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A Necessary Evil; A History of American Distrust of Government

Wills, Garry

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ISBN 10: 0684844893 / ISBN 13: 9780684844893
Published by Simon & Schuster, New York, 1999
Condition: Very good Hardcover
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About this Item

365, ]3] pages. Notes. Index, Key to brief Citations. Autographed copy sticker on front of DJ. Signed on title page. Slight wear and soiling to DJ. Addresses anti-government attitudes from the colonial period to the present. Garry Wills (born May 22, 1934) is an American author, journalist, and historian, specializing in American history, politics, and religion, especially the history of the Catholic Church. He won a Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction in 1993. Wills has written nearly forty books and, since 1973, has been a frequent reviewer for The New York Review of Books. He became a faculty member of the history department at Northwestern University in 1980, where he is currently an Emeritus Professor of History. Wills began his career as an early protégé of William F. Buckley, Jr. and was associated with conservatism. When he first became involved with National Review he did not know if he was a conservative, calling himself a "distributionist." Later on, he was self-admittedly conservative, being regarded for a time as the "token conservative" for the National Catholic Reporter and even writing a book entitled Confessions of a Conservative. Derived from a Kirkus review. With the breadth of knowledge and stylistic astringency that have characterized his score of other works, Pulitzer Prize-winner Wills attacks skepticism about federal power that corrodes political discourse. Pitched battles against centralized power have erupted from many quarters, including the militia movement, bombers of clinics, advocates of term limits,and the National Rifle Association. Wills believes that historical and constitutional justifications for Beltway-bashing lack any basis in fact. Opposition has taken many forms, he notes, including nullification, secession, insurrectionism, vigilantism, withdrawing, and disobeying. Underlying such diverse movements is a cluster of attitudes that tend to be traditional, provincial, spontaneous, religious, rights-oriented, and participatory. Wills notes that Madison and the other framers of the Constitution strengthened federal power by forbidding states to coin money, make treaties, set terms for citizenship, and the like. Wills's wide net often snares relevant yet overlooked evidence that undercuts treasured American myths. An iconoclastic history of a the major currents in American politics, written with relentless logic and scholarly elan. Bookseller Inventory # 74659

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Bibliographic Details

Title: A Necessary Evil; A History of American ...

Publisher: Simon & Schuster, New York

Publication Date: 1999

Binding: Hardcover

Book Condition: Very good

Dust Jacket Condition: Very good

Signed: Signed by Author(s)

Edition: First Printing [stated].

About this title


In his first major work since Lincoln at Gettysburg, the author blames American's long-standing mistrust of government on a misreading of history, and a fundamental misunderstanding of the Founding Fathers. Tour.


Nothing may be more American than distrust of government, but Garry Wills says there is something deeply wrong with this tradition. "It is a tradition that belittles America," he writes, "that asks us to love our country by hating our government, that turns our founding fathers into unfounders, that glamorizes frontier settlers in order to demean what they settled, that obliges us to despise the very people we vote for." Although A Necessary Evil is full of historical references, it is plainly motivated by contemporary politics: "I began this book in 1994, when the fear of government manifested itself in the off-year election of a Republican majority to Congress." Wills writes at length about matters such as the republic's founding, the 19th-century debate over states' rights, and so on. Yet the most passionate and engaging sections focus on antigovernment attitudes today, as embodied by the term-limits movement (the founders, he says, never were opposed to professional politicians), the National Rifle Association (whose defense of gun-ownership rights, Wills believes, is ahistorical), and abortion-clinic bombings (which Wills unpersuasively blames on Ronald Reagan). In his conclusion, Wills argues that government is in fact "a necessary good." It may do things poorly from time to time, and it may even do great harm. "But," to draw a parallel, "when marriages fail, we do not think it is because marriage is an evil in itself." A Necessary Evil is an erudite treatment of an important subject. --John J. Miller

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