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In this brilliant study the great minds of the American 19th century are finally brought to light in a readable text that places them in the context of America. This book traces the story of America's thinkers in the post-reovlutionary era and the world they struggled with. Of particular importance were individual rights, slavery, the raod to disunion, the uniqueness of America, the American West, the Republic as ideal, women and rights for slaves, utopia, religion's role in the New World and Empire.

This beautifully written book weaves together the personalities and thoughts of the period with the fabric of history, from the Jeffersonian times to the era of Jackson, the rise of Capitalism and the Civil War. Beggining with Paine and, as the title suggests, ending with Pragmatism, this is more than a history of thought, it is also a history of America and the dreams of its people. This book shows how European influence on American thought and the roots of some of the ideas of the thinkers and shows how they imagined a New World, a New history in America that would be uniquely American.

A wonderful history and exploration of an important theme,

Seth J. Frantzman
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on May 1, 2009
Beyond the Revolution: A History of American Thought from Paine to Pragmatism
Beyond the Revolution is a valedictory from an emeritus professor who taught American studies at Yale and the University of Texas for 50 years, so as one might expect the author definitely knows his subject and has lots of interesting things to say. His coverage of American intellectual history for the period of the Revolutionary War through the Civil War is alive with rich interpretation. A final chapter touches on the next decade or two, but in very much a whirlwind fashion, not in the same depth as the preceding material.

Goetzmann addresses nearly all of the big topics and major figures in American thought in this period; just when one suspects that he may have missed something or someone very important he gets to it (with a few notable exceptions). His chief theme is that the American vision was a quest for the "climatic model of world civilization," incorporating the best ideas, life styles, and spiritual values, remaining free and open to the new. He stresses cosmopolitanism and how American intellectuals drew upon European ideas and culture. The American intellectuals were unable to foster cultural cohesion, however, as ultimately demonstrated by the Civil War.

One of the strengths of this book is how it demonstrates the influence of Scottish Common Sense in America. This philosophy opposed Berkleyan idealism with mind-and-matter dualism, stressed the scientific method and empiricism, and was sympathetic to a laissez-faire political economy. It was based on a "faculty psychology" that held that the mind is composed of innate faculties, such as reason, the moral sense, taste, and the intuitive ability to recognize beauty. Goetzmann does a convincing job of attaching many strands of American thought to this foundation, and where there are obvious exceptions, such as Transcendentalism in New England or Romanticism in the South, he explains them as a revolt against the Enlightenment and Common Sense materialism.

Goetzmann is good also at showing how certain key ideas were disseminated. The communication vessels included single individuals in positions of influence (such as John Witherspoon, president of Princeton), schoolbooks and public education (McGuffey's readers), the growing number of colleges (46 were founded in Ohio alone between 1790 and 1860), and popular literature, for example.

The intellectual historian often faces the task of sorting out what was popular at the time from what turned out to be enduring. Goetzmann is sensitive to this challenge. He reminds us, for instance, that Moby Dick was a failure in its day, only to be rediscovered in 1920, whereas Mrs. Southworth's Ishmael (1876) sold two million copies.

There is one glaring deficiency in Beyond the Revolution, however. Goetzmann does not give evangelical Protestantism its due. He barely mentions the Second Great Awakening or its key figures, such as Charles G. Finney. From reading this book one would never know that by the 1840s perhaps as many as 80 percent of Americans were church members, whereas as few as 10 percent were earlier in the aftermath of the Revolution. "What was, in 1787, a nation of nominal Christians -- its public culture shaped more by Enlightenment rationalism than by Protestant piety -- had turned, by the mid-1840s, into the most devoted evangelical Protestant nation on earth," the historian Sean Wilentz has declared. Another scholar, Mark Noll, has written about a "grand synthesis" following the American Revolution, wherein republicanism, Common Sense philosophy, and Protestant evangelism came to prevail.

There are a few other surprising lacunae. For example, one might think that no art form other than music could best illustrate American eclecticism in this period (or any other), but Goetzmann leaves it out. Nor does he offer any substance on the ideas pro or con behind the big public transportation endeavors, the canals and railroads that so characterized this period.

A more minor irritation is that there are no footnotes, only a bibliography organized by chapter. Most readers of this book are likely to be sufficiently grounded in American history that they would find fuller documentation of sources to be helpful.

