A Nation of Agents: The American Path to a Modern Self and by James E. Block

By James E. Block

During this sweeping reinterpretation of yankee political tradition, James Block bargains a brand new viewpoint at the formation of the trendy American self and society. Block roots either self and society within the suggestion of organization, instead of liberty, and dispenses with the nationwide delusion of the "sacred reason for liberty"--with the announcement of Independence as its "American scripture." in its place, he recovers the early smooth notion of business enterprise because the precise synthesis rising from America's Protestant and liberal cultural foundations. Block strains enterprise doctrine from its pre-Commonwealth English origins via its improvement into the yankee mainstream tradition at the eve of the 20th century. the concept that of supplier that prevailed within the colonies concurrently published members from conventional constraints to take part actively and self-reliantly in social associations, whereas confining them inside a brand new set of commitments. person initiative used to be now firmly bounded by means of the fashionable values and ends of private Protestant religiosity and collective liberal institutional authority. As Block exhibits, this complicated relation of self to society lies on the root of the yank personality. A country of brokers is a brand new examining of what the "first new state" did and didn't in attaining. it is going to permit us to maneuver past long-standing nationwide myths and grab either the yankee success and its legacy for modernity.

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Extra info for A Nation of Agents: The American Path to a Modern Self and Society

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Liberalism assumed in its reconstitution of social order that individuals released from long-standing controls would inevitably act out the deeper—and quite likely inaccessible—imperatives of their internal lives. The inner horizons constituting modern citizens would propel them when acting in unencumbered space to create through reversal the institutions of modern agency. Shaping themselves as free agents through their own authority, establishing constraints through a process breathtakingly modern and participatory, they would be foreclosed from disputing the result.

Agents, dependent as emissaries must be on their warrant of authority and on the author who warrants them, were not at liberty to define their own ends. That was the dangerous power of self-authorization that English Protestantism and liberalism, Milton and Hobbes, had defined as the one greatest danger of an individualist age. A “free agent” was an oxymoron, ultra vires, and this conflation, part of the idyll of the freedom narrative, preserves in language its contradictory claim and its built-in but unacknowledged limits.

This synthesis, “the Protestant agent in liberal society,” provided the operational consensus that underlay American national integration in the twentieth century. It forms in turn the world we have inherited and, as I discuss in the Conclusion, the vision which forms the starting point both for those who would restore traditional liberalism and those who would rethink its viability for the emerging global and postindustrial world. 118 Agency society, cast as a “free” society relative to previous models and reinforced by its “war for national liberation,” entailed from the outset an original but effective model of authority.

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