John Winthrop and the Origins of American Multiculturalism:

A Plea against Balkanization

     Not simply the oldest American dead white European male, nor 
the authoritarian Puritan patriarch, nor a sainted Pilgrim
Father, John Winthrop needs to be rescued from all of those who
would paint him either as an American saint or a demon. At the
moment, he particularly needs to be rescued from those, making room
in their anthologies and surveys for new voices, are tempted to
abandon him as irrelevant or as downright harmful. 

   These current efforts to bring previously marginalized voices
into our classes are a healthy movement long overdue.  But, as its
critics fear, the multicultural challenge to the canon does
require, to accommodate the recovery of neglected texts, the
replacing of some older chestnuts. Anthologies are already too
large to consume entirely in any one course, and undergraduates are
reading less not more in our finite fourteen week semesters. Hence,
before the new voices overwhelm the old, it may be time to
determine within the context of the academic concerns of the
present which of the older, traditional texts ought to be retained.

Having dethroned the mainstream WASP tradition with its hegemonic
tendencies, we multiculturalists need to concede that this WASP
tradition is, if no longer dominant, at least one part of the
American multi-ethnic scene, and that it deserves to retain at
least a slice of the new multicultural pie. I would like to begin
with Winthrop. More specifically, Winthrop's most anthologized
piece of writing, his speech on "Christian Charity," requires a new
reading, one tied to the politics of the 1990s but located within
the context of the politics of 1629.
   The arguments against any such assumption of a new "true"
reading of original authorial intent is first that it is
impossible, that any reading is done from a particular perspective
and cannot hope to escape the contingencies of race, class, and
gender, and second that it is irrelevant since the reading that
matters is less that of the author than of the reader.

     There is a great deal of truth in both of these. Nevertheless,
readers confronting Winthrop's speech, especially students
unfamiliar with the language and the issues of his world, need some
guidance through the archaic text. This need not be a case of
telling them "what he meant" or of shaping their value judgements,
though some implying of these is all but inevitable. At its most
dogmatic, it can be positioned as simply one other reading, albeit
one that claims with some humility to be informed by a knowledge of
at least what historians of the era, themselves fallible and
subject to contingency, think may have been going on.

     Rather than banish such classics from our anthologies and our
surveys because of their origins and our previous assumptions about
them, it might be better to reposition them. Winthrop's
authoritarian strain, one that increased as he got older, has
certainly justified a reading of his texts that emphasizes the ways
in which he tried to enforce conformity and to perpetuate a
traditional patriarchal culture. That he ultimately presided over
the expulsion of the radical antinomian dissenter, Anne Hutchinson,
stands as an almost irresistible model of male patriarchy
oppressing female and "other" minority voices. Such readings set
the stage at the beginnings of the traditional survey of American
literature for an expose of the oppressive forces that continue to
dominate American culture. These deconstructive readings can lead
to a deeper understanding of the problems we face, especially for
those who because of their own political choices tend to read
American literature somewhat as a morality play which positions
evil white males against virtuous others. In the end such readings
can tear down the old establishment and make a way in the
wilderness for the coming of something better, but as the
philosopher Richard Rorty has said, they cannot empower. They can
tear down the traditional icons and institute a radical questioning
of assumptions, but they cannot provide the basis for new
assumptions and new beginnings.

      The opening up of the canon is one way in which such new
beginnings are being successfully accomplished. New texts from
marginalized communities do provide new voices which can be the
basis for renewal. But some of the old white male icons, like
Winthrop, we will have always with us. The best strategy for
dealing with them, then, for turning them from a destructive to a
constructive force, may be first to point out the ways in which
their discourse perpetuated self-serving concepts and images, to
acknowledge the radical critique, but then to emphasize the
positive and constructive aspects of their discourse, to turn them
from villains of a repressive consciousness to harbingers of the
new. As the challenges to the traditional canon mount, those of us
who would teach some of the older "classics" need to mount a
convincing defense of those texts which we believe ought to remain
in whatever new canon emerges from the present turmoil.

