"There are two keys to unlocking the secrets of American politics and American political history." So begins The Politicians & the Egalitarians , Princeton historian Sean Wilentz's bold new work of history.
First, America is built on an egalitarian tradition.Read more...
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"There are two keys to unlocking the secrets of American politics and American political history." So begins The Politicians & the Egalitarians, Princeton historian Sean Wilentz's bold new work of history.
First, America is built on an egalitarian tradition. At the nation's founding, Americans believed that extremes of wealth and want would destroy their revolutionary experiment in republican government. Ever since, that idea has shaped national political conflict and scored major egalitarian victories--from the Civil War and Progressive eras to the New Deal and the Great Society--along the way.
Second, partisanship is a permanent fixture in America, and America is the better for it. Every major egalitarian victory in United States history has resulted neither from abandonment of partisan politics nor from social movement protests but from a convergence of protest and politics, and then sharp struggles led by principled and effective party politicians. There is little to be gained from the dream of a post-partisan world.
With these two insights Sean Wilentz offers a crystal-clear portrait of American history, told through politicians and egalitarians including Thomas Paine, Abraham Lincoln, and W. E. B. Du Bois--a portrait that runs counter to current political and historical thinking. As he did with his acclaimed The Rise of American Democracy, Wilentz once again completely transforms our understanding of this nation's political and moral character.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-02-08
- Reviewer: Staff
Wilentz, author of the Bancroft Prize–winning Rise of American Democracy and professor of history at Princeton University, once again proves himself to be among America’s most skilled (and pugilistic) historians with this brisk, hard-hitting book. He tries, with some success, to rescue liberalism from its detractors on the left and right by arguing that, at its best, liberalism has succeeded through pragmatic, principled politics as well as ideals. Wilentz also convincingly argues that efforts to reduce economic and other inequalities have been a constant in the nation’s history. (It should be noted that he doesn’t stress that counterefforts have also been a constant.) He makes his case principally by taking up other historians’ work about major historical figures: Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, W.E.B. Dubois, Theodore Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson chief among them. Sometimes Wilentz praises their work, but he’s at his energetic best when on the attack against detractors of his foregrounded great men, and he doesn’t hesitate to describe some histories as “nonsense” and “junk.” In other hands, this would seem silly and lacking force; in Wilentz’s, it’s authoritative and telling. The result is wonderfully readable and the best kind of serious, sharp argumentation from one of the leading historians of the United States. (May)