Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Importance of Prepositions

In CSPAN Booknotes, Orrin Judd has written a 2000 book review of David Kennedy's 1999 title, Freedom from Fear: The United States, 1929-1945 (Oxford History of the United States, Vol 9). In his review, Orrin makes an interesting observation revolving around this title with Battle Cry of Freedom : The Civil War Era (1988) by James McPherson:
Suddenly, the switch from "of Freedom" to "Freedom from", in the respective titles, struck me as emblematic of the pivotal change of emphases in the Modern world. The history of America from Plymouth Rock until the Crash was essentially the story of Man's struggle for Freedom, but Freedom in a positive sense, Freedom to do things--to worship, to speak, to gather, etc. Thus, McPherson's book details the great convulsion of the 19th Century, the Civil War and the struggle to free the slaves--a struggle to expand freedom. But Kennedy, charting the great 20th Century convulsion, has it exactly right, the importance of the responses to the Depression by both Hoover and Roosevelt lay in their decision to elevate a negative idea of Freedom, freedom from want, from hunger, from "the vicissitudes of life" above, and against, the traditional American ideal of republican Liberty. This shift from a government aimed at protecting Freedom to one designed to provide Security is the single most important thing that happened in 20th Century America.
Orrin makes an excellent point. The greatest generation bequeathed this gift to the Boomers, et al., who exuberantly ran with it from there.

Somewhat ironically, I also think that the Civil War was also one of those major turning points. Slavery is considered by most to be the foundational issue of that war. However, there were other issues involved including the balance of power between states' rights and federal power. The ending of the American institution of slavery was a great result. The overbearing of federal power was a negative one; one that coaxed our republic toward the paradigm shift that Orrin notes in his review.

(H.T. Ed Driscoll.)

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