I’m not retired, I’m on the older spectrum for the SSC crowd, so I’ve had more time to do stuff.

        • Nornagest says:

          abolitionist (who isn’t, nowadays in the U.S.?)

          Most people? It’s hard to be abolitionist when there isn’t anything legal left to abolish.

          I might give those points to someone modern with strong public opinions about e.g. human trafficking or prison labor, but not to the average American with average American beliefs about slavery.

    • Zeno of Citium says:

      I score a 7 if you’re as generous as possible with the points. So at least this proves it’s possible to score very low on the scale.

      • Garrett says:

        I maximally scored 15, and that requires defining a bunch of CW-stuff as “religious tolerance”, disparate impact under libertarianism as “racist”, occasionally read Supreme Court opinions as “practice law”, gun control as “abstract concept”.

  12. Nornagest says:

    My grandfather scores at least 16*, but was a Catholic, a child of Central European immigrants, and as far as I know never set foot in New England. I guess what I’m saying is, a lot of these are pretty common to accomplished Americans of an earlier era — eccentric, overeducated, hypercompetent and contrarian is just one of those cultural tropes, you know?

    (*) 10-ish siblings [+3], several of whom had weird names [+3]; named after a Christian virtue [+3]; achievements in multiple fields [+3]; was involved in the founding of a thinly anonymized Western university [+3]; strongly supportive of civil rights [+1]. Also built a full-scale rotating observatory in his backyard, which I feel should be worth something.

    • Anonymous` says:

      I guess what I’m saying is, a lot of these are pretty common to accomplished Americans of an earlier era — eccentric, overeducated, hypercompetent and contrarian is just one of those cultural tropes, you know?

      This is exactly right.

  13. 10240 says:

    If anyone wonders, Benjamin Franklin’s score is 54 (based on Scott’s listing).

  14. kaakitwitaasota says:

    Ach, waited too long and now can’t edit…

    The modern American caricature is the Borderers: impulsive gun-crazy fundamentalist hillbillies with country-western accents. The opposite American stereotype – the virtue-obsessed nonconformist eccentric inventor philanthropist – has almost disappeared.

    I’m currently in Germany, and the family I’m staying with was mildly surprised that I didn’t know how to ride a horse and wasn’t a cowboy; that’s the stereotype. New England and its attendant stereotypes don’t register on foreign radar at all–America is either Californian hippies, Western cowboys, or (I suppose) New York City gangsters and bankers. (And Dear Leader, who somehow embodies more Borderism than any president since Andrew Jackson despite being a New York City banker. As a dyed-in-the-wool Puritan-lite, I find his style loathsome and would even if I liked his politics.)

    • Erusian says:

      What I find fascinating is how cities and cultures register abroad. Generalizing here, but ime the big three seem to be New York, Los Angeles, and Miami. A few know Boston and SF, often as ‘where Harvard/Google is’. They vaguely tend to split the US into the North and South (I’m guessing because their history textbook had an offhand mention of the Civil War) and West (ie, California). They know the rest of the country exists but don’t have much of an impression of it. Any one else have similar/different experiences?

      • VivaLaPanda says:

        I’m just going off my conversations with online friends, but I think that’s generally right.

        People tend to know a few regions, identified only by the major cities in those states (California, NY). People have a sense of the middle bits of the country, often referred to as “the south” and typified by Texas and cowboy stuff. Everyone recognizes New York. Most people know the Bay Area as “the tech place”. Most people know LA as “smog and Hollywood”.

      • Incandenza says:

        Everyone has a very vivid impression and strong opinions about Texas. Being from Texas, I’ve had many a predictable conversational derail when meeting people abroad.

      • Nornagest says:

        A lot of non-Americans seem surprised by the Spanish names for Californian cities. Everyone knows Los Angeles and a lot of people know San Francisco, but it seems rare to make the connection beyond that to San Jose, Santa Barbara, San Diego, etc. I’ve had probably half a dozen conversations about it.

        Also, if you ever want to impress a foreign hip-hop fan, tell them you’re from Oakland, California. (I’ve since moved, but I was living there at the time.)

        • Plumber says:

          When I worked in and near San Jose a couple of times I heard “Aren’t there a lot of murders there?” when people asked where I was from and I told them that I was born in and still lived in Oakland, after the second time of hearing a murder rate statement I”d respond with “No one on my list yet, don’t pin that on me!”

      • achenx says:

        I have in the past described “anywhere in New England” as “near Boston” to foreigners, and it has usually registered, though I’m not sure how many people had any idea about it beyond “yes, Boston is a city that exists”.

        (That said, I would also describe “anywhere in New England” as “near Boston” to Californians. (It works both ways — a friend moved from LA to SF once and was talking about it as if it were a big deal, and my reaction was “aren’t those basically the same thing?” The west coast is the west coast, right?))

        When I lived elsewhere, “near Washington DC” has worked on foreigners as well, so I’d add that to your list. Sometimes that prompts them to offer their opinions on the current US president.

  15. Candide III says:

    You do have to include the Quakers. All American mainline Protestant churches were progressively Quakerized starting in early XIX century. I recommend the excellent Puritan Origins of American Patriotism by George McKenna for a thorough introduction into this fascinating subject.

    I have the opposite worry: what happened to these people?

    You shouldn’t worry, because their direct intellectual descendants rule America and much of what passes for the civilized world. (No, I’m not talking about Trump. Trump doesn’t rule America – he doesn’t even seem to rule the White House.)

    [Puritanism] has not disappeared at all – it just mutated into Unitarianism (that is, non-universalist Unitarianism, now itself extinct), which begat Transcendentalism, which begat Unionism, Progressivism, and the ecumenical movement, which became the “super-protestant” Establishment so derided by the late great flower children, who conquered it [from the inside – C.] and gave us multiculturalism, “diversity,” etc.

    Along the road, some between wars but mostly after WWII, a lot of immigrant Jews hopped on the bandwagon of the most intellectually fashionable movement of their new country and added their not inconsiderable talents to pushing it forward, which accounts for your “surprisingly many Jews”. Theological similarities didn’t hurt either.

    When was the last time you saw somebody named Hiram invent five different crazy machines, found a new religion, and have twelve children who he named after Greek nymphs?

    To take the examples that are closest to hand, Effective Altruism, LessWrong and the AI risk religion don’t qualify? As for the preoccupation with Classics and having children, that went the way of old Progressive racism. The Classics have (un)lamentably not kept up with the erstwhile Puritans’ moral progress, and children are too demanding on women, too expensive and cut too much into personal time. (Also, one must think of the Environment!)

