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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Intellectuals, mindsets, movements, and contradictions (3.5*s), December 20, 2009
This review is from: Beyond the Revolution: A History of American Thought from Paine to Pragmatism (Hardcover)
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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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 23, 2009 3:26:23 PM PST
[Deleted by the author on Jan 29, 2010 9:00:14 PM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 24, 2009 2:22:29 AM PST
[Deleted by the author on Dec 25, 2009 2:31:36 PM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 24, 2009 8:49:39 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 24, 2009 9:43:17 AM PST
JCW says:
Mr. Grattan ... your response is quite helpful and truly appreciated, however if you can spare a few extra moments to address the following:

o- book sources ... have you tried the discount outlets amazon offers? ...results? ...or others?

o- EXETREME LEFTIE ?!?!?!!! ... and an engineer (of what stripe?-surely not social). May I quote good ole 'say it aint so Joe'(VP Biden) ..." Lord love ya "!!! I find this news astonishingly perplexing, coming from an individual of your KNOWING capacity in regards to the left's historical track record in practically
all forms of ...ECONOMIC ...NATIONAL SECURITY ...and yes I dare list SOCIAL issues/matters. Does this mean the right is always right ... NOOOO!!!! I lost my "EXETREME LEFTNESS" back during the Carter years ... (although I wuv peanuts), please don't take this as a "skatter-shot" to all Georgians. We Arkansans are still " woompin'-up " on Mississippi (were 49 out of 50) in virtually very major economic and social improvement index on the books (that aren't cooked that is). Shucks...after 12 YEARS of ole'
SLICK-WILLIE we are still tryin' to figure out just what IS .........IS?!?! And of course, how to properly NOT INHALE A DOOBIE (not one of the brothers) ... and then determine how to NOT LIKE IT ?!?! Makes me want to reconsider the Rhodes Scholarship approach to decision-making. As I research even deeper into the "liberal/progressive" mindset, the intentions ALWAYS-ALWAYS result in some form of bassackwardness that winds up being botched...BIG GOVERNMENT...BIG BLUNDERS !!!
When these blunders hit the tippin' point the power loops back SPHERICALLY to the conservative side for clean-up. Then the conservatives become diluted with power/spending and lose focus and faith in their conservatism and we repeat chorus. Opps ... looks like we looped again???

o- no comment on the SPHERE FACTOR ???

o- have you any publications other than book reviews ?

o- does your text editor "permit" the use of ... ??? !!!!!!!!!! [ ] ALL CAPS!!! -or other creative forms of expressiveness that, in my humble opinion, certainly helps to "jazz-up" the sometimes rather motifity
found in the "block-text" approach.

Finally, would you please consider reviewing my (8) rather brief reviews and cast your vote. Your additional comments will be very much appreciated and productively used to help me improve in the many areas I find lacking and waning in regards to my "prosemanship".

a Christmas gift that ... keeps givin'


In reply to an earlier post on Dec 24, 2009 10:59:58 AM PST
[Deleted by the author on Dec 25, 2009 2:31:50 PM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 24, 2009 10:02:01 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 24, 2009 10:50:04 PM PST
JCW says:
Mr. Grattan ... thanks so much for your time and effort. Apparently your self-proclaimed EXETREME
LEFTIST MINDSET is just that ... SET. So extreme it disallows even a trace of openmindedness, when considering what the late great Paul Harvey would commonly quip " ...the REST of the STORY ".

It's quite interesting that some MAJOR PLAYERS in the "knee-capping" of our economy were mysteriously
missing from your last response. Please consider the following HISTORICAL FACTS:

o- Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac ... the epicenter of this financial/debacle tsunami, are offically known as the Federal National Mortgage Association and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation. These leviathanized corporations are CREATURES of CONGRESS, also known as "government-sponsored
enterprises" -(GSE's). These good folks did not extend mortgage loans to home buyers, they would buy existing loans from banks on the secondary market. They then would "bundle" them into mortgage-backed securities for sale to investors. Meanwhile, the originating bank, divested of the mortgage by selling to Fannie or Freddie, NOW has the funds to return to the mortgage market and extend another
loan to a new consumer. This artificial diversion of resources into mortgage lending inflates home prices.
It is artificial because the secondary mortgage market is fueled largely by the SPECIAL PRIVILEGES Fan/Fred have been GRANTED by our government. Fannie was born out of the NEW DEAL "deal" of the 1930's and was privatized in 1968. Freddie was created as a putatively private competitor in 1970.
As (GSE's), their exact status as public or private entities has remained ambiguous at best - they enjoy SPECIAL TAX and REGULATORY PRIVILEGES that potential competitors DO NOT, but their stock is traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

o- The Community Reinvestment Act and affirmative action in lending ...

o- Our Government's artificial stimulus to speculation ...

o- The "pro-ownership" tax code ...

o- The Federal Reserve and artificially cheap credit ...

o- The "too Big to Fail" mentality ...

A TRUE CONSERVATIVE MIND would NOT partake in the design and operation of such destructive
policies that politically instigated the lowering of lending requirements in the name of helping
"disadvantaged" groups. Even the New York Times understood the risk involved: " In moving , even tentatively, into this new area of lending, Fannie Mae is taking on significantly more risk, which may not pose any difficulties during flush economic times. But the government-subsidized corporation may run into trouble in an economic downturn, prompting a government rescue similar to that of the savings and loan industry in the 1980's".

SOME of the CONSERVATIVE Congressional Republicans have called for greater oversite and regulation of Fred/Fran. Congressional Democrats balked, claiming that concerns about the mortgage giants were really just a concealed "REPUBLICAN ATTACK ON AFFORDABLE HOUSING". Seeing that prominent
Democrats had run Fred/Fran for years, and had received a reliable helpin' of campaign contributions
from them, best leave well enough ...alone. It was, critics claimed, a Democrat Party piggy bank, with former Clinton budget director Frankin Raines walking away with the grand prize, pocketing $ 100 million dollars in "compensation" for his brief stint there.

BOTH parties were involved with some aspects of the above list of NO-NO's. But IF you were to even modestly consider learning the TRUTH of the dominating WHO and of what STRIPE ... the result will be clearly on the Democrat/Left side of the political spectrum.

Yes, the greed is thick and sticky on Wall Street and they were players as well, but let's not be remiss of the underlying foundational policies that our own government devised to orchestrate the folly that
has given us what we got.

Meltdown: A Free-Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked, and Government Bailouts Will Make Things Worse and How Capitalism Saved America: The Untold History of Our Country, from the Pilgrims to the Present

Thanks again for your contribution to helping me and I'm sure many, many others.


In reply to an earlier post on Dec 25, 2009 1:46:40 AM PST
[Deleted by the author on Dec 25, 2009 2:32:06 PM PST]

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 25, 2009 12:17:46 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 28, 2009 7:38:07 PM PST
JCW says:
WOW!!! I didn't know Boortz was on the air THAT LONG !?! must be doin' sumpthin' right ? darn that market demand thing ... just terrible !

It has come to my understanding that liberals have cornered the market of the modern-day virtues of ...
tolerance, compassion, non-judgementalism, and dare I say openmindedness. You claim to have cut ole' Neal off the FIRST TIME you heard him on the air? Seems you've strayed from the flock.

BOTH political parties fall waaaaaaay short of the glory in my opinon, along with the VAST MAJORITY of "organized religion". I don't know where you find credence in linking religious fanaticism exclusively with conservative. Looking a bit closer one may find environmentalism/atheism/scientology and a host of other "movements" that take a profound religious bent of their own. My take on religion is one of PRIVATE. No preacher forces me to join his flock, but politicians and political correctness are invading and dismantling the FREEDOM, LIBERTY, and INDEPENDENCE that our HISTORY has provided us.

Sorry for the tit-for-tat effect that seems to have developed here but a chance for IDEAS of such variety and contrast to compete is quite healthly in exposing the BEST most WORKABLE IDEAS...NO?
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