Reading Obama: Dreams, Hope, and the American Political Tradition

Princeton University Press
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Barack Obama puzzles observers. Derided by the Right as dangerous and by the Left as spineless, Obama does not fit contemporary partisan categories. Instead, his writings and speeches reflect a principled aversion to absolutes that derives from sustained engagement with American democratic thought. Reading Obama traces the origins of his ideas and establishes him as the most penetrating political thinker elected to the presidency in the past century.

James T. Kloppenberg demonstrates the influences that have shaped Obama's distinctive worldview, including Nietzsche and Niebuhr, Ellison and Rawls, and recent theorists engaged in debates about feminism, critical race theory, and cultural norms. Examining Obama's views on the Constitution, slavery and the Civil War, the New Deal, and the civil rights movement, Kloppenberg shows Obama's sophisticated understanding of American history. Obama's interest in compromise, reasoned public debate, and the patient nurturing of civility is a sign of strength, not weakness, Kloppenberg argues. He locates its roots in Madison, Lincoln, and especially in the philosophical pragmatism of William James and John Dewey, which nourished generations of American progressives, black and white, female and male, through much of the twentieth century, albeit with mixed results.

Reading Obama reveals the sources of Obama's commitment to democratic deliberation: the books he has read, the visionaries who have inspired him, the social movements and personal struggles that have shaped his thinking. Kloppenberg shows that Obama's positions on social justice, religion, race, family, and America's role in the world do not stem from a desire to please everyone but from deeply rooted--although currently unfashionable--convictions about how a democracy must deal with difference and conflict.

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About the author

James T. Kloppenberg is the Charles Warren Professor of American History and chair of the History Department at Harvard University. His books include "Uncertain Victory: Social Democracy and Progressivism in European and American Thought, 1870-1920"; "The Virtues of Liberalism"; and "A Companion to American Thought".

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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Oct 31, 2010
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Pages
296
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ISBN
9781400836055
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Modern / 21st Century
History / Social History
History / United States / General
Political Science / History & Theory
Political Science / Political Ideologies / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Barack Obama
In July 2004, Barack Obama electrified the Democratic National Convention with an address that spoke to Americans across the political spectrum. One phrase in particular anchored itself in listeners’ minds, a reminder that for all the discord and struggle to be found in our history as a nation, we have always been guided by a dogged optimism in the future, or what Obama called “the audacity of hope.”

The Audacity of Hope is Barack Obama’s call for a different brand of politics—a politics for those weary of bitter partisanship and alienated by the “endless clash of armies” we see in congress and on the campaign trail; a politics rooted in the faith, inclusiveness, and nobility of spirit at the heart of “our improbable experiment in democracy.” He explores those forces—from the fear of losing to the perpetual need to raise money to the power of the media—that can stifle even the best-intentioned politician. He also writes, with surprising intimacy and self-deprecating humor, about settling in as a senator, seeking to balance the demands of public service and family life, and his own deepening religious commitment.

At the heart of this book is Barack Obama’s vision of how we can move beyond our divisions to tackle concrete problems. He examines the growing economic insecurity of American families, the racial and religious tensions within the body politic, and the transnational threats—from terrorism to pandemic—that gather beyond our shores. And he grapples with the role that faith plays in a democracy—where it is vital and where it must never intrude. Underlying his stories about family, friends, and members of the Senate is a vigorous search for connection: the foundation for a radically hopeful political consensus.