A bit more careful editing could have improved the product, as well. Goetzmann's personal and largely irrelevant opinions about government interference with private property slip in more than once, for example, and they simply should have been cut out. What apparently was excised was Goetzmann's coverage of the colonial period. That is too bad, because if it was up to the standard of what remains it would have been well worth reading, perhaps in a separate volume.
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VINE VOICEon December 20, 2009
The author contends, rightly so, that the modern American public is generally disdainful of intellectuals, regarded as "elitists," despite the fact that the United States more so than any nation is the "product of intellectuals" - an ideological construct. It is the role of intellectuals, who by definition continually interpret reality, to incorporate new information into broad understandings and convey that to the public in a variety of ways. As per the author, intellectuals have "made attractive to our citizens whatever the world has to offer," pushing the United States to be a cosmopolitan "nation of nations." The author distinguishes between cultures and civilizations. Cultures, consisting of "languages, ideas, values, myths, and symbols," can be exclusive and tribal, while civilizations are open to absorbing and organizing new customs and ideas - clearly this is how he sees the US. By his definition, civilizations decline when learning stops, "receding into folk culture status" with new information being proscribed by "politicians, traffic directors, bureaucrats, drillmasters, and fascists

Given an introduction that emphasizes the special talents and persuasive abilities of intellectuals, what kind of book has been produced? Actually, the book tends to be a somewhat hit-and-miss recitation of the history of various people - some major, some minor, movements, trends, mindsets, etc that only occasionally demonstrates the unique persuasiveness of intellectuals. Many of the leading literary figures who figure prominently in the book were read by few and unknown to most. His ideas of the cosmopolitan nature of American society and any clash between culture and civilization receive either vague or no treatment.

The author starts with reviewing the well-known intellectual influences on the Founders, all of whom subscribed to Enlightenment values, which included their absorption of a usable past from the Roman republic, the English revolution of 1688, and the 18th century radical Whig opposition to British government corruption, their placement of natural and English common law above mere legislation, the influences of Puritan redemption and renewal, and their agreement with Lockean natural rights and social contract theory - all of which impacted their reactions to the ill-conceived policies of the British government in the decade before the Revolution. Thomas Paine's tract, "Common Sense," may be the most complete statement of their thinking. In addition to a no-holds-barred indictment of British depredations, he formulated a universalistic vision of the future whereby the "rational common sense of men" and republican institutions would project America as the primary symbol of a "future of harmony and liberty" to the world. As the author points out, that kind of supreme confidence in their abilities to apply reason enabled them to orchestrate and coordinate a revolution.

With the rise of the Scientific Revolution in the 18th century, in some circles, only sensory, empirical data had validity in the formulation of knowledge. However, the author emphasizes Scottish Common Sense Realism as a broader philosophy with more appeal because it extended the scope of what was natural and reasonable to inner morality and thought, including an innate predisposition for socialization. "By 1820, it must have seemed as if the whole nation had turned to Common Sense." Because it was an adaptable, non-obscure philosophy, it became the foundation of various intellectual movements in the 19th century. Economic workings, technological progress, and legal proceedings were seen to fit in a harmonious natural order, which is not to say that there was not room left for individualism and eccentricities.

While it goes without saying that there was no lack of learning among the Founders, there was a certain amount of consternation that America did not have a native literary tradition into the 19th century, which was explained by a sameness of American culture and a continued dependence on British arts. However, by the Civil War, several writers in various groupings had surfaced who put America on the literary map, reflecting American universality and distinctiveness. James Fenimore Cooper, America's first truly successful writer, in his Leatherstocking novels examined the encroachment of civilization on nature and associated paradoxes and dilemmas. But American writing became more complex and probed even deeper into various philosophical and social contradictions.

The Transcendentalists, most notably Ralph Waldo Emerson, rejected conventional religious tenets, yet individualized and democratized religion by emphasizing everyone's symbolic perceptive powers to relate to nature, thereby discovering the mind of God. Their revolutionary thought was an attack on the materialism and commercialism of a rationalistic, clocklike world. It broadened the idea of freedom by accepting spiritual values and de-emphasizing "class and institutional" strictures. Some writers of this Romantic Renaissance, like Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville, were far darker in calling attention to the decadence, sinfulness, irrationalities, and arbitrariness of society and the world. As per the author, this "gloomy questioning of reality signified an awareness that the 18th century-inspired American utopian adventure was in truth over." Both nature and man had become largely unfathomable. These Romantic writers did not shy away from criticizing American culture, while implicitly suggesting that the individual must forge his own way.

The dominance of individualism in 19th century America is probably no better seen than in the extensive exploration of the West, the Lewis and Clark expedition being only the best known, and its subsequent settlement. But the author notes that this expansion also "sectionalized the life of the mind," undermining American universality, and also, in a sense, created a vast inland colony dominated by Eastern institutions well into the 20th century. There is no better evidence for sectional thought than in the justifying chivalric mindset of Southern elites. However, John C. Calhoun and the lesser known George Fitzhugh were both sophisticated Southern thinkers who questioned such beliefs as Lockean freedom in a state of nature and the possibility of free labor under capitalistic industrialization.

