Ignominious scandal

In the time since Nathaniel Hawthorne, the amount of scandal offered in our American society has continued to rise, so to say, scandalously. Hawthorne himself kicked off a delightful scandal with a memoir of his “Custom-house” experience, that ended with his firing, and served as preface to his remarkable romance of repentance and dignity (or “Able-ism”), The Scarlet Letter. It retells events from the “witching time,” when Puritan America was inventing itself.

Witches were the original scandal. Women who were old and ugly were exposed by young, attractive girls (as they continue to be today). Mr Hawthorne’s long novella improves on the plausibility of persecution, by its extension to adulterers. By the political era of the “Custom-house,” there were many different forms of the New England ideal, in which witches (which witches?) were sought. Hawthorne, with his gentle humour, his light poetical musicality, and his literary Anglophilia, was naturally on the other side. After all, the melodious Chaucer had been able to work in a customs department without memorable scandal; but that was in an age before Whigs.

The history of Protestantism, in Europe as in white America, begins with witchcraft trials, and executions, but later it settles until these events can be falsely attributed to the Middle Ages. On the contrary, sensible mediaeval men sent only heretics to the stake. (One might praise them for their “enlightenment.”) Witches belong to another religion, which may or may not be considered a heresy, as Islam has been. But the scandal of custom agents is with us still, and will not go away, so long as we have taxes.

Today, we live in a golden age of scandal. The progressive Left, as it calls itself, can be scandalized by the most innocent things, such as off-colour jokes and male swagger. But it is fun to scandalize them, and play their tricks in reverse, e.g. by firing someone simply for being black and a woman; … and incompetent, of course, but that is hardly grounds to remove a university administrator.