    The politics behind some of these attacks on the traditional
canon are by now quite familiar. They serve not the search for some
objective "Truth." We have all but abandoned the illusion that any
such thing is attainable. Yet, instead of facing the void honestly
and accepting a mutual contingency in which no voice can be
verified, there are those who use the deconstructive technique
selectively, who would tear down the assumptions of those groups
they do not like and try to privilege texts of groups they would
like to empower. As Roland Barthes said with amazingly naked
honesty: "reality is nothing but a meaning, and so can be changed
to meet the needs of history, when history demands the subversion
of the foundations of civilization as we know it." Hence, Moby
Dick is torn down into the meaningless syllables that constitute
it, while previously marginalized texts are preferred. That the
theory which deconstructs Moby Dick also deconstructs all texts is
a dilemma too often ignored. This is politics, after all. Who's
side are you on, anyway? 

     Is this then what academia is to be reduced to, the squabbling
tribalism of a bunch of Balkan clans? Sometimes it seems so, that
there is only self-interest and group interest. Women fight for
women's texts, gays for gay, blacks for black,  white males for
theirs. Since the old unifying generalities with their assumption
of a "metanarrative" themselves are seen to serve the interests the
dominant interest groups, what we are left with is what John Higham
recently called "America as a federation of minorities," competing
and increasingly hostile minorities I might add. This Balkanization
of our discipline and to some extent our culture into cultures is
where our theories have led. And why? Because post-structuralism
leaves us two options, nihilism or tribalism. Either no text has
any meaning and no reading is valid and only silence has any
verity, or we are free to make whatever we want of whatever text we
want in the name of empowering our own preferred group.

     Since talking and writing is our thing in life, silence is
clearly not an option. So here we are, as Faulkner said, still
talking. I would propose that before we go to the Balkan option and
turn academia into a war zone of murderous tribes, we consider that
since all texts are open to multiple readings that instead of
reading the worst in our enemies and the best in our friends, we
teach those texts that offer the best opportunities for
constructive empowerment. Instead of fighting against the habits
and traditions of our own academic culture, let us when possible
accept those canonical, mainstream, WASP, male texts that can be
read constructively and use them, not to tear down and belittle any
group, white, black, lavender, or red, nor to perpetuate the
hegemony of any one interest group, but to create a constructive

   Nor, at least with John Winthrop's "Christian Charity," is this
a hard thing to do. For Winthrop's speech, despite its pleas for
unity and conformity, contains elements that are at the heart of
modern progressive politics from Martin Luther King, Jr.s "I Have
a Dream" speech which quite deliberately echoes it to the post-
structural movement itself. Indeed, the very fact that in the
presidential election of 1984, both Walter Mondale and Ronald
Reagan used radically different readings of that speech in their
opposing campaigns shows both the importance of the speech as an
American icon and the susceptibility of the speech to variant

    The occasion of the speech itself is part of the drama. Given
on board the Arbella as the main body of English Puritans sailed to
Boston in 1630 by the man who had been chosen to lead the
expedition, it has been taken as one of the first attempts to
structure the European American experience before that experience
had even begun. It has therefore more of the quality of myth than
of the hard reality of power politics. It is one of the first
attempts to define what we have since come to call rather loosely
"the American dream." It is for this reason that it has been
anthologized and taught so often, and it is for this reason that
our presidential candidates still quote it.

    Given the occasion of the speech, actually a lay sermon since
Winthrop was not a clergyman, the opening theme seems peculiarly
abstract and not clearly relevant to the task he had immediately at
hand. Winthrop  without any preliminary explanation asks the
question why it is that human society, "the condition of mankind,"
is divided into rich and poor, powerful and weak. The "Reason
Hereof" is then presented.