A public servant and a lawyer, a professor and a father, a Christian and a skeptic, and above all a student of history and human nature, Barack Obama has written a book of transforming power. Only by returning to the principles that gave birth to our Constitution, he says, can Americans repair a political process that is broken, and restore to working order a government that has fallen dangerously out of touch with millions of ordinary Americans. Those Americans are out there, he writes—“waiting for Republicans and Democrats to catch up with them.”
James T. Kloppenberg
In this magnificent and encyclopedic overview, James T. Kloppenberg presents the history of democracy from the perspective of those who struggled to envision and achieve it. The story of democracy remains one without an ending, a dynamic of progress and regress that continues to our own day. In the classical age "democracy" was seen as the failure rather than the ideal of good governance. Democracies were deemed chaotic and bloody, indicative of rule by the rabble rather than by enlightened minds. Beginning in the 16th and 17th centuries, however, first in Europe and then in England's North American colonies, the reputation of democracy began to rise, resulting in changes that were sometimes revolutionary and dramatic, sometimes gradual and incremental. Kloppenberg offers a fresh look at how concepts and institutions of representative government developed and how understandings of self-rule changed over time on both sides of the Atlantic. Notions about what constituted true democracy preoccupied many of the most influential thinkers of the Western world, from Montaigne and Roger Williams to Milton and John Locke; from Rousseau and Jefferson to Wollstonecraft and Madison; and from de Tocqueville and J. S. Mill to Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Over three centuries, explosive ideas and practices of democracy sparked revolutions--English, American, and French--that again and again culminated in civil wars, disastrous failures of democracy that impeded further progress. Comprehensive, provocative, and authoritative, Toward Democracy traces self-government through three pivotal centuries. The product of twenty years of research and reflection, this momentous work reveals how nations have repeatedly fallen short in their attempts to construct democratic societies based on the principles of autonomy, equality, deliberation, and reciprocity that they have claimed to prize. Underlying this exploration lies Kloppenberg's compelling conviction that democracy was and remains an ethical ideal rather than merely a set of institutions, a goal toward which we continue to struggle.
James T. Kloppenberg
In this magnificent and encyclopedic overview, James T. Kloppenberg presents the history of democracy from the perspective of those who struggled to envision and achieve it. The story of democracy remains one without an ending, a dynamic of progress and regress that continues to our own day. In the classical age "democracy" was seen as the failure rather than the ideal of good governance. Democracies were deemed chaotic and bloody, indicative of rule by the rabble rather than by enlightened minds. Beginning in the 16th and 17th centuries, however, first in Europe and then in England's North American colonies, the reputation of democracy began to rise, resulting in changes that were sometimes revolutionary and dramatic, sometimes gradual and incremental. Kloppenberg offers a fresh look at how concepts and institutions of representative government developed and how understandings of self-rule changed over time on both sides of the Atlantic. Notions about what constituted true democracy preoccupied many of the most influential thinkers of the Western world, from Montaigne and Roger Williams to Milton and John Locke; from Rousseau and Jefferson to Wollstonecraft and Madison; and from de Tocqueville and J. S. Mill to Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Over three centuries, explosive ideas and practices of democracy sparked revolutions--English, American, and French--that again and again culminated in civil wars, disastrous failures of democracy that impeded further progress. Comprehensive, provocative, and authoritative, Toward Democracy traces self-government through three pivotal centuries. The product of twenty years of research and reflection, this momentous work reveals how nations have repeatedly fallen short in their attempts to construct democratic societies based on the principles of autonomy, equality, deliberation, and reciprocity that they have claimed to prize. Underlying this exploration lies Kloppenberg's compelling conviction that democracy was and remains an ethical ideal rather than merely a set of institutions, a goal toward which we continue to struggle.
James T. Kloppenberg
In this magnificent and encyclopedic overview, James T. Kloppenberg presents the history of democracy from the perspective of those who struggled to envision and achieve it. The story of democracy remains one without an ending, a dynamic of progress and regress that continues to our own day. In the classical age "democracy" was seen as the failure rather than the ideal of good governance. Democracies were deemed chaotic and bloody, indicative of rule by the rabble rather than by enlightened minds. Beginning in the 16th and 17th centuries, however, first in Europe and then in England's North American colonies, the reputation of democracy began to rise, resulting in changes that were sometimes revolutionary and dramatic, sometimes gradual and incremental. Kloppenberg offers a fresh look at how concepts and institutions of representative government developed and how understandings of self-rule changed over time on both sides of the Atlantic. Notions about what constituted true democracy preoccupied many of the most influential thinkers of the Western world, from Montaigne and Roger Williams to Milton and John Locke; from Rousseau and Jefferson to Wollstonecraft and Madison; and from de Tocqueville and J. S. Mill to Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Over three centuries, explosive ideas and practices of democracy sparked revolutions--English, American, and French--that again and again culminated in civil wars, disastrous failures of democracy that impeded further progress. Comprehensive, provocative, and authoritative, Toward Democracy traces self-government through three pivotal centuries. The product of twenty years of research and reflection, this momentous work reveals how nations have repeatedly fallen short in their attempts to construct democratic societies based on the principles of autonomy, equality, deliberation, and reciprocity that they have claimed to prize. Underlying this exploration lies Kloppenberg's compelling conviction that democracy was and remains an ethical ideal rather than merely a set of institutions, a goal toward which we continue to struggle.
