Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home

Longing, Nostalgia, and Golden Age Politics: The American Jeremiad and the Power of the Past

  • Andrew R. Murphy (a1)

Abstract

I assess several politically powerful ways of drawing on the past in the search for solutions to problems in the present. To probe these dynamics, I turn to the American jeremiad, a longstanding form of political rhetoric that explicitly invokes the past and laments the nation's falling-away from its virtuous foundations. I begin by focusing on the Christian Right's traditionalist jeremiad, which offers both nostalgic and Golden Age rhetoric in its assessment of the United States' imperiled national promise. I argue that, despite differences in the historical location of their ideals and the significant rhetorical power that they bring to political life, such nostalgic and Golden Age narratives represent a constraining political ideal, one ultimately incapable of doing justice to an increasingly diverse American society. I argue furthermore that there is another strand of the American jeremiad and conclude by sketching a different way of drawing on the past, a progressive jeremiad epitomized by the thought of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Such a jeremiad is also deeply rooted in the American tradition and offers a far more promising contribution to a diverse and pluralistic American future.

Copyright

References

Hide All
Aamodt, Terrie Dopp. 2002. Righteous Armies, Holy Cause: Apocalyptic Imagery and the Civil War. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press.
Abington v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963).
Baldry, H.C. 1952. Who invented the Golden Age? Classical Quarterly, new series, 2: 8392.
Bellah, Robert N., Madsen, Richard, Sullivan, William M., and Swidler, Ann. 1985. Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life. New York: Harper and Row.
Bennett, William J. 1987. Religious belief and the constitutional order. In Piety and Politics: Evangelicals and Fundamentalists Confront the World, ed. Neuhaus, Richard John and Cromartie, Michael. Washington, DC: Ethics and Public Policy Center.
Bercovitch, Sacvan. 1978. The American Jeremiad. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
Bruegemann, Walter. 2007. Old Testament Theology: The Theology of the Book of Jeremiah. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Byrd, Robert. 2000. The plight of our nation. Congressional Record—Senate, 106th Congress (July 17): S6994.
Casey, Edward S. 1987. The world of nostalgia. Man and World 20: 361–84.
Colson, Charles, Vaughn, with Ellen Santilli. 1987. Kingdoms in Conflict. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan/William Morrow.
Coontz, Stephanie. 1992. The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap. New York: Basic.
Crites, Stephen. 1989. The narrative quality of experience. In Why Narrative? Readings in Narrative Theology, ed. Hauerwas, Stanley and Jones, L. Gregory. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
Davis, Fred. 1979. Yearning for Yesterday: A Sociology of Nostalgia. New York: Free Press.
Dobson, Edward. 1987. The Bible, politics, and democracy. In The Bible, Politics, and Democracy, ed. Neuhaus, Richard John. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
Douglass, Frederick. 1950. The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, ed. Foner, Philip S.. New York: International Publishers.
Dudden, Arthur P. 1961. Nostalgia and the American. Journal of the History of Ideas 22: 515–30.
Eastland, Terry. 1981. In defense of religious America. Commentary 71: 3945.
Eck, Diana C. 2002. A New Religious America: How a “Christian Nation” Has Become the World's Most Religiously Diverse Nation. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco.
Elshtain, Jean. 2002. Religion and American democracy. In Religion, Politics, and the American Experience: Reflections on Religion and American Public Life, ed. Blumhofer, Edith L.. Tuscaloosa and London: University of Alabama Press.
Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962).
Etzioni, Amitai. 1994. The Spirit of Community. New York: Touchstone.
Falwell, Jerry. 1979. America Can Be Saved! Murfreesboro, TN: Sword of the Lord Publishers.
Falwell, Jerry. 1980. Listen, America! Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
Fowler, Robert Booth. 1982. A New Engagement: Evangelical Political Thought, 1966–1976. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