    To those who see in public discourse only the reinforcement of
and occasionally the resistance to political and social power, the
purpose of this discourse at this time by this man is blatantly
apparent. That the Honorable John Winthrop Esquire, son of a
prosperous lawyer with an estate inherited from Henry VIII, and the
chosen leader of the expedition, should want to remind his subjects
that there is a divinely ordained reason for his being in power and
for their being subservient to that power needs no further
clarification. This reading satisfies the interpretation of the
Puritans as essentially extensions of the patriarchal hierarchy of
English society. Furthermore, it provides autocratic villains
against whom later champions of freedom and justice, such as Anne
Hutchinson, can rebel. The presentation of early Anglo-American
culture as one of oppression from which more liberated spirits are
still trying to escape provides a sound foundation for the morality
play of oppression/resistance, immoral authority/moral minority
that is a familiar approach to American history. From this
approach, the pretensions and hypocrisies of Winthrop's rhetoric
are easy to debunk.

   But this is far too easy. There is more going on here than a
simple act of power reasserting itself.  To begin with, in the
context of early seventeenth-century England, the colonists on the
Arbella were on the extreme left wing of English politics and
society. They represented a revolutionary potential that would
break out into bloody civil war back in England  ten years later.
In a work that itself deserves a new reading in the light of new
circumstances, Michael Walzer's The Revolution of the Saints
positions the Puritan radicals as the predecessors of Lenin. To
say that the leader of this rebellious group was simply another
English aristocrat defending the privileges of his station would be
to ignore that political reality. It would also serve to obscure
the very important elements of that rebellion which were embedded
in this discourse. Only on the surface, on a first superficial
reading, is this a conservative document. In its own context, it is
in fact a radical document trying to establish the basis upon which
a radical experiment in social and power relations might be
established in the laboratory of the new world. It is an important
document that needs to be understood in the context of the English
Reformation and beyond that in the European Reformation's attempt
to bring down the establishments of Europe and to recreate the

    Early readers have pointed out to me that to think of Winthrop
and the passengers of the Arbella as carrying the seeds of a later
flowering of pluralism if not multiculturalism is to ignore the
historic reality  that the passengers were all white, all English,
lead by authoritarian "racist" males, and showed little tolerance
of native American culture upon their arrival. Of course, this is
true. Nevertheless, there were seeds in that dungheap, ideological
seeds which over the course of the next 200 years grew into mighty
oaks. We see what we want to see. If we want tribal warfare, we can
continue to expose the dung. But if we want to construct a mutual
tolerance and understanding, it would be better to acknowledge the
dung but then point out the healthy seeds within it. Nor is this
a case of inventing a usable past and pretending that the dung
really smells like a rose. There is a strong historical argument
for asserting that much of modern American equalitarianism had its
roots in the ideology of the Reformation and can be found clearly
articulated in Winthrop's speech.

   Briefly, when Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the
church door in Wittenberg, he initiated a movement the results of
which are still being felt today. His fundamental insight was
simply that authority flows not from the top down through structure
and intellect, but from the bottom up, from the hearts of ordinary
believers. Sola Fides, faith alone, the slogan of the Reformation,
was not a concept bound within the limits of theological
abstraction. It was a radical new idea that struck at the
structures of politics, of the church, of the social order, and at
the embedded assumptions of the mind. The old idea that authority
came from the top down, from God through the hierarchy of the
church and the state, reinforced the role of structure. Those on
the bottom looked to their social superiors to explain the world to
them. Those superior beings looked in turn to tradition and to
authority. Authority was thus not just from the top down in terms
of the structures of the state but also in terms of the structures
of the mind. Tradition was interpreted by intellect. It was a
rational system. Power was rationalized in a central authority in
church and state and in the rational processes of intellect, giving
a double degree of power to education and the intellectual elite.
To be a gentleman and to be educated was to have power. These were
inseparable. That the educated elite of church and state throughout
Europe communicated with each other in Latin was a perfect symbol
of their separation from the peasants of their varying nations who
spoke only in their vulgar tongues and did not read or write at
    Sola Fides attacked all of the assumptions of this ordering of
authority. Faith alone was a slogan intended to attack the notion
that intellect or learning or birth were important. It led to the
corresponding notion of "the priesthood of all believers" in which
any person, regardless of birth or wealth or learning, could
partake. Belief, in the Lutheran formulation, was not an act of
intellect but of emotion; it was mystical. And mysticism is not
dependent upon knowing Latin or being able to read or being well-
born; in fact, it is hampered by them.

