An authoritative account of the long battle between exclusionary and inclusive versions of the American story
Was the United States founded as a Christian nation or a secular democracy? Neither, argues Philip Gorski in American Covenant. What the founders actually envisioned was a prophetic republic that would weave together the ethical vision of the Hebrew prophets and the Western political heritage of civic republicanism. In this ambitious book, Gorski shows why this civil religious tradition is now in peril—and with it the American experiment.
Gorski traces the historical development of prophetic republicanism from the Puritan era to the present day. He provides close readings of thinkers such as John Winthrop, Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Hannah Arendt, along with insightful portraits of recent and contemporary religious and political leaders such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. Gorski shows how the founders' original vision for America is threatened by an internecine struggle between two rival traditions, religious nationalism and radical secularism. Religious nationalism is a form of militaristic hyperpatriotism that imagines the United States as a divine instrument in the final showdown between good and evil. Radical secularists fervently deny the positive contributions of the Judeo-Christian tradition to the American project and seek to remove all traces of religious expression from the public square. Gorski offers an unsparing critique of both, demonstrating how half a century of culture war has drowned out the quieter voices of the vital center.
American Covenant makes the compelling case that if we are to rebuild that vital center, we must recover the civil religious tradition on which the republic was founded.
Philip Gorski is professor of sociology and religious studies at Yale University. His books include The Protestant Ethic Revisited and The Disciplinary Revolution: Calvinism and the Rise of the State in Early Modern Europe.
"[E]ssential reading for this moment."--David Brooks, New York Times
"[A] sweeping and exhilarating review of the history of American political culture. . . . More academics should follow [Gorski's] example of contributing to public debate in an accessible way."--Publishers Weekly, starred review
"[American Covenant] charts one way to political reconciliation in these divisive times. . . . [T]his is an important work, one that returns us to our national origins, examines the evidence about our founding--and our founders--concerning religion and its interactions with public policy."--Kirkus
"A rich, detailed account of the history of efforts to define American religion."--Sarah Posner, American Prospect
"Writing as both a citizen and a scholar, Gorski wraps his passionate appeal for the common good in a thoroughly documented and convincing argument. A remarkable achievement."--Choice
"Much has been written about how deeply divided we Americans are. Philip Gorski's American Covenant is an enormously thoughtful, innovative, and helpful book aimed at reopening conversation across our religious, cultural, and political divides. Even readers who disagree with him and with where he locates a new ‘vital center' will profit from his deep understanding of American history and his brave effort to find a way for us to step aside from what so often feels like an eternal culture war."--E. J. Dionne Jr., author of Souled Out and Why the Right Went Wrong
Table of Contents:
Preface: Three Trips to Philadelphia vii
Prophetic Republicanism as Vital Center 1
1 The Civil Religious Tradition and Its Rivals 13
2 The Hebraic Moment: The New England Puritans 37
3 Hebraic Republicanism: The American Revolution 60
4 Democratic Republicanism: The Civil War 83
5 The Progressive Era: Empire and the Republic 109
6 The Post–World War II Period: Jew, Protestant, Catholic 143
7 From Reagan to Obama: Tradition Corrupted and(Almost) Recovered 173
8 The Civil Religion: Critics and Allies 202
Conclusion The Righteous Republic 223