LIBERTY AND POWER 1600-1760: Vol. I by Oscar & Lilian Handlin Handlin

LIBERTY AND POWER 1600-1760: Vol. I

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The first of a four-volume work on the concept of liberty in American history by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Handlin and his historian-wife, Lilian. Oscar Handlin, famed for his seminal works, The Uprooted and Children of the Uprooted, has always had a propensity for the sort of ""history from the ground up"" as practiced by Barbara Tuchman here and by Femand Braudel in Europe. That proclivity shines through in this volume as the Handlins tackle the question of how the first settlers and succeeding generations down to Confederacy settled on non-European ways of organizing power and insisted on having both bread and liberty. The Handlins find one of the biggest forces leading in this direction to be the sheer vastness of space in the New World. ""Space implied dispersal,"" they write, which militated against normal ways of exercising force on the populace. Rather than the old European concepts of a central authoritarian government, power was found to be more effective when exercised locally, which conceded to some extent an agreement on the part of the ruled to the ruler and his methods. The sheer hardness, too, of life in the American wilderness proved the vitality of the colonists' mission in their own minds, and ""that enduring faith in the importance of the enterprise sustained awareness of the common elements in the society."" These new circumstances also suspended the European rules of personal behavior, which in turn ""bred an attitude of tolerance to actions that did not disturb others."" Faith, due to the fragmentation of communities, sprang from the voluntary decisions of individuals rather than community sanctions. A good start on an important historical journey. Watch for the next installment.

Pub Date: Sept. 10th, 1986
Publisher: Harper & Row