   The social and political implications of Luther's reformed
theology were obvious to the leaders of Europe at the time. They
were also obvious to much of the peasantry, who were empowered by
these notions. Indeed, some of the first fruits of the reformation
were exactly what the elite feared, bloody peasant rebellions in
the name of the indwelling spirit. The most notorious of these was
the rebellion led by John of Leidan at the city of Munster in 1533-
34. Declaring themselves beyond the law, these antinomians
abolished not only the institutions of the state but such social
institutions as marriage. John of Leiden had himself declared King
of this New Zion and presided over a flamboyant anarchy until the
surrounding princes, with Luther's blessing, attacked the city and
slaughtered the inhabitants. Here was a clear example of just what
the new reformed theology, with its emphasis on individual
conscience and its rejection of temporal authority, could lead to.

   The arguments over the attempts of English Protestants to purify
the English church one hundred years later were made, as Winthrop's
Arbella sermon was, in the shadow of Munster. The Anglican bishops
and their royal allies well knew that the doctrines of the
Reformation threatened their power and the stability of their
states. The puritan reformers looked not to Luther, whose
theological writings offered no way to unite the City of God and
the City of Man, but to John Calvin whose Institutes of the
Christian Religion, put into practice in Geneva, seemed to offer a 
compromise that allowed for the freedom of the spirit without the
anarchy of Munster. But the problems of translating the theological
vision of the reformers into the institutions of public life
remained unsolved. How can there be a priesthood of all believers
in a stable society? How can society tolerate the freedom which the
gospel seemed to require without falling into anarchy and ultimate
dissolution? Just how free can the individual members of a
community be and still survive as a community? These were the
questions that Winthrop faced and tried to answer.

     As such, they are still some of the central questions of
American public life. Are we a nation of 265 million individuals
each pursuing a private agenda? Or are we one nation united? Are we
pluribus or a unum? How much freedom can we tolerate before we
destroy ourselves?  Can we allow people to use drugs? to be
educated in different tongues? to pursue unlimited profit? to
publish pornography? to pollute the planet? to openly live gay
lifestyles? to own and carry guns? Both Republicans and Democrats
continue to  wrestle with these questions, believing in theory in
allowing as much freedom as possible but fearing in practice that
too much freedom can lead to anarchy and destroy us.
   In 1630, on the Arbella, Winthrop faced the problem of trying to
hold together his community of some 5000 radical individualists,
each of whom believed in the supremacy of the spirit and the need
to follow individual conscience. He had no police force. He knew he
could not rely upon the accumulated authority of centuries of
social hierarchy embedded in the persons of respected gentlemen. He
feared that the very pursuit of spiritual freedom and individualism
that had driven these people from England would also drive them
apart from each other and doom their experiment to failure, to
starvation or destruction by marauding Spanish or hostile indians.
It is with the example of Munster looming in the background that
the Arbella Sermon must be read.

