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Thursday, February 26th, 2004


The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence


Power Shopping

A review by Alan Taylor

Hindsight assumes that Americans united naturally and easily to revolt against British rule in 1775-1776. In fact, American revolution and American union astonished contemporaries as sudden and unprecedented, a break with a long history of chronic dissension between the thirteen colonies of the Atlantic seaboard. John Adams marveled that "thirteen clocks were made to strike together." Prior to the 1770s, few colonists considered themselves "Americans." Instead their particular colony or region commanded greater loyalty. Carolinians distrusted Virginians; Marylanders wrangled with Pennsylvanians; and the Yorkers of New York despised the Yankees of New England. Boundary disputes and regional rancor undercut inter-colonial cooperation, even during the prolonged and desperate wars with the French and their Indian allies. Only a massive infusion of British men and money secured the colonists by conquering French Canada in 1759-1760. An English traveler observed that "fire and water are not more heterogeneous than the different colonies in North America." Colonial unity and independence seemed impossible because, without the subordinating control of the British empire, "there would soon be a civil war from one end of the continent to the other."

So how was this extraordinary transformation accomplished? In his new book, T.H. Breen, an especially accomplished and insightful historian, offers an innovative explanation for the sudden and surprising creation of an American identity and union: "What gave the American Revolution distinctive shape was an earlier transformation of the Anglo-American consumer marketplace." Before Americans could resist the awesome might of the British empire, they needed first to develop sufficient trust in one another, despite their differences and distance. "Unless unhappy people develop the capacity to trust other unhappy people," he reasons, "protest remains a local affair easily silenced by traditional authority."

According to Breen, that trust developed during the 1760s and early 1770s, when colonists crafted a novel strategy: a massive consumer boycott of British goods to pressure Parliament into rescinding provocative new taxes imposed without colonial consent. Colonists began to think of themselves as Americans by reading newspapers, broadsides, and pamphlets that reported widespread protests and boycotts. That literature and strategy ultimately depended upon the prior proliferation of British goods in colonial markets, creating a unifying empire of consumer goods that eroded colonial parochialism. As consumers, diverse colonists could "communicate with each other about a common experience." According to Breen, consumer goods provided the essential and "powerful link between everyday life and political mobilization."

During the early decades of the eighteenth century, a swelling volume of shipping carried information, goods, and people more frequently across the Atlantic, producing economic growth and a greater integration of the British Empire. Consumer goods proliferated, declining in price and expanding the options of common people. During the early 1750s an immigrant marveled that "it is really possible to obtain all the things one can get in Europe in Pennsylvania, since so many merchant ships arrive there every year." Between 1720 and 1770, per capita colonial imports increased by 50 percent.

A romantic mythology has miscast the common colonists as self-sufficient yeomen who produced all that they needed or wanted. Although most colonists did live on farms that produced most of their food and fuel and some homespun cloth, no household could produce everything that a family needed. And by no means did mere subsistence satisfy colonial desire. Consequently, colonial farms and plantations produced crops both for household needs and for the external market. The colonists needed to sell produce so that they might purchase imported consumer goods beyond their own means to make. Some derived from another climate, such as West Indian sugar and Asian tea, but the colonists also imported metal and cloth goods produced by the workshops of Britain. In the production of manufactures, which required abundant capital and cheap labor, the relatively crowded mother country had an advantage over the land-rich but thinly populated colonies. In addition to such necessities as plows, hoes, axes, knives, and hammers, colonists sought the pleasures and the comforts of pewter knives and forks, bed and table linens, ceramic cups and saucers, drinking glasses and window panes, metal buttons and silver buckles, and finished cloth and clothing. Drawing astutely upon museum collections, newspaper advertising, merchants' correspondence, probate inventories, field archaeology, and customs records, Breen demonstrates the rapid and voluminous spread of consumer goods into every colonial corner, rural as well as urban.

Lacking cash, colonists relied upon credit offered with increasing generosity by manufacturers to London exporters and on to the wholesale importers of colonial seaports, the far-flung stores of country towns, and ultimately to thousands of common farmers and artisans. Breen concludes that the consumer revolution "depended ultimately on an extraordinary expansion of credit throughout the entire Atlantic world." In 1754, a colonist observed, "Trade, we know, is supported by credit; and credit is to trade, what the blood is to the body; if credit fails, trade stagnates." This he knew all too well, for he wrote from a debtor's cell in an age that imprisoned the bankrupt.

