Saturday, September 29, 2012

Delivering freedom

In Lincoln's Hundred Days: The Emancipation Proclamation and the War for the Union, Rutgers professor Louis Masur marks an important anniversary with panache

The following review has been posted on the Books page of the History News Network.    

Louis P. Masur's latest book stands at the intersection of two important long term trends in Civil War historiography (and, by extension, U.S. historiography generally). The first a post-1960s emphasis on foregrounding the racial dimension of the conflict, asserting slavery was the precipitating cause and abolition as the primary significance of its outcome. This would almost be so obvious among scholars to not bear mentioning if such emphasis was not primary before the late 20th century, and if there didn't remain vocal segments in the culture at large that explicitly reject it. The other, more recent trend is a new emphasis on political history, in effect closing a circle that began with a move toward social history in the 1970s and '80s and cultural history in the 1990s and 2000s. In recent decades historians have tried to affirm their commitment to a democratic discourse by affirming the agency of individual actors at the ground level rather than the Words and Deeds of Great Men. Like all well-intentioned (or perhaps just intellectual marketplace-driven) trends, however, such tendencies have perhaps reached the point where they conceal more than they reveal. Who's running the government at any given time really may matter after all.

Given this context, there may well have been a spate of Emancipation Proclamation books even if its 150th anniversary was not at hand (President Lincoln issued the preliminary Proclamation on September 22, 1862, and the final one putting it into effect on January 1, 1863). In recent years, a string of heavyweight scholars -- among them Allen Guelzo, Harold Holzer, and, going back a bit further, John Hope Franklin -- have made it the subject of volume-length studies. This is interesting when one considers the traditional perception of the E.P., captured most vividly by Edmund Wilson, who in Patriotic Gore famously described it as having "all the moral grandeur of a bill of lading." But just as the center of gravity in the military history of the war has shifted from Gettysburg to Antietam, so too is the E.P. getting a second look as a document as carefully crafted, and eloquent in its own way, as the Gettysburg Address.

Louis Masur is uniquely well situated to make this historiographic adjustment, and does so with the seasoning and dash of a scholar at the height of his powers. There are few historians whose work has ranged more widely than his has, not only in spanning the transition from social history to cultural history -- his work has covered topics ranging from capital punishment to the music of Bruce Springsteen -- but also in terms of having a particular feel for the Civil War history, evident in his fine anthology The Real War Will Never Get in the Books (1995) and his masterfully brief 100-page narrative The Civil War (2011). These strengths coalesce in a study notable for its deftness, whether in terms of mining midterm electoral results or in sketching the series of artists who made visual records of Lincoln and his cabinet.

Masur cleverly frames this narrative in terms of a now familiar presidential trope of 100 days. This is a metric that first emerged in the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, and has since been applied as a way of assessing every recent president. In the case of  the E.P., it turned out -- Lincoln himself didn't realize it at first -- there there were exactly 100 days between its issuance and implementation. In and of itself, 100 days is not a particularly useful or persuasive criterion for measuring presidential effectiveness, and Masur's story effectively begins with the outbreak of the war, covering about a hundred pages before we get to the heart of the book described in the title. But this device of centering his narrative on the hundred days does clarify that the months between between September and January were truly a crucible of American history, when a sense of uncertainty surrounded the E.P., both in terms of whether it would really be executed, and whether it really would matter.

What emerges in that narrative -- something that has often been commented upon about Lincoln, but which comes into focus in a way that simulates real time -- is his truly heroic sense of patience in formulating a policy, selling that policy, and resolutely standing by it in the face of terrific pressures. Masur makes clear that Lincoln had to change his mind in arriving at the Proclamation. For a long time he believed he key to ending slavery rested with the border states, whose leaders he hoped to convince to relinquish it gradually. "Lincoln had long believed that the abolition of slavery in Kentucky, Missouri, Delaware and Maryland would help to end the rebellion and lead to emancipation in the Confederacy," Masur writes. "He [finally] realized, if anything, it would have to be other way around." It was this key insight in breaking his mental set, his willingnesss and ability to surrender hopes (like colonization of freedmen to Central America) and face difficult realities, that made him a truly far-sighted leader. And it was his communication skills, in being able to articulate every side of an issue, that made him an effective politician with an acute sense of timing, in implementing policy.

Masur rounds out his his tri-partitite narrative by limning the aftermath of the E.P. culminating in the moving story of Lincoln's visit to Richmond in April of 1865, surrounded by throngs of grateful former slaves, and a reaction to this gratitude that amounts to greatness in its sincere humility. In so doing, he succeeds in the larger goal of the book, which is to make the story of the Emancipation Proclamation a synecdoche for the war itself. As such, it's a story of triumph bounded on either side by violence and tragedy. Sort of like American history itself.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Leisure ethic

In The American Success Myth on Film, Babson professor Jule Levinson reveals the flip side of the work ethic

The following review has been posted on the Books page of the History News Network.   

For some people, the American success myth is one of the great cultural engines of our national history, a motivating ideal that gets realized by the very faith individuals invest in it. For others, it's a myth in the sense of a lie, a evident falsehood (much in the way a self-made man is quite literally a contradiction in terms). For Babson College professor Julie Levinson and the scholars she cites in this slim but evocative study, "myth" is a academic term connoting a widely believed notion whose validity isn't really possible to gauge empirically, which is why cultural historians like herself look to popular culture as repositories of collective imagination -- and shifts within it.

What's really striking about The American Success Myth on Film is the way Levinson documents a long, varied, and powerful vein of skepticism, even hostility, to the myth, even in works that presumably embrace it. In one sense, this shouldn't be surprising. Levinson's intellectual heritage rests on a poststructuralist tradition in which deconstruction is the point of departure for the analysis of any text. So it is, for example, that she cites scholars like the great Robert Ray, who notes that in It's a Wonderful Life Jimmy Stewart's dreams for escape from his small town roots go unrealized, and the villain goes unpunished, amid the seemingly celebratory scene at the end of the film where his contributions to his community are lionized. Even in those cases where such stories end less ambiguously, like the mediocre but nevertheless revealing 2006 film The Pursuit of Happyness, happy endings tend to result from the creators of such tales concluding them (as with romance tales that end in marriage) before drudgery and routine set in. Levinson illustrates this point with a wide variety of films from the thirties to the present, and does so deftly.

