Sunlit Water

July 4, 2007

Happy Fourth?

Filed under: Culture,Politics — by teofilo @ 5:00 pm

Yglesias asks, I answer.  I’ll admit to being a little ambivalent about America these days, both because of the rather obvious problems with American government and politics lately and because I’ve come to the conclusion that this country has never really lived up to its high-flown ideals and that its founding was not necessarily a positive development for the world as a whole.

The Hamilton book I’m reading, of course, takes it as given that the Patriots were correct and the Revolution was just, though Hamilton’s nuanced ideas about the proper balance between liberty and authority get a lot of attention from Chernow.  It’s interesting to compare this with the last book I read, which happens to take place over almost exactly the same time period and in a nearby area.  Hamilton only has a small cameo in that story, but several other people (such as his father-in-law Philip Schuyler and political nemesis George Clinton) play prominent roles in both books, and it’s interesting to see how they look when viewed from these different perspectives.  Taylor paints a much more negative picture of Schuyler in particular than does Chernow, whose account of Indian issues (so far, at least; I’m only to 1794) seems pretty shallow and limited to emphasizing Hamilton’s sympathy for the Indians as expressed in actions like his role in the foundation of Hamilton College; neither author has much good to say about George Clinton.  Overall, the implicit suggestion of Taylor’s book that the Revolution was a disaster for the fragile balance between settlers and Indians on the frontier is pretty persuasive, although counterfactuals are of course slippery things and it’s impossible to say what would have happened if the Patriots had not rebelled (or had lost the war).  One thing that the book has convinced me of, though, is that Britain’s rapid and complete victory in the French and Indian War was an enormously unfortunate development overall.

Despite all this, however, I’m not quite ready to abandon the US entirely.  I don’t really want to throw my lot in with the types who use the word “genocide” all the time when discussing these issues, because there’s more to it than that.  The ideals of America are good and worthy of aspiring toward, even if the actual country itself has never really gotten close to them.  I’m optimistic by nature, so I see the possibility of working toward a greater realization of that vision of freedom and prosperity as the main thing salvageable from the wreckage of American history so far.  We may not get there soon, or ever, but at least it’s a goal to work toward for those of us who are not happy with things as they are.  I may hate what America has been and is, but I have hope for what it could be.  Happy Fourth of July.



  1. neither author has much good to say about George Clinton

    How unfunky.

    Comment by Matt W — July 4, 2007 @ 6:13 pm |Reply

  2. They’re both white guys, of course.

    Comment by teofilo — July 4, 2007 @ 6:14 pm |Reply

  3. Very nicely put, teo. (Post and comments so far, of course.)

    Comment by Stanley — July 4, 2007 @ 6:29 pm |Reply

  4. Seems like a good time for James Baldwin:

    “I love America more than any other country in this world, and exactly for this reason I insist on the right to criticize [it] perpetually.”

    Comment by Witt — July 4, 2007 @ 8:59 pm |Reply

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