Our Divided Political Heart
The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent
By E.J. Dionne, Jr.
(Bloomsbury USA, Hardcover, 9781608192014, 336pp.)
Publication Date: May 22, 2012
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
Categories: Political Ideologies - Conservatism & Liberalism
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Our Divided Political Heart will be the must-read book of the 2012 election campaign. Offering an incisive analysis of how hyper-individualism is poisoning the nation’s political atmosphere, E. J. Dionne Jr. argues that Americans can’t agree on who we are because we can’t agree on who we’ve been, or what it is, philosophically and spiritually, that makes us Americans. Dionne takes on the Tea Party’s distortions of American history and shows that the true American tradition points not to radical individualism, but to a balance between our love of individualism and our devotion to community.
Dionne offers both a fascinating tour of American history—from the Founding Fathers to Clay and Lincoln and on to the Populists, the Progressives and the New Dealers—and also an analysis of our current politics that shatters conventional wisdom. The true American idea, far from endorsing government inaction or indifference, has always viewed the federal government as an active and constructive partner with the rest of society in promoting prosperity, opportunity, and American greatness.
The ability of the American system to self-correct is its greatest asset and Dionne challenges progressives to embrace the American story. Our fractious but productive past offers us the resources both to rediscover the idea of progress and to put an end to our fears of decline. Our Divided Political Heart will be required reading for all who seek a path out of our current impasse.
E. J. Dionne Jr. is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a columnist for the Washington Post, and University Professor in the Foundations of Democracy and Culture at Georgetown University. He appears weekly on NPR and regularly on MSNBC and NBC's Meet the Press. His twice-weekly op-ed column is now syndicated in 140 newspapers. His writing has been published in the Atlantic, the New Republic, the American Prospect, the Washington Post Magazine, the New York Times Magazine, Commonweal, New Statesman, and elsewhere. He is the author, editor, or coeditor of numerous books, including the classic bestseller Why Americans Hate Politics, which won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and was nominated for the National Book Award. His most recent book is Souled Out. Dionne lives in Bethesda, Maryland, with wife, Mary Boyle, and their three children.
For years, the Tea Party has held individualism up as the great American value. But columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. says that Americans historically have prized communitarianism just as much. In Our Divided Political Heart, Dionne argues that America is at its best when it balances the two. More at NPR.org
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"I just finished reading a book ... it’s fascinating. It's called OUR DIVIDED POLITICAL HEART by E.J. Dionne, who I think is one of our most thoughtful public philosophers. And it’s the best book he’s written in 20 years, in my opinion, since he wrote a book called Why Americans Hate Politics. I highly recommend it." —President Bill Clinton
"A fast-paced, historically rigorous explanation of how inaccurate readings of our nation’s formation and development reinforce our imbalanced, factually impoverished public debate. Dionne bolsters the intellectual, constitutional and moral foundations on which this stronger, more just America can be rebuilt." —The Nation"A well-mannered, thoughtful attempt to restore civic grace and productive political conversation." —Boston Globe
"[A]n earnest effort to reach across the political divide….Dionne takes his readers on a richly researched tour of history to restore the broken consensus about who we are and what America stands for. His case is strong enough, serious enough and grounded enough to challenge those on the other side of the divide to offer a counterargument as rigorously argued as this one." —Washington Post
"Engrossing." —David Brooks, New York Times
"As he has so often, E.J. Dionne has written a brilliant new book, and it places our current division in political and cultural context." —Paul Begala, Newsweek
"[A] mash-up course in philosophy and graduate-level American history, written in an avuncular style with choice nuggets of deadpan wit." —Minneapolis Star Tribune"[I]t would be hard to find a more civil, well-reasoned or hope-filled book about the current polarized state of the country. By all means, read this book." —America magazine "[A] comprehensive, well documented tour through our history." —Daily Kos "[Dionne’s] extensive knowledge of Washington allows him to ably illustrate our remarkable political history, and he renews our hope that cooler heads can prevail with a renewed balance of individual rights and the needs of the community." —Kirkus Reviews "[A] much-needed fact-based review of the Constitution, a realistic portrait of its creators, and a balanced history of the ongoing friction in the American psyche between desires for liberty and commonwealth. The book clarifies much misinformation swirling around controversies about the founding fathers, the validity of originalism, and the traditional and historic roles of government and the free market in U.S. society. Tea Partiers and Occupiers alike may be surprised and enlightened by this lucid analysis, all the more convincing for its sympathetic treatment of both sides of the argument." —Publishers Weekly "Our Divided Political Heart recalls us