Puritanism and Democracy

Puritanism and Democracy

Puritanism and Democracy

Puritanism and Democracy

Excerpt

The present book grew out of a course, given some years ago at Harvard, which I at first called 'American Ideals.' This broader subject was gradually narrowed, and became a study of two ideals—puritanism and democracy—which in their persistence, their wide pervasiveness, and their mutual antithesis and reinforcement seemed to me to embrace what was most central to my theme, and to provide unity without oversimplification. This opinion was confirmed by the authority of V. L. Parrington, who said that "the two most characteristic qualities of the American temper are Puritanism and optimism." For since American democracy, as I conceived it, expressed the hopeful view of man which prevailed in the Age of the Enlightenment, together with the sense of limitless possibility felt by vigorous settlers in a new land, it could be taken as the equivalent of Parrington's 'optimism.'

Among the unpublished papers of William James there is a note which reads: "Philosophic history is an attempt to connect together our hopes of the future with our misconceptions of the past." Assuming that the term "misconceptions" expresses a lively sense of fallibility, rather than willful deception or intellectual indolence, I accept this description of my task: namely, to conceive the thought of the past as truly as possible, and to connect it with the future through a present analysis and appraisal.

Over the years I have accumulated a sum of indebtedness which it is now quite impossible either to repay or to allocate. I have profited by the resources of Harvard University—its rich library, courteously and generously administered, grants from its Milton Fund, and, above all, the fraternal intercourse of its scholars. I have had near at hand such friends as Perry Miller, Arthur M. Schlesinger, and others, ready, as . . .

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