Moral Imagination

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Overview

Spanning many historical and literary contexts, Moral Imagination brings together a dozen recent essays by one of America’s premier cultural critics. David Bromwich explores the importance of imagination and sympathy to suggest how these faculties may illuminate the motives of human action and the reality of justice. These wide-ranging essays address thinkers and topics from Gandhi and Martin Luther King on nonviolent resistance, to the dangers of identity politics, to the ...

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Overview

Spanning many historical and literary contexts, Moral Imagination brings together a dozen recent essays by one of America’s premier cultural critics. David Bromwich explores the importance of imagination and sympathy to suggest how these faculties may illuminate the motives of human action and the reality of justice. These wide-ranging essays address thinkers and topics from Gandhi and Martin Luther King on nonviolent resistance, to the dangers of identity politics, to the psychology of the heroes of classic American literature.

Bromwich demonstrates that moral imagination allows us to judge the right and wrong of actions apart from any benefit to ourselves, and he argues that this ability is an innate individual strength, rather than a socially conditioned habit. Political topics addressed here include Edmund Burke and Richard Price’s efforts to define patriotism in the first year of the French Revolution, Abraham Lincoln’s principled work of persuasion against slavery in the 1850s, the erosion of privacy in America under the influence of social media, and the use of euphemism to shade and anesthetize reactions to the global war on terror. Throughout, Bromwich considers the relationship between language and power, and the insights language may offer into the corruptions of power.

Moral Imagination captures the singular voice of one of the most forceful thinkers working in America today.

Shortlisted for the 2015 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Shortlisted for the 2015 PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay, Pen American Center
One of The Times Higher Education Supplement’s Books of the Year 2014, chosen by Jane Shaw

"A historically informed examination of moral imagination and human sympathy, as seen through the lives of such figures as Edmund Burke, Mohandas K. Gandhi and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr."—Sewell Chan, New York Times

"[T]hey shed much light on the frame of mind in which Bromwich approached the ambiguous figure of Burke in his biography, and even more on how Bromwich is relevant to the politics of our own times. . . . Those who read these essays alongside Bromwich's account of Burke's intellectual and political career will find their eye caught by three topics, all with Burkean overtones, deeply relevant to the present, and handled with Bromwich's characteristic sharpness. . . . Bromwich is particularly sharp on the way government spokesmen wrap the realities of massacre, torture, and gratuitous cruelty in euphemism. . . . The central essays of Bromwich's book are more meditative, and none the worse for it. . . . The final chapter, 'Comments on Perpetual War,' displays Bromwich's skills as a critic in the tradition of Hazlitt and Orwell."—Alan Ryan, New York Review of Books

"Moral Imagination brings together a dozen pieces published over the past twenty years in which [Bromwich] mostly explores the minds of people he admires. There is a particularly fine discussion of Lincoln and the constitutional necessity of the Civil War. There are also spirited attacks on the culture of celebrity and on the chicanery of Dick Cheney, which will have most readers whooping."—Ferdinand Mount, London Review of Books

"Bibliophiles, scholars and concerned citizens—all will find provocation and enlightenment here."Kirkus Reviews

"Bromwich delivers a probing and incisive collection of essays about culture, politics, imagination, and the war on terror. . . . Moral Imagination is an eloquent, demanding, and fiercely polemical work likely to appeal most to independent-minded readers and scholars alike."—Lee Polevoi, Kirkus Reviews

"Bromwich as a stylist belongs to the older, better class. . . . [Moral Imagination] is clearly a product of . . . bracing self-reflection."—Helen Andrews, Books & Culture

"Moral Imagination is an important book. . . . [T]he patient reader will be well rewarded by the author's many insights into some of our nation's most pressing concerns."—Walter G. Moss, History News Network

"In this collection of essays, Bromwich eschews identity politics and multiculturalism from a 'left' perspective, preferring instead the concept he articulates with the book's title: 'moral imagination.'. . . These essays are demanding but well worth the effort."—Choice

"[A] rich and memorable book. . . . Bromwich appears here in his well-established role as a public intellectual, as civilized as he is trenchant, observing with a mixture of dark wit and moral exasperation diverse aspects of the contemporary American scene. He has a good essay, both horrifying and funny, on the destruction of privacy in the modern United States; a remarkable essay on the psychopathology of political ambition; a fine piece questioning 'cultural identity' as a liberal shibboleth."—Seamus Perry, Times Literary Supplement

"Bromwich's book of essays is rich, well-cooked and a most satisfying dish."—Bob Lane, Metapsychology Online Reviews

From the Publisher

One of The Times Higher Education Supplement’s Books of the Year 2014, chosen by Jane Shaw

"A historically informed examination of moral imagination and human sympathy, as seen through the lives of such figures as Edmund Burke, Mohandas K. Gandhi and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr."--Sewell Chan, New York Times

