Saturday, November 15, 2008

John Winthrop: The First Progressive

Most people think of John Winthrop as the first social conservative because of his "City on a Hill" speech that he gave on board the ship Arbella before landing to become the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. But an equally famous speech by Winthrop is his "Little Speech" given upon the conclusion of a trial for "arbitrary government" when he had been acquitted. Although Winthrop was arguably the first social conservative, his elitism, emphasis on imposed morality and belief that social justice ought to trump freedom and natural liberty are consistent with Progressivism as well as intermediate elitist American ideologies, to include Hamilton's Federalism and the early nineteenth cenutry Whigs of Henry Clay and Abraham Lincoln. In saying that moral liberty is "maintained and exercised in a way of subjection to authority" Winthrop applies the logic of John Dewey. American elitism flows from Winthrop to Hamilton, to Clay to Dewey, to Roosevelt. Progressivism has roots in Puritanism, just as liberalism does.

In his "Little Speech" Winthrop stated:

"For the other point concerning liberty, I observe a great mistake in the country about that. There is a twofold liberty, natural (I mean as our nature is now corrupt) and civil or federal. The first is common to man with beasts and other creatures. By this, man, as he stands in relation to man simply, hath liberty to do what he lists; it is a liberty to evil as well as to good. This liberty is incompatible and inconsistent with authority, and cannot endure the least restraint of the most just authority. The exercise and maintaining of this liberty makes men grow more evil, and in time to be worse than brute beasts: omnes sumus licentia deteriores. This is that great enemy of truth and peace, that wild beast, which all of the ordinances of God are bent against, to restrain and subdue it. The other kind of liberty I call civil or federal; it may also be termed moral, in reference to the covenant between God and man, in the moral law, and the politic covenants and constitutions amongst men themselves. This liberty is the proper end and object of authority and cannot subsist without it; and it is a liberty to that only which is good, just, and honest. This liberty you are to stand for, with the hazard (not only of your goods, but) of your lives, if need be. Whatsoever crosseth this is not authority but a distemper thereof. This liberty is maintained and exercised in a way of subjection to authority; it is of the same kind of liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free. The women's own choice makes such a man her husband; yet, being so chosen, he is her lord, and she is to be subject to him, yet in a way of liberty, not of bondage; and a true wife accounts her subjection her honor and freedom and would not think her condition safe and free but in her subjection to her husband's authority. Such is the liberty of the church under the authority of Christ, her king and husband; his yoke is so easy and sweet to her as a bride's ornaments; and if through forwardness or wantonness, etc., she shake it off, at any time, she is at no rest in her spirit, until she take it up again; and whether her lord smiles upon her and embraceth her in his arms, or whether he frowns, or rebukes, or smites her, she apprehends the sweetness of his love in all, and is refreshed, supported, and instructed by every such dispensation of his authority over her. On the other side, ye know who they are that complain of this yoke and say, Let us break their bands, etc.; we will not have this man to rule over us. Even so, brethren, it will be between you and your magistrates. If you want to stand for your natural corrupt liberties, and will do what is good in your own eyes, you will not endure the least weight of authority, but will murmur, and oppose, and be always striving to shake off that yoke; but if you will be satisfied to enjoy such civil and lawful liberties, such as Christ allows you, then will you quietly and cheerfully submit unto that authority which is set over you, in all the administrations of it, for your good. Wherein, if we fail at any time, we hope we shall be willing (by God's assistance) to hearken to good advice from any of you, or in any other way of God; so shall your liberties be preserved in upholding the honor and power of authority amongst you.

1 comment:

Arnie said...

Did not Winthrop's socialism fail, and the colony had to resort to capitalism and private ownership and profit-motive to keep from starving?