Jedediah Purdy

Jedediah S. Purdy is a senior correspondent of The American Prospect and a second-year student at Yale Law School. Purdy started with the Prospect as a writing fellow, writing about culture, technology, politics, and the environment. His 1998 articles include "Age of Irony" on a generation that refuses to take itself seriously, and "Dolly and Madison" on the ethics of cloning.

His first book, For Common Things: Irony, Trust, and Commitment in America Today, was published by Knopf in September 1999. His current research addresses agriculture, environmental sustainability, and the place of work in American culture. He has also been working on conceptions of human excellence in democratic politics. In 1999 he was a faculty member at the Century Institute Summer Program on America's liberal and progressive political traditions.

Purdy was born and raised on a hillside farm in central West Virginia. Until age 14, he taught himself by reading, exploring the local woods and meadows, and working alongside his parents and younger sister. After a checkered high school career that eventually took him to Phillips Exeter Academy, he returned to West Virginia, where he worked as a carpenter and spent a year in environmental politics.

In 1997 he graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University with a degree in social studies. In 1996 he was selected as a Truman Scholar and as West Virginia's nominee for the Rhodes Scholarship.

Recent Articles

From Purity to Politics

We live in the aftermath of politics. A decade or so ago, the bloodless revolutions of Eastern Europe and South Africa made real the highest political dream: the peaceful triumph of the good. Right principles and popular will gave each other force, and people moved from capital streets to parliaments to remake the world.

State of the Debate: The Libertarian Conceit

Political excess in the twentieth century gives libertarianism understandable appeal. But caveat emptor; the path from Isaiah Berlin does not lead to Charles Murray.


Isaiah Berlin, edited by Henry Hardy, The Sense of Reality: Studies in Ideas and Their History (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997).

David Boaz, Libertarianism: A Primer (Free Press, 1997).

State of the Debate: The Chicago Acid Bath

A skeptical inquiry into the work of Richard Epstein and Richard Posner.


Richard Epstein, Forbidden Grounds: The Case Against Employment Discrimination Laws (Harvard University Press, 1992).

Richard Epstein, Mortal Peril: Our Inalienable Right to Health Care? (Addison Wesley Publishing, 1997).

If Wishing Only Made it So

Early in Patch Adams the film's bête noire, a grim and impersonal doctor, delivers this wisdom to a lecture hall of first-year medical students: "It is human nature to lie. People are not worthy of trust." Therefore, he says, he and his colleagues "are going to take the human being out of you. We're going to make you into doctors." Patch Adams, a substantial hit starring Robin Williams, is a rude and hopeful gesture of protest against the idea that doctors have to exchange humanity for professionalism. It is also a fantasy, a sham, even a scam. As such, it provides an inadvertent but telling diagnosis of fantasy's place in America today.

Rape of the Appalachians

Strip mining is carving up broad swaths of West Virginia's hillsides and valleys. Are we willing to pay higher energy prices to stop it?