Given this theoretical stipulation of textual multivalence, the surprise here is actually how unexpectedly direct and emphatic the rejection of the success myth is in so many of the films Levinson analyzes. This is particularly apparent when she filters the myth through a gendered lens, shifting her gaze toward female protagonists. The governing metanarrative of recent decades -- I'll call it the Oprah Myth -- is one of progress and equality. But over and over again, she shows women who are conflicted, disappointed, or just plain punished over their aspirations for upward mobility. Susan Faludi made this point two decades ago in Backlash, but Levinson shows it be alive and well in the 21st century -- in some ways more alive than ever.

Even more surprising is the final and most original chapter, titled "Hallelujah I'm a Bum: The Glorification of Unemployment." Here Levinson makes a truly compelling case for a long, varied and yet coherent tradition in American cinema that valorizes leisure over labor, stretching from Charlie Chaplin to the slacker films of the 1990s. As she notes, "each generation crafts its own version of the glorification of unemployment, and collectively these movies comprise compelling diachronic evidence of deep-seated unease with work as an indicator of self-worth and as a guarantor of the good life."

Not all Levinson's readings are fully persuasive. Her reading of the 1987 film Broadcast News, for example, describes the filmmakers depicting Holly Hunter's character as "directly responsible for her status as an unhappily single woman," a somewhat reductive take on a woman who makes conscious choices based on her personal and professional values and maturely accepts the price of those choices. Similarly, the fact that Meryl Streep's Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada (2005) is unhappily married and is not finally a role model for Anne Hathaway's protagonist is not necessarily grounds for concluding she's a failure (one could also plausibly see her as a resilient survivor who has learned to accept her personality as a form of fate). In their tendency to problematize myths and other cultural constructs, scholars sometimes don't give creators or audiences enough credit in their capacity to understand the tensions and incomplete resolutions that gives myths their vitality generation after generation.

But such arguable assessments are part of what make The American Success Myth on Film valuable. Only currently available in an expensive hardcover edition, this is a book that deserves a paperback edition for course adoption as well as a potentially general readership. Levinson's is a voice that deserves to be heard.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The spirit of self-made men

The religious revivals known as Great Awakenings paved the way for the self-made man

The following post is part of a series on the rise and fall of the self-made man in American culture. 

In the scope of their ambition and the societies they were instrumental as founding, John Winthrop, Roger Williams and William Penn could plausibly be seen, in retrospect, as self-made men. But for them an their colonial peers, God, not man, as the source of all creation. Penn went further – much further – than the Puritans did in his belief that the Inner Light was a gift that humans could use to fashion a society as they saw fit. With this indispensable source, they were born free to make of themselves what they will. In that relatively narrow, but relatively real, sense he would agree they were self-made.
In the eighteenth century, a new wave of religious denominations emerged that built on agency-driven vision of faith. These exploded into view in the second third of the eighteenth century in a phenomenon that has come to be known as the First Great Awakening. The flames of this trans-Atlantic revival were fanned by charismatic preachers like the great Anglican minister George Whitefield (1714-1770), and New England Congregationist Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758).
For Whitefield, Edwards, and like-minded evangelists, however, the First Great Awakening was a tricky proposition, theologically and otherwise. They remained Calvinists, as did many of their believers. But the intensity of what was in many respects a bottom-up religious movement shaded, at times imperceptibly, toward a notion of individual agency. This tension could be seen, for example, in the rise of ministers who felt they could – even must – shed the baggage of formal training and rely on the force of experienced conversion to sustain them and their followers. (Such people were known as New Lights, in contrast to denominationally orthodox Old Lights.) Edwards in particular, who recognized the vitality of the New Lights but worried about their rhetorical and emotional excesses, tried to navigate between them, ultimately found himself rejected by his flock in Massachusetts. He ended up in New Jersey as a president of Princeton, which became a bastion of the Calvinist inflected Presybterianism that dominated the middle colonies in the decades on either side of the American Revolution.
Their efforts notwithstanding, Edwards and Whitefield were increasingly displaced by more avowedly Arminian sects that emphasized the power – and responsibility – for believers to actively choose their own salvation. Among the most important were the Baptists, who grew sharply from their Rhode Island roots, becoming the largest Protestant denomination in North America, which they remain. Unlike the infant baptisms of the Catholic Church, Baptists emphasized that this sacrament must be the informed decision of an adult. Similarly successful in this period were the Methodists, led by the much-traveled Briton John Wesley (1703-1791), whose very name suggests a concrete series of steps believers could take to experience a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.
In an important sense, American religious culture has never looked back – hard to see how it could have once Thomas Jefferson codified life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness into a new form of sacred scripture. The idea that man was the forger of his own fate reached its theological apotheosis in the ministry of Charles Grandison Finney (1791-1875) a self-trained Presbyterian minister who dispensed with Calvinism altogether and made individual choice of the cornerstone of a remarkably successful career as a revivalist, theologian, and president of Oberlin College. Finney’s vision of faith is aptly captured in his famous analogy of a man approaching the edge of Niagara Falls who is warned of danger and steps back from the brink of destruction. [81-2] In this formulation, God is the messenger, but the man’s decision, and subsequent action to save himself, are his alone. Finney, the rock star of 19th century American religion, was a central figure in the next and greatest religious revival in American history, the Second Great Awakening, which dominated the social, cultural, and political life of the nation in the first half of the nineteenth century. His periodic tours, mostly in northeastern cities, made him internationally famous.  His innovation of the “anxious seat,” in which he invited participants to come forth and profess their worthlessness as a prelude to experiencing the awesome power of God’s redemptive love, thrillingly dramatized the power of individuals to change their lives.
The Second Great Awakening was a complex, long-term phenomenon with different accents in different locales. In the old southwest in the states surrounding Kentucky, for example, its impact tended to be individualistic, defined in personal terms. Its later incarnations in the North, especially the so-called “burnt-over district” of upstate New York, had more of a social dimension. In this regard, it echoed the dialectic of the Puritans (many of whose heirs had moved west into the region). Your power to change your life and re-make yourself was affirmed in terms of your power to do good for others. All the great reform movements of the nineteenth century – the quest to conquer alcoholism; suffrage for women, and especially, the fight against slavery – drew their vitality from the spiritual power unleashed by the Awakening. (It was also the source of vitality in some of the social byways of the era, from Mormonism to less well-known crusades like those for dietary, prison, and sex reform.) Finney used the word “perfectionism” to describe such quests, one reason he was regarded as controversial by religious traditionalists, but one which had biblical justifications that had been invoked by First Great Awakening evangelicals.
The age of self-making may have arrived, but all over the country, it was also hedged. Personal freedom was coupled with an assertion that success on earthly terms must be coupled with that of spiritual regeneration and/or redemption, which often – but not always – had a collective dimension. The nature of this must was ambiguous: sometimes it was asserted that worldly success was impossible without a moral basis; other times it was conceded such success was possible but could never be truly satisfying. From the early nineteenth century to the early twentieth, believers – in the broadest sense of that term – struggled with squaring the injunction to do well by doing good with a suspicion that worldly and heavenly grace were not always convergent.
Of course, some people were more worried about this corundrum than others. Actually, from the very beginning of England’s North American experiment there were those whose orientation toward moral considerations in making a life for themselves were nominal. Their God, figuratively speaking, was Demeter. And their heaven – one decidedly of their own making – was here on earth.