     Winthrop begins his sermon by listing three main reasons why
God made people different. Despite Higham's assumption that the
ideal of pluralism was "molded by the Enlightenment," Winthrop's
explanations of these reasons contain the seeds of an older and
more deeply ingrained origin of American pluralism and
multiculturalism. The Enlightenment, after all, was but a brief fad
in the colonies, popular mainly among a small educated elite;
Christianity for good or ill was then and remains our dominant
discourse. First, Winthrop writes, God made people different "to
hold conformity with the rest of His works, being delighted to show
forth the glory of His wisdom in the variety and difference of the
creatures."  Here, to begin with, Reality, Existence-in-General, I
AM, that which Winthrop called "God," is defined not as a
uniformity but as a complexity. Reality prefers a mosaic to a
single color. There is, writes Winthrop, an essential preference
for multiplicity and difference, over singularity and uniformity.
Here is the beginning of the American tolerance of diversity. The
theory, of course, is still being put into practice. To say that
Winthrop and his society failed to live up to the implications of
his own words is not to dismiss him as a hypocrite but to recognize
the problems we all still face living up to those ideals. If
American society has not yet fully welcomed the entire range of
variety of human possibility with a warm embrace, that is because
we are still trying to live up to the vision first enunciated on
the Arbella. The line from Martin Luther to Martin Luther King, Jr.
is a direct one and not just a coincidence of name. But it is
important to point out that at the very beginning of what we call
American culture there was embedded in one of the most important
founding documents of that culture the assertion that variety is a
positive value, and that diversity makes us stronger not weaker.

   The second reason that God made people different, says Winthrop,
is  that "He might have the more occasion to manifest the work of
His Spirit: first upon the wicked in moderating and restraining
them, so that the rich and mighty should not eat up the poor, nor
the poor and despised rise up against their superiors and shake off
their yoke." It is important to note that this is a two-edged
sword. God wants the rich to show love and mercy for the poor, but
he also wants the poor to show respect and "obedience" to the rich.
It would be easy to read this as primarily a reinforcement of
existing power relationships, but it would be unfair to the
historical record. That the rich have used such doctrines as
excuses for preaching obedience to the poor while not exercising
love towards them cannot be questioned. But Winthrop's dream was of
a society in which there was mutual respect within differences. His
own actions as Governor attest to his  efforts to live up to these
ideals. The Puritan leaders of the first generation restricted the
activities of eager entrepreneurs which they thought harmful.  They
believed in the medieval theory of the "just price" and regulated
business as strictly as they regulated behavior on the sabbath.
When a poor man was caught stealing from his woodpile and was
dragged before the Governor, Winthrop's solution was to give the
man permission to take whatever wood he needed so he would not have
to steal again. By the end, Winthrop had spent his inherited
fortune on behalf of his community. However hypocritical others
have been, Winthrop himself appears to have been sincere in his
vision of a society in which the rich love and help the poor and
the poor in turn respect their betters.

    The third reason is perhaps the most interesting. Here Winthrop
says that God made people different so that all would have need of
each other that "they might be all knit more nearly together in the
bonds of brotherly affection."  This is the heart of his message
and the purpose of this sermon. What, in short, is going to hold
the community of free individuals together in the new world
wilderness? What is going to bind these different people into
community so that they are not scattered and destroyed? Without the
external forces of law and tradition or the negative forces of fear
or hardship, what can hold people together in what Calvin had
called the "Kingdom of Liberty?" Winthrop's answer to this question
is "brotherly affection," an idea he later simplifies to the one
word "love." Implicit in this is the idea that a free community
cannot survive unless the members of the community love each other.
Freedom cannot exist in Eastern Europe where hatred of others is
the dominant emotion. It cannot exist in a pluralistic stew like
Los Angeles unless the different elements of that stew blend
harmoniously together. People must either "get along" as Rodney
King said because they want to or ultimately they will be forced
to. It is not the formulation of the idea that one might find in
social science textbooks, but it is a basic one to American life,
that freedom cannot exist in a pluralistic culture unless there is
love. Certainly, Winthrop did not intend to include Rodney King in
his "community." But only the stubbornest hostility to the Puritan
tradition can refuse to see in his formulation of the need for
white male English Puritans to live together in harmony the
beginnings of what eventually expanded into today's

