Return to Greatness: How America Lost Its Sense of Purpose and What It Needs to Do to Recover It

Return to Greatness: How America Lost Its Sense of Purpose and What It Needs to Do to Recover It

by Alan Wolfe
     
 

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Has America, in its quest for goodness, sacrificed its sense of greatness? In this sharp-witted, historically informed book, veteran political observer Alan Wolfe argues that most Americans show greater concern with saving the country's soul than with making the nation great.

Wolfe castigates both conservatives and liberals for opting for

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Overview

Has America, in its quest for goodness, sacrificed its sense of greatness? In this sharp-witted, historically informed book, veteran political observer Alan Wolfe argues that most Americans show greater concern with saving the country's soul than with making the nation great.

Wolfe castigates both conservatives and liberals for opting for small-mindedness over greatness. Liberals, who at their best insisted on policies of national solidarity, have convinced themselves that small is beautiful, prefer multiculturalism to one nation, and are mistrustful of executive political power. Conservatives, who once embraced strong, active central government and an ideal of national citizenship, now support huge tax cuts that undermine America's future ability to undertake any ambitious, long-term project at home or abroad.

No great society, in Wolfe's view, has ever been built on the cheap. Wolfe notes that neither the conservatives' call for small-scale faith-based initiatives nor the recent embrace on the left of a grassroots "civil society" can provide health care to tens of millions of uninsured Americans or ensure national security in an age of terrorism.

To find better solutions, Wolfe looks back at specific moments in our national experience, when, in the face of sharp resistance, aspirations for the idea of national greatness shaped American history. He demonstrates how a bold and ambitious political agenda, championed at various times by Alexander Hamilton, John Marshall, Abraham Lincoln, and the two Roosevelts, steered the country toward periods of national strength and unity.

Steeped in a colorful, panoramic reading of history, Return to Greatness offers a fresh take on American national identity and purpose. A call to action for a renewed embrace of the ideal of an activist federal government and bold policy agendas, it is sure to become a centerpiece of national debate.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this timely contribution to the literature of American identity and public policy post-9/11, Wolfe (One Nation, After All) argues that Americans both right and left lack sufficient ambition to rebuild America's greatness. Wolfe criticizes the Bush administration and the right for pursuing tax cuts for the wealthy in a time of war. And he criticizes some on the left for disdaining any notion of patriotism. Wolfe reviews recent political science and journalistic writings on national identity, and the book is a good primer on that subject-discussions involve everything from Lani Guinier's countermajoritarian philosophy to the politics of immigration. Also impressive is Wolfe's command of history and his analysis of how, in previous crises, America rose to greatness through the leadership of Hamilton, Marshall, Lincoln, and Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt. Ultimately, though, Wolfe sacrifices depth for breadth. And his notion of "greatness" remains somewhat amorphous, particularly as he attempts to contrast it with national "goodness." The result is an interesting survey of history and the current debate on national identity, but one that does not add much to that discussion. (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Washington Monthly
Wolfe argues that America's history has been a long struggle between a few Roosevelts and Lincolns who have challenged America to be great, and a swarm of Bushes and McKinleys who aimed low and achieved even less. . . . Nations, like heroes, are made, not born. As Alan Wolfe points out, our greatest presidents have always found the courage to remind us of responsibilities we might otherwise pass by, and tapped the latent greatness that is imprinted in the American character.
American Prospect
Return to Greatness ranges, despite its brevity, over wide swaths of intellectual terrain, dispensing insights and making novel connections. . . . Wolfe deserves respect for reaffirming the promise of liberalism and for placing hope in the possibility of restoring common dreams.
— David Greenberg
American Prospect - David Greenberg
Return to Greatness ranges, despite its brevity, over wide swaths of intellectual terrain, dispensing insights and making novel connections. . . . Wolfe deserves respect for reaffirming the promise of liberalism and for placing hope in the possibility of restoring common dreams.
"Washington Monthly ce Reed

Wolfe argues that America's history has been a long struggle between a few Roosevelts and Lincolns who have challenged America to be great, and a swarm of Bushes and McKinleys who aimed low and achieved even less. . . . Nations, like heroes, are made, not born. As Alan Wolfe points out, our greatest presidents have always found the courage to remind us of responsibilities we might otherwise pass by, and tapped the latent greatness that is imprinted in the American character.
From the Publisher
"Wolfe argues that America's history has been a long struggle between a few Roosevelts and Lincolns who have challenged America to be great, and a swarm of Bushes and McKinleys who aimed low and achieved even less. . . . Nations, like heroes, are made, not born. As Alan Wolfe points out, our greatest presidents have always found the courage to remind us of responsibilities we might otherwise pass by, and tapped the latent greatness that is imprinted in the American character."—Bruce Reed,Washington Monthly

"Return to Greatness ranges, despite its brevity, over wide swaths of intellectual terrain, dispensing insights and making novel connections. . . . Wolfe deserves respect for reaffirming the promise of liberalism and for placing hope in the possibility of restoring common dreams."—David Greenberg, American Prospect

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781400826506
Publisher:
Princeton University Press
Publication date:
02/09/2009
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
256
Sales rank:
763,041
File size:
2 MB

What People are saying about this

Richard Wightman Fox
This is a timely book that will make a lasting contribution to our understanding of the present political and cultural moment. It is a call to arms for liberals to embrace a new vital center that rejects both knee-jerk flag-waving and rigid antinationalism.
Richard Wightman Fox, University of Southern California
Cuomo
In this fascinating and discerning reflection on America's frustrated instinct for greatness, Alan Wolfe suggests the formula and the elements necessary to make our nation the leader of an international community that shares our gifts of liberty, equality, and prosperity.
Mario M. Cuomo, former Governor of New York State
"Publishers Weekly"
In this timely contribution to the literature of American identity and public policy post-9/11, Wolfe argues that Americans both right and left lack sufficient ambition to rebuild America's greatness.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson
Every few years Alan Wolfe writes a book that changes the way we think about the political and social world. This book is provocative and original—another Wolfe classic.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, University of Pennsylvania
Robert Wuthnow
This is Alan Wolfe at his best. Insightful, articulate, concise, slightly contentious, and thought provoking. Wolfe moves smoothly from key interpretations of Andrew Jackson . . . to savvy observations about President Bush and concerns about Iraq. The book offers a strong, original argument about American culture and politics.
Robert Wuthnow, Princeton University

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