On the docket: a series of posts on the self-made agrarian, from William Berkeley to Thomas Jefferson. Stay tuned.

Monday, September 17, 2012


William Penn played politics and won a king's ransom in the form of a colony

The following post is part of a series on the rise and fall of the self-made man in American culture. 

The man who founded one of the largest and most successful colonial enterprises ever launched in the western hemisphere belonged to a fringe religious sect known as the Quakers. Quakers were part of the long tail of the Reformation. Actually, they were a breakaway faction of the breakaway Puritans. The sect was born in the mid-seventeenth England under the leadership of George Fox, a weaver who emerged as a religious savant amid the political turmoil of the English Civil War. Fox named his group The Society of Friends; they got their nickname for the way they allegedly shook or trembled when they experienced union with God. English Puritan reformers were trying to reform the clergy; Fox argued that the faithful could do without clergy altogether. He and like-minded believers embraced a simple practice of worship that involved gathering in meetinghouses and sitting silently until – literally – the spirit moved someone to speak, an experience of growing tension and intensity that often led to the so-called quaking.
Such experiences made everything else secondary, if not dispensable. Walk into a Catholic Church to this day and one will see a large, graphic piece of piece of religious inconography in the form of a crufix with a bleeding Christ nailed to the cross. It gets your attention and commands reverence. Walk into a mainstream Protestant denominational church like that of the Anglicans, and one will find a simple, abstract cross. Walk into a Quaker meetinghouse, however, and you will find plain white walls. (Needless to say, there will be no stained glass windows, not to mention a minister). This emphasis on simplicity would prove durably attractive; today people with little in the way of religious inclinations themselves admire everything about the Quakers from their furniture to their pacifism.
There was a curiously aggressive quality to Quaker simplicity, however. Quakers insisted on using informal pronouns like “thee” and “thou” instead of “you” and “your” with everyone, and refused to remove their hats for anyone, rituals of religious egalitarianism that caused them no end of trouble when dealing with government authorities who did not deal kindly with those unwilling to show due deference. Quakers also had a disturbing tendency to go naked in public, a statement of transparency that could be a little hard to take. All of this might not have been so bad if the they had not also proselytized, amid many official and unofficial warnings that they desist, in civic places. At a time when there was a growing consensus in England and elsewhere that people could worship as they wished in private or secluded settings, Quakers got in your face. Nicely.
At the heart of the Quaker vision of life was an affirmation of “the inner light,” a belief in the holiness of every person that allowed them to know right and to do good. In a sense, this was the worst of all Puritan worlds: an Antinomian conceit that one can know the will of God coupled, with a retrograde Catholic notion that good works can become a means of salvation. Quakers drove lots of people crazy, but Puritans in particular hated their flat rejection of predestination. Mary Dyer, a Quaker friend of Anne Hutchinson who repeatedly refused to comply with her banishment, was finally hanged for her intransigence. And yet, like the Puritans and many other Protestant dissidents, Quakers weathered multiple forms of adversity, managing to grow in numbers and cross the Atlantic. And like the Puritans, too, they proved to be skilled traders and became increasingly prosperous.
William Penn was the most famous Quaker in American history – and a highly unlikely one. Here, truly, was a man to the manor born, the son of a successful Admiral who largely managed to stay on the good side of King Charles I, the regime of Oliver Cromwell that overthrew him, and the restored monarchy of Charles II (which strikes me as more impressive than his naval accomplishments, which included adding the fabulously profitable island of Jamaica to the England’s portfolio). His namesake would inherit his father’s money along with his social skills.
At first, young William Penn did not appear especially unusual among men of his class, then or later. He went to good schools, traveled widely, and embraced fads like French fashion. His Quakerism, which he picked up from a missionary in Ireland, initially seemed to his father part of a passing phase like venereal disease – irritating for sure, but not something that prevented his son from taking on responsibilities like helping put down an insurrection there and managing the family estate. But though he put it aside for a time, the younger Penn’s adopted faith became an increasingly important, and obvious, dimension of his life. In the famous words of English writer Samuel Pepys, “Mr. Will Pen, who is lately come over from Ireland, is a Quaker again, or some melancholy thing.” (Maybe drug addiction is a better analogy than VD.)
Like his compatriots, Penn was disputatious: he frequently got into arguments, staged formal debates, and wrote prodigiously in promoting Quakerism and the right of good English subjects to practice it. Such habits frequently got him thrown in jail, but his social connections also repeatedly got him out. Actually, Penn is an important figure in Anglo-American jurisprudence for his success in prevailing in a landmark legal dispute, the Bushel Case (1670), where a judge’s repeated overturning of Penn’s acquittal for unlawful assembly was declared illegal. (Edward Bushel was one of the jurors imprisoned for his refusal to convict Penn and his co-defendants.)
But Penn’s greatest talent may well have been his ability to make strange bedfellows. One of the most confusing aspects of his career is his sustained good terms with King Charles II and his brother James, the former a closet Catholic and the latter an avowed one. The royal family seems to have viewed Penn’s youthful shenanigans indulgently, apparently with sympathetic affection for Penn’s father. (The Stuart monarchs have been fairly criticized on any number of counts, but they have always seemed less doctrinaire in their personal lives than the often self-righteous Puritans and Anglicans who surrounded them.) It was in the mid-seventeenth century that the modern political system that pitted reform-minded Whigs against more traditionalist Tories first emerged, and for most of his career the younger Penn was affiliated with the former, notwithstanding his sometime awkward relations with both factions arising from his increasingly common presence at court.
There was, nevertheless, an element of logic in Penn’s relationship with the Stuarts, especially James, who became King in 1685. In important respects Quakers and Catholics were about as far apart as one could get on a Christian spectrum. Actually, there have been doubts, then and since, about whether Quakers are in fact Christians at all, given a persistent vein in their thinking that has challenged the divinity of Christ, an argument Penn himself made in the 1660s that got him in serious trouble before he backtracked in order to get out of prison. But Quakers and Catholics alike were subject to harassment and criticism, both in the social realm as well as in the laws passed by Parliament, and both had an interest in promoting the right of conscience.
