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Shame and Guilt in Early New England
Shame and guilt in early new England

Fifty years ago Ruth Benedict made this comparison of American life, past and present:

The early Puritans who settled in the United States tried to base their entire morality on guilt, and all psychiatrists know what trouble contemporary Americans have with their consciences. But shame is an increasingly heavy burden … and guilt is less extremely felt than in earlier generations. In the United States this is interpreted as a relaxation of morals, because we do not expect shame to do the heavy work of morality. We do not harness the acute personal chagrin which accompanies shame to our fundamental system of morality.1

Benedict was, of course, a distinguished anthropologist, not a historian. And ...

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