   In support of his assumptions, Winthrop argues that "hence it
appears plainly that no man is made more honorable than another or
more wealthy, etc.  out of any particular and singular respect to
himself but for the glory of his creator and the common good of the
creature, man." In other words, no one individual owes his or her
station in life to his or her own virtues or accomplishments. We
are all contingent. We are all shaped by circumstance. That
ultimate reality Winthrop called God created us; we did not create
ourselves. The poor need to realize this as much as do the rich,
that our conditions are not owing to our own worth or worthlessness
but to that larger set of circumstances over which we have no
control. Hence, any pride in the rich is arrogant and false, and
any sense of shame in the poor is equally misplaced. Once people
realize that they were made rich or poor, black or white, gay or
straight by God for God's purposes, pride and prejudice both are
removed. This is a radical social revolution at the heart of
European social assumptions. It is exactly here that the true
social radicalism of the Reformation attacks all of the assumptions
of power that kept the aristocratic traditions of Europe intact.
Once the assumption of some sort of inherent virtue on the part of
the aristocracy is removed, the basis of the old social and
political order crumbles. There is a direct line from this Puritan
belief to the American Revolution to say nothing of the social
revolutions of our own century.

    It bears taking a moment to spell out the importance of this.
The Calvinist emphasis on what the Puritans called predestination
was in fact very similar to the current theoretical emphasis on the
contingency of structured identity. There are new signifiers but
not new signifieds, new bottles but a classic wine. That all of our
human beliefs are in fact not based in any essential reality within
us but are structured by the contingencies of our worldly contexts
is exactly what the Calvinists saw signified in Solomon's lament in
Ecclesiastes, "vanity, vanity, all is vanity." They used the term
"worldliness" to express their disgust with their own constructed
personalities. They also used the word "sin." These terms pointed
to an undermining of all human knowing. They exposed reason as mere
rationalizing. They turned self-confident souls into bewildered,
terrified wretches. The decentering realization that all of our
beliefs are ultimately undone, deconstructed, was what they called
the fear of God, and the central symbols of their religion, the
Children of Israel in the wilderness and Christ on the cross, were
types of this "spiritual" reality.  Their theology was thus a
theology of absence, not presence. As Solomon said, "In the
multitude of dreams and many words there are also diverse vanities:
but fear thou God."  Belief in presence, in an indwelling God, came
later with the romantics and what historians call "Romantic
Christianity." Those who see only this immanent, romantic form  of
religion are ignoring the most significance aspects of historical
theological discourse. If one reads Winthrop as an early Jimmy
Swaggert, one cannot hope to make sense of the Arbella sermon. But
if one can understand how the doctrine of predestination basically
foreshadows modern notions of conditioning or the contingent nature
of social structuring, another reading becomes possible.

   In the next portion of the sermon, Winthrop leads up to his
argument that Christians are required to help one another in ways
which they may not be required to help strangers. In this, he is
urging on his followers their responsibility as members of a
community of professed Christians. The emphasis here is squarely on
what the members of the community owe to the community and not on
some unspoken treatment of "others." But even the formation of an
ideology of inclusion must begin with a defined core which then
enlarges; a community hostile to its own members is not ready to
begin including "others." Winthrop knows his fellow Englishmen and
anticipates their objections frequently. Hence, he says we must
help our Christian brother "rather then tempt God, in putting him
upon help by miraculous or extraordinary means." In this, he
rebukes that evasion by which the comfortable may avoid any
actual sacrifice by offering prayers for the afflicted but nothing
else. And so he cites in detail just what is required, stating the
question, answering it, stating objections, then answering them all
in an effort to "persuade to liberality."  He acknowledges the
conservative fear that by being liberal to the poor one might risk
becoming one of them, that we each have a responsibility to
ourselves and immediate family first. He agrees, but makes an
effort to keep such concerns from becoming excuses for not helping
the poor at all, citing appropriate Biblical texts for his
explanations and ending with the question that most concerns him,
"What rule must we observe and walk by in cause of community in
peril?" His answer, "The same as before, but with more enlargement
towards others and less respect towards our selves," underlines his
concern for the survival of the community they are about to