Penn’s father died in 1670, shortly after his son’s success in the Bushel Case. By that point the two men had made their peace with each other, and Penn inherited a substantial estate. Over the course the next decade he was drawn to the center of an increasingly complex and volatile political situation, caught in the middle between Whig allies trying to check the Stuarts and prevent the Catholic James from succeeding to the throne on one side, and his personal ties to the dynasty on the other. It was also in these years that both Crown and Parliament were seeking tighter controls over England’s North American colonies.
In the midst of all this, Penn managed to draw the political equivalent of an inside straight. Until this point he had shown little interest in America, despite its evident attraction to many of his fellow Quakers. But he was beginning to feel his situation and that of the Friends was growing increasingly difficult. Penn’s father had loaned Charles II a substantial sum of money; it was far from clear when or if it would ever be paid back. Penn managed to diplomatically suggest the debt could be painlessly discharged by granting him a piece of remote real estate on the other side of the world. The King liked the idea, so much so that he gave Penn a tract that was bigger than England itself and convinced his brother to drop his claims on the territory we have come to known as Delaware. Though he was planning on taking away the charters of recalcitrant colonies like Massachusetts and centralizing colonial government generally, the King clearly considered a splashy gift to a vocal dissident who happened to be a trusted ally a good political move. Charles even named the grant; Penn was planning on calling it “Sylvania,” but the King demanded it be dubbed Pennsylvanvia: Penn’s Woods. It was officially established as a colony in 1682.
Penn’s gift came with all manner of complications. His territory, sandwiched between New York, Maryland, and the murkily organized New Jersey, would provide an endless series of border headaches. The English government imposed all kinds of trading restrictions, and the notoriously independent minded Quakers had their own ideas about governance. But Penn threw himself into this new project with boundless energy. As one of his recent biographers has written, for him “religion was an experience, not an intellectual process.” It was also one that spoken to a core precept of his faith: a sense of agency that allowed him to act as he saw fit. As Penn once said, “Godliness don’t turn Man out of the World, but enables them to live better in it, and excites their endeavors to mend it.” [191,63]. Endeavor Penn did.
To that end he made a series of important decisions that would decisively shape the fate of Pennsylvania, embodied in the famous Frame of Government that he drafted before leaving England. Among its key provisions were religious tolerance for all who believed in God, the same civil rights to settlers as were available in England, and scrupulous care in negotiating with Indians (indeed, Pennsylvania became a haven for harassed Indian tribes). The government would consist of a governor, a 72-member council, and – an important innovation – a 500-seat general assembly. Penn would have veto power, but he assumed he wouldn’t really need it: popular will and executive will would dovetail in what would literally and figuratively be a Society of Friends.
 Penn would be repeatedly frustrated in this assumption. He was forced to revise his Frame repeatedly, and for the rest of his life – only a few years of which were actually spent in Pennsylvania – he wrangled with the government and people of Pennsylvania over how the colony should be ruled and over rents he expected but rarely received. (He was almost broke when he received Pennsylvania, and bad financial decisions hobbled his fortunes until his death in 1718.) For the next century, Pennsylvania would be among the most fractious of Great Britain’s American colonies, and among the most politically divided at the time of the American Revolution.
Part of Penn’s problems stemmed from a seeming contradiction that probably appears a lot more glaring to us than it did him and many of his contemporaries: he was a Quaker aristocrat. Though he embraced many of the egalitarian tenets of his faith, Penn always acted with the serene confidence of a member of a small national elite, and expected others to recognize him as such. Regarding other people as spiritual equals did not necessarily mean you regard them as a social equals, and even if you do regard them as social equals, that doesn’t necessarily mean you regard them as a political or economic ones. Quakers were not communists, especially as they grew more prosperous, and while many opposed slavery, for example, it’s also clear that many did not. (Slavery didn’t even begin to become illegal in Pennsylvania until 1780, on a basis of gradual abolition.) Notions of equality are always relative.
That said, Penn never seemed to realize that a substantial and growing number of his fellow Quakers had a wider and deeper notion of equality than he did. He was surprised and hurt when they did not simply passively accept his leadership – or in many cases actively rejected it, as when they refused to pay taxes to defray the costs of his colonial experiment. Penn’s heirs (he had eight children with two wives over the course of his long life) proved less interested than he was in Quakerism. In the decades before the American Revolution the omnipresent Benjamin Franklin took the lead in resisting what many residents regarded as the family’s high-handedness.
And yet for all this, Pennsylvania was a fabulous success. Penn’s decision to make his colony a uniquely open place made it the magnet he hoped it would be, and though it was the penultimate of the 13 colonies to be founded (Georgia came along in 1732) it was among the largest in population by the time of the Revolution. He had been dealt a very good card in its access to the Delaware Bay, which he exploited in personally laying out the broad avenues for the city of Philadelphia, which became the biggest city in America by the time of the Revolution, second only in the Anglo world to London. After the Revolution, the state became the linchpin of the nation, a major source of its agricultural productivity and industrial prowess.
It would be inaccurate to say that William Penn single-handedly brought this about – for one thing, he was the product of a religious culture that profoundly shaped his choices. But few individuals have acted in ways that have had more profound and durable consequences. In an evocative 1983 essay Edmund Morgan summed up his life: “He made his mark because what he wanted and argued for, pleaded for, almost fought for was not quite outside the possible. He left his mark because he knew how he world worked and was prepared, in spite of its denunciations, to work within its terms.” [147] Penn chose an identity, and with it he fashioned a world. 

Next: some closing thoughts on God and the self-made man

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Anne Hutchinson's (high) way

The Puritan as individualist

The following post is part of a series on the rise and fall of the self-made man in American culture.

