A Tolerable Anarchy: Rebels, Reactionaries, and the Making of American Freedom

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Alfred A. Knopf, 2009 - History - 294 pages
2 Reviews
From the author ofFor Common Things: a provocative look at the meaning of American freedom.

Freedom is at the heart of the American identity, shaping both personal lives and political values. The ideal of authoring one’s own life has inspired the country’s best and worst moments—courage and emancipation, but also fear, delusion, and pointless war.

This duality is America’s story, from slavery to the progressive reforms of the early twentieth century, from the New Deal to the social movements of the 1960s and today’s battles over climate change. The arc has been toward expanding freedom as new generations press against inherited boundaries. But economic forces beyond our control undercut our ideas of self-mastery. Realizing our ideals of freedom today requires the political vision to reform the institutions we share.

Jedidiah Purdy works from the stories of individuals: Frederick Douglass urging Americans to extend freedom to slaves; Ralph Waldo Emerson arguing for self-fulfillment as an essential part of liberty; reformers and presidents struggling to redefine citizenship in a fast-changing world. He asks crucial questions: Does capitalism perfect or destroy freedom? Does freedom mean following tradition, God’s word, or one’s own heart? Can a nation of individualists also be a community of citizens?A Tolerable Anarchyis a book of history that speaks plainly to our lives today, urging us to explore our understanding of our country and ourselves, and to make real our own ideals of freedom.

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User Review  - dcunning11235 - LibraryThing

Deserving of a re-read. Purdy always manages to render, with much more clarity and breadth, many of my own thoughts. I will say this book left me a tiny bit confused at the end, as it became more ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - HistReader - LibraryThing

I must say, reading this book began well. In each chapter, Mr. Purdy wove up to a quartet of famous historical figures who epitomized the American sense of freedom. In the middle chapters he ... Read full review

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About the author (2009)

Jedediah Purdy teaches law at Duke University and has also taught at Yale and Harvard. Purdy is the author of For Common Things: Irony, Trust, and Commitment in America Today and Being America: Liberty, Commerce, and Violence in an American World, and has written for The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times, Democracy, and other publications.

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