James Morone

James A. Morone, a political science professor at Brown University , is the author of Hellfire Nation: The Politics of Sin in American History.

Recent Articles

Freedom Freely Imagined

Liberty and Freedom: A Visual History of America's Founding Ideas by David Hackett Fischer ( Oxford University Press, 851 pages, $50.00 ) George W. Bush used the word “freedom” 24 times during his second inaugural address. After the president's handlers rushed out and denied that he was looking to start more wars, George Bush Senior clarified the point of his son's speech. “It's about freedom,” he explained. David Hackett Fischer has a stern message for snickering Democrats: “For three centuries, American movements that lost interest in liberty and freedom succeeded only in removing themselves from the main currents of American life.” Today the stakes are especially high. American freedom, argues Fischer, rests on a rich diversity of ideas; it is threatened whenever passionate, single-minded, born-again apostles of a narrow view press their own vision of freedom while repressing others. That recurring danger, concludes Fischer, is “happening again as this book goes to press.” Liberty...

In God's Name

The Bush administration rushed into war talking about good and evil. "A calculated, malignant, devastating evil has arisen in our world," proclaimed Attorney General John Ashcroft. "And we know God is not neutral," added President Bush. While few defend Saddam Hussein, people around the world are troubled by the American crusade. The Bush administration has turned a complex international problem into an epic contest between the virtuous and the vicious -- and, of course, one cannot compromise with demons. Invoking God as we occupy other lands is as American as, well, manifest destiny. Back in 1630, Massachusetts' first governor, John Winthrop, planted a great biblical idea on American soil. Referencing the New Testament's Sermon on the Mount, he said, "We shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people upon us." The good people soon faced their own axis of evil. "It was time for the devil to take alarum," wrote minister Cotton Mather; Satan was rousing the natives to "oppose...

The Corrosive Politics of Virtue

Decrying moral failure is an old American tradition that goes back to the Puritans. But the moral diagnosis is wrong -- and it brings pernicious political consequences.

T he most influential men in America met in Boston. The nation, they agreed, faced a terrible moral crisis: rampant substance abuse, sex (even the old taboo against naked breasts seemed to be gone), illegitimacy. Public schools were languishing, the pursuit of profits was appalling, the explosion of lawsuits completely out of hand. Worst of all, parents were doing a terrible job of raising their kids—not enough discipline. "Most of the evils" that afflict our society, reported the conference, stem from "defects as to family government." The gathering published a famous call for moral reform in 1679. More than 300 years later, the old jeremiad is still doing a brisk business. From every political quarter we hear the same story—moral failures vex the nation. Almost no one in public life demurs. The warnings of spiritual decline sound vaguely plausible. Besides, why oppose calls for more virtuous behavior? This essay suggests why. The moral diagnosis is wrong and its political...

Cultural Phenomena: Dumbledore's Message

B ack when the Harry Potter books first reached America, the righteous were ready: Conservative Christians called for a ban on the little wizard. Focus on the Family, a conservative religious group, cautioned that "witchcraft...is directly denounced in scripture." Evangelical preachers pounded Harry Potter as "the work of the devil." Harry flattened the preachers, of course--the tally now stands at 114 million books sold and still counting. My next-door neighbor, Laura Walker (age 13), blasted through the most recent book--the 734-page Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire --in two summer days, then flipped back to the beginning and started again. With the whole wired generation barging into bookstores, conservatives fussing over witchcraft never stood a chance. By the time the first Harry Potter movie landed, the kids were ready. So, of course, was the all-American hype machine. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the long, loud, big-budget film, broke every box-office record on its...

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