   All of this scriptural quotation and refutation of objections,
however, is a throwback to the older form of disputation,
reflecting more of the style of Thomas Aquinas. It is logical,
emphasizing and empowering the head. Ultimately, such use of logic
can only end up serving structure and not spirit. So Winthrop
acknowledges that there is a problem with and a need to "lay open
the grounds" from which this "affection" which is the cause of the
acts of mercy might arise. Logic, he says, cannot do it, but there
is a deeper source that sets "all the facilities on work in the
outward exercise of this duty." It is this inner motivation and not
the outward duties that needs to be addressed. And this is so
because the way to draw men to acts of mercy is not by logic or
argument, "for though this course may enforce a rational mind to
some present act of mercy, as is frequent in experience, yet it
cannot work such a habit in a soul, as shall make it prompt upon
all occasions to produce the same effect."

   The argument here is based on the reformed concern not for
outward duties, for works, but for the inward state of the soul,
for grace. To preach duty or political correctness to those who do
not feel love in their hearts is to preach hypocrisy. If all
Christians are united by being one in the body of Christ, then the
ligaments of that body, the tie which binds them all, is love, and
until all the members of the community sincerely love each other
and are willing to sacrifice for each other, then the perfect
community will never come to be.

   As Winthrop then writes, "The next consideration is how this
love comes to be wrought," how people can be brought to love each
other, the means of attaining this goal if not through the use of
argument and logic. Because of Adam's fall, all humans are born
without true love in their hearts. They love themselves only. And
they continue with a selfish heart  "till Christ comes and takes
possession of the soul and infuseth another principle, love to God
and our brother." Hence, this love "is the fruit of the new

    Here is the source of the narrow belief of many on the
Christian right that democracy cannot exist without Christianity,
that seemingly fanatic insistence that if God or prayer or any form
of Christian reference is taken out of the classroom, the republic
will collapse in ruin. If one assumes, as Winthrop probably did,
that only the true Christian ritual of conversion could produce
true love, then this belief is at least understandable. But the
idea can also be turned around. If he were to say that any
conversion from selfishness to true love is what is called
Christian conversion, then the experience will control the language
rather than vice versa. We can speak today of rituals of
transformation as being part of many different religious
traditions. In this way, we can still read Winthrop without
stumbling over the explicitly Christian forms he uses.

     But the most important consideration here for us in this text
is the emphasis on experience over intellect, the empowering of
emotion over words. Knowing that rational intellect was the bulwark
of the control of traditional structures of authority over the body
and ultimately over the community, the theologians of the
Reformation insisted that a decentering, destabilizing,
deconstructive experience had to precede any true change from old
corruptions to new constructions. "Force of argument," as Winthrop
writes, "may enforce a rational mind to some present act of mercy,"
but it cannot touch the heart, what we might call the subconscious
fortress of our cultural constructions. Hence, the religious ritual
of conversion, of being "born again," was an attempt to undercut
the hold of rational, socially constructed orderings of reality, or
words and texts and interpretations, in the hope that out of such
deconstructions of the old would arise newer constructions based on
a sincere sense of communal love. This is the purpose of all those
hell-fire and damnation sermons from Thomas Hooker to Jonathan
Edwards, not to scare people into obedience to a patriarchal elite
but to convert them from their socially constructed old world
prejudices to a new vision of new possibilities of community in the
new American Zion.

