Sunday Night Odds and Ends

A few things online that caught my attention this week:

The Book of Mormon meets The New Yorker

Max Weber: seriousness, purpose, and commitment

Winthrop, JFK, Reagan and the “City on a Hill

Brian Williams and Tom Brokaw

When did people start worshiping the American Founding Fathers

Ta-Nehisi Coates vs. Ross Douthat on the Obama prayer breakfast

Jay Tolson defends history at The Hedgehog Review

Drew Gilpin Faust reviews Richard Brookhiser’s Founders Son: A Life of Abraham Lincoln

Thomas Jefferson on how to bring a slave to France

Richard Wightman Fox on Lincoln’s funeral procession

Civil War Washington D.C.

Black Republicans

Josh Stephens reviews Edward Dolnick’s The Rush: America’s Fevered Quest for Fortune, 1848-1853

Abraham Lincoln: writer

Jill Lepore reviews two books on Abraham Lincoln’s body

This week’s “Past and Presence

T.H. Breen: Washington vs. Hancock

Molly Worthen reviews Grant Wacker, America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of the Nation

3 thoughts on “Sunday Night Odds and Ends

  1. The American Founders, Brands wrote, “were no smarter than the best their country can offer now; they weren't wiser or more altruistic. They may have been more learned in a classical sense, but they knew much less about the natural world, including the natural basis of human behavior.

    Yes, we don't need no stinkin' Cicero. We got Rawls.

    But let's just be clear. The New Way may be better or more appropriate, but has no call on the Founders, certainly less than its opponents.


  2. I think the Atlantic article on so-called “worship” of the Founding Fathers was interesting. Reminded me of one of the ideas in Tracy McKenzie's “The First Thanksgiving” – change over time in how we view both the Pilgrims and, in this case, the Founding Fathers. The author(s) seems to make one of McKenzie's arguments – that the guys were flawed just like us and hold no moral authority over us. I would agree…to a point. However, the ideas they had about (national) government and its limits and placing most authority as close to the people as possible (states or local government) are not insignificant matters for the nation.

    Brands wrote back '03:
    In revering the Founders we undervalue ourselves and sabotage our own efforts to make improvements—necessary improvements—in the republican experiment they began.

    Such thinking seems to always boil down to this: a lament that there are limits on the federal government. As Obama stated in a radio interview some years ago, the regretted that the Constitution was a set of “negative rights” and not more about what the government should do for people. I've read somewhere in one of your blog posts (or maybe a link you posted) about Barton and Beck's history stuff and Beck's distaste for Wilson. There was some amusement by whoever wrote the bit over the focus on Wilson, but it is not mentioned that Wilson was the first President to openly question the limits the Constitution placed on the federal government. Of course, both Obama and Wilson were Ivy-leaguers, so it's not unsurprising such folks would question the wisdom of having limits on what they wanted or dreamed of doing with government power. All for our “common good”, of course — as they define it.

    The Electoral College is “undemocratic”. So is the Senate. Good. The author needs to study the concept of Federalism and the 9th and 10th Amendments. I doubt the good folks of NH, VT, IA and other small states wish to have large swaths of their lives dictated by the folks in CA, FL, TX or NY. We have debates now on religious liberty and whether or not one's religious beliefs translate into the workplace because a handful of politicians (less than 300) decided they would mandate health insurance coverage for a nation of almost 310 million people and the chief politician could proclaim that those that don't fit his definition of a “good” policy are “substandard” and should be abolished.

    Lest you think I'm just some right wing loon, I think there are valid issues to debate between government in the industrialized 21st Century and one formed in the agrarian 18th Century, when some 95% or more of people were living on farms, basically self-employed and could be, for the most part, self-sustaining, whereas today so much of our lives (food, clothing, shelter, etc.) has been “outsourced” and we are far more dependent on people across the country and around the world to supply our basic necessities. This opens up a debate about what powers the national government should have that it did not have in the past, pre-New Deal (wealth transfers for unemployment insurance, social security, medicare/medicaid, etc.)

    It doesn't however, jettison the Founding Fathers' premise that centralized power tends to be corrosive, inept and corrupt. (Would there even be an argument over “too much money in politics” if government didn't meddle in so much?) Nor does striving for “necessary improvements” mean one phrase – “promote the general welfare” – gives carte blanche to do just about anything and everything in the name of the “common good”.

    There's probably books that take on the idea of the Founders and governing in a modern world….I think I'll end my post before I end up writing one. 🙂


  3. Great links, John, thx. Although this made me laugh.

    A Life of Abraham Lincoln
    By Richard Brookhiser
    Illustrated. 347 pp. Basic Books. $27.99.

    Correction: February 10, 2015
    An earlier version of this review referred incorrectly to the book’s treatment of the succession of Union generals who suffered mostly defeats in the battles of the Seven Days, Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. It briefly discusses those generals; they are not “left unnamed.”

    Drew Gilpin Faust is the president of Harvard. She is the author, most recently, of “This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War.”


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