Tag Archives: History

On Democratic Revolutions

By Elisabeth Clemens

American Insurgents, American Patriots

Breen, T.H. 2010. American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People. Hill and Wang.

In the final years of the eighteenth century, political insurgents on both sides of the Atlantic attempted something radically new:  to institute government by the consent of the governed.    Yet these efforts played out rather differently in France and the United States.  As exemplars, these two cases have long informed the theoretical imaginations of political sociologists and social movement scholars.  Two recent works at the intersection of history and social theory, however, suggest that we may all need to recheck some of our basic assumptions.

With American Insurgents, American Patriots:  The Revolution of the People (Hill & Wang, 2010), T.H. Breen has produced that rare work of scholarship that one actually might want to read in a hammock or a beach chair.  Exploiting the organized obsession with the American Revolution, embodied in so many wonderful local history associations and library collections, Breen reconstructs the close-to-the-ground processes by which some communities remained loyal to the British Empire while in others the social network pressures to join the insurgency became close to irresistible. Continue reading

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Filed under Essay Dialogues, Great Books for Summer Reading 2014

Failure Is Not an Option

By Edwin Amenta

Asking why social movements fail is a little like asking why children do not have backyards full of ponies. Most social movements fail most of the time because they embody a recipe for failure: they combine ambitious goals with severe power deficits. In U.S. history alone, think about the communist, nativist, gun control, anti-alcohol, and prison-reform movements—failure, failure, failure, failure, and failure. With global warming continuing unchecked, a good case could be made, too, for the environmental movement as a failure. Even movements widely considered the most influential of the twentieth century—the labor, African-American civil rights, and feminist movements—have been so only partially or intermittently. Continue reading

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Filed under Essay Dialogues, Social Movement Failure