by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Critics of the rigid and imperious ideological extremism of the modern Left now often reach for the vocabulary of religious fanaticism to explain what has happened to progressives. Sometimes that vocabulary is deployed metaphorically … [a]nd sometimes it’s intended more literally. … I think there is something to learn from such arguments, but I’ve always found myself feeling like none of them quite puts its finger on the kind of religious impulse we are witnessing, so that too many such efforts end up being needlessly simplistic and insulting either about genuinely religious people or about the progressives being described in these terms.
Or at least, I’ve always felt that way until now. In his new book The Rise of the New Puritans, Noah Rothman (associate editor of the great Commentary magazine) has finally made sense of this facet of the character of the woke Left. It is, he notes, a form of Puritanism, for good and bad.
It is in this respect thoroughly American. In fact, Alexis de Tocqueville argued that Puritanism was the source of some of what is most American about us Americans — the “point of departure” of the entire grand experiment. And Tocqueville added that “Puritanism was almost as much a political theory as a religious doctrine.” Rothman suggests much the same, and sees elements of the Puritan framework of intense piety, the hunting of heretics, a peculiar austerity and temperance, and ambition for social transformation underlying the Left’s contemporary moral and political ambitions. …
… [T]hose excesses have quickly come to dominate the project as a whole, and they ultimately render the contemporary progressive project anathema to the American spirit and a menace to the larger society.