Fowler, Robert Booth. 1999. Enduring Liberalism: American Political Thought Since the 1960s. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.
Garry, Patrick M. 2005. The cultural hostility to religion. Modern Age: A Quarterly Review 47: 121–31.
Greenfeld, Liah. 1992. Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity. Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press.
Hamburger, Philip. 2002. Separation of Church and State. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Hatch, Nathan O. 1977. The Sacred Cause of Liberty: Republican Thought and the Millennium in Revolutionary New England. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Higham, John. 2001. Hanging Together: Unity and Diversity in American Culture. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Himmelfarb, Gertrude. 1999. One Nation, Two Cultures. New York: Knopf.
Hollinger, David. 1995. Postethnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism. New York: Basic.
Holzer, Harold. 2004. Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech that Made Lincoln President. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Howard-Pitney, David. 2005. The African American Jeremiad: Appeals for Justice in America. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Hughes, Richard T. 2002. Myths America Lives By. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Hunter, James Davison. 1992. Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America. New York: Basic.
Jenkins, Philip. 2006. Decade of Nightmares: The End of the Sixties and the Making of Eighties America. New York: Oxford University Press.
Jewett, Robert S. 1973. The Captain America Complex: The Dilemma of Zealous Nationalism. Philadelphia: Westminster Press.
Jewett, Robert S. 2008. Mission and Menace: Four Centuries of American Religious Zeal. Minneapolis: Fortress.
Johnson, Paul. 1986. The almost-chosen people: Why America is different. In Unsecular America, ed. Neuhaus, Richard John. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
Johnson, Paul. 1995. God and the Americans. Commentary 99: 2545.
King, Martin Luther. 1967. “Beyond Vietnam.” Online at http://www.stanford.edu/group/King/publications/speeches/Beyond_Vietnam.pdf.
Leboe, Jason T., and Ansons, Tamara L.. 2006. On misattributing good remembering to a happy past: An investigation into the cognitive roots of nostalgia. Emotion 6: 596610.
Lincoln, Abraham. 1953. Collected Writings. Ed. Roy A. Basler. 8 vols. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
Lowenthal, David. 1987. The Past Is a Foreign Country. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Machiavelli, Niccolo. 1996. Discourses upon Livy. Trans. and ed. Mansfield, Harvey and Tarcov, Nathan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
McGraw, Barbara A., and Formicola, Jo Renee, eds. 2005. Taking Religious Pluralism Seriously: Spiritual Politics on America's Sacred Ground. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press.
McLellan, Vern. 1984. Christians in the Political Arena: Positive Strategies for Concerned Twentieth Century Patriots! Charlotte, NC: Associates Press.
McWilliams, Wilson Carey. 1973. The Idea of Fraternity in America. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Miller, Perry. 1953. The New England Mind: From Colony to Province. Cambridge, MA and London: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
Miller, William Lee. 2002. Lincoln's Virtues: An Ethical Biography. New York: Vintage.
Mohr, Richard D. 2005. The Long Arc of Justice: Lesbian and Gay Marriage, Equality, and Rights. New York: Columbia University Press.
Morone, James. 2003. Hellfire Nation: The Politics of Sin in American History. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
Murphy, Andrew R. 2009. Prodigal Nation: Moral Decline and Divine Punishment from New England to 9/11. New York: Oxford University Press.
Neuhaus, Richard John. 1986. The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
Neuhaus, Richard John. 1987. What the fundamentalists want. In Piety and Politics: Evangelicals and Fundamentalists Confront the World, ed. Neuhaus, Richard John and Cromartie, Michael. Washington, DC: Ethics and Public Policy Center.
Ovid. 1993. The Metamorphoses of Ovid, trans. Michael Mandelbaum. New York: Harvest.
Oxford English Dictionary. 1989. 2d ed. Prepared by Simpson, J.A. and Weiner, E.S.C.. 20 vols. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Pfaff, William. 2007. “Manifest Destiny: A New Direction for America.” New York Review of Books 54 (February 15): 5459.
