The tradition that became liberalism, which claims to have promoted meritocracy and individual agency, was, in both evangelical origin and in a one-hundred-fifty-year tradition thereafter, unremittingly hostile to the claims of human merit and agency upon God. This hostility is considered from three discursive angles: legislation, poetry, and pastoralia. Between at least 1571 and 1660 the English state legislated against confidence in the salutary value of humanly produced virtue. Early modern elegiac poetry evinces the attempted dissolution of evangelical selfhood and the inevitable twin of that desired dissolution: the unraveling of discursive confidence that must accompany, and perhaps produces, the desire for self-dissolution. Elegiac writing unwrites itself. The article then looks behind the literature to the pastoral incitation to crush both selfhood and the self's habitual, agential understandings of language.

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