Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Gurstein - “On the obsolescence of "Puritanism" as an epithet.”

Gurstein, Rochelle. “On the obsolescence of "Puritanism" as an epithet.” From Fox-Genovese, Elizabeth, and Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn. Reconstructing History: The Emergence of a New Historical Society. New York: Routledge, 1999.

The term "Puritanism" was often used as an epithet by modernists such as H.L. Mencken and Margaret Sanger to criticize the attempts at censorship by Andrew Comstock and the Comstock Laws. Modernists such as Sanger celebrated the act of rebelling as a sign that they were on the forefront of positive change from traditional to modern world.

Gurstein concludes that, while freedom of speech and availability of birth control were positive outcomes, the argument has gone too far, forcing, for example, critics of pornography to demonstrate its relation to victims of sexual violence rather than arguing its negative effects on society as a whole. Thus, "Puritanism" as an epithet should be considered obsolete.

Key Terms
Modernity - Indirectly deals with modernity, and people who thought themselves modern relative to so-called-Puritans/those with Victorian values.

The Morgan Memorial "Deja Vu - You've Seen this Before"
This relates closely to Hunter's Culture Wars who deals much more broadly and in a way more focused on religion on the cultural debates of the 80s and early 90s. (Gurstein writes in the late 90s, bracketing her discussion of early 20th century debates with contemporary issues.) The essay also somewhat relates to Lears' No Place of Grace which deals generally with antimodernists; however, the individuals Lears discusses do not agonize over slipping moral values as much as the psychic crisis they are dealing with in their rapidly changing world.

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