Because the mother country's economy and state revenues increasingly relied on exporting manufactured goods, the growing colonial market became ever more valuable. In 1773, the American colonies consumed about 26 percent of British exports: up from 6 percent in 1700. On both sides of the Atlantic, writers effusively celebrated the mutual benefits of maritime commerce in consumer goods. Defined by the flow of goods, the British empire seemed natural, rational, and perfectly balanced: "a splendidly ordered Newtonian system." Of course, the mother country especially benefited by legislating, in the Navigation Acts, that colonists could only purchase their manufactured goods from Great Britain. Fortunately for the colonists, British manufactories led the world in producing the best goods at the lowest prices. By making so much of the value of the colonial market, writers encouraged colonists to consider their consumption as essential to the empire. This conclusion later led colonists to boycott British goods, expressing a conviction that the empire could not survive without their purchases.

While trumpeting the aggregate or "macro" growth of commerce in Panglossian terms, colonial writers harshly criticized the consumer revolution at the "micro" level, especially when the purchasers were poor. Buying on credit beyond their means and dressing far beyond their humble class, such common consumers allegedly imperiled social stability as well as their own souls. Tradition insisted that social harmony required a distinct, stable, and visible hierarchy of status and wealth. Conservative moralists doubted that a genteel elite could enjoy their just desserts of public deference if laborers walked the streets in silk clothing or sipped tea from porcelain cups. In 1744 the wealthy and genteel Dr. Alexander Hamilton (no relation to the later and more famous revolutionary) delighted in his own consumption but denounced that of common colonists. He concluded that "if Luxury was to be confined to the Rich alone, it might prove a great national good." Touring the colonies, Dr. Hamilton expressed horror at the fine goods displayed in otherwise common dwellings. At one farm, he found "superfluous things which showed an inclination to finery . . . such as a looking glass with a painted frame, half a dozen pewter spoons and as many plates . . . a set of stone tea dishes, and a teapot." Far better, he thought, for farmers to make do with "wooden plates and spoons" and "a little water in a wooden pail might serve for a looking glass." Hamilton despised what the farmers cherished most about the consumer goods: their opportunity to express aspiration.

Genteel moralists especially disliked the leading role of women in the consumer revolution. Women of middling means had the most to gain from increased consumption, for imported goods reduced their long and arduous labor, especially in making candles and soap or in spinning and weaving cloth. By accumulating and displaying fashionable goods, middling women also obtained a new vehicle for self-expression and self-assertion. Astute storekeepers appealed to the growing influence of women over household consumption. In 1748, a Maryland factor wrote to a correspondent: "You know the influence of the Wives upon their Husbands, %amp% it is but a trifle that wins 'em over, [and] they must be taken notice of or there will be nothing with them." But genteel moralizers detected and denounced an erosion of patriarchal power that allegedly left men emasculated and financially ruined by their newly aggressive wives.

Breen dismisses the genteel moralizers as conservative cranks threatened by social changes that liberated common men and women. He also disavows those scholars and commentators in our own day who depict consumption, past and present, as "a vacuous, wasteful activity that somehow embodies the most objectionable features of modern capitalism." Instead, Breen dwells upon "the comforts and pleasures of consumption," particularly for ordinary people of modest means. He describes stores as "sites of imagination" and shopping as "a moment of excitement and entertainment, a gathering of humble neighbors in their capacity as consumers of British manufactured goods." Consumer goods liberated colonists from the drab seventeenth century: "By introducing vibrant colors into the poorly illuminated rooms of colonial houses, imported manufactures made the world of ordinary men and women come alive.... imported goods transformed monochrome spaces into Technicolor." Thus colonial Dorothys attained their Land of Oz in eighteenth-century consumption.

Breen also invests consumer goods with a power to liberate the minds of common people and to weaken colonial inequality. The new goods "brought them warmth, beauty, color, comfort, sanitation, leisure, and a heady sense of self-worth." British imports "invited colonists to fashion themselves in bold new ways . . . to appear prettier, or more successful." Looking good and feeling better about themselves, ordinary people could think in more egalitarian terms: "the act of choosing could be liberating, even empowering, for it allowed them to determine for themselves what the process of self-fashioning was all about." He credits the consumer revolution with spawning a liberal society premised on "the ability of ordinary men and women to establish a meaningful and distinct sense of self through the exercise of individual choice, a process of ever more egalitarian self-fashioning."