Not all Puritans who insisted on taking Puritan ideas to their logical conclusion fared nearly as well as Roger Williams did. Anne Hutchinson, who arrived in 1634, also rejected what she regarded as the hopeless compromises she saw around her. If Williams was one of those deeply genial people who are so intriguing because you always sense that for all their niceness they’re also holding something back, Hutchinson seemed to have a talent for alienating people wherever she went. It is an article of faith among modern scholars that this is because she was a woman, and I have little doubt this was part of the story. But to see her fate solely in such terms is to miss the profound challenge posed in the deeply subversive implications of asserting that people should live by their own lights, a challenge she issued even more directly than Williams did.
Hutchinson was born in 1591 as Anne Marbury, the daughter of a committed preacher who was repeatedly jailed for propounding heretical doctrines. She married William Hutchinson, a wealthy merchant, and bore him 15 children. Around the time of their wedding the Hutchinsons began attending the sermons of John Cotton; when he emigrated to America they decided to follow him. Though Cotton criticized Williams’s radicalism, he was initially approving of the highly learned Hutchinson, very much her father’s daughter. She soon became part of an influential circle that included the politically-connected Henry Vane, another recent arrival who briefly displaced John Winthrop as governor of the colony. (Such factionalism was an additional reason, along with her gender, why Hutchinson’s status proved volatile). She soon became known for the brilliant discussion circle she hosted at home to discuss religious experience.
Perhaps not surprisingly, such events generated curiosity – and resentment. The flashpoint of conflict centered on one of the great theological debates of the era: whether the basis of salvation should rest on a covenant of works or a covenant of faith. For the Puritans, there was no question it was the latter: grace was the gift of God, not something one earned by virtue of one’s deeds (an oxymoron, given the insufficiency and sinfulness of the human heart). Hutchinson reputedly complained that the preaching she was hearing, Cotton’s excepted, smacked of crypto-Catholic covenant of works rhetoric (this even though a sixteenth century Dutch Protestant theologian, Jacobus Arminius, also affirmed a covenant of works).
Even more provocative were the barely veiled implications of Hutchinson’s assertions. If, as Puritans ritualistically affirmed, only God knew who was saved, and if – as seemed quite likely to at least some observers – civil and clerical authorities were as likely as not agents of damnation, then why should they be blindly respected, much less obeyed? It was not hard to hear overtones of what we would call anarchism in such talk (the Puritans’ term was “antinominianism,” from the Greek anti-nomos, against the law). As such this was a matter of church and state. New Englanders were generally careful – more careful than most, notwithstanding the common misperception that the region was as theocracy – to separate the two, in large measure because they wanted to protect the church from the state. When dissidents were legally prosecuted, it was explicitly because of the challenge they posed to secular order, a necessity in God’s fallen world.
 In the case of Williams, dealing with such challenges to social order was reasonably straightforward, since he was a public figure. Hutchinson’s case was more ambiguous, since it was not clear she could be prosecuted, or on what basis, particularly given the standard defense of private personal conscience. But government authorities decided to investigate and called her before the General Court in 1637. (A separate church inquiry would follow.)
 The surviving trial record suggests that for much of the inquiry Hutchinson ran circles around her interrogators, sacred and secular (ministers were invited to participate in the civil hearing), clearly recognizing the relatively weak hand the General Court was playing and sustained by supporters who also attended. “I am called here to answer you but I hear no charge,” she observes at one point in the proceedings.
 “I have told you some already and more I can tell you,” Governor Winthrop replies.
“Name one,” she retorts.
And so it goes. Hutchinson volleys scripture with the best of them, and looks as if she might really prevail until, in a moment of overreaching, she was pressed to explain the basis of her faith in her own conscience, and replies, “by an immediate revelation.” This was a big mistake: it was an article of faith that God no longer spoke directly to human beings as he had to the Israelites in days of old, even if, as philo-Semites, they considered themselves the thirteenth tribe in the new Promised Land. Hutchinson was branded a heretic, subsequently excommunicated in her church trial, and banished from Massachusetts. She and her husband made their way to Rhode Island, where William Hutchinson became embroiled in the colony’s divisive politics. After his death in 1641 Hutchinson made her way to Dutch New Amsterdam, where in 1643 she ignored a warning to flee an Indian attack and was murdered near the highway that now bears her name.
Again: what interests me here is less the way Hutchinson was a deviant than in the way she captured a core characteristic of Puritans in particular and New Englanders in general in colonial America: their tendency – whether recognized, honored, or not – to rely on their own judgment. This sense of self-reliance in the spiritual realm clearly carried over into secular affairs, which can help explain not only why they came to America in the first place but ultimately why the were in the cockpit of an independence movement in 1776 that was for a long time couched in terms of defending a 150 year tradition of liberty, one they refused to sacrifice on an altar of taxation without representation.
My caveat nevertheless bears repeating: neither Roger Williams, nor Anne Hutchinson, nor any of their contemporaries should be considered self-made.  They pointed the way, they fashioned new worlds, but they were too deeply invested in seeing themselves as servants of Christ, devoting their God-given gifts in the service of that enterprise. Their self-reliance was a process of elimination – a suspicion others could not be trusted that led them back to themselves by default.
As they were uncomfortably aware, however, there were interlopers in their midst who had more avowed confidence than they did in the power of their own reason. The Puritans loathed these people – Williams, at the outer perimeter of his tolerance, described them as “these poor filthy dreamers”[60]– and persecuted them to the point of execution. They were known, pejoratively, as Quakers, and it is their greatest American exponent, William Penn, who brings us one step closer to self-making. 

Next: The making of William Penn (and his colony)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Tolerating Roger Williams

An orthodox rebel makes his own new world

The following post is part of a series on the rise and fall of the self-made man in American culture.

