Hard cover, dust jacket, 6 x 9
Season: Spring, 2006
Blue States of Mind: Illuminating Readings for a Dark Time
From the Puritans to the Present, W. Hoffmann (ed.)
from the Introduction
First, a disclaimer. This collection of readings is not particularly directed to the so-called blue states any more than to the red ones. It is my contention–a viewpoint you will find in good company throughout this little book–that the United States is too commingled to be so neatly divided; its internal differences taken together comprise a national unity by definition. So at the outset I take issue with the red-blue division even while using the distinction to lend some perspective. That our country is presently caught in a spasm of splitting apart is obvious to the millions of people at odds with prevailing sociopolitical shiboleths, such as that to be patriotic one must believe in a God-blessed American exceptionalism or must support the Bush administration’s adventures abroad. And if one examines the history of our country, one quickly finds that we have undergone such times before and will so again–it’s part of our collective nature, this coming together and splitting apart. Up until the Civil War, the United States was regularly referred to as these United States, with the emphasis on the country's multiplicity rather than its oneness. After the Civil War, common locution shifted to this United States as the notion of the country's fundamental unity assumed primacy throughout the land.
At the same time , it is obvious that the United States is not monolithic, given its wide heterogenity in cultural and ethnic background and in religious affiliation. What is less well-understood is that the country is not even singular in purpose. That it ought not to be is the common refrain in this collection of readings. For the country's independence was hard-won via a revolution against any monarchial form of organizing a country, whether such sovereignty was grounded in imperial rule or in ideological comformity.
The founders in establishing we the people as sovereign provided for a democratic rule in matters of value and conduct, ensuring that a wide divergence of public opinion, including beliefs of a minority, was protected through constitutional freedoms and consistently-applied law. In short, we decided at the outset that we weren’t going to fight wars whether internal or external proscribing any official religion, inasmuch as founding a country upon a state religion was not rational. State religion impinged upon the nascent 18th century idea of individual sovereignty.
Thus democracy, rule by the people. And the people, by definition, were diverse and diverging. So far so good. But the shadow lurking in a country based on enlightenment values cast disunity, disorganization, relativism; the dark side of equal rights for everyone meant pronounced political disagreement.This democratic shadow is one way of understanding the turmoil our country has undergone throughout its two hundred year history, a way of understanding the Civil War.
To return to the blue-red state conceit, it is the intention of this volume to demonstrate that no matter how much the country disagrees internally, we all belong. As former President Clinton stated in his first inaugural address, "There is no longer an us and a them; there is only an us.” There is no singular red state or blue state anyway. Statistics easily dispense with such a notion, for how are we to reduce any state to red or blue status when nearly half its population may have voted for the loser?
Understanding red and blue in black and white terms is reductive and exclusive–two distinctly non-American traits. As the readings that follow demonstrate, well before the federal government was formally established a strong strain of thought insisted that we all belong, that as all-American Clinton pronounced, there is only an us. None other than proto-American Roger Williams, with his dictionary of several Native American dialects, suggests as much: His view that the natives were God’s creatures, too--and so neither to be wantonly slaughtered nor driven out of their lands, as he expressed it--was diametrically opposed to the prevailing Puritan powers that were.
Roger Williams was exiled, as were many of the writers and orators included in these pages. This book aims to bring them back from exile, to give them space on the wide-plank stage of our political and social life and hear them speak again. The writers included here speak from many different perspectives–religious, political, oratorical, fictional, poetic. You will find not only Roger Williams, but Cotton Mather among the Puritan leaders; our feminist grandmothers Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lydia Maria Child, Sojourner Truth and Margaret Fuller; transcendentalists Emerson, Thoreau and Channing. Writers such as Twain and Vonnegut, and a rich panoply of political, religious and social leaders. They are comfortably, if not contentedly, a contentious lot. They saw that the country could only survive if it tried to suspend demonizing fellow citizens who might seem demonic, such as in the Salem witch trials and in the McCarthy blacklisting of suspected communists.
The impulse to demonize, to marginalize, to use demagoguery to exclude various parts of our population–these will always be with us, for to truly establish an all-inclusive country is to accept and even encourage such dark impulses. Yet these need not take over completely.
Therefore, reader, this book is intended for these dark times in which many of us are demonized for being different or for thinking differently. The readings are reminders that there are good people of all faiths and also atheists who have held such high morals, who have loved the country and who have hearkened us to higher worlds of tolerance, acceptance, compassion, understanding. It is my hope that just as these readings might shine a light into hearts darkened by our leaders, they may also give hesitation to those leaders, reminding them of the heart of a democracy.