1) The traditionalist view: America is exceptional and a beacon to the rest of the world
2) The progressive view: America is thoroughly racist and needs to be purged top to bottom
These two views certainly exist, but the list is incomplete and the names are entirely wrong. What Farrell calls the “traditionalist view” is, in fact, the old progressive view that one nowadays most often finds in that strange and confused creature, the conservative admirer of Abraham Lincoln. I will come back to this ideological Minotaur—part man and mostly bull—but will begin by saying that an “exceptional” country could not be a “beacon” because its exceptional status would make its example irrelevant to “the rest of the world.”
In any event, everyone should know that this “beacon to the world” business goes back to the Puritan fanatic John Winthrop’s claim that Puritan New England was a “city on a hill,” and that Winthrop’s words are nothing but the slogan and war-cry of violent Puritan fanaticism.
* * * * *
If you were looking for perfect specimens of American progressives in the 1830s, I daresay you would find what you sought at a meeting of the Female Antislavery Society of Concord, New Hampshire. Do not be deceived by the candlesticks and crinoline, the assembled ladies of the Female Antislavery Society are Puritan fanatics, progressives, or what we nowadays call social justice warriors.
Being Puritan fanatics, these ladies had rid themselves of the tradition of Christmas, and so spent Christmas day, 1837, listening to an address by the radical abolitionist Nathaniel Peabody Rogers. Eschewing the Yuletide spirit of goodwill towards men, Roger told the ladies that, although they had successfully rid themselves of Christmas, their Church was not yet pure enough.
“Christianize your own church!” he exhorted. “Heal your own Christianity!” This they could do, Rogers said, by igniting a progressive social revolution, first at home and then abroad.
“Cast the enormous beam of heathenism out of your nation’s eye and the eye of your national church and charity, before you pretend further solicitude for the mote in the eye of India and China . . . . Then will your nation shine in the eyes of mankind—a city on a hill—a missionary beacon light that will flame to the heaven and beam to the ends of the earth.”
Please note that the beam to be cast out was not the traditional beam of personal sin, of which numerous examples no doubt speckled the eyes of the progressive ladies of Concord. It was, instead, the social sin of “heathenism,” which is to say of the traditional culture and society that lay log-like athwart the nation’s eye.
Although its members lacked tattoos and nose-rings, this Female Anti-Slavery Society of Concord was a coven of social justice warriors.
Pedants may protest that when Christ first employed the image of “a city that is set on a hill” (Matthew 5:14), he was enjoining his disciples to lead by example and give light to the world by good works. This is true. And I will concede that Nathaniel Peabody Rogers likewise enjoined the progressive prudes of Concord to make their “nation shine in the eyes of mankind,” thereby “enlightening and converting the nations, without your sending abroad a single torch.”
But when Puritan fanatics attempt to lead by example, they are invariably disappointed by the small number and weak ardor of their followers. When they attempt to give light to the world, the world mostly pulls down its blinds. And this is when Puritan prudes become violent Puritan fanatics who sally forth from their city on a hill, with torches and spears in their hands.
* * * * *
Mr. Farrell says many good and interesting things in his post, but the complete and correct list of the views by which Americans are today divided is as follows:
1) The traditionalist view: America is home to a people that seeks to preserve but not propagate its traditions
2) The old progressive view: America is exceptional and a beacon to the rest of the world
3) The new progressive view: America is thoroughly racist and needs to be purged top to bottom
I earlier described the old progressive as a minotaur, part man and mostly bull. His exceptionalism is the bull. America is certainly an unusual country, but there is nothing but Puritan prudery behind its claims to moral exceptionalism. Indeed the light that it gives to the world has long been the red light of a brothel on a hill. And because Puritan prudery always becomes violent fanaticism, it has become the red light of a bellicose brothel on a hill, from which fanatics sally forth, with torches and spears in their hands.
And this all goes back to the old progressives’ strange and confused admiration for Abraham Lincoln, since it was Abraham Lincoln who crushed the real American traditionalists and laid the foundation of our bellicose brothel on a hill.
Here is the truly traditionalist view of what Lincoln did when he crushed the traditionalists and unified the states. They are from a letter the General Robert E. Lee, a sound traditionalist, wrote to Lord Acton in 1866, when the old progressive view had triumphed, the Constitution had been rewritten by the Female Antislavery Society of Concord, and the strange “conservative” cult of Lincoln lay mewling and puking in its crib.
“The consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of that ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it.”
)Nathaniel P. Rogers, An Address Delivered Before the Concord Female Anti-Slavery Society (Concord, N.H.: W. White, 1838), p. 23.
 Letter of Robert E. Lee to Lord Acton, December 15, 1866. In John Neville Figgis and Reginald Vere Laurence, eds., Selections from the Correspondence of the First Lord Acton (London: Longman, Green and Co., 1917), vol. 1, pp. 302-305.