Fairness and Freedom compares the history of two open societies–New Zealand and the United States–with much in common. Both have democratic polities, mixed-enterprise economies, individuated societies, pluralist cultures, and a deep concern for human rights and the rule of law. But all of these elements take different forms, because constellations of value are far apart. The dream of living free is America’s Polaris; fairness and natural justice are New Zealand’s Southern Cross.
Fischer asks why these similar countries went different ways. Both were founded by English-speaking colonists, but at different times and with disparate purposes. They lived in the first and second British Empires, which operated in very different ways. Indians and Maori were important agents of change, but to different ends. On the American frontier and in New Zealand’s Bush, material possibilities and moral choices were not the same. Fischer takes the same comparative approach to parallel processes of nation-building and immigration, women’s rights and racial wrongs, reform causes and conservative responses, war-fighting and peace-making, and global engagement in our own time–with similar results.
On another level, this book expands Fischer’s past work on liberty and freedom. It is the first book to be published on the history of fairness. And it also poses new questions in the old tradition of history and moral philosophy. Is it possible to be both fair and free? In a vast array of evidence, Fischer finds that the strengths of these great values are needed to correct their weaknesses. As many societies seek to become more open–never twice in the same way, an understanding of our differences is the only path to peace.
In this sweeping, enthralling biography, acclaimed historian David Hackett Fischer brings to life the remarkable Samuel de Champlain—soldier, spy, master mariner, explorer, cartographer, artist, and Father of New France.
Throughout his three decades in North America, Champlain remained committed to a remarkable vision, a Grand Design for France’s colony. He encouraged intermarriage among the French colonists and the natives, and he insisted on tolerance for Protestants. He was a visionary leader, especially when compared to his English and Spanish contemporaries—a man who dreamed of humanity and peace in a world of cruelty and violence.
Born on France’s Atlantic coast, Champlain grew to manhood in a country riven by religious warfare. The historical record is unclear on whether Champlain was baptized Protestant or Catholic, but he fought in France’s religious wars for the man who would become Henri IV, one of France’s greatest kings, and like Henri, he was religiously tolerant in an age of murderous sectarianism. Champlain was also a brilliant navigator. He went to sea as a boy and over time acquired the skills that allowed him to make twenty-seven Atlantic crossings without losing a ship.
This superb biography, the first in decades, is as dramatic and exciting as the life it portrays. Deeply researched, it is illustrated throughout with many contemporary images and maps, including several drawn by Champlain himself.
Illustrated in full color with a rich variety of images, Liberty and Freedom is, literally, an eye-opening work of history–stimulating, large-spirited, and ultimately, inspiring.
Liberty and freedom: Americans agree that these values are fundamental to our nation, but what do they mean? How have their meanings changed through time? In this new volume of cultural history, David Hackett Fischer shows how these varying ideas form an intertwined strand that runs through the core of American life.
Fischer examines liberty and freedom not as philosophical or political abstractions, but as folkways and popular beliefs deeply embedded in American culture. Tocqueville called them “habits of the heart.” From the earliest colonies, Americans have shared ideals of liberty and freedom, but with very different meanings. Like DNA these ideas have transformed and recombined in each generation.
The book arose from Fischer’s discovery that the words themselves had differing origins: the Latinate “liberty” implied separation and independence. The root meaning of “freedom” (akin to “friend”) connoted attachment: the rights of belonging in a community of freepeople. The tension between the two senses has been a source of conflict and creativity throughout American history.
Liberty & Freedom studies the folk history of those ideas through more than 400 visions, images, and symbols. It begins with the American Revolution, and explores the meaning of New England’s Liberty Tree, Pennsylvania’s Liberty Bells, Carolina’s Liberty Crescent, and “Don’t Tread on Me” rattlesnakes. In the new republic, the search for a common American symbol gave new meaning to Yankee Doodle, Uncle Sam, Miss Liberty, and many other icons. In the Civil War, Americans divided over liberty and freedom. Afterward, new universal visions were invented by people who had formerly been excluded from a free society–African Americans, American Indians, and immigrants. The twentieth century saw liberty and freedom tested by enemies and contested at home, yet it brought the greatest outpouring of new visions, from Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms to Martin Luther King’s “dream” to Janis Joplin’s “nothin’ left to lose.”
Six months after the Declaration of Independence, the American Revolution was all but lost. A powerful British force had routed the Americans at New York, occupied three colonies, and advanced within sight of Philadelphia.
Yet, as David Hackett Fischer recounts in this riveting history, George Washington and many other Americans refused to let the Revolution die. On Christmas night, as a howling nor’easter struck the Delaware Valley, he led his men across the river and attacked the exhausted Hessian garrison at Trenton, killing or capturing nearly a thousand men. A second battle of Trenton followed within days. The Americans held off a counterattack by Lord Cornwallis’s best troops, then were almost trapped by the British force. Under cover of night, Washington’s men stole behind the enemy and struck them again, defeating a brigade at Princeton. The British were badly shaken. In twelve weeks of winter fighting, their army suffered severe damage, their hold on New Jersey was broken, and their strategy was ruined.