    The opposite American stereotype – the virtue-obsessed nonconformist eccentric inventor philanthropist – has almost disappeared. These people still exist – Bill Gates does a good job embodying the ideal (or for a closer-to-home example, Ben Hoffman of Compass Rose) but they’re disconnected from any historical archetype.

    It did not disappear, it merely ceased to be perceived as American at about the same time as America became the de facto ruler of most of the civilized world. With a bit of a stretch, I can include into it even the USSR – I have a volume on my shelf titled Вопросы ленинизма (Essays in Leninism) by one J. Stalin, 10th edition, printed in Moscow in 1938, that includes an expansive and very friendly interview of the same J. Stalin by H. G. Wells. Respect from what was called in USSR “the progressive public opinion” was an important part of early USSR’s political formula.

    • Leonard says:

      You do have to include the Quakers. All American mainline Protestant churches were progressively Quakerized starting in early XIX century.

      I agree with you, and indeed I would suggest that the word Scott is looking for is “progressive”. If it must be one word, that is.

      But I think Scott is trying to reach for the concept of “people who were progressive before progressivism became almost solely political”, or perhaps better, “people who were progressive before USG became an unlimited state”. In two words, “premodern progressive”. Back then if you wanted to immanentize the eschaton, it wasn’t just a matter of voting for a socialist; you had to get out and improve the world yourself.

      • aNeopuritan says:

        Puritans were mainly progressive, Quakers mainly egalitarian. The current Brahmins are extremely “egalitarian” and basically not progressive*, the latter being what Scott (and I) is concerned about.

        *: I wouldn’t support the current egalitarianism-progressivism mix even if it referred to actual equality.

  16. JulieK says:

    Name geekery!
    Ellen, Elizabeth- these names are too generic to be worth sorting by.
    Asa- weird Biblical name.
    Pleasant- Puritan virtue name.
    Hannibal- weird classical name.

  17. alexmennen says:

    It occurred to me some time around “Wrote a List Of Virtues” that Eliezer Yudkowsky has a somewhat high Puritan score. (Though there are many entries in the list that it’s pretty ambiguous whether or not to count.)

  18. tmk says:

    First, puritanism already has a very established meaning in peoples minds. You will struggle trying to change that to a different one.

    Second, if you want this thing to become the shared American national identity, don’t tie it into blood and genes.

    • LTK says:

      I think we can expect people to grasp the distinction between puritan and Puritan, at least if they know the difference between republican and Republican.

    • aNeopuritan says:

      All groups described in Albion’s Seed once did excellent jobs of spreading their ideas to non-relatives. Even the current Borderer-descendants are Quaker-shifted compared to counterparts in most countries (which is *part* of why Scott felt Quakers as “normal” – the other part is him living in a Quaker-even-by-US-standards bubble).

  19. b_jonas says:

    > When was the last time you saw somebody called Hiram

    It is a bit unfair to ask for this if your criterion is that you want someone with a weird biblical name. Presumably the names of your examples didn’t count as weird back then, and a lot of people these days have biblical names, only we don’t count them as weird if they’re common. For example, the ten most frequent first given names among males living in Hungary were, a few decades ago, László, István, József, János, Zoltán, Sándor, Ferenc, Gábor, Attila, Péter. Four of these, József, János, Gábor, Péter are biblical names. The ten most frequent given names among females were Mária, Erzsébet, Ilona, Katalin, Éva, Anna, Margit, Zsuzsanna, Julianna, Judit. Six of these, Mária, Erzsébet, Éva, Anna, Zsuzsanna, Judit are biblical names. Sándor, Katalin, Margit, and Julianna probably count as classical names.

  20. Kuiperdolin says:

    I give you Dmitri Mendeleev:

    12+ siblings 3 pts
    Father went to seminary but was not exactly a clergyman, but his grandpa was – No points, but a nod from the jury

    Sister called Elizabeth +1
    Dmitri is a Classical name (Russian form of Demetrios) +3
    Xtreme Tolstoyan hairstyle +3

    invented everything +3
    was a physicist, chemist and everything else, both theorethic and applied +3

    kind of privately a freethinker +1

    wrote a billion books including at least one on spiritism so I’ll go out on a limb and assume two others are weird +3

    social reformer, pushed for westernization +3
    fanboyed Panini and named missing elements in Sanskrit +3

    For a total of at least 25 points which is impressive for someone starting with the handicap of not even being an American.

    • Basil Elton says:

      I’d disagree with you on the name. Almost all Russian names are either Biblical or Classic, and Dmitri is among the most common ones. And the same applies to Elizabeth in fact (in Russian for sure, but JulieK above suggested that it’s too common in English as well).

      And I think Scott’s category was intended as a subset of Americans anyway. But probably they can be combined with Mendeleev and many others into some “aristocratic idealistic 19th century genius” category.

  21. Charles Kinbote says:

    A suggestion for the family section of the checklist:

    +3 Descended from Mayflower, Jonathan Edwards, or one of the colonial governors of Massachusetts.

    At least for the first couple centuries, Mayflower and Edwards alone only gets you southeast Massachusetts and the Connecticut Valley. Add in your colonial governors (Winthrop and Dudley, most importantly) and you can grab most of the actual Boston Brahmins: Lowells, Cabots, Gardners, et al, and some of their more eccentric scions.

    The very eccentric psychologist Edward Lee Thorndike would do well here. And he’s a 20th-century figure, to boot. That should get you extra difficulty points.

  22. Walter says:

    The ‘rabidly opposed to war but supported every specific war that happened’ branch is amazing. Why is that such a thing?

    • akidderz says:

      Zeal. It runs both ways.

    • tmk says:

      It’s a common thing in general where people come to opposite conclusions when talking about something in abstract vs. specific, e.g.

      * Claims to dislike “mainstream American Television”, yet follows all the top 10 shows aimed at their demographic.

      * Is against “feature creep” in software, yet is always pushing for their pet features.

      * Claims to be a “free speech absolutist”, yet wants to censor opponents.

      Some of these overlap with hypocrisy, but it’s not the same thing.

      • deciusbrutus says:

        * Claims to support guns’ rights but doesn’t keep a loaner piece on them.

