Tag Archives: Massachusetts

Deep culture

The New England Watch and Ward Society (founded as the New England Society for the Suppression of Vice) was a Boston, Massachusetts organization involved in the censorship of books and the performing arts from the late 19th century to the middle of the 20th century. After the 1920s, its emphasis changed to combating the spread of gambling. In 1957 the organization’s name was changed to the New England Citizens Crime Commission, and in 1967 it became the Massachusetts Council on Crime and Correction. In 1975 it was merged with another organization to form Community Resources for Justice, a group that promotes prison reform and rights for ex-convicts.

A seventeenth-century one-party state

Elegant and urbane, [Perry] Miller’s works successfully explained the history of Puritan Massachusetts by evoking a “New England Mind” culled from a narrow range of remarkably abstruse and knotty theological treatises. Although subsequent scholarship has refuted many of the details (and even some of the essentials) of Miller’s vision, his basic strategy of explicating the behavior of the Bay Puritans in terms of their theological beliefs and carefully formulated doctrines has been more than vindicated by its dominant role in the literature of Puritan studies. As a social historian with pronounced naturalistic inclinations, I was deeply troubled by this whole idealist mode of explanation. Yet there was no denying its success. I became obsessed with trying to explain why this strategy was so fruitful in interpreting the saga of New England Puritanism. In general terms, I found myself raising the old Cartesian question of interaction to the historical plane, namely, how did the ethereal elements of the world of ideas and mentalities actually impact the material world of historical events? More specifically, what were the social and political features of early Massachusetts history that gave technical theological doctrines such powerful causal efficacy?

The most plausible answer to my question came from David Hall’s and Micahel Walzer’s studies of the Puritan ministry. Sophisticated theological doctrines shaped the history of massachusetts because the educated divines who studied and formulated these doctrines had a preponderant influence over the colony’s social and political life. This answer raised even more questions. How could an educated elite of ministers (and magistrates, as I learned from Timothy Breen) hold such dominant power in a fledgling colonial settlement? Granted the deference normally accorded a university degree, these educated leaders lacked the large-scale property interests normally associated with a ruling stratum. Wht were the institutional arrangements and practices that facilitated this remarkable empowerment? Finally, why did this elite choose to use their power to impose an order on Massachusetts derived from academic theology? What did it mean that the Bay Colony was patterned after a high cultural theory?

I sought the answers to these questions in the sociology of intellectuals. Two works in particular — Alvin Gouldner’s three-volume Dark Side of the Dialectic and George Konrad and Ivan Szelenyi’s The Intellectuals on the Road to Class Power — confirmed my most unsettling hunches. Professional intellectuals and intelligentsia comprised a collective interest. They were the great unexamined class in modern political history, whose will to power occasionally took the form of revolutionary ideological politics. I had a greater appreciation for Michael Walzer’s claim that the Puritan divines were the precursors of the Jacobins and Bolsheviks. This realization undermined my whole conception of the class struggles that underlay modern ideological politics. This realization undermined my whole conception of the class struggles that underlay modern ideological politics. It also failed to explain the different role and status of the Puritan educated elite in Massachusetts and England. Although the clergy was undoubtedly a critical element in the English Puritan movement, I remained convinced with Christopher Hill that its ultimate result was a bourgeois revolution that, in the last instance, served the interests of the landed gentry and urban merchants. Why did the Puritan intellectuals emerge as the dominant political group in Massachusetts while their colleagues in England were reduced to the status of ideological cheerleaders?

As I pored over the primary documents, gradually an answer began to emerge. Massachusetts differed from England in two vital respects. First, unlike their English counterparts, the Bay Puritans were not a small minority ruling over a divided society, much of which was ideologically disaffected. By excluding the ungodly, the founders of early Massachusetts were spared the necessity of either purging or accommodating such elements. Second, the thinking class that contributed to the colony’s settlement and foundation was an extremely cohesive and class-conscious group. They constructed the institutions of church and state to facilitate the transformation of their high cultural and theoretical expertise into social and political power. They did this by creating a new form of political authority that I have called cultural domination. They legitimated their power by claiming to be the authentic bearers of the Puritan cultural and religious tradition. Through them, they insisted, the established Christian wisdom of the ages would exercise its sway over the New World Bible commonwealth. While the Puritan thinking class in England may have helped initiate the tradition of radical ideological politics, their colleagues in the Bay created a stable revolutionary regime. Puritan Massachusetts was a seventeenth-century one-party state.

