While E. J. Dionne does a great job of presenting to the reader the ebb and flow of communitarian historical analysis of the 20th Century in Our Divided Political Heart, he does himself a disservice in not going further back. No mention of our Puritan heritage is complete without understanding that the tensions between individual and community addressed by the Propounding Pops were very much the same tensions faced in the British Interregnum.
Michael Winship, in “Algernon Sidney’s Calvinist Republicanism,” Journal of British Studies (2010), ably argues that Algernon Sidney was very much a devoted Calvinist. And, of course, it is widely recognized that Sidney was held in high regard by the scriveners of our American history, as Chris Baker’s historical note argues.
So what? We need to remember that all those folk who admired Sidney were also well studied in the political events that wrought his demise. While Sidney promoted the Godly republic, an enterprise in no small part brought to these shores not only by the Puritans, but by the emissaries that Cromwell himself sent to America, The Founding Fathers eschewed the religious nature of Sidney’s vision, and built a wall through it. They essentially made the same Hobbesian choice their English forbears had done, choosing what amounted to an enlightened modified monarchy over the Commonwealth.
For all intents and purposes the United States is founded on the enlightened rejection of those reforming saints, and one supposes they still haunt the United States today, as they have done, provoking the occasional religious extravaganzas to which the US is prone. Dionne’s only misstep is ignore the fact that Algernon Sidney is alive and well, and he is committed to the belief that community health stems only from the deep and abiding faith in Calvinism.