      • Basil Elton says:

        Your examples sound more like professed beliefs. In all of them there’s a clear reputational gain in claiming them, and clear personal incentive to do the opposite (for a given type of a person and social circle, that is). In cases of “feature creep” and “free speech” you can even interpret it as a defection in a prisoner dilemma.
        In the case of wars, none of these applies – it’s obvious how claiming oneself a pacifist could’ve been advantageous, but I doubt many of those people had something to gain from any specific war.

        • mtl1882 says:

          As akidderz said, “zeal” was a huge factor, and explains a lot of it. Which is in some cases better than people who have no strong feelings about war who then also wage it lukewarmly and without direction. Or rabidly pro-war people who can’t handle real war once it happens, and thus wage it lukewarmly.

          But a lot of pacifists supported the Civil War–I think they viewed it as a sort of self-defense, or, more likely, an apocalyptic scenario. “God’s purpose” was taken a lot more seriously, even among deists. Battle Hymn of the Republic sort of exemplifies this. God had punished them by war in order to cleanse the country–that was almost the only way to deal with it once it got started and became so monstrous. Lincoln’s second inaugural basically says this.

          Quakers largely held firm to their very well known pacificism, and this was taken into consideration–they were given non-combat jobs and all that. There were a lot of them in this period. But weirdly, a lot of them supported the war in terms of their personal approval and belief. They held a lot of prayer circles hoping for Union success. I think this is for the same reason–they believed it to be divine will. Not everyone believed in god or divine involvement, but the metaphor probably helped. It being a civil war also dampened the implication, at least in theory, that people were bloodthirsty animals looking to exterminate their enemies–instead, they could frame it as they “wished to reunite with their misguided brethren, who they had no real desire to hurt, on a higher plane.”

          You can say it was all showing off, but some of these people took real risks with their personal safety without attacking others–they had a true aversion to violence, and viewed it as barbaric. Of course, then as now, some people just really enjoy a fight and are hypocritical. Or just accept that whoever someone tells them is their enemy is an evil force to be vanquished, with no gray area.

          I don’t know what the deal was with the Spanish-American War. There wasn’t much to be zealous about. It seems to have been done by people who were more or less pro-war and for commercial/ego purposes. I have no idea why a Puritan would have found it so attractive.

          ETA: A lot of them did oppose the Mexican War (Thoreau most notably).

      • Walter says:

        Excellent answer. I hadn’t thought of this, but you totally have something there.

  23. akidderz says:

    Another WASP descendee chiming in:

    Mark Twain – while from the midwest, lived in Hartford Connecticut most of his literary life next door to Harriet Beecher Stowe (30+ Puritan). Some Puritanism can be culturally strong memes.

    Someone else mentioned that you should definitely count people from the Connecticut River valley (Windsor, Wethersfield, Hartford) as these were all founded early as offshoots of the original Massachusetts Bay colony. I second this, although my family stayed in Massachusetts in New Hampshire.

    I’ve always been fascinated by the way churches founded by Puritans in New England (the physical buildings) have stayed central to the small towns they are in. And that many evolved into some of the most progressive branches of Christianity: Unitarian Universalist and Congregational churches.

    Your point about war/peace is a good one and deserves special mention. For the first 5 generations in the US, my direct line averaged 12+ children. Almost all the males fought in whatever war was going on at the time. Many of them died leaving my line a thin branch despite having these massive 12+ deep familial roots. Because the women often survived but lost the name (and went on to have 12+ families of their own), my familial tree is probably much broader than it appears according to our well-documented history. WASP’Y fact: we have a 800 page family book that was published and distributed by a well-heeled relative in the 1930’s. WASP’y fun fact: the book has a list of professions cross-indexed in the back – top 3: farmer, soldier, and lawyer.

    Another quirk I’ve noticed in talking to other WASP friends in the 23&ME age: despite being in the US for 13 generations (my daughter is the 14th), we are unusually “British” in our DNA. I was really hoping for some strange quirks to show up when I did the test but it was over 95% British with a little “other northern european” tossed in. I chalk this up to the earliest generations refusing to leave Billerica and Dudley Massachusetts and intermarrying at alarming rates. Another interesting DNA quirk: we have one base pair that 23&ME cannot distinguish between “British” and “Ashkenazi”, so my 23&ME profile says I’m part 2% Jewish. This despite the family having no knowledge of anyone in the direct line (again, very well documented) having Ashkenazi ancestry.

    Finally, most of my living family fall exactly where you’d expect them to fall politically. Either extreme progressive left (the new Puritanism) or old-school, ruling class (and proud of it) Conservatives. Many refuse to talk to each other now and all hate Trump.

    • ordogaud says:

      Just a side-note but DNA ancestry is more akin to tea-leaf reading than hard science at this point. If you retook the test 5 times you’d likely get five different results. They might be able to provide a broad picture at this point but I wouldn’t read into the random noise you’re seeing, especially in the face of a well-documented family history


      • akidderz says:

        Thanks. I think knew something like this, but this sums it up nicely (from the Scientific American article you linked):

        When it comes to ancestry, DNA is very good at determining close family relations such as siblings or parents, and dozens of stories are emerging that reunite or identify lost close family members (or indeed criminals). For deeper family roots, these tests do not really tell you where your ancestors came from. They say where DNA like yours can be found on Earth today. By inference, we are to assume that significant proportions of our deep family came from those places. But to say that you are 20 percent Irish, 4 percent Native American or 12 percent Scandinavian is fun, trivial and has very little scientific meaning. We all have thousands of ancestors, and our family trees become matted webs as we go back in time, which means that before long, our ancestors become everyone’s ancestors. Humankind is fascinatingly closely related, and DNA will tell you little about your culture, history and identity.

    • kaakitwitaasota says:

      I have a pet theory that one of the reasons the American right has fallen so far is that the right has become de-Puritanized (Coolidge, Buckley) and become increasingly Borderer, with a sprinkling of Cavalier. My extended family on the WASP side are Democrats (though I don’t know how far back that goes), but I find myself increasingly aligned with New England patrician Republicanism–Weld isn’t going to get anywhere, but it would be nice if he could.

      • akidderz says:

        I think this is basically an inversion. Populism is very Borderer – Andrew Jackson representing the platonic ideal of Populism and Borderer success.

        The current right is being co-opted by this.

        The (far/loud/progressive/AOC) left appears extremely Puritanical and quasi-fundamentalist. Thought policing, twitter branding, purity obsessed…

        New England patrician Republicanism as embodied by the Rockefellers and Bushes (W co-opted borderer culture for political gain – look at what he has done since he left office to get a sense of his WASP values) are still a very powerful force in American politics.