In his enthusiasm for colonial consumption, Breen gets a little carried away. In the eighteenth century, he asserts, "free Americans entered a new era, a distinct colonial period as different in terms of material culture from the [seventeenth-century] years of initial conquest as our times are from the late nineteenth century." In fact, the eighteenth century offered nothing like the technological breakthroughs and the proliferation of vast new categories of consumer goods produced in the twentieth century by the internal combustion engine, plastics, electronics, and the computer microchip. Instead eighteenth-century goods simply offered cheaper, more colorful, and more diverse variations on long-familiar objects: clothing, dishes, carpets, wines, mirrors.

By emphasizing the egalitarian consequences of consumption, Breen vividly tells half of the story, obscuring the equal role of inequality in the consumer revolution. In the new and fluid societies of colonial America, the display of fine consumer goods laid claims to enhanced social status. Colonists wished to see themselves, and to be seen by others, as something more than rude rustics. Such claims were particularly important to wealthier colonists, especially those of new fortunes without the pedigree of birth into a prestigious family. Emulating the English gentry, the wealthier colonists cultivated "gentility": a conspicuous and self-conscious style that emphasized personal displays of harmony, grace, delicacy, and refinement. Imported goods provided essential props for the performance of gentility.

By perfecting a genteel style, colonial elites sought common cause with one another and with the gentry of the mother country. Yet that goal defined sharper boundaries within colonial communities, by distinguishing the polite and refined from fellow colonists who were disdained as rude and common. Throughout the British empire, traveling ladies and gentlemen felt a greater solidarity with one another at a distance than with their cruder neighbors. Claiming superior morals, taste, talents, and possessions, gentlemen and ladies looked down upon the common farmers and artisans as obtuse and mean, as Dr. Hamilton did on his tour.

Still, common folk aspired to gentility by stretching their budgets to buy some of its associated goods. Artisan and farm families wanted to sip tea from ceramic teacups, because the elite did so. Such emulation tried to erase the insulting line between gentility and commonality that the elite worked so hard to construct and maintain. In 1749, a genteel essayist warned against "an Emulation most dangerous to the Community when every one beholding the Finery of his Neighbours pines to see himself outdone — burns with Envy — Or perhaps ruins his own Fortune and Credit to keep with him in those things that excite his Envy."

Ultimately, the envious and aspiring fell short because the wealthy constantly renewed their superiority by cultivating more expensive tastes in the most current fashions. In 1771 an Englishman in Maryland reported:

The quick importation of fashions from the mother country is really astonishing. I am almost inclined to believe that a new fashion is adopted earlier by the polished and affluent American than by many opulent persons in the great metropolis.... In short, very little difference is, in reality, observable in the manners of the wealthy colonist and the wealthy Briton.

Fashionable goods, and their proper uses, became both the exclusionary symbols of social superiority and the inclusive currency of social emulation. In that social tension lay the energy behind the consumer revolution.

Breen aptly and vividly tells the story of common aspiration — but to the relative neglect of inequality's persistent power. To stress the accessibility of genteel things to common people, Breen dwells on the cheaper, more ubiquitous goods: tea, tea cups, clothing — modest objects within reach of middle class budgets. He pays scant attention to the more expensive goods that purchased genteel distance, such as gilded carriages, fine furniture, and grand mansions. We can detect how distant and elusive true wealth and power remained in colonial society in John Adams's reaction to the mansion of a merchant grandee in Boston. The furniture alone, he remarked, "cost a thousand Pounds sterling . . . the Turkey Carpets, the painted Hangings, the Marble Table, the rich Beds with crimson Damask Curtains and Counterpanes, the beautiful Chimney Clock, the Spacious Garden, are the most magnificent of any Thing I have ever seen." Although the consumer revolution gave expression to common aspirations and aroused the dread of the elite, at the end of the day it did not affect the increasingly unequal distribution of wealth. According to tax records, in 1771 the wealthiest tenth of Bostonians owned over 60 percent of the urban wealth, while the bottom three-tenths owned virtually nothing.