The contributions and divisiveness of black intellectuals and abolitionists are also explored in the context of the greatest American contradiction: the enslavement of men in a nation founded on universal liberty. Women were somewhat prominent in abolitionist circles, but as the author notes, Common Sense Realism was not kind to the liberation and public role for women. Women were seen to occupy a special place in a rationally discernible, ordered world and their function needed protection more than freedom or equality. Given the sectionalism and other social divisions, Lincoln had the tremendous task of providing a definition to a nation that had never really had more than a vague consensus, not withstanding the rhetoric of the founders, among disparate elements, that had been held together by the superficialities of "anthems, symbols, heroes, monuments, rhetoric," and the like.

By the time of the Centennial celebration in 1876, Social Darwinism had captured American thought. It fit perfectly with the dominance of individualism and laissez-faire economics and, furthermore, gave huge social discrepancies justification, now based on the science of "survival of the fittest." But a reaction, Reform Darwinism, sought to counter the arbitrariness of Darwin's chance mutations that appeared throughout the universe, including human behavior, by purposely guiding chance for the good of the community. Intelligent man was not merely to be subject to the whims of chance. And in a democratic nation, man's collective destiny should be determined by maximum participation of citizens. This "pragmatic" philosophy constructed no grandiose moral structures and was thereby quite flexible in dealing with new situations, relying not on theories but on problem-solving methods.

The book could easily be questioned in terms of its emphases and omissions. Much time is spent on obscure literary analysis, while such items as evangelicalism, the women's equal rights movement, and the ramifications of industrialization are either ignored or given short shrift. In addition, the connection of the various philosophies, events, movement, etc remains quite fuzzy. So-called intellectuals appear throughout the book, but their impact as intellectuals, per se, is difficult to ascertain. The book is quite interesting: a lot occurred in the 19th century. But it is lengthy and somewhat scattershot. A reader could easily suffer from overload if not a certain amount of perplexity from this book. This attempt to combine intellectual and cultural history across an entire century is a huge undertaking that is only partially successful.
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on May 18, 2013
There are books aplenty about the evolution of political thought and culture in America. This one focuses on the period from the American Revolution to the beginnings of the 20th century. Going in chronological order, each chapter focuses on the contributions from a few key individuals living concurrently. Each chapter is almost a stand-alone work, citing the big names and the big works from that era. For example, the colonial era cites Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin, and explores their contribution not only to the political scene, but also shows how their lives book-ended the extremes of the American experience during that time. Both grow up poor and start with very little. Both rise to prominence, but take different paths and come to different ends. Franklin becomes the cultural idol of America, our first Renaissance Man, who is successful and esteemed in the business, political, and literary worlds. Doors open to him wherever he goes, both inside and outside America. Paine, on the other hand, is poor almost his whole life, never achieves the political insider influence that Franklin does, and at the end of his life becomes an outsider within his own country due to his controversial writings on topics such as religion. All of this, both the personal and public lives, are explored in this book. The author does a good job showing how the personal experiences of these influential individuals helped to shape their beliefs, turning them away from opposing views. Going forward, the book explores the major literary periods of American history, such as transcendentalism, naturalism, romanticism, and realism. Overall, a good primer on American thought. The part I like most about this book was its extensive citations of not only famous, but also many of the lesser known literary and artistic works.
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on February 27, 2009
Intellectual history, plagued by overreliance on once-chic but always useless theoretical dogma, has underperformed for years. But that's over, now. With this book, William H. Goetzmann revives the ailing field, in the process providing the perfect prescription for what ails American Studies. No tedious diatribes or labored microhistories here. Instead, readers face a lush bounty, which richly renders the process by which ideas become realities in American life. Goetzmann's earlier works won the biggest literary prizes possible, but this just might be his best. When he writes about William James, or John C. Fremont, or Orestes Brownson, it is not as a hesitant scholar, but as a peer -- that is, as a major cultural force in his own right. Goetzmann's latest proves how thrilling and rewarding intellectual history can be. The only drag is waiting for the successor volume!
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on February 9, 2012
Maybe academically oriented - pretty complete I suppose, but not very lively... one two three four five six seven eight nine...
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on September 23, 2011
In spite of the endorsement of my friend Jim Lutzweiler, this is not the last word on Frederick Jackson Turner, Antebellum American thought or Progressive Era intellectual roots. In fairness it is brilliant and entertaining in its discussion of literary figures such as Whitman, Hawthorne, Poe and Melville. Its anti-Turnerian vane is unconvincing often in fact providing evidence to the contrary(See page 190ff). It is particularly weak on evangelical religion and the role of religiously motivated perfectionism. Charles Finney is missing along with all religiously motivated abolitionists. While Teddy Roosevelt fits his model for the reformed Darwinian roots of the Progressive Movement, most other key intellectuals do not. Robert Crunden's MINISTER'S OF REFORM is an important corrective in this regard. In spite of this it is an entertaining read by a distinguished historian.
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