|The struggle between individual rights and the good of the community as a
whole has been the basis of nearly every major disagreement in our history,
from the debates at the Constitutional Convention and in the run up to the
Civil War to the fights surrounding the agendas of the Federalists, the
Progressives, the New Dealers, the civil rights movement, and the Tea Party. In
American Character, Colin Woodard traces these two key strands in American
politics through the four centuries of the nation’s existence, from the first
colonies through the Gilded Age, Great Depression and the present day, and he
explores how different regions of the country have successfully or disastrously
accommodated them. The independent streak found its most pernicious form
in the antebellum South but was balanced in the Gilded Age by communitarian
reform efforts; the New Deal was an example of a successful coalition between
communitarian-minded Eastern elites and Southerners.
Woodard argues that maintaining a liberal democracy, a society where mass
human freedom is possible, requires finding a balance between protecting
individual liberty and nurturing a free society. Going to either libertarian or
collectivist extremes results in tyranny. But where does the “sweet spot” lie in
the United States, a federation of disparate regional cultures that have always
strongly disagreed on these issues? Woodard leads readers on a riveting and
revealing journey through four centuries of struggle, experimentation,
successes and failures to provide an answer. His historically informed and
pragmatic suggestions on how to achieve this balance and break the nation’s
political deadlock will be of interest to anyone who cares about the current
American predicament—political, ideological, and sociological.
Available at your local bookstore or via Amazon.com, IndieBound,
Now available as a Penguin paperback.
Also available in Kindle and Nook editions.
Audiobook edition available via Audible.com and iTunes
|See Colin's interview on
PBS News Hour
|Download a detailed map
of the American Nations
|The author of American Nations examines the history of and solutions to the
key American question: how best to reconcile individual liberty with the
maintenance of a free society
A History of the Epic Struggle Between Individual Liberty and the Common
By Colin Woodard
A 2017 Chautauqua Prize Finalist
Winner of the 2017 Maine Literary Award (Nonfiction)
*Praise for AMERICAN CHARACTER*
“Woodard offers a fascinating way to parse American (writ large) politics and
history in this excellent book.” ―Kirkus
“A deep analysis of the history of the common good versus individual rights. . . .
The history of that struggle is a big-dipper ride through four centuries as first
collectivists then individualists take their turn at managing the country.
Lurking just below the surface are always mirrors reflecting our own times. . . .
Woodard’s essential thesis is vital to understand.”
-- Portland Press-Herald
"Woodard, an award-winning journalist for the Portland Press Herald in Maine,
is a terrific writer, and his range is impressive. His musings about the impact of
Ayn Rand on American conservatism or a day spent in the terrifying blackness
of Nicolae Ceausescu’s crumbling Romanian dictatorship are elegant set
pieces." -- David Oshinsky, Washington Post
“An illuminating national portrait at a particularly divisive time.” -- Down East
"Woodard’s treatise is a must-read for anyone grappling with how we arrived at
the present moment...Although the prose is effortlessly accessible to a general
audience, the manuscript could easily serve as a textbook in a number of
different disciplines – history, economics, political science and psychology,
just to name a few." -- Bowling Green (Ky.) Daily News
“"In 'American Character,' Woodard astutely examines the political, economic
and social history of the U.S. over four centuries, explaining how the balance
between individual freedoms and the common good has shifted dramatically,
often with wide swings from one to the other."” -- Kennebec Journal (Augusta,
"A GPS through our country’s political past and into our confounding present."
-- The (Fredricksburg, Va.) Free Lance-Star