This essay focuses on chapter 30 of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, one of the novel’s shortest chapters. It contrasts bigness, destiny and Captain Ahab’s authoritarian abuse of power with smallness, free will, and digression, the democratic virtues portrayed in Moby-Dick mostly through their absence but also, in chapter 30, by their presence in the form of a pipe that Captain Ahab smokes on deck and is then compelled to toss overboard so that The Pequod might complete is star-crossed and disastrously foreshadowed voyage.
Evangelical religion and evangelical democracy reinforced each other in nineteenth-century America. The spread of evangelical Christianity and democracy across a continent justified the wars against Native Americans and Mexico, and provided the moral framework for the fight against slavery which many Americans came to see as incompatible with Protestant Christianity and democratic government. The problem with mixing religion and politics in this manner was that political issues became moral issues and, therefore, more difficult to deal with in the political process.