Joel Isaac
The essays in this book demonstrate the breadth and vitality of American intellectual history. Their core theme is the diversity of both American intellectual life and of the frameworks that we must use to make sense of that diversity. The Worlds of American Intellectual History has at its heart studies of American thinkers. Yet it follows these thinkers and their ideas as they have crossed national, institutional, and intellectual boundaries. The volume explores ways in which American ideas have circulated in different cultures. It also examines the multiple sites--from social movements, museums, and courtrooms to popular and scholarly books and periodicals--in which people have articulated and deployed ideas within and beyond the borders of the United States. At these cultural frontiers, the authors demonstrate, multiple interactions have occurred - some friendly and mutually enriching, others laden with tension, misunderstandings, and conflict. The same holds for other kinds of borders, such as those within and between scholarly disciplines, or between American history and the histories of other cultures. The richness of contemporary American intellectual history springs from the variety of worlds with which it must engage. Intellectual historians have always relished being able to move back and forth between close readings of particular texts and efforts to make sense of broader cultural dispositions. That range is on display in this volume, which includes essays by scholars as fully at home in the disciplines of philosophy, literature, economics, sociology, political science, education, science, religion, and law as they are in history. It includes essays by prominent historians of European thought, attuned to the transatlantic conversations in which Europeans and Americans have been engaged since the seventeenth century, and American historians whose work has carried them not only to different regions in North America but across the North Atlantic to Europe, across the South Atlantic to Africa, and across the Pacific to South Asia.
Joel Isaac
The essays in this book demonstrate the breadth and vitality of American intellectual history. Their core theme is the diversity of both American intellectual life and of the frameworks that we must use to make sense of that diversity. The Worlds of American Intellectual History has at its heart studies of American thinkers. Yet it follows these thinkers and their ideas as they have crossed national, institutional, and intellectual boundaries. The volume explores ways in which American ideas have circulated in different cultures. It also examines the multiple sites--from social movements, museums, and courtrooms to popular and scholarly books and periodicals--in which people have articulated and deployed ideas within and beyond the borders of the United States. At these cultural frontiers, the authors demonstrate, multiple interactions have occurred - some friendly and mutually enriching, others laden with tension, misunderstandings, and conflict. The same holds for other kinds of borders, such as those within and between scholarly disciplines, or between American history and the histories of other cultures. The richness of contemporary American intellectual history springs from the variety of worlds with which it must engage. Intellectual historians have always relished being able to move back and forth between close readings of particular texts and efforts to make sense of broader cultural dispositions. That range is on display in this volume, which includes essays by scholars as fully at home in the disciplines of philosophy, literature, economics, sociology, political science, education, science, religion, and law as they are in history. It includes essays by prominent historians of European thought, attuned to the transatlantic conversations in which Europeans and Americans have been engaged since the seventeenth century, and American historians whose work has carried them not only to different regions in North America but across the North Atlantic to Europe, across the South Atlantic to Africa, and across the Pacific to South Asia.
James T. Kloppenberg
Derided by the Right as dangerous and by the Left as spineless, Barack Obama puzzles observers. In Reading Obama, James T. Kloppenberg reveals the sources of Obama's ideas and explains why his principled aversion to absolutes does not fit contemporary partisan categories. Obama's commitments to deliberation and experimentation derive from sustained engagement with American democratic thought. In a new preface, Kloppenberg explains why Obama has stuck with his commitment to compromise in the first three years of his presidency, despite the criticism it has provoked.

Reading Obama traces the origins of his ideas and establishes him as the most penetrating political thinker elected to the presidency in the past century. Kloppenberg demonstrates the influences that have shaped Obama's distinctive worldview, including Nietzsche and Niebuhr, Ellison and Rawls, and recent theorists engaged in debates about feminism, critical race theory, and cultural norms. Examining Obama's views on the Constitution, slavery and the Civil War, the New Deal, and the civil rights movement, Kloppenberg shows Obama's sophisticated understanding of American history. Obama's interest in compromise, reasoned public debate, and the patient nurturing of civility is a sign of strength, not weakness, Kloppenberg argues. He locates its roots in Madison, Lincoln, and especially in the philosophical pragmatism of William James and John Dewey, which nourished generations of American progressives, black and white, female and male, through much of the twentieth century, albeit with mixed results.

Reading Obama reveals the sources of Obama's commitment to democratic deliberation: the books he has read, the visionaries who have inspired him, the social movements and personal struggles that have shaped his thinking. Kloppenberg shows that Obama's positions on social justice, religion, race, family, and America's role in the world do not stem from a desire to please everyone but from deeply rooted--although currently unfashionable--convictions about how a democracy must deal with difference and conflict.

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