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Hellfire Nation: The Politics of Sin in American History / Edition 1

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In other projects Wikimedia Commons. Languages Add links. The first is preoccupied with affronts to God; the second is more concerned with earthly justice. Morone's stated purpose is to promote [End Page ] the latter, which he sees languishing in a culture dominated by the former. Yet even as it offers this bifurcated understanding of American morality, Hellfire Nation demonstrates that for many Americans—and for much of American history—this is a false dichotomy.

The abolitionists, for example, combined a progressive vision of racial justice with an intense focus on such issues as personal industry and sexual purity. Frances Willard was able to secure women's rights in a way her more radical contemporaries could not precisely because she merged a modern sense of social morality with a traditional notion of personal righteousness.

Even today, Morone admits, the African-American community joins the pursuit of penal equity with an unabashedly religious commitment to social conservatism.

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Morone often exhibits an awareness of this historical complexity, locating vibrant strains of communitarian morality among the otherwise sin-obsessed Puritans and hearing loud echoes of Puritan hellfire in the otherwise progressive Social Gospel. It is therefore all the more troubling that in his concluding chapters he pits "neo-Puritans" and "a new social gospel" irreconcilably against one another.

This conflict, he suggests, merely reflects a historical reality in which the division between the two moral traditions has grown increasingly stark over the past century. But his imposition of these rich and historically rooted identities on the flatly drawn ideologues of America's contemporary culture wars is the most striking example of how the book's pursuit of political clarity ultimately overwhelms its commitment to historical nuance.

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The result is a work that is readable and rousing, but one that reifies a Manichean view of morality politics and thereby limits the range of political possibilities that American history actually offers. Access options available:.

Hellfire Nation The Politics of Sin in American History

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