Compelled to engage in a status competition that few could win, many common colonists felt uneasy in the face of genteel superiority. The well-trained eyes and ears of gentility scrutinized every detail of manners and possession for the proper nuances of fashion. A faulty performance damned the unfortunate as impostors deserving of ridicule. Pity the poor common man invited to eat and drink at the table of Robert Carter, a great planter in Virginia. The family tutor dismissed the guest as dull and vulgar because "he held the Glass of Porter fast with both his Hands, and then gave an insignificant nod to each one at the Table, in hast[e], %amp% with fear, %amp% then drank like an Ox." His awkwardness expressed the insecurity that common people often felt in the presence of gentility, no matter how many tea cups they bought.

A desperate defensiveness often characterized the efforts of common men and women to claim an enhanced and elusive status. At a Maryland inn, Dr. Hamilton encountered a common traveler named William Morison, whom he described as "a very rough spun, forward, clownish blade, much addicted to swearing, [and] at the same time desirous to pass for a gentleman." Dismissing Morison as a "ploughman," the innkeeper offered him only "scraps of cold veal" in contrast to Hamilton's finer fare. The insulted Morison angrily threatened to smash the table. Claiming a decent meal in equality with Hamilton, Morison boasted "that tho' he seemed to be but a plain, homely fellow, yet he would have us know that he was able to afford better than many that went finer; He had good linnen in his bags, a pair of silver buckles, silver clasps, and gold sleeve buttons, two Holland shirts, and some neat nightcaps." Pulling them out and putting them on, he asserted a superficial gentility, which only deepened Hamilton's ridicule. Morison's manic "self-fashioning" bought him neither respectability nor peace of mind. Clothes did not suffice to make the gentleman. In Hamilton's ridicule and Morison's anger we may measure the invidious pressure of status competition in a (partially) fluid society.

As contemporaries often noted, the competition for status drove colonists to buy more than they could well afford. Consumption embroiled thousands in debt, litigation, bankruptcy, and imprisonment, casting a pall on many a tea party. The consumer dynamic also created an economic problem, as the colonies imported more than they exported, generating a chronic trade imbalance, rather like our own day. In 1750 a colonist lamented, "In Debt we are and in Debt we must be, for those vast Importations from Europe, and as we increase, so will our Debts, without, from the present Prospect of things, ever being able to make suitable Returns." In 1762 a New Yorker conceded, "Our importation of dry goods from England is so vastly great, that we are obliged to betake ourselves to all possible arts to make remittances to the British merchants ... and yet it drains us of all the silver and gold we can collect." The pervasive shortage of cash, mounting debts, and trade deficit fed a nagging unease at odds with the overt colonial prosperity and general contentment with the empire. In colonial minds, that unease surged to the fore when the British began to tighten their imperial control after 1760.

Anxiety about the future — rather than egalitarian confidence — was the primary engine of resistance to British taxes and, ultimately, British rule. The celebrated empire of commerce suddenly appeared more troubling during the 1760s, when British officials began taxing consumer goods shipped to the colonies. Affirming their cherished identity as free-born Britons, the colonists rallied behind the core proposition of their political culture: that a free man should pay no tax unless levied by his own representatives. They would pay taxes to their own provincial assemblies but not to the distant Parliament, where no colonist sat. Without any sense of irony or proportion, the colonists fiercely asserted that, if taxed without representation, they would become "slaves" to British masters. Long-cherished consumer goods suddenly appeared in a harsh new light as pernicious bait to establish Parliamentary taxation and to deepen colonial dependence. Far from offering mutual benefit, the empire of goods began to seem like a British plot to exploit and to impoverish their captive customers, the American colonists.

The Stamp Act of 1765 inspired the first massive wave of colonial protests: a mix of mob violence against tax collectors, intellectual arguments for colonial rights, and local agreements to cease importing British goods. Boycotts demanded considerable sacrifice because imported consumer goods had become so essential to colonial social life. Crude American substitutes, such as homespun clothing, were a hard sell in such a competitive society where aspiration daily confronted inequality (and vice versa). A Connecticut woman explained that social compulsion obliged aspiring young women to wear fancy imported clothing to please men; for if women "appeared in Home Spun dress, we should have been treated as kitchen maids by you." George Washington similarly blanched at wearing homespun lest it "create suspicions of a decay in my fortune, %amp% such a thought the World must not harbour." If seen as downwardly mobile, a gentleman lost public respect and might face ruinous lawsuits from nervous creditors calling in debts — which few could afford to pay on short notice. Although the Boston radical Samuel Adams championed the boycotts, he had to don fashionable new clothes upon joining the First Continental Congress at Philadelphia, lest the more genteel delegates dismiss him as a rogue. Striking a rare dark note, Breen observes that "Like addicts, the colonists looked to someone else to protect them from their own dangerous habits, in this case, purchasing British goods whose price tag was political dependence."

