SODOM & GOMORRAH: There are many traditions that the American soul cherishes – baseball, apple pie, and an old fashioned witch hunt. However, those who criticize witch hunts often engage in them themselves.
Mr. Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee has begun holding hearings on “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response.” Mr. King hopes to root out the hidden terrorists in the Muslim community. There are implications this is a witch hunt. The Economist compares Mr. King to Joseph McCarthy. Mr. King and the Republican Party suffer from “paranoid fantasies” about Muslim terrorists.
Last year, DHS under Ms. Napolitano wanted to pursue right wing terrorists hidden among American communities. The public was told that these terrorists were forming militias aimed at toppling the state and committing hate crimes. Hate crime legislation was passed earlier to more severely punish white-on-minority crime. The current reactions to Mr. King are particularly revealing. Mr. Richard Cohen at the Washington Post calls this whole thing “fuel for the bigots.” There’s an implication that there’s this hidden army of bigots at work in the American populace, secret McCarthys ready to strike at Muslims, blacks, and homosexuals if given a voice. The New York Times calls the whole thing “a violation of everything America is supposed to stand for.”
Dr. James Morone, a political scientist at Brown University in Maryland authored a book called Hellfire Nation. Dr. Morone suggests that political scientists often make the mistake of beginning their political analysis of American society with the American Revolution. The real beginning of American political history begins with the first colonists. Puritan America, contrary to Philadelphian America, is our true ancestry. The Puritan quest for salvation through God has just as much influence on our political culture as secular liberalism. What we see with the Puritans is a belief that hard work can reveal your fate in the afterlife. Max Weber already discussed how the expansion of the Protestant ethic interacted with the growth of industrial capitalism; Dr. Morone argues that this process took place in the United States. What also took place was the definition of a community based on an identification of an other.
All political societies identify an other; Athens identified themselves as Athenian by virtue of not being Spartan, Marxist enclaves identify themselves by not being part of the upper class, and Puritans identified themselves by not being heathen savages. Their identity was deeply rooted in the Christian religion, but it suffered from a problem not encountered in England. Puritans weren’t persecuted in the New World. In England, they could band together as being an underclass, a persecuted group, but in New England they were the ruling class. They had the power to create and manage their own communities without interference, which contributed to a slight identity crisis. No longer in a position to be identified as the persecuted saints waiting for redemption, the Puritans were on a divine mission in the wilderness to establish a biblical commonwealth. The issues they encountered had to be interpreted in biblical proportions.
Dr. Morone argues that the Puritans had three classes of enemies: the external, the heretic, and the hidden. The external enemies were Native American groups, viewed by the Puritans as agents of Satan. They were a reminder of what the Puritans would become absent Christian virtue. The heretics were people like Anne Hutchinson and the Quakers; Christians who strayed from the path. The hidden enemies were the witches – agents of Satan that masqueraded as normal, God-fearing people. Dr. Morone suggests that the identification of witches only took place near the end of the Puritan political experiment. When the political structure of the covenant community was replaced by direct governorship of the British crown, the individual communities were lost. The myth of a biblical commonwealth was being challenged, and so they began identifying hidden internal enemies to root out. Dr. Morone almost seems to suggest that this was part of a last ditch effort by the Puritans at remaining a political community.
Witch hunts take real, credible threats and turn them into panics. They are not about terrorists, right wing militias, or witches. They are signs of a political community struggling to retain its identity.