Hutchinson, homeschooling, Harvard, and heresy

AnneHutchinson2Last month, I mentioned America’s first individualist anarchist, Anne Hutchinson. She’s a hero of mine, for obvious reasons, despite my not sharing her religious beliefs.

One of the several reasons I’m enjoying Sarah Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates is that I’m learning more about Hutchinson. For example, I love this detail:

The daughter of a persecuted Puritan minister who helped her cobble together the best education possible for female children (who were denied university attendance), Anne Hutchinson is one of the brainiest English-women of the seventeenth century. Yet she is no stranger to the goopy fluids of female biology. Besides birthing her own litter [of 15 children, by the way!], she works as a midwife, delivering babies and no doubt serving the brew imbibed before and after labor, the wonderfully named “groaning beer.”

Here’s my favorite detail within the detail:

By aiding Boston’s new mothers, Hutchinson quickly befriends a lot of women. She starts leading the women in a regular Bible study in her large, fine home.

These Bible-study group became the seedbed of antinomianism: a new religious individualism (and heresy) within New England Puritanism. It also became the basis of political and philosophical individualism more generally, thus Murray Rothbard’s description of Hutchinson in Conceived in Liberty as America’s first individualist anarchist.

She preached the necessity for an inner light to come to any individual chosen as one of God’s elect. Such talk marked her as far more of a religious individualist than the Massachusetts leaders. Salvation came only through a covenant of grace emerging from the inner light, and was not at all revealed in a covenant of works, the essence of which is good works on earth. This meant that the fanatically ascetic sanctification imposed by the Puritans was no evidence whatever that one was of the elect. Furthermore, Anne Hutchinson made it plain that she regarded many Puritan leaders as not of the elect.

The Massachusetts powers that be understood that Hutchinson’s Bible-study sessions were central to the dissemination of her religious and political heresies and so, as Sarah Vowell relates,

In September of 1637 … [t]hey resolve, writes Winthrop, “That though women might meet (some few together) to pray and edify one another,” assemblies of “sixty or more” as were then taking place in Boston at the home of “one woman” who had had the gall to go about “resolving questions of doctrine and expounding scripture” are not allowed.

"The Bill of Rights," Vowell comments, "with its allowance for freedom of assembly, is a long way off."

Rothbard again:

Winthrop then called for a vote that Mrs. Hutchinson “is unfit for our society — and … that she shall be banished out of our liberties and imprisoned till she be sent away.…” Only two members voted against her banishment.

When Winthrop pronounced the sentence of banishment Anne Hutchinson courageously asked: “I desire to know wherefore I am banished.”

Winthrop refused to answer: “Say no more. The court knows wherefore, and is satisfied.” It was apparently enough for the court to be satisfied; no justification before the bar of reason, natural justice, or the public was deemed necessary.

The Wordy ShipmatesAs good as Rothbard’s account is, I find Vowell’s even better:

“What law have I broken?” she asks.

“Why the fifth commandment,” answers Winthrop. This is of course the favorite commandment of all ministers and magistrates, the one demanding a person should honor his father and mother, which for Winthrop includes all authority figures. Wheelwright’s sermon was an affront to the fathers of the church and the fathers of the commonwealth.…

When she presses him once again to point out the Scripture that contradicts the Scripture she has quoted calling for elders to mentor younger women, Winthrop, flustered, barks, “We are your judges, and not you ours.”

Winthrop really is no match for Hutchinson’s logic. Most of his answers to her challenges boil down to “Because I said so.”

In fact, before this trial started, the colony’s elders had agreed to raise four hundred pounds to build a college but hadn’t gotten around to doing anything about it. After Hutchinson’s trial, they got cracking immediately and founded Harvard so as to prevent random, home-schooled female maniacs from outwitting magistrates in open court and seducing colonists, even male ones, into strange opinions. Thanks in part to Hutchinson, the young men of Massachusetts will receive a proper, orthodox theological education grounded in the rigorous study of Hebrew and Greek.

The US attorney general recently announced that homeschooling is not a fundamental right, thereby denying asylum to a German family that had fled their home country, where the 1938 Nazi-introduced ban on home education is still enforced. The American homeschooling community is understandably outraged at the current presidential administration’s position on the question, but we shouldn’t be at all surprised. Why would any government willingly relinquish the authority to indoctrinate? The need to prevent random, homeschooled maniacs from outwitting political leaders and seducing citizens into strange opinions — such as individual freedom and responsibility — is essential to the health of the state. And if we question too vociferously the logic of their decision, they may well reply in essence that they are our judges and not we theirs.


