Occupy Wall Street and Puritanism


Puritanism developed in England at the end of the 16th century and is a religious movement. The faith to be God’s chosen people and the assignment to improve the world strictly according to the bible are the basic principles of the Puritans and they are conserved until today. The Puritans believed that you can achieve everything you want like success, money and happiness if you work hard and are industrious, if you are punctual and have perseverance. Asceticism and frugality are important. Alcohol, gambling, betting and speculating at the stock exchange are considered as vice. The motivation to have success and money is not to better their life but the wish to be agreeable to God. In the 17th century Puritans were persecuted in England and in consequence many of them emigrated to New England. Because Puritanism was the only religious orientation in the New World it became very important and the Puritans didn’t tolerate other religions.

Occupy Wall Street

At the 17th September 2011 a group of about 1000 people in New York began, after a longer lead time, to protest against the power of the banks, against them speculating with money and against social inequality. They built a camp in the Zuccotti Park (Manhattan) and reached a great interest of the media. The movement spread quickly all over the world. During the months of protests there were several problems with the police.

Some demands of the supporters are:

  • No discrimination due to skin colour, sex and sexual orientation!
  • Education for everyone!
  • No control of the press!
  • No corruption!
  • More state control of the banks!
  • Better handling with taxpayers’ money!

Occupy Wall Street – A modernized and worldly form of Puritanism?

There are some similarities of this movement and Puritanism but there also are a lot of differences.

For both groups moralities like tolerance, honesty and integrity are important. They censure corruption and speculation with money at the stock exchange.

But there are many differences:

  • The Puritans try to design their life for God. Everybody for himself. Everybody is responsible for his success, happiness and rights. The followers of the Occupy-Movement try to create a better society with less social inequality and try to show that the concentration of power and money at the banks causes this inequality.
  • They have a totally different idea of the duty of the state. The Puritans want the state to keep out of economy. “Every man is the architect of his own fortune”.
    Occupy Wall Street wants to see the banks under the control of the state. They want the state to intervene and limit the power of the banks. They demand a responsible and controlled handling with the money of the taxpayers, for example no bonuses for directors.
  • For Puritans men are sinners. Only through hard work and asceticism they can make their way to God.
  • People in the camp in Zuccetti Park don’t think about such things, they just want social equality and a good life for all people with or without God.

To my mind the comparison of Puritanism and the movement of Occupy Wall Street is far-fetched. Even when we don’t speak about God the differences predominate the similarities. The followers of OWS are modern people who want to live in a modern world, who have humanistic goals and fight for more equality in the world. Sure, many of them have a television at home and a car in the garage, maybe they want to play in the lottery and go betting at a horse-race at the weekend.This has nothing in common with the ascetic and strict Puritanism.