   If much of what Winthrop and his Puritan colleagues believed
anticipates modern post-structural concerns, here is the point at
which an important distinction must be drawn. Implicit in the post-
structural argument is the belief that structured identity is fluid
and flexible, able to be changed by force of argument and reason,
by new definitions and new words, by a change in external
circumstances, as if change could come after all from the top down
from the head, from logic, from reason, from without. If the world
answers to the constructions of it in our minds, then a change in
those constructions should change the world. The Puritans also
believed that worldly personalities were constructions and not
essential, but they had no illusions that "force of argument" could
do any more than possibly "enforce a rational mind to some present
act of mercy,"  a temporary change out of expedience, not a change
of heart. This change had to come from the bottom up. Some still
cling to the Marxist faith, coming out of the Enlightenment and
Rousseau's metaphor of the noble savage, that human beings are if
not essentially virtuous at least a blank slate upon which
personality can be constructed and reconstructed. This was the
basis for the Leninist attempt to create "the new Soviet man."  And
yet, as the Soviet Union crumbled, after four generations of
complete control of education and media and verbal constructs, of
often brutal alterations of the old circumstances, the old
constructed personalities, the original nationalist identities,
have all re-emerged as if the twentieth century had never happened.
The President of Turkmenistan, once a loyal Soviet apparatvchik,
recently said,  "For seventy years we had to forget our national
character. Now it is starting to grow again." Clearly, the older
constructed personality based on nationalism had never been truly
forgotten. It was persistent, surviving even the Leninists. Our
constructions have a deeper hold on us than is often acknowledged.
If in fact the head can only rationalize the structures of the
heart, true change therefore has to come not through the head, not
through structure, not from the top down, but from the bottom up.
For Winthrop that meant what he called the "new birth." The
existence of some equally empowering new birth experience in post-
structuralist theory has yet to be shown.

     In his application of his sermon to his contemporaries,
Winthrop makes points that retain their sharpness today. In arguing
that "under a due form of government" the good of the public "must
oversway all private respects," he demonstrates how far the
"Puritan Fathers" were from that laissez-faire politics which arose
in reaction against Puritan communalism. Winthrop's  claim that
"particular estates cannot exist in the ruin of the public" remains
as good a guide as any against a politics of greed. Even Donald
Trump will be unable to enjoy freely his millions if Manhattan and
Atlantic City are in flames.  Moreover, Winthrop warns that "if we
shall neglect the observation of these articles" and "embrace the
present world and prosecute our carnal intentions, seeking great
things for ourselves and our posterity, the Lord will surely break
out in wrath against us."  Of the many variants of what is called
the "American Dream," here is a challenge from the spiritual to the
material, from the dream of the new American Zion as a "Kingdom of
Liberty" to the vision of America as a land of opportunities for
wealth and power. As such, this challenge speaks directly to us

     To leave Winthrop to those who would cling to the old
interpretation is to leave his famous image of a city on a hill to
Ronald Reagan's interpretation of it. It is to yield America's
traditional canonical icons to a conservative reading. This is for
the proponents of a multicultural vision of the U.S. as politically
dangerous as to yield the symbolism of the American flag to the
religious right. Once one yields the established symbols of the
culture, and the canon, to any particular political
interpretations, one has yielded not just the symbols but the
culture and the country itself. Winthrop's attempt to construct a
unifying vision, as so much of his sermon, remains as an
uncompleted task today. If the construct that developed out of his
vision failed to be inclusive, that is an argument not against the
need for a unifying vision but for a better vision or a better
articulation of the vision. We still need to imagine an unam of our

    Let us not Balkanize our reading of the American experience.
Instead let us search for constructive readings of old and new and
rediscovered texts that are constructive and not divisive. As
Winthrop ended up his sermon: 

    "We must entertain each other in brotherly affection, we must
be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the
supply of other's necessities. We must uphold a familiar commerce
together in all meekness, gentleness, patience and liberality. We
must delight in each other, make other's conditions our own,
rejoice together, mourn together, labour and suffer together,
always having before our eyes our  commission and community in the
work, our community as members of the same body. So shall we keep
the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace."