Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Tale of Human Nature

A few weeks ago I read Walter A. McDougall's Throes of Democracy: The American Civil War Era 1829-1877. It's a book full of jocular pugnacity. McDougall enjoys skewering American pretense, but he does so as a man who believes that "the United States (so far) is the greatest success story in history" (xii). He sees American history as "chock-full of cruelty and love, hypocrisy and faith, cowardice and courage, plus no small measure of tongue-in-cheek humor. American history is a tale of human nature set free." Thus he concludes, "So how you, the reader, respond to this book will depend in good part on how you yourself (all pretense aside!) regard human nature."

I commend this book to you. It will inject life into that delightful and dreadful task of coming to know ourselves. In particular, I appreciated McDougall's insights into America's civil religion, for American civil religion has long been a major force subtly competing with Christianity.

You can watch an introduction to this book here on C-Span. McDougall gives some comments on civil religion around the 45 minute mark.

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