to an American past that speaks powerfully, and hopefully, to our present political travails. Every citizen concerned about the state of our politics should read this book." —Michael J. Sandel, author of Justice "This is a brilliant book about America's current political divide. But more importantly, it's an insightful exploration of our nation's history and our ability to balance individualism with community. That sense of balance has been lost, and this book shows how we can restore a shared appreciation for our historic values." —Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs and Benjamin Franklin "E. J. Dionne is the thoughtful conservative’s favorite liberal, and the liberal all the rest of us learn from. Our Divided Political Heart is at once a grand arc of American thought from the nation’s founding, and an up-to-the-minute diagnosis of the weird and sudden turn we’ve taken in left-right relations. With malice toward none, Dionne nevertheless sounds the alarm about the new threat to the "long consensus" that’s been key to our stability and our national greatness. A thrilling book, from one of America’s most universally respected minds. You should buy it." —Rachel Maddow "This is E. J. Dionne’s best yet, a mature work pulsating with historical discovery, intellectual energy, and moral rigor. One of our most eminent, most up-to-the-minute reporter-columnists turns out to be as wired into the American political world of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries as he is to the candidates, think tanks, consultants, and talk-radio fantasists of 2012. He takes us on a sweeping, surprising journey that vividly illuminates who we are and how we got here, devastatingly debunks what some among us think about who we are and how we got here, and shines a light on the neglected commonalities beneath our seemingly intractable conflicts, revealing some national strengths that, with a bit of wisdom and a bit of luck, just might take us to a better place." —Hendrik Hertzberg, author of Politics and Obámanos! "E. J. Dionne sagely reminds us that our country’s main political tradition has always been ordered toward flourishing communities as well as free individuals. Conservatives will find much to disagree with in Dionne’s interpretation of that tradition, but they will also be educated and stimulated." —Ramesh Ponnuru, Senior Editor, National Review, and author of Party of Death "Are Americans rugged individualists? Are we community-loving civic republicans? The answer to both questions, writes E. J. Dionne in his wise new book, is yes. We value individualism but not as an end in itself; we value community but not at the expense of fundamental liberties. And contrary to the Tea Party’s noisy revisionism, this is what the Founders believed as well. Twenty years after his classic of political journalism, Why Americans Hate Politics, Dionne has once again excavated our current political dilemmas and shown how we can rise above them." —Jacob S. Hacker, coauthor of Winner-Take-All Politics "E. J. Dionne is the latest in a long line of serious American journalists who are also serious thinkers in their own right. It is therefore not surprising that he has written an extraordinary book at an extraordinary time in our history. Dionne shows us that we can't understand our present unless we understand where we came from. Moving beyond a sound bite version of our history he gives us a deeply informed and eminently readable account of our story with all its conflicts, failures, and triumphs. He has written a book for all of us who consider ourselves citizens of the American Republic, a book that not only speaks to where we are at this perilous moment, but of where we need to go. In a word, this book is indispensable." —Robert Bellah, coauthor of Habits of the Heart and author of Religion in Human Evolution. "Through all the twists and turns of American history E. J. Dionne brings his story straight to the point: We aren’t the nation of pure individualism that many imagine, and we never have been. Our Divided Political Heart is the tale of how the old familiar communitarian America became alien to us; in the insightful style we expect from Dionne it delivers a sharp shock of recognition." —Thomas Frank, author of What’s The Matter with Kansas? "E. J. Dionne’s compelling exploration of the dual traditions that compose the American ideology is indispensible for anyone who wants to understand how the past both shapes our present conflicts and can help us imagine a better future." —Michael Kazin, author of American Dreamers "E. J. Dionne is an intellectual and civic treasure. In this brilliant and timely book, he reminds those to his right that the moral compass of true conservatism points to community and compassion. He reminds his fellow progressives that not being allergic to national government is not the same thing as making it work in a humane and cost-effective fashion. Beautifully written, meticulously researched, and persuasively argued, here is an historically informed how-to manual for recognizing and reversing the worst aspects of our nation's polarized politics. Read this book and get ready for the revival." —John J. DiIulio, Jr., Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania
"E.J. Dionne is a unique voice in American public life. Our Divided Political Heart reflects his sustained engagement with American history and harvests his sophisticated understanding of our present predicament to explain why our politics has turned so sour in recent years. Astutely diagnosing the persistent tensions in American culture between individualism and community, Dionne also points the way from our current soul sickness toward a democratic renaissance." —James T. Kloppenberg, author of Reading Obama