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Briefly Noted: 'The Idea of America'

July 23, 2011

From the July 25 issue of The New Yorker:

"The Americans revolted [against the British] not out of actual suffering but out of reasoned principle," [Gordon S.] Wood argues in a set of probing essays which explore how the principles of these revolutionaries became distorted by events outside of their control. Many of the Founders imagined republicanism as an antidote to the private pursuit of wealth, and hoped that America's politicians would be disinterested guardians of the public good, drawn from a self-sacrificing elite. When the emergence of rampant commercialism and partisan politics undermined such hopes, Federalists used the Constitution to introduce into our democracy a monarchical element, which has become increasingly pronounced. Such contradictions, Wood says, help explain our perpetual grapple with the Founders' ideas, "our despairing effort to make them one with us, to close that terrifying gap that always seems to exist between them and us."

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  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."


    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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