Today’s “Wayward Puritans” of the Academic “Elect”

By Aleksey Bashtavenko

Academic Composition

The American mentality is unabashedly elitist. Indeed, mediocrity is anathema to the American way of life. Much of the Americans’ ire toward communism has nothing to do with its tyranny, but with their animus toward equality. John Steinback had it right: Americans see themselves as the temporarily embarrassed millionaires rather than as the exploited proletariat. In most countries, there is no shame in showing solidarity with the working class. Yet, to an American mind, the very concept of solidarity is an affront to their dignity, as it implies that they are average rather than exceptional. The concept of American exceptionalism goes far beyond the abstract patriotic ideals,  and it is an integral element of Americans’ daily lives.

America has deeply seated roots undergirding the ethos of exceptionalism. One may turn to two classical works in sociology that explain the origins of such presumptuous attitudes: the Wayward Puritans by Kai Erickson and the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by  Max Weber. Kai Erickson has shown that deviant behavior sheds light on the nature of socially acceptable behavior.  The American Puritans cultivated a great sense of pride in their righteousness by focusing on the allegedly deplorable actions of outsiders. They did not want to be merely good Christians; they desired to “purify” their soul by becoming the most earnest worshippers possible. By contrasting their lofty ideals with that of the benighted outsiders, they continuously found inspiration to pursue their arduous endeavor of spiritual achievement.

Consistently with Erickson’s observations, Max Weber has also shed light on America’s contempt for mediocrity and the desire to ostracize aberrant people. Weber has shown how the creed of Calvinist theology informed the Puritans’ attitudes toward wealth distribution and the elites’ responsibility to the less fortunate. Calvinists believed in predestination, positing that all people were preordained to either be saved or to be damned to hell. While they believed that God worked in mysterious ways, they searched for fruits of the spirit, which indicated what God had decided for each person. Consistently with the Puritan adage that an “idle mind is the devil’s workshop”, they believed industriousness to have been the most important fruit of the spirit. Consequently, they reasoned that because wealth stemmed from a vigorous work ethic,  affluence must have been an important indicator of one’s status among the elect. Working with this assumption, they concluded that the privileged had no responsibility to the indigent because their state of deprivation was a consequence of God’s will.  This explains why American Christians often have a strong attachment to the free market and a reflexive aversion to welfare programs.

In a similar vein, the American Puritans of academia are inclined to take a very dehumanizing approach toward people who are not on the far left.  They are not part of the “elect”, so their views are a threat to the sanctity of the PC outlook. While many of the privileged PC academics claim to “support” minorities and LGBTQ, almost all of their associates are other heterosexual Caucasians who are just as sanctimonious and intolerant as they are. Though they may have acquaintances who are part of an ethnic minority group or LGBTQ, they are just as privileged as the PC academics. The Ivy League institutions are all in favor of having ethnic minorities as students, but only if they are rich. The Black and Latino people who attend Harvard and Yale are usually from the highest echelons of the socioeconomic hierarchy in Africa or South America.

The PC academics and the most influential televangelist voices in the American Christendom have a few things in common.


1. Thought-control: one fundamental difference between Christians and practitioners of other faiths is that the former regard the act of entertaining unholy thoughts as a sin. By contrast, Buddhists, Hindus, Shintoists, and followers of other Eastern creeds that were not influenced by the Judeo-Christian worldview focus more on the challenge of resisting temptation rather than on monitoring the thoughts of their fellow believers. Just as the Christians are not content with merely preventing immoral behavior, the academic zealots will not relent when they see that minorities and LGBTQ are treated respectfully. Instead, they will go a step further by insisting that all White men are sexist and racist, and therefore they need to be remanded to a “sensitivity training” camp where even the slightest vestige of unholy thought must be excoriated with priestly fury.

2. Self-aggrandizement: building on the Calvinist admonition exhorting Christians to demonstrate their status among the elect, American Protestants highly value industriousness, which they see as a prerequisite for the acquisition of wealth that demonstrates their salvation. To a televangelist, there is no such thing as being “successful” and pure enough. Hence, they continuously strive to exorcise the demons of sloth from their souls by engaging in spiritual self-flagellation that pushes them to pursue self-aggrandizement. I see the same phenomenon among academic activists. To them, there is no such thing as being sufficiently non-racist or non-sexist. They must be anti-racist and anti-sexist, and it’s not possible to be adequate in either respect. The Puritans of the church and the university see themselves as fundamentally sinful and insist on a pursuit of lifelong contrition that constitutes an integral component of their spiritual purification.

3. Disdain for the underprivileged: far from being concerned with the well-being of the penurious Americans and the diminution of the middle class, the American “clerisy” are happy to facilitate the rapidly widening gaps of wealth inequality.  The leading voices of political activism in academia have come a long way since the George W. Bush administration when they blamed the Republican-leaning natural resource corporations; they now see no problem with the tech oligarchy emerging as an anti-competitive force in the market. While the Democrats have previously been known as advocates of the middle and the working class, today’s partisan academics are more concerned with gender pronouns than with the dissipating social safety net.

Thomas Hobbes famously argued the university and the church constituted direct threats to the Leviathan’s sovereignty in the state of nature. While the representatives of these institutions may often see themselves as rivals who compete with one another for cultural influence, the similarities between them are more significant than the differences. In light of the decline of religious belief in America, Americans turned to the university for moral guidance and social cohesion that the church had previously provided. While these two needs were met in a secular manner, the core Puritan worldview that defined the American culture remains highly influential in the university. The Puritans’ contempt for mediocrity and disdain for the less privileged draws a  stark contrast between America’s tolerant attitude toward wealth inequality and the European concept of the noblesse oblige.