Calls for patriotic sacrifice to defend liberty contradicted the definition of freedom promoted by the consumer revolution. During the eighteenth century, colonists began to speak of their access to abundant, inexpensive, and high quality consumer goods as a right — rather like contemporary Americans devoted to gasoline. "I, for myself," one colonist wrote, "choose that there should be many Stores filled with every Kind of thing that is convenient and useful, that I might have my choices of Goods, upon the most reasonable or agreeable Terms; whether foreign or homemade; I would have Liberty of either, and to Deal as I judge best for myself. And I wish the same Privilege to all my Friends and Neighbors."

If free consumption was an inalienable right, how could Patriots justly constrain the purchases of neighbors who wanted no part of a boycott? Picking up on that contradiction, Loyalists denounced the Patriots as hypocrites for harassing consumers in the name of liberty. Championing the tyranny of the majority, the Patriots countered that "the public" could suppress any behavior deemed antithetical to their definition of liberty.

Initially, the boycotts depended on the seaport merchants who held meetings and organized local committees to define the local rules. But as secretive competitors the merchants failed as enforcers. Unable to trust one another for very long, the merchants of one seaport soon began evading their own boycott in the conviction that others were already cheating. Nor did the celebrated Founding Fathers — the politicians who led colonial assemblies and congresses — distinguish themselves with self-discipline. Despite the boycott, John Adams persisted in drinking tea until he was upbraided by a common innkeeper. Adopting a conveniently narrow definition of the boycott, Thomas Jefferson imported British window glass for his mansion at Monticello, until publicity threatened to discredit his patriotism. "It is not from a love of the English, but a love of myself that I sometimes find myself obliged to buy their manufactures," Jefferson later explained.

Conceding that the initial boycotts were economically disappointing, producing minimal disruptions in British exports, Breen locates their greatest significance in their cultural work. Although they put surprisingly little real pressure on the British, the boycotts of the 1760s did help to make colonists into Americans. By reading in newspapers about patriotic meetings, resolutions, and boycotts in distant colonies, the diverse colonists slowly built a new identity as more than mere inhabitants of a single colony, as fellow citizens of a new nation. The continental communication of shared sentiments and consumer sacrifices created the "larger imagined community" of America, rendering independence and union possible by making them conceivable.

That process accelerated in 1774 when local committees of middle-class men took enforcement of the ultimate boycott away from the merchants, transforming a weak non-importation into a coercive non-consumption. Empowered by the Continental Association adopted by the First Continental Congress, local committeemen went door-to-door with subscription lists. Signers promised to restrict their consumption and to identify as enemies any neighbors who refused to comply. Denounced in newspapers and public meetings, holdouts lost business, suffered social ostracism, and risked mob violence, including a painful coat of hot tar topped by a humiliating veneer of feathers. Today we tend to forget how divisive and violent our revolution became. Denouncing Loyalists, in 1774 a Patriot writer accurately predicted a coming day "when the Sons of Liberty will be bound by Duty, both to God and themselves, to hang, drown, or otherwise demolish these execrable Villains from the Face of the Earth, that Posterity may enjoy a peaceful and happy Land, preserv'd from utter Ruin, by the Noble Efforts of Freedom's Sons."

To build a majority committed to confronting Great Britain, committees and their mobs engaged a broader spectrum of colonial society — including women and poor laborers — in political activity. By forsaking, albeit temporarily, coveted consumer goods, distant colonists made significant sacrifices that persuaded one another to trust in their mutual commitment. Without a prior consumer revolution, colonists would have had nothing significant to forsake to prove their virtue and unity as Americans.

Although brilliantly suggestive, Breen's account ultimately seems incomplete in three ways: geographic, political, and temporal. First, he retains the standard but restrictive definition of colonial America as confined to the thirteen provinces that rebelled to form the United States in 1776. This narrow definition omits the other eighteen colonies that comprised British America, including Nova Scotia, Quebec, Jamaica, and Barbados. Their colonists also avidly participated in the empire's consumer revolution. Why, then, did they fail to develop a solidarity as consumers with their fellow American colonists? A satisfactory interpretation of the revolution needs to assess all of British America, explaining persistence as well as the rejection of empire.

