Puritans and Scots-Irish, 3-8
America's oldest split, and how it applies today
The New England Puritans believed in what Fischer called “ordered liberty.” Ordered liberty was the notion—intuitive to many of today’s American liberals and conservatives alike—that while individuals have rights, it’s necessary for the state to put limits on them to preserve the social order. Gun control is a straightforward example: Individuals may have the right to bear arms (for the purposes of sport and self-defense, for instance), but if there were no limits on that right, so the thinking goes, America would turn into a bloodbath. To protect our right to go about our lives without getting shot, we forfeit some of our individual rights to the state, which is granted the power to regulate us for our own good (permits, background checks, wait periods, red flag laws, bans on certain kinds of guns, etc.). . .
The Scotch-Irish were militantly committed to their unconditional independence and autonomy. Unlike the Puritans, they did not view their individual rights and freedoms as privileges granted them by the state. Far from the bestower of rights, to the Scotch-Irish, governments were an invading, oppressive force, that could only encroach on one’s freedom, not give it. One’s entitlement to be left alone, to do what one wished with one’s family, property and land, was a natural right, which the Scotch-Irish were prepared to fight and die for.
The reference is to David Hackett-Fischer’s classic Albion’s Seed. We can see the conflict everywhere today. The Puritans want mask mandates. The Scotch-Irish are adamantly opposed. The Puritans think that pronouns are important. The Scotch-Irish do not. The Puritans work in the virtual world. The Scotch-Irish work in the physical world. The Puritans want green energy. The Scotch-Irish want to drill, baby, drill.
For Walter Russell Mead, in Special Providence, the Puritans were Wilsonian in foreign policy, wanting to remake the world along moral lines. The Scotch-Irish were Jacksonian, wanting to be left alone, and ready to fight if attacked. In addition to those two traditions, there were Hamiltonians, wanting a world of freedom of the seas and trade. And there were the Jeffersonians, wanting government to keep a low profile, both domestically and internationally. Mead describes American foreign policy as a fortunate blend of these four traditions. I would describe myself as 50 percent Jeffersonian, 30 percent Hamiltonian, 15 percent Jacksonian, and 5 percent Wilsonian.
I see levying economic sanctions in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a Wilsonian policy. The Jacksonians would say that it is not our fight. The Hamiltonians would wonder about the cost of wrecking the global economy with sanctions. The Jeffersonians would worry about the new powers represented by sanctions, and how those powers will be abused in the future. Given my leanings, I find the sanctions policy too Puritan. I do not go along with Twitter-mob diplomacy.
This is a really good bit of info, but I think you (and perhaps Meade) misread and mis-apply the Jeffersonian perspective. Jefferson was almost a proto-Nitzschean figure. A polymath who was wealthy beyond belief and talented at everything. It's probably better to think of him as a late 18th century Elon Musk.
He was against expansive government and foreign involvement. But he was very much for egalitarian government (vastly expanding the franchise) and an expansive active society and an "aristocracy of talent". He was in a real sense a forerunner of social activism in that he was a veritable proponent of rebellion, even for stupid causes. The is also Jefferson:
"And can history produce an instance of a rebellion so honourably conducted? I say nothing of it’s motives. They were founded in ignorance, not wickedness. God forbid we should ever be 20. years without such a rebellion. The people can not be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. We have had 13. states independant 11. years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century and a half for each state. What country before ever existed a century and half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve it’s liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two?"
In practice, his government was most noted for
1) Louisiana Purchase, a massive expansion of the US,
2) The First Barbary War, which, in a somewhat confused manner, could also be our first undeclared war, as Jefferson sent the first batch of ships with the orders to not cross the war but to basically "use judgement" in how far to respond if attacked.
3) The Embargo Act, which was a general ban on American trade with warring France and England. It's worth noting that this was both his major failure and major departure from his long career as a proponent of individual liberty. As such, to me it underscores the depth of his moralizing (individuals should do the right thing, and in this case the federal government should enforce it).
Today, Jefferson is probably most thought of as the massive hypocrite who owned a bunch of slaves (and fathered some) while writing the Declaration of Independence. If we look past the hypocrisy of his time though, it's pretty consistent. Jefferson thought it appropriate for individuals to do things that states should not.
Moving forward to our time, I don't think that this Jefferson, the author of a paean to rebellion who sought a federal ban on trade, would be troubled at all by individuals and private businesses refusing to trade with a country out of a moral belief. Rather, I think it would fit right in to his basic perception of the world that individuals should have the right to do so. When the state does compel people, it might be ok if it's the morally correct thing (as in the Embargo act).
What seems most literally Wilsonian to me about this war is the ritual shunning of Russians with no direct complicity in it because of their refusal to denounce Putin or his actions. As much as I think those Russians are wrong, it is terribly wrong also for them to be fired or sanctioned over their views. Unfortunately it is common for this to happen in war, and that is what is so literally Wilsonian: the same and worse happened to Germans, German sympathizers, and war opponents generally during WWI. So far the "and worse" has not come to pass this time, which we may take as progress-- but who knows what would happen if the US were more directly involved?