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Monday, May 21, 2012  

Historical Slurs

My column for The Daily dealt with our abuse of the terms "medieval" and "puritan" as shorthand for stupidity, cruelty, and general uptightness:

We may admire Renaissance men, ancient wisdom or classical beauty, but the centuries between the fall of Rome and the rise of what we call modernity were home to nothing good in the eyes of most writers, liberal or conservative. It’s a rare point of rhetorical consensus across the political spectrum. “Puritan” has become a similar epithet. We may envy settler virtues, Yankee reserve or the genius of the Founding Fathers, but “puritanical” is only used, by both left and right, to scorn the moral views of an opponent.

The use of these bywords is an example of bipartisanship gone badly wrong. This curious historical smack talk is partly about religion. Since we think of both medieval people and Puritans as being defined by religion, it seems logical to see the religious anxieties of our own time reflected in them. But these words also illustrate how very foreign our own past has become to us, with consequences that go beyond scoring points in contemporary debates over contraception or foreign policy.

Read the whole thing.

posted by Benjamin Dueholm | 10:06 AM
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