Breen similarly retains the conventional rhetoric that implies virtual unanimity by Americans (of the thirteen colonies) in support of the political revolution. By casually equating "colonists" and "Americans" with revolutionary patriotism, Breen erases the approximately one-fifth of the people who remained loyal to the empire. Taking his cues from Patriot discourse, Breen mentions Loyalists only in passing and in the pejorative guise of "Tory sympathizers" — a quaint term of historical partisanship. Loyalists poorly fit the book's central argument: that a unifying political identity as Americans emerged from a standardization of colonial material culture wrought by a ubiquitous consumer revolution.

But Loyalists properly belong in a history that concludes with enforcement of the Continental Association by an array of local committees. Breen quite rightly credits those local, extra-legal committees with crafting and cajoling a strong majority in favor of armed resistance and violent revolution. But those unconstitutional and threatening committees also activated hitherto passive Loyalists. Embittered by harassment, they rallied to the British empire as the lesser of evils. Contrary to their stereotype as out-of-touch elitists, most Loyalists were common farmers and artisans, similar in class to most Patriots, and they often acted in resentment against the wealthy elites who led the Revolution in their counties. Is there any reason to believe that common Loyalists were any less avid consumers than their Patriot counterparts?

In fact, regional variation in support for the political revolution works against regarding the consumer revolution as the essential prerequisite for Patriotism. Within the thirteen colonies, Loyalism was strongest in the Middle Colonies and the Carolinas, which is precisely where Breen finds the greatest per capita growth in consumption during the mid-eighteenth century. Conversely, Patriotism overwhelmingly prevailed in New England, where consumption had increased at the slowest rate. Should we look, then, to the consumer revolution to explain opposition to the revolution? After all, the Loyalists explicitly defended their precious rights as consumers to buy whatever they wanted without having to answer to an upstart committee or a violent mob. In defending free consumption, the Loyalists claimed best to defend true American liberty. Now they seem prescient for asserting the most popular definition of freedom in our own America. Imagine, for example, the impossibility today of an attempt by revolutionary committees to humiliate with tar and feathers those enemies to American energy independence, the owners of Hummers.

Finally, Breen concludes abruptly in 1774 with the Continental Association, depicted as the consummation of a political revolution premised on the negative exercise of consumer power and the positive expression of American nationalism. This ending seems premature when Breen credits the Americans with "repudiating the empire of goods" and with having "destroyed a vital cultural bond with the mother country." Quite the contrary. In 1775 the Revolutionary War introduced a mania for privateering — or licensed piracy — to acquire by violence the "baubles of Britain." And avid consumer demand for a limited supply of captured goods combined with a reckless monetary policy to drive an inflationary spiral that nearly destroyed the fragile new nation. The postwar 1780s brought not only a resumption, but also an intensification, of consumer imports from Britain, with a consequent trade deficit. The consumer "repudiation" of 1774 was brief indeed.

Economic and cultural dependency on Britain endured for decades after political independence, precisely because Americans remained unequal and continued to consume in competition for status. But the Revolution did generate powerful myths of revolutionary unanimity, and of British vulnerability to consumer pressure. Between 1807 and 1809 those myths inspired President Jefferson's foolish "Embargo," which tried to coerce British policy by suspending our maritime commerce. Inflicting more misery on Americans than Britons, the abortive Embargo revealed how little the political revolution had altered American patterns of trade and consumption.

Today we import relatively little from Britain, relying instead on the eastern half of the Pacific rim for our toys and on the Persian Gulf to fuel them. Although our trading partners have shifted, we persist as debtors, both individually and nationally, because consumption on credit remains essential to American competition, to American culture, to American identity. We can tell the social winners by the Hummers they drive. In the end Breen vaguely hopes that a history of the revolutionary boycotts will somehow inspire contemporary Americans "to cooperate effectively for the general political welfare." We can once again make our goods "speak to power. The choice is ours to make." At present, though, few Americans seem willing to compromise their standard of living as individuals to achieve collective goals such as energy independence or environmental protection. In our own time, the perpetual consumer revolution has trumped even the American Revolution as our most cherished legacy from the eighteenth century.

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