A Tolerable Anarchy

Rebels, Reactionaries, and the Making of American Freedom

book | March 01, 2009

    Jedediah Purdy

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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.

Jedediah 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?

In scintillating prose that's erudite but straightforward and packed with insights, Purdy offers both a searching critique of America's ideology of freedom and an affirmation of the "millions of small declarations of independence from hierarchy, constraint, and fear" it has inspired. The result is a tour de force of engaged political philosophy from one of America's most perceptive public intellectuals.

BY: Publishers Weekly

This tour of freedom and its discontents passes through slavery and race, property and labor, conflict and war, utopias and morality.

BY: The New York Times

Purdy has emerged as one of America's most promising young public intellectuals. This beautifully written book confirms his place. Rich in the history he tells, and brilliant in its insight, the book will change how you think about America and the challenge we face for its future.

BY: Lawrence Lessig, founder of Creative Commons and author of Free Culture

In this thoughtful and engaging history of ideas, Jedediah Purdy vividly recounts this multifaceted debate and illuminates how the idea of freedom is still evolving. Here is an essential book for understanding the idea of freedom in America and the role of government in our lives.

BY: Robert B. Reich, author of Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life

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    Jedediah Purdy