Mormons as Conservative New England Puritans

An irony of the furious displays of hatred by SWPLs toward Mormons over the last ten days — in the demonology of the conventional wisdom, “outside agitators” from mighty Utah hijacked the democratic process in tiny, impoverished, defenseless California and brainwashed white Californians into voting against gay marriage — is that the Democrats had had a chance to make inroads with Mormons, which they`ve now blown. Indeed, the GOP share of the Presidential vote in Utah fell by something like 9 points from 2004 to 2008. I suspect, perhaps without much evidence, that the rude handling of the Mormon paladin Mitt Romney in the GOP primaries last winter had something to do with Utah`s decline in enthusiasm for the GOP.

But, the possibility of sizable long-term Mormon defections to the Democrats, which seemed plausible on the morning of November 5th, is likely now gone for decades, now that Mormons have taken on the Emmanuel Goldstein role for SWPLs.

On GNXP, Razib has a thought-provoking post on more fundamental issues about Mormons. The comments are excellent, too. In general, Mormonism functions as a sort of Swedish welfare state without the state for church members.

Mormon America is a representative of the New England Puritan cultural tradition in “Red America.” …

When I say Mormons are “Puritan,” I`m not saying this as a figure of speech; Mormon America is to a great extent both a direct cultural and genetic descendant of New England Puritanism! The proportion of “English” ancestry in Mormon America is somewhat exaggerated by the fact that missions were sent to England and so you had direct migrants from Europe to Utah. But this can`t explain the whole of the phenomenon, American Mormonism began as a religion of Greater New England. First in upstate New York, and later in northern Ohio. Its relocation to the Midwest was problematic for a host of reasons, but the fact that they were often neighbors of people whose origins were in the South and they were quite clearly Yankees probably exacerbated tensions.

Mormonism is a very communitarian religion, not unexpected from a faith with Puritan origins. Mormon settlements in Utah were laid out like New England towns, as opposed to isolated yeoman farmsteads. Brigham Young socialized water usage to optimally allocate resources for irrigation. A tendency toward campaigns for temperance and high fertility were features of New England society. Mormons are famously fertile (relatively) and do not drink.  In Wisconsin administrators preferred Yankee settlers because they were more likely to be willing to raise money for public goods such as schools than migrants from the South. Mormons may be low-tax Republicans, but those in good standing tithe a very large proportion of their income obligately in their private life (10% from what I recall), while the church runs itself like a corporation which has economies of scale.

Unlike evangelical Christians in the South, Mormons do not acceptwith resignation that many youth may “raise hell” before settling down. Mormons do not accept the Protestant contention that salvation is through faith alone. Behavior matters. Social pathologies and the personal disorder which has been a feature of Southern cultural life since its inception are not features of Mormon America, which reflects Puritan fixation on public order as a check on private liberty.

Over the past generation Mormons and Southern Protestants have entered into a de facto alliance because of their social traditionalism. The recent controversy over Proposition 8 in California will likely result in even more esteem for the Mormon church from structurally suspicious evangelicals (they do not believe Mormons are Christian, and resent that they claim that they are Christian). In other ways Mormons have come to identify themselves with conservative Protestant America, which to a great extent means Southern America. There are data which show that while 70% of Brigham Young University students rejected Creationism in 1930, 70% now accept it. I believe this is due to cultural influence from evangelical Protestantism, with whom Mormons are now politically allied.