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A nation of agents : the American path to a modern self and society
Block, James E.
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Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2002.
Physical Description:
xi, 658 p.


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Book BILKUTUP0285921 E169.1 .B654 2002 Central Campus Library

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In this sweeping reinterpretation of American political culture, James Block offers a new perspective on the formation of the modern American self and society. Block roots both self and society in the concept of agency, rather than liberty, and dispenses with the national myth of the "sacred cause of liberty"--with the Declaration of Independence as its "American scripture." Instead, he recovers the early modern conception of agency as the true synthesis emerging from America's Protestant and liberal cultural foundations.

Block traces agency doctrine from its pre-Commonwealth English origins through its development into the American mainstream culture on the eve of the twentieth century. The concept of agency that prevailed in the colonies simultaneously released individuals from traditional constraints to participate actively and self-reliantly in social institutions, while confining them within a new set of commitments. Individual initiative was now firmly bounded by the modern values and ends of personal Protestant religiosity and collective liberal institutional authority. As Block shows, this complex relation of self to society lies at the root of the American character.

A Nation of Agents is a new reading of what the "first new nation" did and did not achieve. It will enable us to move beyond long-standing national myths and grasp both the American achievement and its legacy for modernity.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
1 The American Narrative in Crisisp. 1
I The English Origins of the American Self and Society
2 The Early Puritan Insurgents and the Origins of Agencyp. 39
3 The Protestant Revolutionaries and the Emerging Society of Agentsp. 69
4 Thomas Hobbes and the Founding of the Liberal Politics of Agencyp. 111
5 John Locke and the Mythic Society of Free Agentsp. 152
II The Ascendancy of Agency and the First New Nation
6 The Great Awakening and the Emergent Culture of Agencyp. 183
7 The Revolutionary Triumph of Agencyp. 233
III The Dilemma of Nationhood
8 The Liberal Idyll amidst Republican Realitiesp. 299
9 From Liberation to Reversal in a World without Boundsp. 332
IV The Creation of an Agency Civilization
10 National Revival as the Crucible of Agency Characterp. 369
11 From Sectarian Discord to Civil Religionp. 424
12 The Protestant Agent in Liberal Economicsp. 459
13 John Dewey and the Modern Synthesisp. 493
Conclusion: The Recovery of Agencyp. 537
Notesp. 553
Indexp. 635