The first vivid landmark in the long-term transformation from God-made man to self-made man is furnished by Roger Williams. Williams was an ordained minister in the Church of England who had studied at Cambridge with the great English jurist Edward Coke. Like a lot of Pilgrims and Puritans, Williams thought long and hard before declaring his dissidence, and like them grappled – perhaps agonized is a better word – over whether or not to renounce it, and what church to join. The Pilgrims, of course, had decided to abandon the Church of England entirely. The founders of Massachusetts Bay, whom Williams joined the year after their arrival in 1630, did not formally renounce their ties for another generation.* In some ways, that made their situation more difficult, because they had to weigh how much of the backsliding and corruption they could safely tolerate.
Williams, as it turned out, could tolerate very little. Eagerly received in Boston – trained ministers were a scarce commodity – he immediately alienated his hosts by declining to serve as assistant minister in the Boston church because he found it insufficiently rigorous. Williams was then invited to join the church in the town of Salem, which was further along toward the Separatist end of the spectrum. The Boston authorities warned that church this would be an impolitic move, however, and the offer was withdrawn. In 1632 Williams then did the logical thing and proceeded to Plymouth, where his brand of Separatism was explicitly embraced. But he didn’t fare well there, either, in part because he continued an unnerving habit of asking the question whether New England authorities had negotiated in good faith with area Indians before taking over the land they occupied – and whether in the fact the King had a legal basis for governing it. His controversial opinions led to him back to Salem, where he took on unofficial duties at the church. When Massachusetts officials got wind of Williams’s ongoing propensity to make questionable assertions, he was hauled before the colony’s General Court in 1634. He was able to smooth over the conflict that time, in part by promising not to raise the issue of whether the colony was founded on legitimate terms. When, as acting pastor of the church, he did so again, Williams was tried and convicted for heresy and sedition in 1635. His sentence was banishment. Rather than wait to be forcibly removed, which would have probably involved being shipped back to England, Williams braved a severe New England snowstorm and made his way to Narragansett Bay, where he founded a colony he called Providence in 1636.
Roger Williams was clearly an unusual man. And yet even as he was understood by himself and others to be a maverick, he was, in a way that matters decisively here, the quintessential Puritan. At the very heart of the Protestant experience in general, and the Puritan imagination in particular, was an insistence on the primacy of one’s own conscience. One of the major problems with the Catholic Church from a Protestant perspective was the way in which priests mediated between God and his people. That mediation was both (inevitably) corrupt and unnecessary. Puritans placed particular emphasis on people experiencing the word of Christ themselves, which is one reason why they placed such emphasis on the written world, even as they continued to rely on trained interpretation of clergy – who, nevertheless, they chose (and paid) to minister to their spiritual health. With remarkable rapidity, seventeenth century New England became of the most literate places on the face of the earth; the first printing press in English North America was established at Cambridge in 1638, a time when the Puritans were hardly out of the woods in any sense. Their desire, their need, to actively exercise their faith was hugely important.
But for that very reason, they felt compelled to temper that passion. Their insistence on a deeply personal, intimate relationship with Christ could not could not be allowed to reach a point where they believed they had some special knowledge or insight about God’s will: this was precisely the source of their grievance with Rome. They were deeply mindful of the sin of pride because they were so susceptible to it. This is why they agonized about whether they should leave a church that was not to their liking: was it their conscience or their vanity speaking? So it was that the first governor of Massachusetts Bay, John Winthrop, admonished his fellow migrants in his famous address “A Model of Christian Charity,” that “no man is made more honorable than another, or more wealthy, etc., of out any particular and singular respect to himself, but for the glory of his creation and the common good of the creature, man.” Common good. As he famously said later in the same address, “we must delight in each other, make others’ conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and the community in the work, our community as members of the same body.”
It has long been recognized that the Puritans were among the most communitarian people who settled English North America. Certainly they were more so than the adventurers of Virginia (who, as I will explain, developed their own version of the self-made man). But one way of reading the repeated refrain of togetherness in “A Model of Christian Charity” is as a warning: you don’t have to remind people to stick together unless you have some concern they won’t. And, in fact, the Puritans were notable for their tendency to scatter: New Haven, Hartford, New Hampshire (a colony which had already been established, but which they overran), not to mention the multiple towns that sprang up within them: all these colonies represented splinter groups who created new settlements out of a desire to do their own thing, spiritually and otherwise, even as they hesitated to renounce the Church of England entirely.
And this is what made Williams the Puritan par excellence. He founded – and in a half-century as a tireless administrator, solidified and protected – Rhode Island as a haven of tolerance. It’s important to make clear, however, that this was simply a means to an end: Williams wanted the right to worship as he (and he alone, as he refused to pray even with his wife) saw fit. He did help establish the first Baptist church in America, but his solitary spirit – what he himself described as “the restless unsatisfiedness of my soul” (Gausted 182) – a quickly asserted itself and he left it. Williams has long been recognized for his unusually good relationships with Native Americans, in part because he learned their language and bargained with them in good faith. But at some level he was comfortable with Indians because in their paganism they posed no risk of Christian hypocrisy. Figuratively speaking, he belonged to a congregation of one.
 Given this disposition, what may be most striking of all about is the way he somehow managed to stay on remarkably good terms with so many people. (He did have a long-running argument with the Puritan minister John Cotton, the opening salvo of which, the 1644 tract “The Bloody Tenet of Persecution,” used the word “bloody” in something resembling the modern profane sense of the term.) John Winthrop opposed Williams before the General Court expelled him, and yet the two enjoyed a cordial correspondence for many years. One of the many roles Williams played was that of diplomat, serving as mediator between the English and Indians in a variety of capacities. He was not always successful – the outbreak of King Philip’s War, the bloodiest per capita in American history, ravaged Rhode Island along with the rest of New England – but few people in American history have come as close as he did in hewing a world of his own making from the sheer force of his philosophical vision. In the words of the great Puritan scholar Edmund Morgan, “Never was a man of action more an intellectual.” 
Next: Anne Hutchinson sees for herself

* After a Civil War of the 1640s in which the Puritans in England prevailed, the Stuart monarchy was restored in 1660, at which point the Pilgrims finally gave up and founded what we have come to know as the Congregational Church, one of the more loosely federated denominations within American Protestantism. A political merger between the Puritans and Pilgrims occurred when Plymouth became part of Massachusetts in 1691.

Friday, September 7, 2012

God-made men (duh)

The self-made man may be a materialistic notion, but it's got theological foundations 

The following post is part of a series of drafts on the rise and fall of the self-made man in American culture.