Bound Away offers a new understanding of the westward movement. After the Turner thesis which celebrated the frontier as the source of American freedom and democracy, and the iconoclasm of the new western historians who dismissed the idea of the frontier as merely a mask for conquest and exploitation, David Hackett Fischer and James C. Kelly take a third approach to the subject. They share with Turner the idea of the westward movement as a creative process of high importance in American history, but they understand it in a different way.
Where Turner studied the westward movement in terms of its destination, Fischer and Kelly approach it in terms of its origins. Virginia’s long history enables them to provide a rich portrait of migration and expansion as a dynamic process that preserved strong cultural continuities. They suggest that the oxymoron “bound away”―from the folksong Shenandoah―captures a vital truth about American history. As people moved west, they built new societies from old materials, in a double-acting process that made America what is today.
Based on an acclaimed exhibition at the Virginia Historical society, the book studies three stages of migration to, within, and from Virginia. Each stage has its own story to tell. All of them together offer an opportunity to study the westward movement through three centuries, as it has rarely been studied before.
Fischer and Kelly believe that the westward movement was a broad cultural process, which is best understood not only through the writings of intellectual elites, but also through the physical artifacts and folkways of ordinary people. The wealth of anecdotes and illustrations in this volume offer a new way of looking at John Smith and William Byrd, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, Daniel Boone, Dred Scott, and scores of lesser known gentry, yeomen, servants, and slaves who were all “bound away” to an old new world.
Records of prices are more abundant than any other quantifiable data, and span the entire range of history, from tables of medieval grain prices to the overabundance of modern statistics. Fischer studies this wealth of data, creating a narrative that encompasses all of Western culture. He describes four waves of price revolutions, each beginning in a period of equilibrium: the High Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and finally the Victorian Age. Each revolution is marked by continuing inflation, a widening gap between rich and poor, increasing instability, and finally a crisis at the crest of the wave that is characterized by demographic contraction, social and political upheaval, and economic collapse. The most violent of these climaxes was the catastrophic fourteenth century, in which war, famine, and the Black Death devastated the continent–the only time in Europe’s history that the population actually declined.
Fischer also brilliantly illuminates how these long economic waves are closely intertwined with social and political events, affecting the very mindset of the people caught in them. The long periods of equilibrium are marked by cultural and intellectual movements–such as the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the Victorian Age– based on a belief in order and harmony and in the triumph of progress and reason. By contrast, the years of price revolution created a melancholy culture of despair.
Fischer suggests that we are living now in the last stages of a price revolution that has been building since the turn of the century. The destabilizing price surges and declines and the diminished expectations the United States has suffered in recent years–and the famines and wars of other areas of the globe–are typical of the crest of a price revolution. He does not attempt to predict what will happen, noting that “uncertainty about the future is an inexorable fact of our condition.” Rather, he ends with a brilliant analysis of where we might go from here and what our choices are now. This book is essential reading for anyone concerned about the state of the world today.
This fascinating book is the first volume in a projected cultural history of the United States, from the earliest English settlements to our own time. It is a history of American folkways as they have changed through time, and it argues a thesis about the importance for the United States of having been British in its cultural origins.
While most people in the United States today have no British ancestors, they have assimilated regional cultures which were created by British colonists, even while preserving ethnic identities at the same time. In this sense, nearly all Americans are “Albion’s Seed,” no matter what their ethnicity may be. The concluding section of this remarkable book explores the ways that regional cultures have continued to dominate national politics from 1789 to 1988, and still help to shape attitudes toward education, government, gender, and violence, on which differences between American regions are greater than between European nations.
A history of aging in America surveys and compares actualities and attitudes in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries and suggests practical improvements on the current inadequate system of pensions, social security, medicare, and other programs.
This volume is now out of print. Please check Amazon or eBay for a used copy.
The historian’s fallacy is an informal fallacy that occurs when one assumes that decision makers of the past viewed events from the same perspective and having the same information as those subsequently analyzing the decision. It is not to be confused with presentism, a mode of historical analysis in which present-day ideas (such as moral standards) are projected into the past.
The concept of the historian’s fallacy was named and outlined in 1970 by David Hackett Fischer, who suggested it was analogous to William James’s psychologist’s fallacy. Fischer did not suggest that historians should refrain from retrospective analysis in their work, but he reminded historians that their subjects were not able to see into the future. As an example, he cited the well-known argument that Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor should have been predictable in the United States because of the many indications that an attack was imminent.
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