  24. Conrad Honcho says:

    The modern American caricature is the Borderers: impulsive gun-crazy fundamentalist hillbillies with country-western accents.

    Conrad: “Hell yeah!”

    But right now the US national identity is one that’s repulsive to a lot of people.

    Conrad: “Oh, right.”

    ETA: Also I’m not sure if it’s appropriate to identify myself as the speaker in my own comment box, but damn it I’m doing it anyway.

    • Incurian says:

      But right now the US national identity is one that’s repulsive to a lot of people.

      I consider this a feature. It keeps the worst Californians out of Texas.

  25. Doctor Locketopus says:

    My favorite Puritan name is Unless-Jesus-Christ-Had-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned Barebone (or Barbon, or Barbone), who, later in life, went by simply Praise-God Barebone.

    I speculate, with no evidence at all, that the name change occurred when he achieved an age and/or position where he started needing to write his signature on a regular basis.

    He’s known today for Barebone’s Parliament, the last puppet Parliament before Oliver Cromwell went full military junta.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Long Parliament, Rump Parliament, Barebones Parliament… there was a trend there.
      “Praise-God Barebones” is also a great description of Reformed church services. Basically what I’m saying is that he really lived nominative determinism.

    • James Kabala says:

      I think Fischer asserted that bizarre names of this type could be found among Puritans in other parts of England, but in East Anglia (from which most American Puritans came), they were rare and greatly outnumbered by Biblical names.

  26. Doctor Locketopus says:

    > But right now the US national identity is one that’s repulsive to a lot of people.

    That works both ways.

  27. RomeoStevens says:

    As a Cavalier, I don’t see how being anything other than a Cavalier is appealing. We’re the ones temperamentally suited to a leisurely future of robot servants. The rest of you go stir crazy if you get too much slack. I suppose at least the Quakers can sit quietly without losing their minds. And the Borderers can endlessly entertain themselves with clan feuds. It’s the Puritans, deprived of an avenue to control others, that spin most neurotically.

    • andrewflicker says:

      You’ve read “The Caves of Steel” by Asimov? Good caricature of a Cavalier future with robot servants on the planet the protagonist visits.

    • aNeopuritan says:

      It seems plausible to me that Puritans in an isolated monoculture would be content with building stuff (they may not need to feel they control anybody, just not be aware that anything displeasing to them is happening anywhere) – but Fully Automated Gay Luxury Space Capitalism would obviate that too.

    • Aapje says:

      It’s the Puritans, deprived of an avenue to control others, that spin most neurotically.

      They could become programmers, writing software that restricts what robots can do.

    • EchoChaos says:


      It’s funny how reading the Cavaliers was pretty much “that sounds absolutely awesome if you subtract the ‘abusing the humanity of servants’ part” to me.

      And I think that how abusive the Cavaliers were varied a lot and has been played way, way up by Puritans to discredit us.

  28. Nicholas Weininger says:

    In modern American popular culture, it seems to me that the lead character of the movie _Captain Fantastic_ is a pretty good example of a neo-Puritan. (Disclaimer: I have not actually watched the movie all the way through, only seen bits and pieces, and am mostly relying here on reviews).

  29. Ozy Frantz says:

    You say that Puritans don’t exist now but by my count I have a 30. (Slightly cheating because I’m trans and thus get to take “has one of those names themself” twice.)

    • Simulated Knave says:

      I mean, if you get to do that, I surely get to count my middle name AND first name…

      Which puts me at about 10 for names alone.

    • deciusbrutus says:

      Sorry, that’s not “Per each of those names”. You score for the first such name only, and points from additional names that you have overlap with those, rather than stacking.

  30. Eponymous says:

    [W]hat happened to these people? When was the last time you saw somebody called Hiram invent five different crazy machines, found a new religion, and have twelve children who he named after Greek nymphs? Anyone who is serious about “Making America Great Again” should be deeply worried.

    This is actually a decent phrasing of one of my chief worries.

    I also think that, under this phrasing, the question more or less answers itself.

  31. Charles Kinbote says:

    This oft-misattributed quote seems apt:

    “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”

    – Theodore Parker, Puritan

  32. Eponymous says:

    Anyone want to tally up the Puritan scores of the current and potential presidential candidates? (I’m too lazy, er busy, right now).

    Without looking it up, my money’s on Elizabeth Warren.

    • James Kabala says:

      But Warren is really from Oklahoma. The surname Warren is a common Puritan surname but really belongs to her first husband, not her (and he was also from Oklahoma, so it might be a false positive). Most of the other candidates are Catholic or black, so she might (ignoring her alleged Native ancestry) might be the winner by default. But I kind of suspect that Inslee and/or Hickenlooper might be of Puritan ancestry.

  33. suitengu says:

    “per other relative with C a weird Classical name” has the spurious “C” I believe.

  34. zzzzort says:

    As a piece of puritan history, I enjoyed The Metaphysical Club, about Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., William James (not really a puritan), and Charles Pierce (definitely a puritan). In addition to the development of philosophy, there was a bunch of random anthropological stuff. Specifically the lead up to the civil war, which pitted the pacifism and abolitionism against each other in interesting ways. And the political situation during the civil war, with the southern bloc out of congress notherners could push through their wish list of puritan/quaker policies, e.g. land grant universities, a national bank, a progressive income tax.

  35. Chalid says:

    Am I the only one who kept thinking this would turn into a post about AI by demonstrating something about how Scott’s brain works like a misbehaving classification engine?

  36. CthulhuChild says:

    Scott: Inquiring minds need to know. What is your Puritan score?

    (Raw score, obviously not actually asking for personal details. But )

    Unrelated: the thing I line most about albions seed is how the different groups are seen by different people who read the book. You were obviously very impressed by the Puritans, wheras I found the description reminded me of the worst traits of west coast hippy spiritualism and the Spanish Inquisition. By contrast, I identified strongly with the Quakers and someone else in this thread was writing about how the Cavaliers have no downside.

    Is there a phrase similar to “cleaving reality at the joints” that applies to cultural or aesthetic appreciation? Jackson Pollock is a great example of polarizing art, but art/culture/descriptions that polarize into 3+ poles of somewhat comparable scale are much rarer. Where 3+ options exist, people tend to cluster on one or two options. Examples with roughly even splits are rare . Comedy/tragedy/romance might be one, Zerg/Protoss/Terran might be another. The houses in Harry Potter are a noteably BAD example, since basically no one likes Hufflepuff.

  37. copans says:

    Franklin founded the University of Pennsylvania for another +3, right?

  38. Elementaldex says:

    I score between 0 & 4 depending on whether or not you count a minor (20 – 30 impressionable high schoolers) cult as starting a religion. and whether or not a “sibling” who lived with my parents for ~7 years without having any formal connection to them as tipping me over into 4+ siblings.

    I’m not sure how I feel about my potentially zero score on Scott’s Puritan scale.

    • deciusbrutus says:

      Not “Atheist, deist, or freethinker”? Never waged a war against an abstract concept?

      • Elementaldex says:

        Not really. Though, waged a war against abstract concept is so vague that I could fit something to it. Freethinker is also pretty subjective… So maybe I could wring a few more points out if I were motivated to do so. But I think it would be a stretch.

  39. deciusbrutus says:

    By that metric, I think I generously score around a 28, and on a very strict interpretation in the range of 15.

  40. ec429 says:

    The modern American caricature is the Borderers: impulsive gun-crazy fundamentalist hillbillies with country-western accents. The opposite American stereotype – the virtue-obsessed nonconformist eccentric inventor philanthropist – has almost disappeared.

    Seeing these juxtaposed, I immediately thought of ESR, the gun-crazy nonconformist eccentric inventor philanthropist (who I strongly suspect is a fan of Lysander Spooner). I’m not sure your categories carve reality at its joints.
    On the other hand, other commenters below did point out RMS, the virtue-obsessed nonconformist eccentric inventor philanthropist. On the gripping hand, ESR describes RMS as being in the Jewish tradition of “messianic secular rationalism”, which I’m not sure quite matches up to your Puritanism (though it shares elements of it).

  41. PeterDonis says:

    The “atheist, deist, or freethinker” and “obsessed with religious tolerance” items don’t really fit with the group historically called “Puritans”. The historical Puritans were basically Calvinist fundamentalists who were very frustrated at how lax the Christian religion was becoming. They didn’t come to America because England and Europe were too intolerant. They came to America because England and Europe weren’t intolerant enough.

    The deist/freethinker ideas were certainly there from early on in America, but they didn’t come from the Puritans.

    • BBA says:

      The direct successors to the Puritan churches of New England are the Unitarian Universalists and the United Church of Christ. The former is an atheist/deist/freethinker “church” while the latter is about as close to that as you can get while remaining nominally Christian. Maybe “post-Puritan” is a better term for it?

      • PeterDonis says:

        I would say “direct descendants” rather than “direct successors”; there are several intermediate stages between the Puritans who came to Massachusetts and later did the Salem witch trials and the Unitarian Universalists or United Church of Christ.

        I think “post-Puritan” is a better term than “Puritan”, but I’m still not sure it quite captures what Scott is trying to capture.

        • Protagoras says:

          But you don’t have to go all the way to UU and the UCC; the early 17th century Puritans already included Roger Williams.

          • PeterDonis says:

            the early 17th century Puritans already included Roger Williams.

            Until they expelled him for advocating “dangerous ideas”. That’s why I don’t think “direct successors” is a good description of what happened.

          • Aron Wall says:

            Dangerous ideas like you shouldn’t persecute people for their religion, even if they are “Papists”, “Infidels”, or “Turks”, or natives for that matter. (But excommunicating people is okay because that doesn’t involve coercion or the state–I’ve heard it said that his own religious views were so strict he basically ended up in a church consisting only of his own family!)

            I’m descended from Roger Williams — shouldn’t I get a point for that?

          • Protagoras says:

            He had a lot of followers who went with him when he was expelled, enough to make him seem to me to represent a Puritan faction rather than a simple outlier.

    • mtl1882 says:

      The Boston ones were usually direct Puritan descendants. They had the extreme severity and self-discipline associated with them, but the Unitarian church and some others were becoming a thing, and they redirected this “intolerance” towards those who were unbelievers in a different sense, in a more productive way. It wasn’t about the name of the church, but about whether or not you kept held to virtue against rapid social change that was more about making money. Essentially, the old Massachusetts families became kind of obsolete, but they had raised a generation of well-disciplined children to fill positions that no longer existed. These hyper-competent, over-educated young people found their calling elsewhere. They had the Puritan fervor, and that’s why most of them came from Boston. Nathanial Hawthorne was part of the transcendentalist crowd, and his “Scarlet Letter” was about his grandfather’s (?) role in the Salem Witch Trials. I’m not quite sure where the Puritans went, but it seems that the Revolution killed them, and Unitarianism took off like crazy in Boston. Then Emerson, who was a Unitarian minister, very publicly broke with the mainstream, and it became a free-for-all. A surprising number of people were deists all over the U.S. from the beginning, and quite openly so.

      Apparently the Puritans ended with Cotton Mather’s death, in part due to the witch trial thing, which the Boston authorities eventually shut down, showing that Puritans were now outliers. Factional splits meant many were in Connecticut and Rhode Island. Mather’s other legacy was his advocacy of smallpox inoculation, interestingly enough. “In November 1713, Mather’s wife, newborn twins, and two-year-old daughter all succumbed during a measles epidemic.” Smallpox is a different illness (Benjamin Franklin lamented failing to have his young son inoculated–the child died), but that was what life was like back then. Who can blame them for being a little severe? Also, Mather’s father was named Increase, a common name of the Puritan period. I’ve always thought that was great.

      • PeterDonis says:

        I’m not quite sure where the Puritans went

        The basic thought pattern is still around–in fact it’s much older than the Puritans. You can see it today in SJWs and political correctness. If there is a specific group that exemplifies the pattern today, I would say the best name for it is “progressives”, as was suggested elsewhere in this discussion.

        • mtl1882 says:

          I expected this equivalency to be drawn, but I object to it strongly. (Nothing personal–it’s just something I think about a lot.) SJW/political correctness is, in comparison, very weak sauce. Mainly in its spineless ineffectiveness. These people absolutely loved talking about and debating these things, not shutting them down or weakly calling people out. I wrote in a comment below:

          This archetype would solve 90% of the left’s problems with how to fight for justice and condemn injustice while being actually productive and effective, and without “going low.” It would also do the right many favors, and get us beyond the weird left-right dichotomy–it would teach people how to have spine, to put it mildly, even those marginalized at the time (like Stanton)

          ETA: I just realized this sounds bad and I’m calling minorities spineless. That wasn’t my point–just that there was a general independence and strength in everyone, though we tend to think of them as being totally passive victims in this time. They jumped into the fray and some of the best people were minorities, despite the at times vicious pushback. They deserve more credit and recognition of their role. And a crazy focus on independence and unrelenting argument tends to open the field for everyone, no matter their views. Boldness in many ways helps everyone, and this should be embraced–its very existence changes the game and opens the arena.

