The Puritanism That DarernNot Speak Its Namernby Philip Jenkinsrnl l r K ^rn^ 5 * 1 , . * ? ^ . – ^rnEvery society places some kind of restriction on personalrnconduct, and limitations are usually most visible in thernareas of sexual behavior and the use or abuse of particularrnfoods or intoxicants. Restrictions might be formal and legal,rnperhaps enforced by a specialized morality police or vice squad,rnor there may be informal social sanctions resulting in stigma orrnderision for the individual foolhardy enough to indulge his vicernin a public context. Often, the informal sanctions serve as anrnessential preliminary for a codified legal prohibition, eitherrnyears or decades afterward.rnSome societies change slowly with regard to what is consideredrnmorally and legally tolerable, while others are subject to farrnswifter developments in the direction of either more or less permissiveness.rnAmerica in particular is vulnerable to quite suddenrnand thoroughgoing reversals that almost amount to revolutionsrnin public morality, and future historians will certainlyrnregard Neo-Puritanism as a hallmark of the times in which wernare presently living. However, they will also be struck by thernparadox of this particular outbreak in public righteousness,rnwhich differs from its predecessors in its conspicuous lack ofrnovertly moral or religious foundation—which is not to say thatrnthe underlying agendas may not reflect religious assumptions.rnIt is not self-evident that society or the state has either a rightrnor an obligation to interfere in an individual’s right to do as hernchooses, to go to hell in his own way. When the rhetoric usedrnto justify such interference is as spurious as that currently employed,rnthe presumption has to be that now more than ever, thernbalance of proof is firmly on those who would restrict or prohibit,rnrather than on those who merely wish to live their ownrnlives. Is some kind of inverse-proportion law at work here, thatrnPhilip Jenkins is a professor of religious studies and history atrnPennsylvania State University.rnmorals legislation increases as public morality decreases?rnSince the early 1980’s, efforts to regulate personal behaviorrnhave grown apace in the United States, and changes are evidentrnless in specific legislation than in the general social atmospherernand the imagery of the mass media. The change mightrnbe illustrated by a hypothetical time-traveler to our own daysrnfrom the I940’s, the time of the great war won by a populationrnthat habitually used and over-used alcohol, nicotine, caffeine,rnand benzedrine. In our own world, the traveler would watchrnfilms and dramatic presentations in which characters are allowedrnto smoke only to indicate their moral turpitude, inrnwhich anything more than the lightest alcohol use is a clearrnomen that the plot will shortly address issues of addiction andrnrecovery, and in which a friendly male hand laid upon thernshoulder of a female colleague probably betokens a themernof rape, abuse, and harassment. “Flirting,” “social drinking,”rnand “light smoking” have all become euphemisms for sinisterrnforms of exploitation or self-destruction. All have gone the wayrnof the “funny drunk,” who used to be a stock comic character,rnrather like the boss with his secretary on his lap: imagine eitherrnimage as a source of humor today. So far, our visitor would recognizernthe areas of concern and sensitivity, though not the reasonsrnwhy they have become so explosively contentious. Morerndifficult altogether would be the novel concern over food andrnthe way in which cholesterol and saturated fats have each inrntheir way become prominent on the roster of deadly sins.rnOn the news programs, the visitor from the past wouldrnlearn about the networks of community groups that disseminaternthe propaganda of the New Puritanism through schoolsrnand colleges, seeking to keep all under the age of 21 free of anyrnknowledge or experience of alcoholic drink, regardless of thernlikelihood that such ignorance is probably the best means ofrninsuring serious overindulgence in later life. He would learnrn20/CHRONICLESrnrnrn