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A Tolerable Anarchy: Rebels, Reactionaries, and the Making of American Freedom Hardcover – March 3, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. No term in American political discourse elicits such uncomplicated reverence as the word freedom—and no concept is more complex and conflicted, argues this brilliant study. Drawing on everything from the writings of Frederick Douglass and Emerson to presidential inaugurals and Supreme Court opinions, Purdy (For Common Things), who teaches law at Duke, surveys the ways in which the ideals of individual liberty, dignity and fulfillment have made and remade America. It's a vexed and protean legacy in his wide-ranging account, one that's given us both stirring liberation movements and misbegotten wars; a doctrine of laissez-faire economics and a welfare state that shields workers from the industrial economy; an unbridled thirst for personal self-actualization amid private utopias and a dread that our lives are incoherent, isolated and socially meaningless. In scintillating prose that's erudite but straightforward and packed with insights, Purdy offers both a searching critique of America's ideology of freedom and an affirmation of the millions of small declarations of independence from hierarchy, constraint, and fear it has inspired. The result is a tour de force of engaged political philosophy from one of America's most perceptive public intellectuals. (Mar. 5)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

What all critics appreciated about A Tolerable Anarchy was the rich intellectual history Purdy has constructed; more than one reviewer compared the book to a college course with a very engaging professor. But they were less certain about whether Purdy had reliably proved his particular thesis. In the New York Times Book Review, Gary Hart, the former senator and presidential candidate, compared Purdy’s book to Alan Wolfe’s recent title The Future of Liberalism and found the former the equivalent of a course for sophomores and the latter the equivalent of a course for seniors. Hart wrote that he did not intend this to be a criticism, but it was not quite praise, either. Nevertheless, Hart and others strongly endorsed the book, particularly the sections that try to reconcile American individualism with environmentalism.
Copyright 2009 Bookmarks Publishing LLC

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 294 pages
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf (March 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400044472
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400044474
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,325,493 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Jorge Madrazo on July 25, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is a beautifully written book that includes interesting history, abstract ideas, and real applications of the ideas.
The author describes the contradictions and complexities of the concept of freedom -- which for me had become a meaningless word that is too freely thrown out by politicians.
He uses Ralph Waldo Emerson and Frederick Douglass as compasses for what freedom means.
He provides context and insights to the controversial headlines that is as far as most people hear, such as -- The courts rule that the constitution guarantees the the right to sodomy or abortion.
He provides a great summary of the subconscious acceptance of our market economy. How we implicitly accept its arbitrary, inhuman and merciless aspects. And he provides reasons why we should be the driver of such negative aspects to make them more human friendly.
He also sees the market economy as going hand-in-hand with promoting the best aspects of freedom.
Finally, he takes the lessons from the US's experiments with freedom and sees aspects that we can apply as we try to solve the survival-challenging problems of this century.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Laurence R. Bachmann VINE VOICE on June 28, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Reviewing Jedediah Purdy's A Tolerable Anarchy two days after the Supreme Court's landmark ruling permitting marriage equality seems particularly fitting. I suspect Purdy would think it is all of a continuum. Dr. King's observation "The arc of history is long but it bends toward justice" is true and sustained the author would argue by religious evangelical traditions and, a market economy. Each gradually, incrementally but unremittingly is bending our historical arc toward justice. Abolitionists, strikers, civil rights protesters and gay rights activists all play their part as economic advantage and opportunity eases outsiders in.

I thought the market economy overemphasized as a factor and an engine of change but Protestant religious traditions certainly deserve a place of prominence. This is a slim volume but packed with philosophic as well as moral and historic observation. A little elaboration and added emphasis, particularly upon The Enlightenment tradition would have been most useful. Also, the inherent tension between the documents that serve as this nation's political foundation--the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence--cannot be emphasized enough. The inclusion of Woodrow Wilson in the pantheon of 'tolerable anarchy' is absolutely mystifying. Ask any conscientious objector or suffragette, circa 1916. I doubt they'd agree and neither do I. Also, I felt there was too little appreciation of the toll exacted upon those dragging America forward to make it the nation it claimed to be.

These however are quibbles and opinions, not facts. A Tolerable Anarchy is slim but provocative look at American traditions and very worthwhile.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By viola meister on May 23, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Purdy has an uncanny knack for synthesizing hundreds of years of source material into a cohesive -- and extremely enlightening -- narrative. What results is a history on how Americans' understanding of liberty has evolved over the centuries, and how our history is still very much apart of us today, for better or worse. It strikes the reader that Purdy has no agenda other than to discover the plain truth of things, and to be able to use these truths to deal with our modern-day troubles in both society and government. Readers will feel they're in good hands with Purdy as their guide.
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By infohunter on July 28, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Purdy is a wonderful, critical thinker. A good dose of this man's viewpoint is something we all can use to our betterment.

An eye opening, good book~!
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By Brian J Bonney on September 29, 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Great book! Well narrated. Really makes you think!
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