Gelernter Discusses Winthrop

In the last issue of Commentary, David Gelernter’s “Americanism and Its Enemies” discusses the influence of religious beliefs, especially the narratives of the Old Testament, on the founders and how this thread of thought is important to our understanding of what is the essential American nature, especially in our relations to other countries. He emphasizes the role of Exodus in self-definitions – both of the Puritans and the founders. His argument has much in common with that of Michael Novak’s On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding. Both note the inclusive nature of the vision and argue for a greater emphasis upon this tradition if we are to truly understand both the founders and ourselves. Gelernter especially appreciates the symbolic importance of Thanksgiving. He argues that Winthrop’s speech, “A Modell of Christian Charity” is the first and defining of American documents and, like Winthrop’s biographer Francis Bremer, puts Winthrop among the “founders.” . The relation between the passage emphasizing “choosing life,” our founding, and Bush’s vision for the mid-east was discussed in an earlier post.