When Puritan settlers arrived in America, it was with a renewed sense of hope and optimism. The template of a New World allowed the Puritan settlers to more autonomously determine the right way to live, the "City upon a Hill" of John Winthrop. The notion and opportunity to create a new, idealized society based on Puritan ideals and beliefs. However, the Puritan mind also fully understood that such an undertaking would be fraught with peril, not only in terms of physical hardship but also in the spiritual temptation that such opportunity could generate. Puritan ideology dictated that the individual must concern himself with secular matters, even though the world was filled with evil and corruption. Herein lies the "Puritan Dilemma" Winthrop tied to address. This notion, along with many other concepts of ideology in varying forms, still are at work in modern American society.
In Puritan John Winthrop, we see clearly a man concerned with striking a balance between individual spiritual concerns and a societal obligation, a notion still integral to American politics and society today. While the framers of the Constitution ideologically believed in the separation of church and state, Christianity still manifests itself in the fabric of our supposedly secular society. From the "In God We Trust" imprint on our currency to the Pledge of Allegiance, where we avow that we are "One nation under God", our Judeo-Christian roots have taken hold in almost subliminal ways. Likewise, our foreign policy has long reflected a Puritan sensibility. While we adhered to a policy of isolationism and non-involvement in the form of the Monroe Doctrine, we have conversely also been willing to intervene to protect the Civil or ideological rights of people who are being oppressed. A good example of this philosophy is our current involvement in Iraq. While the war was initiated under the pretense that it was to preserve our security, it has been perpetuated to give the Iraqi people access to our democratic ideals. We see clearly in our most recent military concept the Puritan Dilemma of Winthrop; we had to preserve our national security, yet we also want to help the spread of our ideals. Or, as Morgan says, "Winthrop saw what few men in any age have learned, that the foreign policy of even the holiest state must support one evil in order to suppress a worse One."
Winthrop's ideology also recurs in modern society in terms of the individual. His belief that an individual must involve himself in his society still reverberates today:
- Society has moved in the intervening years from an individualized, agrarian economy to the most intricate capitalist society in the world.
- The notion of the Elect being apparent by the blessing God bestows on them on earth is still reverberating in our society today.
These two Puritan tenets show us the origin of the American Dream. Puritans believed that adherence to their beliefs would manifest themselves in prosperity on earth. Correlatively, we are told as children that if we work hard and live right that we can become successful in America. It seems clear that Puritan ideology is a clear progenitor to this notion; America simply replaces God in the equation.
All of this makes it clear that many of the ideological strains of Puritan belief still inform contemporary American society. However, as Morgan points out in the introduction, our modern perspective on the Puritans makes us uncomfortable acknowledging this. We have a hard time accepting the ethical and moral legacy they gave to this country. The modern mind has a hard time accepting a relationship with a group that seems too uptight and rigid to offer any philosophical insight to a contemporary life. However, upon closer examination, we see the concerns they had were the same as our own; Winthrop and the Puritans simply sought to define their place in the world and how that informed the way the should live their lives.