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.
"A historically informed examination of moral imagination and human sympathy, as seen through the lives of such figures as Edmund Burke, Mohandas K. Gandhi and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr."--Sewell Chan, New York Times
"[T]hey shed much light on the frame of mind in which Bromwich approached the ambiguous figure of Burke in his biography, and even more on how Bromwich is relevant to the politics of our own times. . . . Those who read these essays alongside Bromwich's account of Burke's intellectual and political career will find their eye caught by three topics, all with Burkean overtones, deeply relevant to the present, and handled with Bromwich's characteristic sharpness. . . . Bromwich is particularly sharp on the way government spokesmen wrap the realities of massacre, torture, and gratuitous cruelty in euphemism. . . . The central essays of Bromwich's book are more meditative, and none the worse for it. . . . The final chapter, 'Comments on Perpetual War,' displays Bromwich's skills as a critic in the tradition of Hazlitt and Orwell."--Alan Ryan, New York Review of Books
"[A] rich and memorable book. . . . Bromwich appears here in his well-established role as a public intellectual, as civilized as he is trenchant, observing with a mixture of dark wit and moral exasperation diverse aspects of the contemporary American scene. He has a good essay, both horrifying and funny, on the destruction of privacy in the modern United States; a remarkable essay on the psychopathology of political ambition; a fine piece questioning 'cultural identity' as a liberal shibboleth."--Seamus Perry, Times Literary Supplement
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