Horace Bushnell is generally regarded as the most influential liberal Protestant personality of the nineteenth century. What remains open for debate, however, is the precise nature and impact of Bushnell's social thinking. This essay explores the relationship between theology, gender, and political economy in Bushnell's life and writings. Challenging recent "republican" interpretations of Bushnell's ministry, the essay argues that this professing social conservative actually confirmed and advanced the expansion of unregulated market capitalism in nineteenth-century America through his lifelong commentary on proper masculine identity. Put simply, Bushnell taught male parishioners and readers to prefer commerce to community in the Whiggish expectation that the two would one day align. Bushnell's gendered thought was rooted deeply in his personal relationships with women. Though calling Victorian men to greater participation in a privatized nuclear home, he refused to assign to them the expressions of true Christian virtue that he believed were the sole province of women. Bushnell's theological justification for the gendered spheres of fellow New Englanders praised female divinity while privileging male self-interest. His formulation of ideal masculinity following the Civil War was practically pagan and thus anticipated the imperial acquisitiveness of a Teddy Roosevelt and various "muscular" Christians. Bushnell thus bequeathed to future generations of religious liberals a social patriarchy at odds with Christian ethics.
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