          I think if the left made any effort to be like these people, it would be a completely different situation. I often think about their lamentations of not knowing how to fight back without going low. They have fantastic examples in these people, who tackled prejudice with an intensity and articulacy that they could only dream of. They certainly were not weak and didn’t let people walk all over them. But they also never conceded to prejudice for a second. While they may share some ideological aspects, the mindset was completely different, as were the aims and the true belief, and the piercing intellectual understanding of the causes that they were essentially ready to die for. It was *not* identity politics–I don’t say that as a judgement, just as a fact.

          I’m not sure how people feel about The Fourth Turning around here, but they characterize this generation as Transcendentalists, a type of prophet in an awakening period. I think this is the best characterization, as a general metaphor, with Lincoln being a transcendentalist along with Emerson, Thoreau, etc. It was expressed differently in his cultural background, but the ruthless focus on principles, based in actual earnest belief, was characteristic of that age. They quite flamboyantly headed right towards Civil War, with remarkable talent. And they had a great time doing nothing but founding eccentric movements and passionately speaking about them. It was truly a weird time. John Brown’s earnest courage inspired most leaders, even as they wished him dead or disassociated from him. Napoleon was constantly talked about in the same way. We think of the past as dull conformity—nothing surpasses these guys in eccentricity, individualism, and wild creative ideas that cast aside the norms.

          ETA: I feel like it was illustrative of this age that there was a big free love movement at this time, and veganism became more popular, etc. Nothing new under the sun. The newspapers are great, and there was one called the Truth Seeker that is one of the best things I’ve read. It was a taunting freethought journal, and it is available online.

          • PeterDonis says:

            SJW/political correctness is, in comparison, very weak sauce. Mainly in its spineless ineffectiveness.

            I don’t think SJW/political correctness as a movement can be accurately described as spinelessly ineffective. The movement seems very effective at ruining the lives of people it chooses to target, and in moving the window of what is acceptable to discuss in public forums. Many individual SJWs and political correctness advocates might be spineless and ineffective, but that does not mean the movement as a whole is. The same was true of the Puritans: the severity came from a small minority of all Puritans, the rest went along because they didn’t want to risk opposition, even though they would never have had the persistence and focus to do those things on their own. That’s a key reason why such movements are so dangerous: they give a small minority of power-hungry, moralistic busybodies far too much power and influence.

          • mtl1882 says:

            I’m working on a book about this, and am still working out how to put this concisely. I will try and make a few key points.

            I’m referring to this group of successful productive Puritan descendants, who achieved spectacular success productivity/innovation (the word change reflects what I’m trying to convey–it is not about personal or financial success, solely) in many fields and had the respect of many social groups, where eccentricity and independence of thought were almost social advantages. Most people at the time were probably conventional people who went along and focused on survival.

            There is an ethos here of which the success is a component–a part of a whole. Those who had an earnest and coherent worldview, which they followed in a natural and self-directed way through what we see as several different specialties. Their self-righteousness was one that comes from following one’s conscience–one that was so deeply personal that it did not coincide with anyone else’s–racist utopias and religious/atheisms of all kinds abounded, and people still felt a need to strike out a new path. Women featured prominently. While ideological currents existed, they were governments unto themselves.

            It was not mainly other-directed, a la Scarlet Letter, though shaming/shunning could be a tactic for reaching a goal. It was inner-directed in a way you can’t fake and wouldn’t bother to. Who writes those pamphlets if not a true believer? These were people pursuing success on their own terms–regardless of whether you or I were impressed or willing to finance the movement (and we would probably be loudly mocking and denouncing it), Babson was gunning after gravity, and had he destroyed it, I think he would have felt very fulfilled. And despite these missteps, these people generated enough good ideas to confer a massive benefit on general society–perhaps more overall than the Babson business graduates put together. Not sure if the Utopian College ones had more luck.

            I think it is clear that these people were not living in the Salem witch trial culture. This is the era in which Nathanial Hawthorne wrote The Crucible as a reminder of the horrors of his ancestors.

            The earnestness and broad, flowing self-expression are to me the definitive qualities of this spirit. Ideological beliefs are in the main irrelevant. At the time, it was not shocking to meet a racist who believes in a unique taxonomy of races and envisions a utopian scheme in which all races unite over a religion they personally invented. These ideological beliefs are not useful categories for mapping them to the current ideological system. Do they go with the racists? The heretics? The religious fundamentalists? If they invented things other than a racial taxonomy, do they belong with the entrepreneurial crowd?

            These qualities are not present in the twitter mob group that is a small slice of the left, but a very loud one. This dynamic is entirely absent. It cannot be successful on its own terms, because it has no terms. It can inflict damage, but it is just a different animal altogether. The fact that it is a bunch of uncoordinated people egging each other on and mostly performing for each other and using the exact same phrases towards the exact same targets makes it the antithesis of what these Puritans were doing. Puritans could write beautifully eviscerating phrases when they chose to do so. And, as you can see from the pamphlets, they would be proud to generate reams of their own unique screeds. The one thing they could not do is blend in with a faceless mob.

            The Puritans of this post liked nothing more than to manfully confront their opponents, not shout them down. John Quincy Adams entered the Massachusetts Senate after his presidency to spar with the southern leaders over their gag rule–a classic puritan of the more severe type, he gleefully tangled with them until the day he had a stroke while on the Senate floor.

            At their worst, Puritans had a self-righteous fury that made them want to get right in there and actually burn witches. What I see in twitter mobs is neither fury nor self-righteous. It’s desperate–it doesn’t even have the dignity of a rationalization of self-interest–it negates, it doesn’t assert. In some sick way, the discussion seems empty of the confidence or self-assurance needed to actually be furious or self-righteous. There’s not enough purpose there to give it life. Yes, on a superficial level, there are similarities. And the damage is very real. When I say effective, I mean at pursuing a juster society or stopping injustice, and I mean that as applied to more than just this loud twitter slice. If their goal is to scare people out of making unjust phrases or implications, they are successful. Which one is more likely for the loud slice? I’d say neither. My point is they don’t want anything–they are reacting–we’ve created a dangerous social void in which this seems like an attractive option. It is twisted, and the dynamics creating it are prevent Puritan archetypes from rising. I’d sure prefer one of their conversations about the feminist bible to the one we’ve got going. If we confuse these Puritans with “neo-Puritans”, that’s a real problem. We want to be inviting real Puritans in to relieve us of the moralist mob. We most certainly do not want to be shutting the door on them because we’ve mistaken them for what we have.

