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Did Sumptuary Laws in 18th Century England, Morph in Puritantism and Modern Self-Abnegation?

Posted 01-22-2023 at 12:02 PM by jbgusa
Updated 05-05-2023 at 08:09 PM by jbgusa

Many of politically liberal views are ashamed of affluence. Jimmy Carter, in his "Crisis of Confidence" speech of July 15, 1979, often called the "Malaise" speech, stated in part (link):
In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we've discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We've learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.
Jimmy Carter was not the first, as I tirelessly point out. The speech and its candor about Democratic views (for the record I am a Democrat) helped sink Mr. Carter. Reagan pointed out skillfully in the 1980 Presidential debates that Carter thought affluence a bad thing.

I came across the word "sumptuary laws" from Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson by Gordon S. Wood. The word "sumptuary" means "relating to personal expenditures and especially to prevent extravagance and luxury" and sumptuary laws means laws "designed to regulate extravagant expenditures or habits especially on moral or religious grounds." (link to source).

I did not realize that this went back to the days of John Adams and further, to Puritan times. I had thought that this philosophy of life seeped into the U.S. via books such as the 1950's classic by John Kenneth Galbraith, The Affluent Society. This foreshadowed by other authors and thinkers, such as Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck. In Travels Steinbeck rails against conspicuous consumption and other signs of affluence. One of the opening paragraphs of The American Way of Death by Jessica Mitford reads:
Originally Posted by Jessica Mitford
Much has been written of late about the affluent society in which we live, and much fun poked at some of the irrational "status symbols" set out like golden snares to trap the unwary consumer at every turn. Until recently, little has been said about the most irrational and weirdest of the lot, lying in ambush for all of us at the end of the road- -the modern American funeral.

Going back to ancient Greek time, there was a philosopher named Epicuris, who believed (link to source) that was decidedly the opposite from Puritanism, and more in line with deism:
Originally Posted by Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

First published Mon Jan 10, 2005; substantive revision Fri Jul 8, 2022
The philosophy of Epicurus (341–270 B.C.E.) was a complete and interdependent system, involving a view of the goal of human life (happiness, resulting from absence of physical pain and mental disturbance), an empiricist theory of knowledge (sensations, together with the perception of pleasure and pain, are infallible criteria), a description of nature based on atomistic materialism, and a naturalistic account of evolution, from the formation of the world to the emergence of human societies.
The incoming Christian culture decidedly did not agree, as I read in The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt. I did not think of any modern connections in thought, Indeed, I had thought that this line of thinking was recent, a response to post-War prosperity. Since to history buffs like readers of this forum I would argue that "past is prologue and this reflects in modern environmental and public health measures.

Other thoughts?
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  1. Old Comment
    There is a complex historical relationship between sumptuary laws, Puritanism, and modern self-abnegation, but it is not accurate to say that one directly morphed into the other.
    Sumptuary laws were a set of regulations that aimed to regulate people's dress and behavior, based on their social status. These laws were widespread in medieval and early modern Europe, including England in the 16th and 17th centuries. The laws were intended to reinforce social hierarchies by restricting people's consumption of certain goods and services, including clothing, food, and entertainment.
    Puritanism, on the other hand, was a religious movement that emerged in the 16th and 17th centuries, particularly in England and North America. Puritans believed in a strict interpretation of the Bible and emphasized personal piety, morality, and discipline. While some Puritans supported sumptuary laws as a means of promoting modesty and discouraging extravagance, others rejected them as an infringement on personal freedom and an unnecessary distraction from spiritual concerns.
    Modern self-abnegation, or the practice of denying oneself certain pleasures or luxuries, is a more recent phenomenon that is not directly linked to sumptuary laws or Puritanism. It may be influenced by religious or philosophical beliefs, or by personal choices related to health, environmentalism, or minimalism.
    In summary, while there are historical connections between sumptuary laws, Puritanism, and modern self-abnegation, these are distinct and complex phenomena that cannot be simplified into a direct morphing or causal relationship.
    Posted 03-08-2023 at 03:15 AM by DillonBlanch DillonBlanch is offline
  2. Old Comment
    Covid Lab Leak, WW II, Biafra - When the World Does Nothing Until It's Too Late

    Did Sumptuary Laws in 18th Century England, Morph in Puritantism and Modern Self-Abnegation

    That is my response to your post, on the forum. Please try to answer there. Thank you

    On the Podhoretz (not posted on Forum)

    Originally Posted by DillonBlanch
    Hi, I can confirm that Norman Podhoretz's book, "Why Are Jews Liberals?", explores the historical and cultural factors that may contribute to Jewish political beliefs and affiliations. It is certainly possible that some Jewish traditions and values, such as those related to charity, hospitality, and social justice, could align with liberal political principles. Additionally, the historical experiences of Jews, including discrimination and persecution, may influence their political views and loyalties. It is important to remember that political beliefs are complex and multifaceted, and are influenced by a variety of factors beyond just religion or culture.
    That is certainly true, but changing loyalties is like turning around a battleship; easier said than done.
    Posted 03-09-2023 at 10:25 AM by jbgusa jbgusa is online now

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