Phillips, Derek L. 1993. Looking Backward: A Critical Appraisal of Communitarian Thought. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Putnam, Robert. 2001. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Quayle, Dan. 1992. Speech to the Commonwealth Club of California. Online at http://www.commonwealthclub.org/archive/20thcentury/92-05quayle-speech.html.
Reed, Ralph. 1994a. Politically Incorrect: The Emerging Faith Factor in American Politics. Dallas: Word Publishing.
Reed, Ralph. 1994b. What do religious conservatives really want? In Disciples and Democracy: Religious Conservatives and the Future of American Politics, ed. Cromartie, Michael. Washington, DC and Grand Rapids, MI: Ethics and Public Policy Center, and Eerdmans.
Rich, Frank. 2006. The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth from 9/11 to Katrina. New York: Penguin.
Richards, David A. J. 2005. The Case for Gay Rights: From Bowers to Lawrence and Beyond. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.
Rifkin, Jeremy. 1994. The End of Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era. New York: Tarcher.
Ritzer, George. 2004. The McDonaldization of Society. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Roberts, William. 1834. Memoirs of the Life and Correspondence of Mrs. Hannah More. 4 vols. London: R B Seeley and W Burnside.
Robertson, Pat. 1986. America's Dates with Destiny. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
Robertson, Pat. 2004. The Ten Offenses. Nashville: Integrity.
Roosevelt, Franklin D. 1936. “Acceptance Speech for the Renomination for the Presidency.” Online at http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/print.php?pid=15314 (accessed 13 May 2008).
Roosevelt, Franklin D. 1944. “State of the Union Address.” Online at http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=16518&st=&st1= (accessed 13 May 2008).
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. 1986. Political Writings. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
Sandel, Michael J. 1994. Democracy's Discontent: America in Search of a Public Philosophy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Santorum, Rick. 2006. It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good. Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute.
Schmidt, Leigh Eric. 2005. Restless Souls: The Making of American Spirituality. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco.
Sedikides, Constantine, Wildschut, Tim, and Baden, Denise. 2004. Nostalgia: Conceptual issues and existential functions. In Handbook of Experimental Existential Psychology, ed. Greenberg, Jeff. New York: Guilford.
Sedikides, Constantine, Wildschut, Tim, Gaertner, Lowell, Routledge, Clay, and Arndt, Jamie. 2006. Nostalgia as enabler of self-continuity. In Individual and Collective Self-continuity: Psychological Perspectives, ed. Sani, F.. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Silk, Mark. 1984. Notes on the Judeo-Christian tradition in America. American Quarterly 36: 6585.
Smith, Anthony D. 1999. Myths and Memories of the Nation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Smith, Anthony D. 2003. Chosen Peoples. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Smith, Kimberly L. 2000. Mere nostalgia: Notes on a progressive pathology. Rhetoric and Public Affairs 3: 505–27.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher. 1852. Uncle Tom's Cabin, or Life among the Lowly. Boston: John P. Jewett.
Sunstein, Cass R. 2004. The Second Bill of Rights: FDR's Unfinished Revolution and Why We Need It More than Ever. New York: Basic.
Uchitelle, Louis. 2006. The Disposable American: Layoffs and Their Consequences. New York: Knopf.
White, Hayden. 1987. The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Whitman, Walt. 2007. Democratic vistas. In Prose Works 1892, Vol. 2: Collect, and Other Prose, ed. Floyd Stovall. Collected Writings of Walt Whitman. New York: NYU Press.
Wildschut, Tim, Sedikides, Constantine, Arndt, Jamie, and Routledge, Clay. 2006. Nostalgia: Content, triggers, functions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 91: 975–93.
Wolin, Sheldon. 1986. Contract and birthright. Political Theory 14: 179–93.
Wright, Joanne H. 2004. Origin Stories in Political Thought: Discourses on Gender, Power, and Citizenship. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Longing, Nostalgia, and Golden Age Politics: The American Jeremiad and the Power of the Past

  • Andrew R. Murphy (a1)

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed