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Over at No Left Turns, our own Peter Lawler briefly discusses R. L. Bruckberger’s Images of America , which was originally published (the English edition) in 1958 and has been re-released with a wonderful introduction by Dan Mahoney. It was something of a sensation when it first hit the stands and is now all but forgotten but many still consider the book to rank among the deepest reflections on American consciousness and that it deserves to be situated in the grand tradition of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America . I’ve been reading it for the first time in the last few days and I’m particularly struck by Bruckberger’s reflection on the political compromise between our Puritanism and the celebration of secular individualism that you find in Jefferson and Locke. Rather than try to to resolve this tension through some grand theoretical synthesis or too easily won compatibilism, Bruckberger argues that this dichotomy is fruitfully captured in genuine political compromise. (Bruckberger is particularly good on the Declaration, which he considers essentially religious in character but not “ecclesiastical”.) In fact, what distinguished the American Revolution from its French counterpart is that while the latter attempts to overcome the messiness of the political through the radical reengineering of the human person the former is a more sober endeavor, cognizant of the permanent need for political compromise, for imperfect human arrangements. Ultimately, the success of the American regime might have a lot to do with the way in which the inconsistencies at the heart of our founding principles accomodate inconsistent longings in the soul, a twin eros to exercise our political being and to transcend the political.

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