From Peter Lawler:
There were the original settlements — one in Virginia and one in New England. And ever since that time, you’ve had two conflicting impulses in American political life. The Virginians are all about liberty, as in Mr. Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. And the New Englanders — the Puritans or the Pilgrims — are all about participatory civic equality through the interdependence of the spirit of religion and the spirit of liberty. America works best when the Americans harmonize by curbing the excesses of both Virginia and New England. That’s what the compromise that was the completed Declaration of Independence, as opposed to Jefferson’s rough draft Yo, did. You see that in Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which dedicated our country to the proposition that all men are created equal. And you see that in the rhetoric of Martin Luther King Jr. at his best. The Puritans, in general, tend to be too moralistically intrusive, to turn every sin into a crime. They’re an important source of our history of taking sexual morality very seriously, and for believing that American liberty depends on Americans sharing a common religious morality. They’re also the source of some of our most ridiculous and meddlesome legislation, such as prohibition (and, in some indirect way, Mayor Bloomberg’s legal assault on our liberty to drink giant sodas in movie theaters). On the other hand, the individualism of American liberty sometimes morphs in the direction of cold indifference to the struggles of our fellow citizens. Mr. Jefferson spoke nobly against the injustice of slavery as a violation of our rights as free men and women. But he wasn’t ever moved to do much about it. And today members of our “cognitive elite” are amazingly out of touch with those not of their kind, living in a complacent bubble. Puritans, you might say, care too much about what other people are doing, and they say “there ought to be a law” way too to often. But they’re free from the corresponding excess in the other direction: the cruelty of indifference.