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Hellfire Nation: The Politics of Sin in American History Hardcover – February 8, 2003

4.5 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Almost 60 years after Gunnar Myrdal argued that America's distinctive moral consciousness might prove "the salvation of mankind," Morone finds that same characteristic at least as likely to legitimate invidious discrimination as to inspire utopian strivings. As he probes the sermonizing style of moral politics that has so profoundly shaped America, Morone highlights two contrasting impulses: a Victorian censoriousness and a Social Gospel communalism. The narrative first traces the Victorian impulse--arising from Puritan fears of witchcraft and debauchery--as it inspires the fervor of nineteenth-century abolitionists and twentieth-century prohibitionists. Later, readers witness the emergence of a long nascent Social Gospel--springing from Puritan pledges of mutual love--as it stirs the visionary hopes behind the New Deal and the civil rights movement. Though a partisan of Social Gospel politics and a critic of Victorian conservatism, Morone illuminates the complexities in both impulses. Readers trying to peer into the nation's post-9/11 moral future will thank Morone for clarifying the path along which righteous fervor has already impelled us. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


"Impressively researched, comprehensive in scope, interestingly illustrated and journalistically readable. . . . [F]or the intelligent layperson who is serious about citizenship." -- Leo Sandon, Tallahassee Democrat

A lively and informative study on the importance of religion and sin to the evolution of the American state. -- Conscience: A News Journal of Catholic Opinion

Morone is an exciting writer. Rich in documentation and eloquent in purpose, Hellfire Nation couldn't be more timely. -- (Tom D'Evelyn, Providence Journal)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (February 8, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300094841
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300094848
  • Product Dimensions: 9.7 x 6.3 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #143,830 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
By far the most interesting book I've read in a *long* time, Morone's _Hellfire Nation_ examines the 200+ years of America's history, but takes a wholly different approach from the norm; instead of seeing the early Puritan settlements as an anomaly that would gradually fade as history progressed, he cites the Puritanistic "us versus them" outlook of morality as being an integral part of most of American history.
And yes, this is a very refreshing and fascinating way in which to view history. Morone's basic thesis is that a) "popular" American morality is frequently cited as the only thing that can protect "us" from "them," whether "they" are blacks, the Irish, Jews, et cetera, and b) that this emphasis on those frightening Un-Americans is what fuels "moral fanaticism," like prohibition, Comstockery, the VD/social hygiene movement, c) and from this, laws are put into place which persist long after their spawning social movements have died down, leaving them in the hand of fanatics. The thesis doesn't just hold up; it *thrives*, adequately explaining many facets of much of American moral history, and while Morone's constant repetition of the final point stated above (that fanaticism eventually dies down, leading a select few to continue its legacy to the detriment of a no-longer-incensed society) becomes a bit wearisome, it really does show how *well* so many social events fit into this pattern.
Verdict? Yes, Morone's clearly "biased," if one must use that term, to a classical liberal side of things (i.e.
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By A Customer on June 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
If, like me, you are a bit of a history buff who regrets having paid scant attention in those American history courses, this is an essential book.
Professor Marone reconsiders our national history, in its more wrenching periods, as the struggle for a shifting moral high ground. The result is literally stunning, uprooting, and wise.
History buffs support an entire industry that is spinning out "how-then, what-now" books about the founders, the civil war and the current hit parade of latter day pols. Professor Marone delivers something very different: a brilliant archeology of the winner-take-all contest for righteousness that has so thoroughly characterized our national life, from John Winthrop to yesterday afternoon.
And he can write: in places a little breezily, in others quite densely, but always clearly and engagingly.
Professor Morone's personal political stance is clear enough, and yes, it's left of Fox News. I can only hope that people who don't share his views on the present will take time to relish this masterful, sweeping interpretation of our past.
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Format: Hardcover
Morone presents an intriguing view of American politics in "Hellfire Nation" (an appropriate follow up to his previous book, "The Democratic Wish").
The book is a unique look at the history of America, which expounds the moral fervor that has ignited the fiercest social conflicts and engendered major social movments.
"For better and for worse, moral conflicts made America," says Morone.
At the end, Morone presents an insightful and inspiring call to a different type of moral politics (which was unfortunately misunderstood by Garrow in his New York Times review).
This book is recommended to those interested in attaining a better understanding of American politics and our post 9/11 world.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
James Morone traces the history of morality politics from the early colonial period to the present in this fascinating, lively book. Morone is a serious scholar on holiday here. History buffs will especially enjoy the author's marshaling of historical detail in his accounts of Puriitan morality, prohibition, purity crusades and the undercurrents of xenophobia.

Mirine's book ha a serious undercurrent as well. As a historical institutionalist, he sees morality politics as path dependent, that is, the pattern of morality politics developed in earliest colonial America has persisted to the present day with periodic alterations to address the exigencies of new eras.
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Format: Paperback
James Morone's "Hellfire Nation" is revisionist history in the best sense of the word. He is not out to say that previous histories have been misguided but that there is another, overlooked aspect to the creation of America. And he nails the case that it was important.

From the moment the Puritans arrived in New England to set up a novel commonwealth, they had to decide who was in and who was not. Indians? Women? Unproven "saints"?

Ever since, says Morone, established groups have asked "Who are we?" and they have usually provided a moral (I would say, moralistic) answer. And that answer almost always excluded women, newcomers, people of other religions, colored people. In fact, at various times it included everyone: women, children and teenagers; blacks, browns, yellows, reds and Reds; workers; Catholics, Jews, Quakers, Baptists and Muslims; drinkers and dopers; Irish, Italians and Slavs; Protestants who believed in being saved by works.

Over and over, panic developed that the newcomers were taking over, or at the least, they would enervate the true blue Americans.

He stands the whiggish narrative of individualism and liberty on its head, pointing out that it was the king in England who struck one of the first, shrewdest blows in the march toward American freedom by forcing the Puritans in New England to stop hanging Quakers.

More provocatively, he skewers the narrative of individualism and small government by showing that in almost every panic, the old guard gave its government new powers and that, once the panic subsided, the institutions of power remained.

Prohibition of liquor was repealed (except locally) but the apparatus of repression stayed and was refurbished to wage the war on drugs.
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