The Minds of the West: Ethnocultural Evolution in the Rural Middle West, 1830-1917

By Jon Gjerde | Go to book overview

in them. Toward that end, he demonstrated an acceptance of other commonly held beliefs of the dominant culture and the state. Anderson noted repeatedly (in fact, it was inscribed on his letterhead) that "whosoever directly or indirectly opposes the American common school is an enemy of education, of liberty, of progress. Opposition to the American common school is treason to our country." 126 Anderson's cultural pluralism ultimately proved more palatable to his countrymen than the particularism of the clerical leaders. When the debate over the Bennett Law, which required the instruction of the English language and American history, unfolded in Wisconsin in the late 1880s, the school issue flared up again among Norwegians, but the intensity of their reaction to the law in no way compared to the response among German Lutherans or Roman Catholics. Most Norwegian Lutherans had accepted the common school, which in turn profoundly modified their relationship with civil society and with their faith. 127

The German Lutheran leadership, on the other hand, persevered in its quest to protect the church from state interference. That effort was abetted, as it was among Roman Catholics, by an authoritarian church structure that placed great power in the hands of the pastoral leadership. A privileged pastoral leadership, moreover, was founded upon Lutheran beliefs that explicitly separated state and community and empowered the latter. As Heinrich Maurer argues, the group allegiance preserved the idea of a "religion of the whole," but that whole -- which included the family, the parish, the neighborhood, and the church -- tempered the role of the state. 128 For these Lutherans, a reformist Christianity such as a Social Gospel that seemingly toiled in league with the state was nothing more than "secularized sectarianism," which was also to be avoided. 129 Ultimately, the state was an inherently imperfect institution with strict powers to govern a society mired in a condition of sin: it was, Maurer wrote, "at once a divine institution and yet not a Christian affair." Immigration to the West, after all, had been motivated by the possibility of isolation from the state, even as the state simultaneously enabled freedoms of belief to be protected. 130 Once again, the freedom to be authoritarian, granted in part by private schools, characterized selected immigrant communities.


Conclusion

For significant segments of the European immigrant leadership, the parochial school was part of a strategy to protect community and family from an apparent decline that, as one newspaper put it, was simply "against

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