Spanning many historical and literary contexts, Moral Imagination brings together a dozen recent essays by one of America's premier cultural critics. David Bromwich explores the importance of imagination and sympathy to suggest how these faculties may illuminate the motives of human action and the reality of justice. These wide-ranging essays address thinkers and topics from Gandhi and Martin Luther King on nonviolent resistance, to the dangers of identity politics, to the psychology of the heroes of classic American literature.
Bromwich demonstrates that moral imagination allows us to judge the right and wrong of actions apart from any benefit to ourselves, and he argues that this ability is an innate individual strength, rather than a socially conditioned habit. Political topics addressed here include Edmund Burke and Richard Price's efforts to define patriotism in the first year of the French Revolution, Abraham Lincoln's principled work of persuasion against slavery in the 1850s, the erosion of privacy in America under the influence of social media, and the use of euphemism to shade and anesthetize reactions to the global war on terror. Throughout, Bromwich considers the relationship between language and power, and the insights language may offer into the corruptions of power.
Moral Imagination captures the singular voice of one of the most forceful thinkers working in America today.
David Bromwich is Sterling Professor of English at Yale University. His many books include A Choice of Inheritance, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism, and Skeptical Music, winner of the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. His writings appear regularly in the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, Raritan, and other publications.
"Bibliophiles, scholars and concerned citizens--all will find provocation and enlightenment here."--Kirkus Reviews
"David Bromwich is the most penetrating cultural critic in contemporary America. No one writes more shrewdly or eloquently about the pathologies of our public discourse. His essays are grounded in a firm grasp of modern intellectual history, but he wears his learning lightly. Moral Imagination reveals Bromwich's extraordinary combination of aesthetic elegance and ethical seriousness, as he dissects the insidious alliance of identity politics, publicity culture, and imperial fantasy--even while he reminds us of the forgotten strengths of our own political tradition. This is a book to treasure for its prose as well as for the power of its insights."--Jackson Lears, author of Rebirth of a Nation
"If multiculturalism were to shed its aspirations to mere correctness, if it were to get an elaboration that kept faith with the liberal vitalities of individual conscience and fulfillment, it would need to give moral imagination a more central role. That is the integration that David Bromwich seeks to attain in these essays as he shrewdly and eloquently gazes upon the past and present of American politics, the speeches and actions of figures ranging from Burke through Lincoln to King and Gandhi, and the prose and poetry of Wordsworth and Dickinson, Woolf and Whitman, and Emerson and Thoreau. Politics is made a loftier subject by such a humane literary scrutiny, even as literature is made more deeply central to our thinking lives."--Akeel Bilgrami, Columbia University
"David Bromwich is one of the most incisive writers in America today. In his rapid, straightforward, and convincing style, he has written an intellectually powerful and morally compelling book, one that is not only urgently needed in the current climate but also has permanent value."--Edward Mendelson, author of The Things That Matter
Table of Contents:
1 Moral Imagination 3
2 A Dissent on Cultural Identity 40
3 The Meaning of Patriotism in 1789 70
4 Lincoln and Whitman as Representative Americans 91
5 Lincoln's Constitutional Necessity 118
6 Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Ambition 160
7 The American Psychosis 183
8 How Publicity Makes People Real 222
9 The Self-Deceptions of Empire 250
10 What Is the West? 273
11 Holy Terror and Civilized Terror 287
12 Comments on Perpetual War 304
Cheney's Law 304
Euphemism and Violence 310
William Safire: Wars Made out of Words 324
What 9/11 Makes Us Forget 330
The Snowden Case 334