"[T]hey shed much light on the frame of mind in which Bromwich approached the ambiguous figure of Burke in his biography, and even more on how Bromwich is relevant to the politics of our own times. . . . Those who read these essays alongside Bromwich's account of Burke's intellectual and political career will find their eye caught by three topics, all with Burkean overtones, deeply relevant to the present, and handled with Bromwich's characteristic sharpness. . . . Bromwich is particularly sharp on the way government spokesmen wrap the realities of massacre, torture, and gratuitous cruelty in euphemism. . . . The central essays of Bromwich's book are more meditative, and none the worse for it. . . . The final chapter, 'Comments on Perpetual War,' displays Bromwich's skills as a critic in the tradition of Hazlitt and Orwell."--Alan Ryan, New York Review of Books

"Moral Imagination brings together a dozen pieces published over the past twenty years in which [Bromwich] mostly explores the minds of people he admires. There is a particularly fine discussion of Lincoln and the constitutional necessity of the Civil War. There are also spirited attacks on the culture of celebrity and on the chicanery of Dick Cheney, which will have most readers whooping."--Ferdinand Mount, London Review of Books

"Bibliophiles, scholars and concerned citizens--all will find provocation and enlightenment here."--Kirkus Reviews

"Bromwich delivers a probing and incisive collection of essays about culture, politics, imagination, and the war on terror. . . . Moral Imagination is an eloquent, demanding, and fiercely polemical work likely to appeal most to independent-minded readers and scholars alike."--Lee Polevoi, Kirkus Reviews

"Bromwich as a stylist belongs to the older, better class. . . . [Moral Imagination] is clearly a product of . . . bracing self-reflection."--Helen Andrews, Books & Culture

"Moral Imagination is an important book. . . . [T]he patient reader will be well rewarded by the author's many insights into some of our nation's most pressing concerns."--Walter G. Moss, History News Network

"In this collection of essays, Bromwich eschews identity politics and multiculturalism from a 'left' perspective, preferring instead the concept he articulates with the book's title: 'moral imagination.'. . . These essays are demanding but well worth the effort."--Choice

"[A] rich and memorable book. . . . Bromwich appears here in his well-established role as a public intellectual, as civilized as he is trenchant, observing with a mixture of dark wit and moral exasperation diverse aspects of the contemporary American scene. He has a good essay, both horrifying and funny, on the destruction of privacy in the modern United States; a remarkable essay on the psychopathology of political ambition; a fine piece questioning 'cultural identity' as a liberal shibboleth."--Seamus Perry, Times Literary Supplement

"Bromwich's book of essays is rich, well-cooked and a most satisfying dish."--Bob Lane, Metapsychology Online Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
2014-01-23
A collection of (mostly) recent essays that range in focus from moral philosophy to American history to book reviews to op-ed. New York Review of Books contributor Bromwich (English/Yale Univ.; Skeptical Music: Essays on Modern Poetry, 2001, etc.) begins with some scholarly essays addressed to a scholarly audience, but in his final section, he offers a collection of pieces—liberal in politics (anti–Bush/Cheney, anti-war, pro–Edward Snowden)—aimed at more general readers. Some heroes emerge in the early essays, among them Abraham Lincoln ("Hatred of violence and love of liberty are clues to Lincoln's political character"), Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman. The author argues that a moral person must have imagination, especially to see the needs of strangers as clearly as the needs of friends. One particularly strong piece ("The American Psychosis," 2002) views Emerson as a "moral psychologist" and has kind and erudite words for Henry James' "The Jolly Corner" and Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find." Bromwich follows that with a sharp piece about Americans' obsession with celebrity and finds useful illustrations in the work of James, Nathanael West, Franz Kafka and others. In another piece, he chides Americans for self-delusion (we fail to see our own violence, imperialism and hypocrisy). In a review of Terry Eagleton's Holy Terror (2005), Bromwich notes that terrorism and war are on the same continuum and observes, "Man is a self-justifying animal." The final pieces blast the war in Iraq, the privatization of the military (Blackwater, etc.), the writing of William Safire, the government's employment of euphemism and the disappointing failure of Barack Obama to control the excesses of the National Security Agency. The author sees Snowden as a hero of sorts, manifestly not a traitor. Bibliophiles, scholars and concerned citizens—all will find provocation and enlightenment here.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691161419
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 3/30/2014
  • Pages: 376
  • Sales rank: 164,724
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

David Bromwich is Sterling Professor of English at Yale University. His many books include A Choice of Inheritance, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism, and Skeptical Music, winner of the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. His writings appear regularly in the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, Raritan, and other publications.

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Table of Contents

Preface xi
ONE
1 Moral Imagination 3
2 A Dissent on Cultural Identity 40
3 The Meaning of Patriotism in 1789 70
TWO
4 Lincoln and Whitman as Representative Americans 91
5 Lincoln’s Constitutional Necessity 118
6 Shakespeare, Lincoln, and Ambition 160
THREE
7 The American Psychosis 183
8 How Publicity Makes People Real 222
9 The Self-Deceptions of Empire 250
FOUR
10 What Is the West? 273
11 Holy Terror and Civilized Terror 287
12 Comments on Perpetual War 304
Cheney’s Law 304
Euphemism and Violence 310
William Safire: Wars Made out of Words 324
What 9/11 Makes Us Forget 330
The Snowden Case 334
Index 345

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