Posted by Lexington Green on November 13th, 2004 (All posts by Lexington Green)
The eagerly awaited new book by David Hackett Fischer arrived today. I have only had a chance to flip through it. I am feeling a wave of bookish excitement. This book cries out to be devoured. Oxford University Press did a superb job with the production of this book, which has many pictures. Skimming the text it looks like it is up to Fischer’s usual extremely high standard.
The publisher’s page about the book is here. An excerpt:
Fischer examines liberty and freedom not as philosophical or political abstractions, but as folkways and popular beliefs deeply embedded in American culture. Tocqueville called them “habits of the heart.” From the earliest colonies, Americans have shared ideals of liberty and freedom, but with very different meanings. Like DNA these ideas have transformed and recombined in each generation.
“…like DNA…” I’ll quibble a little with that. “Folkways and popular beliefs ” are transmitted memetically, not genetically, so it doesn’t matter if your ancestors came over on the Mayflower, or after the Stuarts were beaten in The ’45, or on a sailing ship during the Potato Famine, or a steamship from Naples to Ellis Island, or a bus from Michoacan, or on a jet from Mindanao or Pusan or Taipei. The American beliefs in liberty and freedom are living and dynamic ideals, and they are open to all Americans. (This is a point Jim Bennett emphasizes in his new book — which I have finished reading and will be writing two or more future posts about here as opportunity permits.)
Fischer lists this as the third of four books in his Cultural History of America. The first one in the series is Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America. This is the single best book on American history I have ever read. (There is a nice summary of it here.) Hackett Fischer’s 2nd and 4th volumes are still in the works: American Plantations: African and European Folkways in the New World, and Deep Change: The Rhythm of American History. I lust for these future volumes.