            Effective or ineffective, it is definitely spineless. I won’t write another rant to describe what I mean by the term. No one is standing up straight, literally or figuratively.

            Sorry for the length, and I know I only addressed part of your post. Trying to convey the mentality of this time period is difficult, as it is hard to convince anyone these people existed, or that weirdos could be successful and desirable. But I am really concerned that we don’t have them, or their inspiring causes, to feel the void we have. A bunch of competing weird causes is preferable to whatever is going on now. Ralph Waldo Emerson was the widely recognized master spirit of the age, and his writings capture the atmosphere of the time and why he commanded so much respect. He was a little too normal to qualify under this chart, and initially so politically tame that he was shocked when the south banned his circulation of his writings due to abolitionist sentiments. But he had money and gave it to people like Thoreau and Alcott so they had a place to be strange and generate ideas…that was what the time period was like. I always recommend reading Emerson–the clarity of thought and writing alone also distinguishes them from almost any modern political movement. These were intellectually rigorous and honest people—there is a reason MLK and Ghandi built their philosophies on Thoreau’s work. That’s a pretty ringing, universal endorsement.

          • PeterDonis says:

            I think it is clear that these people were not living in the Salem witch trial culture.

            Just to be clear, I’m not saying the people you are describing, or the people Scott is describing in the post (the ones you call “productive Puritan descendants”), were living in the Salem witch trial culture. I’m saying that, since the term “Puritan” has a strong connotation of that kind of culture, it’s not a good term for the people you and Scott are talking about. The fact that some of them were descended from or associated with Puritans does not mean they are well described by the term “Puritan”.

          • PeterDonis says:

            At their worst, Puritans had a self-righteous fury that made them want to get right in there and actually burn witches. What I see in twitter mobs is neither fury nor self-righteous.

            When I say SJW/political correctness, I’m not talking about twitter mobs. The phenomenon is much more widespread than that. If it weren’t a significant cultural force, I wouldn’t waste time talking about it. I only wish the movement was as ineffective as you say. But it isn’t.

          • PeterDonis says:

            John Quincy Adams entered the Massachusetts Senate after his presidency

            I think you mean the US House of Representatives. He was indeed a thorn in the side of the southern representatives right up to the end.

          • mtl1882 says:


            I think you mean the US House of Representatives.

            Yes, idiotic error on my part, sorry.

            I agree that the term “puritan/puritanical,” as conventionally used, describes what you are talking about. I was talking about who Scott was talking about, so clearly that’s a different discussion. I still think it is hard beyond a superficial level to compare Puritan witch-hunting the tribal type in more recent American history. The Puritans were freaky in that they kind of ate their young, not a somewhat differentiated group–it went beyond a power thing (this sort of infighting definitely goes on). But I think we’re talking about different things, so I’ll end by saying that yes, I agree with you that the dynamic you describe exists, and the fanatical minority taking over by fear is a recurring thing. In the case of the people Scott is describing, the fanatical minority took over less by fear and more by sheer enthusiasm, disregard for convention, and hyper-competence. That’s why it is so weird.

  42. mtl1882 says:

    I have the opposite worry: what happened to these people?

    THANK GOD SOMEONE WROTE THIS! Even people who write about history or about these people individually don’t seem to ask why we once had super-humans and now do not.

    Since I discovered that these people were once apparently a dime a dozen, I have been horrified by our inability to produce one in the entire country. I realize certain social dynamics explain much of it, but that makes it worse — what the hell are we doing? People from that time are often described as “a banker/poet/lawyer/General.” We would say that is impossible today, and would not be impressed if it arose.

    This archetype would solve 90% of the left’s problems with how to fight for justice and condemn injustice while being actually productive and effective, and without “going low.” It would also do the right many favors, and get us beyond the weird left-right dichotomy–it would teach people how to have spine, to put it mildly, even those marginalized at the time (like Stanton). To be radically themselves, like no one ever has been since. Those people knew how to “tell it like it is” as they saw it, and certainly never stopped telling it. And they were articulate, which I’ll take over our current discussions any day, even if the conversation was about destroying gravity. A rise of Puritans would raise many other problems, but I prefer them to the utter uselessness and lack of confidence of current society.

    As a lifelong Massachusetts resident, I am especially disappointed. We dominated the country, despite our extreme obnoxiousness, fussiness, and severe beliefs. Now we’re nothing special. Look at what Concord alone was able to produce in this era. Amos Alcott may be another on this list, but his extreme eccentricity kept him from pulling off memorable inventions. But I think he still pioneered a lot of stuff. Horace Mann could be listed here. Also, being a preacher in this era tended to take real talent, in terms of charisma, logical thinking, earnestness, etc. So many successful people were children of pastors, or, even more frequently, people who as children were known to reenact sermons after church for the amusement of other children. They caught the power of the approach. Lincoln and Franklin both did this. They were also both self-educated, as were most of these people—we have disastrously discounted self-education, and our current system isn’t producing these people (several of whom founded actual schools).

    If any one of these people appeared before congress today, they would have everyone trembling before them. Imagine when the congress consisted of these people! They accelerated our approach to a probably inevitable civil war, and are often faulted for it, but there’s just no way to legitimately put these people down–their accomplishments make almost everyone alive look pathetic.

    Which brings me back to: Where did these people go? Even taking into account the obvious explanations for their extinction, we can’t even produce one? Our specialization fetish is a big problem, as is our inability to believe anyone could be both sincere, effective, and ruthless in fighting for a moral cause, but that sort of creativity and enjoyment of figuring things out must be expressing itself somewhere. It seems we are really doing a good job of killing or warping it by insisting everyone do the same thing in a linear manner. It really puzzles and bothers me, and when I occasionally bring it up, no one knows that these people ever existed, and they don’t sound like real people, to the extent you can describe them. Scott’s definition of them is brilliant. I sound like a utopian when I point to their example, but it seems we’ve just really lowered expectations of both achievement and integrity. I would definitely focus efforts to “Make America Great Again” on cultivating these people.

