16 Pages

“The Dark Fields of the Republic ”: The Persistence of Civic Humanism in American Thought

WithDavid Brown

Intellectual historians and social critics are a curious lot. When surveying the rise of the modem world, they habitually find much to lament. Certainly the democratization of the West has proven a mixed blessing, and scholars are right to point out modernity's low points as well as its achievements. When pressed to demonstrate the country's clearest connection with the traditions of civic humanism, scholars invariably point to the American Revolution. Scholars of republicanism, most notably Bernard Bailyn, who applied the concept to the American Revolution, and J. G. A. Pocock, who globalized the theme, describe a line of classical thought that informed and defined the experiences of modem revolutionaries. The theme of cultural decline was not merely the province of Americans at this time as European thinkers like Friedrich Nietzsche and Oswald Spengler confronted the topic as well.