The Devils We Know
Us and Them in America's Raucous Political Culture
James A. Morone
Is there an American culture? Certainly, says James Morone. Americans are fighting over it now. They have been fighting over it since the first Puritan stepped ashore. Americans hate government (no national health insurance!) and call for more of it (lock em up!). They prize democracy (power to the people) and scramble to restrict it (the electoral college in the 21st century?). They celebrate opportunity—but only for some (dont let those people in!). Americans proclaim liberty then wrestle over which kind—positive (freedom from want) or negative (no new taxes!)?
In this volume Morone offers his own answer to the conundrum of American political culture: It is a perpetual work in progress. Immigrants arrive, excluded groups demand power, and each generation injects new ethnicities, races, religions, ideas, foods, entertainments, sins, and body types into the national mix. The challengers—the devils we know—keep inventing new answers to the nations fundamental question: Who are we?
“Taken together, these powerful writings will make a major contribution to our understandings of American political thought, American political development, and American political culture. Morone’s informative collection will be indispensable for any scholar concerned with American health politics and policy, populism, wealth, power, the left, morality, the Culture Wars, and contemporary social and political issues.”
—Reviews in History
“Morone is a lively writer and shrewd interpreter of political culture. . . . provide[s] an invigorating tour of multiple sites where American identity has been created and recreated over time.”
—Journal of American HistorySee all reviews...
“Who constitute the ‘them’ outside the American community can differ at any particular time—various immigrant groups, the ‘undeserving poor,’ alcoholics, smokers, and recently, the obese—though race-based exclusion has been, Morone maintains, the cosmological constant in the American cultural universe. Americans’ efforts to separate the culturally normative ‘us’ from the alien ‘them’ has resulted in a politics in which power is gained by cultivating fear of one’s enemies and frequently enacted prohibitionist public policies that are, according to Morone, ‘miserable.’”
“How good it is to have this collection of bracing essays by one of the most imaginative scholars of the American experience.Ranging across a wide range of ideas, personalities, events, policies, and ethical challenges, The Devils We Know offers the gift of clarifying crucial conundrums and contradictions in American political culture.”
—Ira Katznelson, author of Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time
“A landmark book. Morone stands out—yet again—as a pioneer in melding American political thought and political development. In this collection, Morone reworks Louis Hartz to produce a mesmerizing new synthesis of America’s kaleidoscopic political culture—one that despises government but embraces Social Security and Medicare, tolerates stinging racial and income disparities even as it sings the praises of democracy and opportunity, and simultaneously worships individualism and country.”
—Larry Jacobs, coauthor of Health Reform and American Politics
“No one portrays the development of our politics with more verve and insight than James Morone. The Devils We Know displays Morone’s wit and wisdom at its best. With a collection of sparkling essays that span slavery, prohibition, obesity and health care, Morone charms us into taking a hard look at the inspiring and troubling battles for the soul of America.”
—Sidney Milkis, author of Theodore Roosevelt, the Progressive Party, and the Transformation of American DemocracySee fewer reviews...
Each essay in The Devils We Know takes up a different aspect of the creative conflicts that shape America. Ranging from Huck Finn to Obamacare, Morone explores the ways in which culture interacts with other forces—most notably the rules and organizations that channel collective choices. The battle to define the nations political culture spills over into every area of American life, but three are especially important: democracy, economics, and morals — each, in turn, complicated by race, race, race. Written over 25 years, these essays constitute a closely observed and deeply thoughtful vision of what America is—its ideas, images, rules, institutions, and culture clashes. Together, they explain just why America is the way it is. And what it might become.