  43. James Kabala says:

    Despite his extremely high score, Franklin in his time was always considered a well-assimilated Philadelphian. There should probably should be points for not just your birthplace but for where you lived during your adult life. The Puritan realm would include not only New England and upstate New York but also northeast (not southeast) Pennsylvania, northeast Ohio, Michigan, northern Indiana and Illinois, Iowa, and Kansas. Strangely, despite the antipathy between the two groups, this overlaps quite a bit with the areas that became the centers of Irish-American Catholicism.

    • mtl1882 says:

      Whenever I hear Franklin’s name, I think of two things. His friend Benjamin Lay is one. Absolutely crazy and indomitable guy–but hey, if Benjamin Franklin counts you among his friends, you must be a cool person. Also the letter to his friend about marriage Scott mentions is something I can never resist bringing up. It was used to overturn obscenity laws.

      and regarding only what is below the Girdle, it is impossible of two Women to know an old from a young one. And as in the dark all Cats are grey, the Pleasure of corporal Enjoyment with an old Woman is at least equal, and frequently superior, every Knack being by Practice capable of Improvement.

      I know this is off topic, but I feel like it’s worth sharing.

  44. eyes_of_the_mighty says:

    This is kind of funny. I don’t know enough about you to add up all the boxes. But you seem to hit a lot of them. Also yudkowsky.

  45. EchoChaos says:

    I am the Cavalier-iest Cavalier who ever Cavaliered, so I scored myself and I got a 4 because my father became a pastor late in life. But I really wasn’t raised by him while he was a pastor (he became one when I was in college), so it’s really a 1 for being anti-Catholic.

  46. James Kabala says:

    I wonder what score Joseph Smith himself would receive. He certainly gets the “invented a new religion” points. But he would not get the points that require a high-level educational background. As far as I know, he never invented anything. Does it decrease or increase your points if your relative with a weird Biblical name (his brother Hyrum) is misspelled?

    • dsc says:

      I wondered that as well. A quick estimate (didn’t take the time to dig too much into family names, and a lot of the ones in his immediate family were weird but not to my knowledge biblical) seems to put his score at about 40.

      1 point for raised in upstate NY, 3 for having 10 siblings, 3 for descended from Mayflower (if a quick Google search I did not take time to verify is to be trusted), 1 for relative with weird biblical name (his brother Hyrum), 1 for relative with weird classical name (his brother Don Carlos), 1 for creating a thing (I think creating a church definitely counts as creating a thing), 3 for achievements in unrelated fields (religion and city planning), 3 for book on heterodox religious views, 3 for a new Christian heresy, 3 for obsessed with religious tolerance, 3 for writing weird books (and I get that weird in this context is subjective, but I am counting it), 3 for founding a school (called the School of the Prophets, which surely should earn some bonus points), 3 for being a social reformer (even if polygamy was not a social reform people approved of), 3 for latter-day eschatology, 3 for abolitionist (was explicitly not in early adulthood, but was by the end of his life), and 3 for prohibition.

      Others I could have given points for but which would have been a bit of a stretch: quasi-famous son with same name (Joseph Smith III was president of the RLDS church), writing a list of virtues (some of the scripture he produced could arguably be considered lists of virtues), waged a crusade against an abstract concept (specifically apostasy), and utopian but racist ideals (not racist by the standards of his day, and it was unclear whether to decide based on modern or contemporary standards).

  47. aNeopuritan says:

    1) just to make sure: did you notice the OP references Albion’s Seed, which is a similar project?
    2) Woodard isn’t alone in misusing “Scottish Lowlands”: the Scottish Border area is properly “Southern Uplands” – importantly *not flat*, the “Central Lowlands” (only flat area) being what gave the Scottish Enlightenment.

  48. aNeopuritan says:

    I’m happy to know the Puritan Appreciation Society isn’t just me. I believe Duncan Sabien has useful pointers

    (Also, congratulations for the citation.)

  49. Plumber says:

    While (according to a chart of my mother’s) I have an ancestor that came from Essex to Massachusetts in the early 17th century, my “Puritan score” is barely even in the single digits.

    I’m not sure if I should feel disappointed or relieved!

  50. fustruly says:

    I heard this on the podcast without reading it online, so there wasn’t a black-and-white image to indicate that Puritan spotting was about people in the past. I was thinking, “How many New Englanders does Scott know who have 7 siblings? I don’t think I know any. Weird biblical names – all the people I know with obscure biblical names are Jewish, how strange to relate it to Puritanism.” Which I guess just proves the conclusion!

    Finally started to catch on after “child is also famous”. But not before itemizing all the shared contacts who could be called “famous” and trying to figure out which of them could have children old enough to be famous. X)

  51. jhertzlinger says:

    There are people today inventing religions.

  52. Narcindin says:

    Fun fact: Mary Baker Eddy founded a religion called Christian Science. You may know of it as the religion that is “not scientology” and “hates doctors”, one of which is true. It’s still around (barely) and may even have readers of this blog. (It’s complicated, y’all know).

    Turns out having a woman as your “Joseph Smith” can be pretty fun when trying to win certain arguments.

  53. Worley says:

    In regard to where they’ve gone. I’ve invented a syndrome called “Scotlandization”, based on the electoral map of one of Margaret Thatcher’s victories. It showed that the Conservatives won no ridings in Scotland. I wondered how Thatcher could win. But Scotland has only 10% of the population of the UK; how Scotland votes doesn’t really affect things. Hence, “Scotlandization”, when a region with a distinct political culture becomes so depopulated as to become politically irrelevant, despite its aspirations to tell everyone else what to do.

    In particular, New England is Scotlandized within the United States. As a regular reader of the Boston Globe, I can tell you that the remnant Puritans believe in their hearts that they are the moral compass of the country.

    I suspect the reason that New England has become Scotlandized is that it is a combination of a large rural area with poor farming with a single metro area that (for various specific political reasons) tightly controls the building of housing, and thus has a high cost of living. The result is that people emigrate from New England, and to a great degree, they’ve been immigrating to Texas (which has very loose zoning laws). So the migrant Puritans are isolated in their new homeland and are reprogrammed into Borderers.

    One could also consider Europe as becoming Scotlandized in the world as a whole.

    • Anonymous` says:

      Texas isn’t really very “borderer”, certainly not like Appalachia. It’s kind of Western, kind of Great Plains, kind of deep South. Lots of German ancestry.