Hellfire Nation

The Politics of Sin in American History

James A. Morone

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July 11, 2004
592 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
43 b/w illus.
ISBN: 9780300105179
Paper

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This insightful new conceptualization of American political history demonstrates that—despite the clear separation of church and state—religion lies at the heart of American politics. From the Puritan founding to the present day, the American story is a moral epic, James Morone says, and while moral fervor has inspired the dream of social justice it has also ignited our fiercest social conflicts.

From the colonial era to the present day, Americans embraced a Providential mission, tangled with devils, and aspired to save the world. Moral fervor ignited our fiercest social conflicts—but it also moved dreamers to remake the nation in the name of social justice. Moral crusades inspired abolition, woman suffrage, and civil rights, even as they led Americans to hang witches, enslave Africans, and ban liquor. Today these moral arguments continue, influencing the debate over everything from abortion to foreign policy.

Written with passion and deep insight, Hellfire Nation tells the story of a brawling, raucous, religious people. Morone shows how fears of sin and dreams of virtue defined the shape of the nation.

 

James A. Morone, professor of political science at Brown University, is also the author of The Democratic Wish: Popular Participation and the Limits of American Government.

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“In a beautifully written book, Morone has integrated the history of American political thought with a perceptive study of religion’s role in our public life. May Hellfire Nation encourage Americans to discover (or rediscover) the ‘moral dreams that built a nation.’”—E. J. Dionne, Jr., syndicated columnist and author of Why Americans Hate Politics and They Only Look Dead

 

“This is a remarkably broad, sweeping account, written with verve and passion.”—James T. Patterson, author of Brown v. Board of Education: A Civil Rights Milestone and Its Troubled Legacy

“For better and for worse, as Morone shows in marvelous historical detail, moral fervor has been the wellspring of political change in America.”—Robert D. Putnam, author of Bowling Alone

“An illuminating new perspective on American political development, in which values and righteousness, not crude economic interest, play the leading role. For better and for worse, as Morone shows in marvelous historical detail, moral fervor has been the wellspring of political change in America.”—Robert D. Putnam, author of Bowling Alone

Hellfire Nation is a signal contribution to American political science for two reasons. It explores a topic, the politics of sin, that has never been central to American political science—it’s just always been central to American politics. And unlike too much political science, Hellfire Nation is also a hell of a lot of fun to read."—Rogers M. Smith, Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania.

“This is American history the way I like it, prodigiously researched and vivaciously told. Morone has a knack for peeling off veneers, for locating the surprising fact, for adopting the unexpected and illuminating slant. He is a rarity, a scholar who is never boring.”—Tracy Kidder, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Soul of a New Machine

“It offers arresting insights into our understanding of the history of American moral politics. . . . A book with enormous strengths. . . . This is a book that deserves to be read by students of both American history and politics.”—Barry Shain, American Historical Review

"No dull moments blight this four-century, 500-page-plus run through American history. . . . Happily—and I would stress that word—Morone does not come on as a Jeremiah, a moper or whiner or scold. He is more of a bemused ironist who neither suppresses his own moral impulses nor lets them obtrude and alienate."—Martin E. Marty, Brown Alumni Magazine

"America’s moral basis is the theme of a new book, Hellfire Nation. . . . It’s causing a stir in academia."—Charleston Gazette (WV)

"A fascinating political-historical narrative. . . . This refreshing treatment of religion as politics deserves to be read by social and cultural historians, political scientists, sociologists, and theologians. . . . Highly recommended."—Choice

"[Morone] has written a book for people with no special training in American cultural history. His aim seems to be to meditate on the long history of Christian-based political movements. He wants to encourage people to rethink the possibilities and limitations of the American tendency to conflate religion and politics. Morone has succeeded in meeting these worthwhile goals, and he has done so through a set of engrossing narratives. Hellfire Nation . . . is actually fun to read."—David Harrington Watt, Christian Century

"A lively and informative study on the importance of religion and sin to the evolution of the American state."—Conscience: A News Journal of Catholic Opinion