4 replies »

  1. Great article. Great writing that reflects exactly what’s going on in Brazil nowadays. Thanks for that, Aleksey.

  2. You make some outstanding points about the inherent moral hypocrisy of academia within the United States, particularly with regards to issues of class and socio-economic inequity. As someone who was once myself very entwined with various ethnic studies programs at a “Southern Ivy,” I could not help but notice the constant grandstanding on the part of my peers regarding various perceived injustices within our larger society, all the while treating those in their own sight who bore class markers that suggested they were of the lower or working classes with outright contempt and hostility. This attitude that I observed in my own immediate environment is borne out through the American academy as a whole. According to the American Association of University Professors, so-called “adjunct faculty” now account for over 60 percent of all college instructor positions in the United States; these are essentially “gig economy” positions that pay per course, and rarely offer any health benefits. It is also a truism that “once an adjunct, always an adjunct,” as it is almost impossible to engage in the work necessary to land a tenure-track position (e.g., publishing academic articles, attending national and international conferences for exposure and networking) while earning anywhere in the neighborhood of $15,000 to perhaps $30,000 per year (if one is very fortunate). I left academia because it was clear to me that this is a profession that is intent on making its own members poor, and then s***ting on them for being poor.

    Among other things President Barack Obama said & done:
    •Sent 3,500 U.S. troops and tanks to Russia’s doorstep in one of his final decisions as president.
    •Ordered ten times more drone strikes than Bush.
    •Dropped 26,171 bombs in 2016 alone (an average of 72 bombs every day).
    •Put boots on the ground in Syria, despite 16 times saying “no boots on the ground”.
    •Despite campaign pledges, planned a $1 trillion program to add more nuclear weapons to the US arsenal in the next 30 years.
    •Dropped bombs in 7 Muslim countries; and then bragged about it.
    •Said, “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being.”
    •Bragged about his use of drones – I’m “really good at killing people”.
    •Deported a modern-record 2 million immigrants.
    •Signed the Monsanto Protection Act into law.
    •Started a new war in Iraq.
    •Initiated, and personally oversees a ‘Secret Kill List’.
    •Pushed for war on Syria while siding with al-Qaeda .
    •Backed neo-Nazis in Ukraine.
    •Supported Israel’s wars and occupation of Palestine.
    •Deployed Special Ops to 134 countries – compared to 60 under Bush.
    •Did a TV commercial promoting “clean coal”.
    •Drastically escalated the NSA spying program .
    •Signed the NDAA into law – making it legal to assassinate Americans w/o charge or trial.
    •Given Bush absolute immunity for everything.
    •Pushed for a TPP Trade Pact.
    •Started a new war on terror – this one on ISIS .
    •Signed more executive memoranda than any other president in history.
    •Transferred more than $100 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, more than any other administration in history.
    •Signed an agreement for 7 military bases in Colombia .
    •Opened a military base in Chile.
    •Touted nuclear power, even after the disaster in Japan.
    •Opened up deep-water oil drilling, even after the BP disaster.
    •Mandated the Insider Threat Program which orders federal employees to report suspicious actions of their colleagues.
    •Defended body scans and pat-downs at airports.
    •Signed the Patriot Act extension into law.
    •Launched 20,000 Airstrikes in his first term.
    •Continued Bush’s rendition program.
    •Said the U.S. is the “one indispensable nation” in the world.
    •Waged war on Libya without congressional approval.
    •Started a covert, drone war in Yemen.
    •Escalated the proxy war in Somalia.
    •Escalated the CIA drone war in Pakistan.
    •Sharply escalated the war in Afghanistan.
    •Repealed the Propaganda ban, making it legal to spread government propaganda via news outlets.
    •Assassinated 4 US citizens with drone strikes.

    “…we’ve increased foreign military financing to record levels.”

    John Pilger summed up the past 8 years of Obama by writing,

    “according to a Council on Foreign Relations survey, in 2016 alone Obama dropped 26,171 bombs. That is 72 bombs every day. He bombed the poorest people on earth, in Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan.

    “Every Tuesday reported The New York Times, he personally selected those who would be murdered by mostly hellfire missiles fired from drones. Weddings, funerals, shepherds were attacked, along with those attempting to collect the body parts festooning the “terrorist target.”
    “Under Obama, the U.S. has extended secret “special forces” operations to 138 countries, or 70 per cent of the world’s population. The first African-American president launched what amounted to a full-scale invasion of Africa. Reminiscent of the Scramble for Africa in the late Nineteenth Century, the U.S. African Command (Africom) has built a network of supplicants among collaborative African regimes eager for American bribes and armaments.

    “It was Obama who, in 2011, announced what became known as the “pivot to Asia”, in which almost two-thirds of U.S. naval forces would be transferred to the Asia-Pacific to “confront China,” in the words of his Defense Secretary. There was no threat from China; the entire enterprise was unnecessary. It was an extreme provocation to keep the Pentagon and its demented brass happy.

    “…Propaganda is his triumph. The lies about Russia — in whose elections the U.S. has openly intervened — have made the world’s most self-important journalists laughingstocks. In the country with constitutionally the freest press in the world, free journalism now exists only in its honorable exceptions.”

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