3 Responses to Hutchinson, homeschooling, Harvard, and heresy

  1. Scott Lahti says:

    The authorities are easily enough, able, it seems, to enforce compulsory-schooling laws – but how on earth could any non-totalitarian state ever enforce a law against homeschooling undertaken as a supplement, accompaniment, or corrective to the “education” by daylight of its tax-funded schools? Have Princess rat Daddy out for explaining over mashed potatoes what government has done to our money? Bug the family station wagon (sorry, grew up, or at least older, in the 1970s) in case Junior decides to read aloud from the inscribed copy of No Treason he found in great-great-Grandma’s steamer trunk? De-magnetize by drone those old VHS copies of Free to Choose you picked up at the thrift shop? In any family that cares even marginally enough about its younger charges not to entrust the fertilization of their growing minds 100% to licensed professionals, it would seem that homeschooling in the only real sense that matters cannot do other than to go about its rounds constantly, whatever happens in the formal classrooms of the state, or, even among homeschoolers, in formal lessons proper. In fact, though 51 and somewhat long since degreed, I’m homeschooling myself as I type this …

    Speaking of Anne Hutchinson-style heresy, I hope that the homeschoolers of 2413 teach their children well about today’s “heretics” with the “audacity” to teach their kids to be passionately skeptical of all who ritually invoke such weasel words as “diversity”, “tolerance”, “multiculturalism”, “gender”, “empowerment”, and who I may otherwise hold forever responsible for our bland conformist official culture of compulsory niceness on characteristic display in such precincts as, e.g., the CNN feed in the airport terminal, USA today in your hotel room, the in-flight magazine, TIME and Sports Illustrated and NBC Sports, the Human Resource department and the corporate-training video riddled with Newspeak, the Craigslist rental ad demanding you be “gay friendly” (assuming you don’t skip to the next listing), whatever sort of fascist spook in the head that turns out to be … those of us who, blanketed by such fogs of unthought, have long since come to think of ourselves as moral exiles in this society have yet to issue our own folk heroes of Hutchinson amplitude, and, no I’m not about to accept those suggested me by the Limbaugh/Coulter/FNC/Malkin/Levin/WSJ demo, source of presumed cures every bit as vile as the disease they in the first and final aspect so resemble.

  2. Scott Lahti says:


    “Quit talking bad about women, homosexuals, and preferred social minorities, and you can say anything you want about people who haven’t been to college, manual workers, country people, peasants, religious people, unmodern people, old people, and so on. Tolerant and multicultural persons hyphenate their land of origin and their nationality. I, for example, am a Kentuckian-American.” – Wendell Berry, “The Joy of Sales Resistance”.

    “[Two tenets of the practical joker Heykal] Number one is that the world we live in is governed by the most revolting bunch of crooks ever to defile the soil of this planet … Number two is that you must never take them seriously, which is exactly what they want. – Albert Cossery, The Jokers (Fr., La Violence et la Dérision)

    “It irritates me as if I had been spoken of contemptuously myself, to hear people called ‘common’ or ‘ordinary,’ or to see that deadly and delicate feeling for social gradations crop out, which so many of our upper-middle-class women seem to have. It makes me wince to hear a man spoken of as a failure, or to have it said of one that he ‘doesn’t amount to much.’ Instantly I want to know why he has not succeeded, and what have been the forces that have been working against him. He is the truly interesting person, and yet how little our eager-pressing, onrushing world cares about such aspects of life, and how hideously though unconsciously cruel and heartless it usually is.” – Randolph Bourne, “The Handicapped”.

  3. Scott Lahti says:

    Essayist John Jay Chapman (1862-1933), to the Class of 1900, Hobart College:

    “When I was asked to make this address I wondered what I had to say to you boys who are graduating. And I think I have one thing to say. If you wish to be useful, never take a course that will silence you. Refuse to learn anything that implies collusion, whether it be a clerkship or a curacy, a legal fee or a post in a university. Retain the power of speech no matter what other power you may lose. If you can take this course, and in so far as you take it, you will bless this country. In so far as you depart from this course you become dampers, mutes, and hooded executioners.

    “As a practical matter a mere failure to speak out upon occasions where no opinion is asked or expected of you, and when the utterance of uncalled-for suspicion is odious, will often hold you to a concurrence in palpable iniquity. Try to raise a voice that will be heard from here to Albany and watch what comes forward to shut off the sound. It is not a German sergeant, nor a Russian officer of the precinct. It is a note from a friend of your father’s offering you a place in his office. This is your warning from the secret police. Why, if any of you young gentleman have a mind to make himself heard a mile off, you must make a bonfire of your reputations and a close enemy of most men who would wish you well.

    “I have seen ten years of young men who rush out into the world with their messages, and when they find how deaf the world is, they think they must save their strength and wait. They believe that after a while they will be able to get up on some little eminence from which they can make themselves heard. ‘In a few years,’ reasons one of them, ‘I shall have gained a standing, and then I will use my powers for good.’ Next year comes and with it a strange discovery. The man has lost his horizon of thought. His ambition has evaporated; he has nothing to say. I give you this one rule of conduct. Do what you will, but speak out always. Be shunned, be hated, be ridiculed, be scared, be in doubt, but don’t be gagged. The time of trial is always. Now is the appointed time.”

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