"Hellfire Nation . . . offers a strikingly new perspective on American history. . . . Sometimes only an amateur can survey the evidence with a fresh eye and see patterns that have escaped the professionals. Clearly, Morone is on to something important."—Jonathan Rose, Daily Telegraph

Hellfire Nation reminds us that Christianity has played a greater role in motivating and shaping political movements throughout American history than too many secular scholars have been willing to acknowledge. . . . Richly informative as well as fun to read.”—David A. Hollinger, Harpers Magazine

“This book’s provocative thesis, ambitious scope, and brisk prose ensure that it will appeal to a broad readership.”—Harvard Law Review

Hellfire Nation provides a provocative, off-beat introduction to American politics.”—Colin Kidd, London Review of Books

"Persuasive. . . . [Morone’s] style is lively and his examples entertaining. . . . With each new detail, Morone is able to show how this connects with that."—David L. Beck, Mercury News

“[This] ambitious examination of the role of morality in American politics from the Puritan colonies to the present day [is] engagingly written. . . . In asserting that concepts of sin play an important role in political decisions, James Morone has constructed a work of immense value.”—John Grigg, New York History

"Morone is an exciting writer. Rich in documentation and eloquent in purpose, Hellfire Nation couldn’t be more timely."—Tom D’Evelyn, Providence Journal

"Impressively researched, comprehensive in scope, interestingly illustrated and journalistically readable, neither facile nor scholarly boring. . . . A good read for the intelligent layperson who is serious about citizenship. . . . An important book."—Leo Sandon, Tallahassee Democrat

“Morone is ace both on 17th-centuary witches and on the current containment of internal demons through privatisation of the prison industry. My US election night re-read.”—The Guardian

“A persuasively detailed and insightful history.”—R. Scott Appleby, The Journal of American History

"Hellfire Nation offers convincing evidence that no political advance has ever taken place in the United States without a moral awakening flushed with notions about what the Lord would have us do. It’s enough to make a secular leftist gag—and then grudgingly acknowledge the power of prayer."—Michael Kazin, The Nation

"Calm and urbane, but never condescending, Morone presents a compelling case study of an intensely uptight republic, and the contradictory postures into which it has so often found itself falling."—Michael Kerrigan, The Scotsman

“Morone’s book offers an extensive examination of the issues of slavery, civil rights, religious and other moral issues. It also examines the rise and fall of religious movements. Morone is successful in delivering a thoughtful, informative, and enjoyable read.”—Molly Gould, Townhall.com

“A remarkably intelligent and ambitious study of how various forms of ‘morality politics’ have been at the center of American history from the Puritans until today.”—Virginia Quarterly Review

Hellfire Nation does place much of our public life in its proper soul-searching context—and its careful anatomy of the hand-in-glove relations between the American state and the American faithful is both welcome and illuminating. We need more studies like it.”—Chris Lehmann, Washington Post

"Morone offers a sweeping history, presented in vigorous prose. He succeeds well in describing the big movements like the antislavery struggle and the fight against liquor. . . . Morone, in Hellfire Nation, offers much of interest and more to stimulate our thinking about American history."—J. David Hoeveler, The Historian

"Hellfire Nation grounds the countless permutations in American government and the ever-changing conceptions of American identity in powerful but competing logics of sin and redemption."—David Tell, Rhetoric and Public Affairs

"In a beautifully written book, Morone has integrated the history of American political thought with a perceptive study of religion’s role in our public life. Seeing the American story as a moral tale is always instructive, and Morone shows how it is impossible to grapple with our continuing effort to ‘redeem and reform’ ourselves absent an understanding of the nation’s faith-communities. May Hellfire Nation encourage Americans to discover (or rediscover) the ‘moral dreams that built a nation.’”—E. J. Dionne Jr., syndicated columnist and author of Why Americans Hate Politics and They Only Look Dead

Selected by AAUP as ’The Best of the Best from the University Presses: Books you Should Know About’

Selected as one of Christianity Today’s top ten books of 2003

Named April 2003 book of the month by The History News Network

Named an Outstanding Book of 2003 by the San Jose Mercury News

The Democratic Wish
Popular Participation and the Limits of American Government, Revised Edition

James A. Morone

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