As I’ve indicated, the phrase “self-made man” has its problems in the twenty-first century United States. But even its critics know what it means (or is supposed to mean). In the seventeenth century, by contrast – the century in which the foundations for a distinctively American identity were laid – the concept would be superficially comprehensible, but nonsensical, to almost anyone who heard it, akin to suggesting that dogs are responsible for the economic welfare. (God makes men. Who else could?) If one were explain the idea behind the self-made man to a colonial American, particularly in seventeenth century New England, its implications would be so blasphemous as to merit possible criminal action by church and even government authorities. And yet, insofar as the phrase did eventually make sense in the centuries that followed, its intellectual contours took shape in the seventeenth century. And, notwithstanding its plurality of meanings – I’ll be looking a somewhat different version of the idea in colonial America in the next chapter – those origins are, in a fundamental sense, theological.
To understand why, we need to go back to that pivotal event in Western civilization, the Protestant Reformation. As we were all taught at one time or another, a  precipitating grievance involved the use of papal indulgences, in which the severity of penance for confessed sin was mitigated by some form of payment charged by church officials. One reason why we were all taught this is that it rankles in a way even a child can understand: it’s unfair for the rich to buy their way out of punishment simply by virtue of their wealth. But the more specifically religious objection, one articulated by Protestant lights such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, focused on the idea that only God, not man, was in a position to decide upon and dispense salvation.
This was sixteenth century common sense, even if like, later forms of common sense (such as the proposition that bankers cannot really be trusted to regulate themselves), it had been overlooked or explained away. But now, for reasons that even after centuries of reasoned analysis remain a little mysterious, a relatively large number of people, with motives that varied from spiritual commitment to economic calculation, decided the offense would be ignored no longer. Of course, there were also a lot of people who, while not necessarily inclined to defend indulgences, did not feel such questionable practices justified a break with the Church of Rome. Sometimes that disinclination was passive. Other times it was so powerful as to trigger a counteroffensive (in the form of Jesuits, inquisitions, armies) that resulted in century of bloody conflict.
One person who decided to make a break with the Church, for reasons that were largely opportunistic, was King Henry VIII of England. As the story goes, he was angry over being denied his request for an annulment that would allow him to remarry and produce a legitimate male heir. (As his advisers pointed out, there were also the rents from church lands that would become his once he confiscated them.) In England, as elsewhere, this decision provoked widespread conflict, and there, as elsewhere, it aroused passions sufficient to lead people to kill each other in the name of Christ. When, after a protracted struggle, Henry’s (second) daughter Elizabeth came to the throne in 1558, she shrewdly decided to steer a middle course. Yes, she affirmed, England would remain Protestant. But her interests in saying so were less religious than political: it was stability she cared about. As such, she was as tough, even tougher, on die-hard reformers as she was on closet Catholics, among them, it was widely believed, James I, the distant relative of Scotland’s Stuart family she chose to succeed her, which he did in 1603.
From a twenty-first century standpoint, the religious intensity of the Anglo-American world between 1600 and 1700 is truly astounding. (After coming across so many references to the Pope as “the whore of Babylon,” I’ve concluded this was not an act of hyperbole or sarcasm but a deeply ingrained reflex on the part of people who have done a very good job of refining their hatred.) Of course, there have been religious fanatics in all times and places, along with times and places where religion, while almost always important, has not really been at the center of social conflict or intellectual innovation. But in terms of sheer intensity, and a willingness to accept real-world consequences of allowing abstract theological ideas to shape everyday life, this epoch strikes me as pretty high up on an imagined scale.
One reason I say so is the sheer variety of religiosity at the time. Henry VIII created the Church of England, also known as the Anglican Church, which we today know as the Episcopal Church, a name that refers to the way bishops are organized. But the Church of England was regarded by some as a cheap knock-off of the Catholic Church, a perception that can be traced back to the reasons for its creation. (To this day Anglicans and Catholics are doctrinally close, notwithstanding the liberal wing of the former’s acceptance of female clergy and homosexuality.) As a result, a series of now-obscure splinter groups proliferated: Brownists, Gortonists, Diggers, Barrowists, et. al. These factions had strong social, intellectual and personal connections with religious dissidents on the continent. Their doctrinal ideas have a tendency to make the casual reader’s eyes glaze over, much in the way that adolescent distinctions between specific sub-varieties of obscure music amount to the narcissism of small differences. But there’s no doubt that these dissidents took those differences seriously, to the point of willingness to risk arrest, imprisonment and execution for being real and perceived challenges to social order.
A second striking aspect of this religious culture is its ridiculously messianic quality: so many of these people believed that England – England! – was to be the site of a coming new world order. Why would a small, relatively insignificant island-state on the edge of Europe be God’s chosen vessel of redemption?  Yes, England had been the home of the fourteenth century anticlerical writer John Wycliffe, a.k.a. “the morning star of the Reformation.” Wycliffe translated the Bible into English, a heretical act in an era when reading, much less interpreting, scripture was considered the exclusive Latin-educated experts. His followers were known as Lollards (a derogatory term suggesting idiocy or laziness). But to an outsider, then or since, such hardly seems the stuff of a sturdy foundation for England as the site of the next Zion.
Actually, by the early seventeenth century some of the most committed Protestant dissidents had also come to the conclusion that England was not likely to be Zion, particularly because they were subject to political pressure from James I, who famously vowed to “harry them out of the land.” That’s why a group of them left England altogether and settled first in Amsterdam and then the Dutch city of Leiden, neither of which they found satisfactory. They were looking for the freedom to worship God as they saw fit, which, among other things, meant rejecting the self-evident corruptions they saw around them, whether in the form of crypto-Catholic practices of the Anglican Church – which they formally abandoned, and were thus known as “Separatists” – or what they considered the turpitude of the Dutch, whose tolerance of religious diversity was less a matter of moral principle than appalling indifference. These Pilgrims, as they were also known, made there way across the ocean to the place they named after their hometown of Plymouth in 1620. They were followed a decade later by another group of dissidents – albeit dissidents who did not renounce their ties to the Church of England, which they still hoped to reform – who founded Massachusetts Bay.
Which brings us to the third, and most striking, thing about these dissidents: how far, literally and figuratively, they were willing to go for their beliefs. The word used to describe them, once fairly broad, but which gradually focused on the founders of Massachusetts Bay, was “Puritan.” It was not meant to be flattering. “We call you Puritans, not because you are purer than other men . . . but because you think yourselves to be purer,” wrote an English clergyman early in the century. Ever since, Puritanism has been considered a byword for sanctimony.
There are many reasons why this was true in the context of their world, but the most important for our purposes goes back to this crucial notion that God, and God alone, shapes the destiny of humankind. Even the Pope himself – officially designated the Antichrist with the ratification of the Westminster Confession of Faith in 1646*  – would assent to this as a general proposition. But like the signatories of Westminster Confession (mostly Anglican and Presbyterian, a Scottish branch of Puritanism), the Pilgrims and Puritans were Calvinists. At the core of John Calvin’s theology was a special insistence that the salvation or damnation of an individual soul was known to God, but unknown to that individual, from birth, and that such people were powerless to affect their fate beyond acknowledging the force of the irresistible grace that might be conferred upon them.  It’s why, for example, they did not celebrate Christmas, or rejected papist ornamentation in their churches. Such affections were symptomatic of a pagan notion that men could in any way replicate a reality whose prerogative was God’s alone.
These practices were indeed radical when compared with most of their contemporaries on either side of the ocean. But – and this is a crucial point, especially when considering the eventual emergence of the self-made man – these early settlers of the region that became known as New England had a strong pragmatic streak that governed their behavior. God alone knows, and God alone decides. The man you think of as a saint may really be a sinner; the woman you consider a sinner may really be a saint. But someone has to be in charge, if for no other reason than sheer survival in a forbidding wilderness in which they were surrounded by any number of natural and supernatural forces of evil. Their necessarily communitarian enterprise relied on leadership, both religious and civic, to execute one of the more daring resettlement projects of human history.
You may wonder: Why did they do it? If they had no control over their fate, if they could never know if their efforts would matter, then what was the point of going through all that trouble? The characteristic reaction of most modern-day people when presented with Calvinistic logic is: Well, hell, then – let’s party hard. But that’s not the way Calvinists thought about it. Simply put, it was hard to believe that such an approach was going to get you into heaven. Sure, it might, but in the meantime you’ve got to live with yourself. And it’s easier to live with yourself thinking that your inclinations are those of God, and insofar as you have to guess what they are, a life of dissipation seems like the least plausible scenario. It’s possible to view the entire colossal enterprise of founding a new society in a forbidding wilderness on the other side of the world as a collective attempt to escape the distracting question of whether or not you’re among the damned or not. (And, once you’ve done that, to establish a modern economy, as Max Weber persuasively theorized in his 1918 book The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.)
In any event, the Pilgrims and Puritans had made some loopholes for themselves, as human beings tend to do whenever they impose rules on themselves.  One was the doctrine of preparationism, whereby a spirit of humility, a desire to confess one’s sins, and a willingness to listen hard to the yearnings of conscience might – might – indicate sanctification, allowing one to experience the joy of incipient salvation (and, if convincing enough in one’s testimony, to be accepted as a member of a church). There was also the so-called Halfway Covenant, in which the children and grandchildren of church members could be provisionally accepted into the church pending later persuasive testimony of an authentic conversion experience. Through such strategies, the Pilgrims and Puritans found ways to grapple with the profoundly challenging tenets of their faith over the course of multiple generations.
Here’s the rub: a number of Puritans vocally opposed such measures. There were, for example, many critics of the Halfway Covenant; Yale College was founded in 1701 as an alternative to Harvard by explicitly rejecting it the training of its ministers. But long before that ever happened, a series of opponents to any compromise in Pilgrim and Puritan theology insisted on taking their doctrines to their logical conclusion. In the process of doing so, they revealed the individualism at the heart of the New England enterprise and pointed the way toward the emergence of a recognizable self-made man. 
 Next: Roger Williams, orthodox rebel

