I am intrigued by the constant literary allusions I keep finding concerning the puritanical basis of much contemporary Western European culture and civilization, with especial reference to the Protestant Anglo-Saxon strain of Western-derived social organization in particular. Richard Posner, a law professor at the University of Chicago, has written a fascinating book called Sex and Reason. The central thesis of the book gravitates around the subject of how the modern conceptualization of human sexuality can be fully integrated within both a jurisprudential and economic framework. However, Posner also manages to meticulously explore why many of the societies of the ancient past, such as Greece and Rome, as well as many existing Third World and Catholic Mediterranean societies, that happen to be very “machista” in both social atmosphere and tone, tend to be much more liberal towards human sexual expression than either their corresponding Western European complement in general or their Anglo-Saxon equivalent in particular. Mr Posner’s understanding of the rigid nature of the prevailing Calvinist morality that undergirds the fundamental structure of the contemporary social institutions of the Anglo-Saxon world rests on a distinction he draws between companionate and noncompanionate marriage. He defines companionate marriage as being a genuine partnership between husband and wife supposedly based on mutual love and respect, with both spouses expected to participate equally in the daily operation of the household economy. It is chiefly distinguished from noncompanionate marriage by the fact that male-female relations are no longer exclusively organized around the male need for sexual release or the assurance of paternity and patrilineal inheritance. In his book, Posner writes:
Companionate marriage fosters puritanical attitudes generally, so we should not be surprised by the puritanical strain in the Anglo-American sexual culture. A husband’s adultery becomes for the first time offensive , because it undermines love and trust and reduces the amount of time that he spends with his wife, which are elements of companionate but not of noncompanionate marriage. The patronizing of prostitutes by married men is a form of adultery, and so also becomes offensive. Moreover, as a male-female relationship signally lacking in love and trust – a relationship characterized, indeed, by the impersonality of the spot market – prostitution is incongruous in a society that has turned its back on the businesslike model of noncompanionate marriage. But because prostitution is a substitute for forms of extramarital sex that are more threatening to companionate marriage, and thus is a complement to as well as a substitute for such marriage, the effect of a social commitment to companionate marriage is not to condemn outright but to problematize what in a society of noncompanionate marriage would be an unproblematic institution. (158)
Posner generally attributes the puritanical undercurrents of modern Anglo-Saxon culture to the rise of companionate marriage during the sixteenth century. This is brought about through the advent of a nascent Western capitalism and the English version of the Lutheran Reformation. It stands in sharp bas-relief to the more traditional noncompanionate forms of marriage which had previously dominated all of the societies of classical antiquity and other non-Western cultures before the advent of European exploration and colonization. As an interesting sidebar, it seems that wherever the shadow of the Pax Britannia fell, so fell the rigidly puritanical values it brought with it. Consistent with this, many previous scholars and ethnographers once argued that the culture of the Indian sub-continent was positively licentious. As a matter of fact, pre-Mughal Indian culture was characterized by having a highly sexualized body of erotic literature (such as the Kama Sutra) and many of its most sacred temple complexes were decorated in a rich pornographic imagery. After the eighteenth century introduction of the British Raj, the East India Company, and the legions of evangelizing Christian missionaries who came trailing behind from the rear, the Indians became even more fanatically puritanical than the traditionally more socially rigid Englishman.
Maybe we should also be looking at the notion of the Protestant Work Ethic developed by German sociologist Max Weber. It is evident that much of the socially conservative, morally puritanical underpinnings of Anglo-American civilization (the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand) come from the rigid Calvinist morality preached by the first English pilgrims settling the New World. The reformer John Calvin, the theological idol of the first Puritans, did stress the value of hard work and the full completion of those religious tasks mandated by God as a means of determining who ultimately numbered amongst “the predestined Elect.” Additionally, the only way any of the believers could be certain of his salvation was on the basis of how much wealth he had accumulated throughout an entire lifetime, eventually culminating in the “time is money” mantra of modern Western capitalism (secularized Calvinist morality). Thus, those who were either financially impoverished or deviated from the average code of conduct prescribed by Calvin and personally exemplified by many a Puritan believer, were regarded as social outcastes condemned to an eternity of hellfire and suffering.