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Fighting for Liberty and Virtue: Political and Cultural Wars in Eighteenth-Century America Hardcover – May 1, 1996
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Top Customer Reviews
The only other subject of the book that bothered me was at the time George Washington recovered from a near death bout with pneumonia and the author was discussing the pros and cons of possible replacements for Washington. Olasky seems to come down on Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, who was a deist, by saying that Jefferson repelled many of those who understood that a virtuous society could not be founded on man's reason alone; without a fixed compass, Jefferson was brilliant but inconsistent. Olasky was also rather critical of atheist Benjamin Franklin's qualifications to be president. Some of the reasons given were 1) Franklin's illegitimate children; 2) Franklin's attempt to set up a method by which mortals could work to become moral on their own recognizance since he didn't accept the Christian concept of sin; 3) Franklin's failure to gain theological wisdom; and 4) Franklin repeatedly in his writings emphasized the usefulness of religion for influencing "weak and ingorant Men and Women." When you compare to what we've had in the White House for the past 25 years, I think the religiously biased criticisms of Jefferson and Franklin are unjust.
Overall, the book was well worth the time it took to read it.
It's an entertaining book, and for the most part well-written. But Olasky often blurs the line between what contemporary thinkers believed and what was actually true. For example, at several points he argues that the immoral behavior of British leaders weakened their efforts to oppose the Revolutionaries. This is plausible until you see that for Olasky, "immorality" includes such diverse items as bribery, vote-buying, sexual promiscuity, homosexuality, and cross-dressing. Bribery and vote-buying, sure. Sexual promiscuity, maybe (he gives at least one example of a British military leader getting distracted from his proper duties).
But homosexuality and cross-dressing? It seems clear that Olasky believes these are immoral, and I don't doubt that many 18th Century Americans shared that view. But how would either of these reduce a person's productivity? No explanation is given.
(In case you think I'm setting up a straw man, in the introduction (p. xviii) Olasky writes: "Chapter 1 tells of the transvestite governor dispatched by London to America in 1701 and notes the problems of other prize administrators with whom the colonies were favored." Also: "Chapter 6 shows how the British effort in the Revolutionary War, led in London by cabinet members who were promiscuously heterosexual and homosexual, faltered in the confrontation with Americans who still valued virtue.")
Statements like these, which reflect a lack of critical thinking, occurred often enough to frustrate me. But after finishing the book I still felt it was a worthwhile read. It does achieve its basic purpose: to describe the coalition between the Enlightened and the Awakened during the American Revolutionary period. And it manages to entertain at the same time.
Some of the best material is later in the book when the author reviews commentary concerning the writing of the Constitution. Federalist vs. Articles of Confederation, Madison vs. Hamilton quotes reveal an almost comical, (perhaps depressing?) view on governance of today. You also get a good glimpse at how the expediency of "needing to get something done" perhaps sacraficed the quality and clarity of the Constitution.
Contrary to other reviews I have read, Olasky does not claim this is a Christian country but rather a country based upon religious, albeit mostly Biblical, principles, and clearly draws the line before defining this country as Christian. In fact, he notes how many Christians supported the Constitution based solely because of the protection of religous freedom for fear of the non-Christian or, if it were to occur, a one-denomination Government suffocating the rest of Christianity. Hardly a perspective from those who supposedly believe we are all Christian, and I am speaking as one. Secondly, he spends considerable time on Madison who was the primary writer of the Constitution, and the various views of Jefferson, Hamilton, and Patrick Henry. He does spend time revealing the taudry lifestyle of Benjamin Franklin, but almost as a point of irony as opposed to scandal since he was one of the fathers who spent considerable time in both England and the U.S.
Overall this is a very good read on aspects of this nation's history that for lack of direction, or perhaps lack of time, our general public education system seems to miss. I highly recommend it.
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