*Other Anglo-American denominations signed on the Westminister Confession later in the century. The Pope lost his Antichrist status in the United States – officially, anyway – with revisions to the document in 1789. He would reacquire it – unofficially, anyway – with the rising tide of Irish immigration a half-century later.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The second day

In Back to School: Why Everyone Deserves a Second Chance at Education, Mike Rose illuminates the possible lives of students too often overlooked.

The following review has been posted on the Books page of the History News Network.   

The 2011 Tom Hanks film Larry Crowne isn't a very good movie -- it isn't even really a very good Tom Hanks movie -- but it is salutary in one very important respect. In telling the story of a laid-off retail worker who goes back to community college, the film focuses attention on the reality of higher education in contemporary life: that the typical undergraduate is not the 18-22 year old attending a four-year liberal arts institution who tends to get most of the attention in contemporary educational discourse. Instead, the middle-aged title character finds himself immersed in a polyglot community of adults (some young, some less so) striving to pick up lost threads or missed opportunities.

This is a story that Mike Rose knows well. Rose has spent a long and illustrious career chronicling the lives of working-class people striving for dignity in work, in school and in the connection between them. In Back to School, he focuses specifically on returning students, and passionate hopes as well as serious obstacles apparent in settings where the American Dream is won and lost most vividly.

Rose, who teaches at the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies,  is a policy wonk -- he navigates debates between those who advocate college for all versus those who emphasize vocational training, among others -- but a strong empirical empathy animates his work. You'll find data-driven metrics here, but the heart of the book rests on close observation of the realities and aspirations of individual lives, which are limned with economy and insight. (In this regard, his work is strongly reminiscent of the work of my late father-in-law, education reformer Ted Sizer.) This sense of intimacy with his subjects makes clear what statistics often show: that resumed educations are often marked by false starts, unrealized remediation, and unachieved benchmarks. It also makes clear what statistics don't: often invisible barriers involving health, employment and childcare; heroic persistence; slow but steady progress. In recent years, elected officials have shown increasing awareness that community and vocational schools have been overlooked as hugely valuable social resources. While the attention is bracing, Rose is concerned that they may end up even more overburdened than they already are, and subject to unrealistic expectations. Impatient officials are anxious to cut remedial programs, for example, unaware that they've always been a staple of such institutions, and require more, not less support.

Which is not to say that Rose is an apologist for them. He's particularly concerned about the way basic courses in a variety of subjects assume a lowest-common denominator pedagogy that's been in place for almost a century. Rather than teach students using materials developed with children in mind, he advocates a more richly contextualized approach attentive the lived experiences, social capital, and intellectual curiosity even the least prepared students bring to the classroom. (Such an approach would require comparable attention paid to the faculty for such courses, who are typically poorly trained and compensated for such work.) He argues for a similarly integrated approach to vocational training, with literacy and numeracy woven into the fabric of instruction. He gives examples where such instruction is taking place.

Above all, Rose is a pragmatist. Certainly, he says community colleges need more money, recognizing the headwinds any such assertions face. But his ideas are also granular and concrete: improving signage in academic buildings; explaining how the index or glossary of a book works; considering the way courses are numbered and combined. He understands that there can be honest disagreements about how much freedom or structure students should be given, and appreciates -- as anyone who listens to such students must -- how important getting a job is as a justification for getting an associate or bachelor's degree. But he finally insists on the civic dimensions of even the most utilitarian of educations, and the dignity of even the most "menial" work. There's simply no such thing as unskilled labor.

In short, Rose's idealism is the best kind: informed, tough-minded, self-aware. Those of us who inhabit lives on the cushier side of the educational boundary should honor, and act upon, his profoundly democratic spirit.