American Character: A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common Good
The author of American Nations examines the history of and solutions to the key American question: how best to reconcile individual liberty with the maintenance of a free society
The struggle between individual rights and the good of the community as a whole has been the basis of nearly every major disagreement in our history, from the debates at the Constitutional Convention and in the run up to the Civil War to the fights surrounding the agendas of the Federalists, the Progressives, the New Dealers, the civil rights movement, and the Tea Party. In American Character, Colin Woodard traces these two key strands in American politics through the four centuries of the nation’s existence, from the first colonies through the Gilded Age, Great Depression and the present day, and he explores how different regions of the country have successfully or disastrously accommodated them. The independent streak found its most pernicious form in the antebellum South but was balanced in the Gilded Age by communitarian reform efforts; the New Deal was an example of a successful coalition between communitarian-minded Eastern elites and Southerners.
Woodard argues that maintaining a liberal democracy, a society where mass human freedom is possible, requires finding a balance between protecting individual liberty and nurturing a free society. Going to either libertarian or collectivist extremes results in tyranny. But where does the “sweet spot” lie in the United States, a federation of disparate regional cultures that have always strongly disagreed on these issues? Woodard leads readers on a riveting and revealing journey through four centuries of struggle, experimentation, successes and failures to provide an answer. His historically informed and pragmatic suggestions on how to achieve this balance and break the nation’s political deadlock will be of interest to anyone who cares about the current American predicament—political, ideological, and sociological.
Middle to Lose (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2011), 351–52. 15. Colin Woodard, “A Geography Lesson for the Tea Party,” Washington Monthly, November/December 2011, 11, 16; Colin Woodard, “Republicans Have a Yankee Problem,” Maine Sunday Telegram, December 16, 2012, E1. 16. Woodard, “Geography Lesson for the Tea Party,” 16. 17. Lofgren, The Party Is Over, 68; Martin Frost, “The Tea Party Taliban,” Politico, July 29, 2011; Woodard, “A Geography Lesson for the Tea Party,” 11. 18. Mark Binelli,
Christian right and, 195 in Deep South, 47–48 universities, 108, 109 Edwards, Mickey, 209 Ehrlichman, John, 186 Eisenhower, Dwight D., 40, 161–64, 168, 171, 173, 174, 183, 235, 238, 249–50, 254 elites, 42, 50–51, 255 in Deep South, 48, 51, 53, 54, 106, 110, 155 masses and, 85–110 see also aristocracy; oligarchy El Salvador, 16, 42 Emerging Republican Majority, The (Phillips), 199 England, 13–14, 19, 70, 85–89, 92, 85, 86, 95, 115 Civil War in, 62, 70, 85 Glorious Revolution in, 85
died the wealthiest man in the city, with a slave plantation in Barbados and a manor home in Yonkers. The first Vanderbilt was an indentured servant and the first Van Burens were tenant farmers, yet those individuals begat the wealthiest family in history and the first self-made man to be elected president, respectively.7 As members of a highly mobile, outwardly oriented trading society, New Netherlanders have long recognized the need to have both an involved government tasked with looking out
seen on electoral maps or the geographical plotting of the voting records of members of Congress.25 These regional differences divided the founding fathers and created fear and uncertainty in the early years of the Republic, in turn prompting the drafting of a constitution that sought to balance the freedoms of the government, the elite, and the people. Even the genius of men like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Adams, and Alexander Hamilton, however, could not contain these divisions for
applying for the appropriate permits while Beck promoted the event on air. The group also urged its followers to set aside social issues and embrace their libertarian economic platform, summed up in the group’s motto: “Lower Taxes, Less Government, More Freedom.”8 Beck also played a key role in the political education of his Tea Party admirers. His primary contribution was the tireless promotion of the works and ideas of W. Cleon Skousen, a right-wing extremist whose views were so fanatical he’d