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Hellfire Nation: The Politics of Sin in American Historyby James A. Morone
Synopses & Reviews
This insightful new conceptualization of American political history demonstrates that—despite the clear separation of church and state—religion lies at the heart of American politics. From the Puritan founding to the present day, the American story is a moral epic, James Morone says, and while moral fervor has inspired the dream of social justice it has also ignited our fiercest social conflicts.
From the colonial era to the present day, Americans embraced a Providential mission, tangled with devils, and aspired to save the world. Moral fervor ignited our fiercest social conflicts—but it also moved dreamers to remake the nation in the name of social justice. Moral crusades inspired abolition, woman suffrage, and civil rights, even as they led Americans to hang witches, enslave Africans, and ban liquor. Today these moral arguments continue, influencing the debate over everything from abortion to foreign policy.
Written with passion and deep insight, Hellfire Nation tells the story of a brawling, raucous, religious people. Morone shows how fears of sin and dreams of virtue defined the shape of the nation.
"A remarkably intelligent and ambitious study of how various forms of 'morality politics' have been at the center of American history from the Puritans until today. From its beginnings, America has been interested in its moral standing— before God and in the sight of the world—and it has undertaken crusade after crusade, typically couched in moral terms, in order to form a more perfect union. Against laissez-faire liberals who decry the grim Puritanism of this, and those warm-hearted (and firebrand-wielding) communitarians who trumpet its fine earnestness, Morone shows the good and the bad of this tradition—its ability to mobilize powerful energies for good, as well as its tendency to demonize some poor 'them' in morally scrutinizing the democratic 'us.' Much as in his earlier The Democratic Wish, Morone does not aim to expunge
morality politics; he wisely recognizes that this pattern of moral politics is inescapable, even to the extent that a jeremiad against it would simply fall back into the same pattern it excoriated. While this book has some real reflectiveness, it is more a chronicle whose provocations emerge from its recounting of history, even unto the last words: 'We remain Puritans all.' Nonetheless, it is a great boon: while no one book will dislodge the captivity of academic political scientists to a secularizing narrative of American history, one defoliated of moral concerns, this book adds substantially to the indictment against them." Reviewed by d T. Gies, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
This extraordinary retelling of American political history shows that—despite the clear separation of church and state—religion lies at the heart of American politics.
This is American history the way I like it, prodigiously researched and vivaciously told. Mr. Morone has a knack for peeling off veneers, for locating the surprising fact, for adopting the unexpected and illuminating slant. He is a rarity, a scholar who is never boring.”—Tracy Kidder, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Soul of a New Machine
Hellfire Nation [places] much of our public life in its proper soul-searching context—and its careful anatomy of the hand-in-glove relations between the American state and the American faithful is both welcome and illuminating.”—Chris Lehmann, Washington Post Book World
About the Author
James A. Morone, professor of political science at Brown University, is also the author of The Democratic Wish: Popular Participation and the Limits of American Government.
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