Darren Staloff, Making of an American Thinking Class: Intellectuals and Intelligentsia in Puritan Massachusetts.

Cultural domination in Puritan Massachusetts

The Puritan ministers […] created a completely new form of political authority — in the Weberian sense of legitimate power — which I have called cultural domination. Cultural domination, as here conceived, requires four formal supports.

First of all, like charismatic authority, it requires recognition in the form of ritual election or some similar mechanism of oath swearing or covenant signing. Fealty is sworn to the “correct” cultural formation, in this case Puritan biblicism, and the officeholder is empowered only as the specially trained bearer and interpreter of that cultural tradition. The “laity” generally conceive of this high cultural training — whether centered around biblicism or some other intellectually legitimating principle like reason or rationality — as being endowed with an automatic efficacy that need simply be applied to any problem to generate a univocal solution. The biblical truth is eternal and immutable, claimed Thomas Hooker, “but the alteration grows, according to God’s most just judgment, and their own deservings.”

Such belief gives rise to the second formal requirement, that officially authorized bearers of the cultural tradition must always agree in their public formulations or at least not disagree. If this condition is violated, the laity may come to see the cultural tradition as an amorphous collection of expressions or principles manipulated by “mandarins” for their own aggrandizement.

The third requirement is that all public expression of the culturally able must be bestowed on these public acts, including forced attendance, titulary homage, and silent obedience. Finally, to ensure the stability of the entire system, unauthorized cultural expressions must be carefully monitored and severely suppressed when they contradict or threaten to “desacralize” the authorized formulas.

Darren Staloff, Making of an American Thinking Class: Intellectuals and Intelligentsia in Puritan Massachusetts. (source)

The University of Massachusetts

It was Banda himself who chose the name “Malawi” for the former Nyasaland; he had seen it on an old French map as the name of a “Lake Maravi” in the land of the Bororos, and liked the sound and appearance of the word as “Malawi”. On 6 July 1964, exactly six years after Banda’s return to the country, Nyasaland became the independent Commonwealth of Malawi.

Barely a month after independence, Malawi suffered the Cabinet Crisis of 1964. Banda had already been accused of autocratic tendencies. Several of Banda’s ministers presented him with proposals designed to limit his powers. Banda responded by dismissing four of the ministers. Other ministers resigned in sympathy. The dissidents fled the country.

Malawi adopted a new constitution on 6 July 1966, in which the country was declared a republic. Banda was elected the country’s first president for a five-year term; he was the only candidate. The new document granted Banda wide executive and legislative powers, and also formally made the MCP the only legal party. However, the country had already been a de facto one-party state since independence. In 1970, a congress of the MCP declared Banda its president for life. In 1971, the legislature declared Banda President for Life of Malawi as well.His official title was “His Excellency the Life President of the Republic of Malaŵi, Ngwazi Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda.” The title Ngwazi means “chief of chiefs” (more literally, “great lion”, or, some would say, “conqueror”) in Chicheŵa.

Banda was mostly viewed externally as a benign, albeit eccentric, leader, an image fostered by his English-style three-piece suits, matching handkerchiefs, walking stick and fly-whisk. He also spoke no Chichewa, and relied on a translator, John Msonthi. In June 1967, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Massachusetts with the encomium ” … pediatrician to his infant nation”.

Within Malawi, views on him ranged from cult-like devotion to fear. He portrayed himself as a caring headmaster to his people. However, this was a mask for a government that was rigidly authoritarian even by African standards of the time. Banda himself bluntly summed up his approach to ruling the country by saying, “Everything is my business. Everything. Anything I say is law…literally law.”

Although the constitution guaranteed civil rights and liberties, they meant almost nothing in practice, and Malawi was essentially a police state. Mail was opened and often edited. Telephones were tapped, and calls were known to be cut off if anyone said a critical word about the government. Overt opposition was not tolerated. Banda actively encouraged the people to report those who criticized him, even if they were relatives. Opponents were often arrested, exiled (like Kanyama Chiume) or died suspiciously (like Dick Matenje or Dr. Attati Mpakati).