An Emancipation of the Mind: Radical Philosophy, the War over Slavery, and the Refounding of America (Hardcover)

An Emancipation of the Mind: Radical Philosophy, the War over Slavery, and the Refounding of America By Matthew Stewart Cover Image
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How a band of antislavery leaders recovered the radical philosophical inspirations of the first American Revolution to defeat the slaveholders’ oligarchy in the Civil War.

This is a story about a dangerous idea—one which ignited revolutions in America, France, and Haiti; burst across Europe in the revolutions of 1848; and returned to inflame a new generation of intellectuals to lead the abolition movement—the idea that all men are created equal.

In their struggle against the slaveholding oligarchy of their time, America’s antislavery leaders found their way back to the rationalist, secularist, and essentially atheist inspiration for the first American Revolution. Frederick Douglass’s unusual interest in radical German philosophers and Abraham Lincoln’s buried allusions to the same thinkers are but a few of the clues that underlie this propulsive philosophical detective story. With fresh takes on forgotten thinkers like Theodore Parker, the excommunicated Unitarian minister who is the original source of some of Lincoln’s most famous lines, and a feisty band of German refugees, philosopher and historian Matthew Stewart tells a vivid and piercing story of the battle between America’s philosophical radicals and the conservative counterrevolution that swept the American republic in the first decades of its existence and persists in new forms up to the present day. In exposing the role of Christian nationalism and the collusion between northern economic elites and slaveholding oligarchs, An Emancipation of the Mind demands a significant revision in our understanding of the origins and meaning of the struggle over slavery in America—and offers a fresh perspective on struggles between democracy and elite power today.

About the Author

Matthew Stewart is an independent philosopher and historian who has written extensively about the philosophical origins of the American republic, the history of philosophy, management theory, and the culture of inequality. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and Harvard Business Review, among other publications. In recent years he has lived in Boston, New York, and Los Angeles, and is currently based in London.

Praise For…

Engaging and often surprising.
— S.C. Gwynne - New York Times

Stewart consistently presents a lively and compelling march through the history of American slavery—revealing both its barbarity and its own supposedly philosophical and scriptural justifications… [a] bracingly original book.
— Harold Holzer - Wall Street Journal

A timely and inspiring intervention in the ongoing struggle over our history and collective identity. An Emancipation of the Mind illuminates the enduring and transformative legacy of the radical Enlightenment for the American experiment in republican self-government.

— Peter S. Onuf, author (with Annette Gordon-Reed) of Most Blessed of the Patriarchs

Enthralling, illuminating, and timely. A beautifully written, myth-busting, and eye-opening uncovering of the radical, humanistic roots of America’s best impulses toward justice and equality. A must-read for anyone who wants to fully understand not only the abolitionist movement and the nation’s struggle over slavery, but also America’s ongoing conflicts related to religion, nationalism, theology, and democracy. By delving into the lives and Enlightenment thinking of Frederick Douglass, Theodore Parker, Abraham Lincoln, and Ottilie Assing, Matthew Stewart shines a much-needed light on some of the most compelling—and yet underappreciated—emancipatory values that flow through our history and society.
— Phil Zuckerman, co-author of Beyond Doubt: The Secularization of Society

Matthew Stewart’s philosophical odyssey of the secular roots of America’s second founding is cerebral, eloquent, and highly readable. I couldn’t stop highlighting the historical connections, stories, and quotations. Stewart leaves readers sated, but somehow wanting to learn more about the fascinating heretical America of this era. A brilliant book exploring America’s secular refounding.
— Andrew L. Seidel, author of American Crusade

The author of Nature's God on the intellectual origins of the American republic has carried his story forward to give us an equally riveting history of the philosophical foundations of the abolitionist war against slavery. In this gem of a book, Mathew Stewart innovatively uses nineteenth century German philosophy to illustrate the fundamentally radical and emancipatory nature of American abolitionism.

— Manisha Sinha, author of The Rise and Fall of the Second American Republic

Matthew Stewart renders the radical philosophy of Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and John Brown with analytical precision and intellectual rigor. Stewart's notion of "philosophy-in-action" as foundational to radical abolition is a fascinating account of ideas in action, anticipating contemporary arguments over the role of philosophy and ideas in the fight for racial equality.
— Kerri Greenidge, author of The Grimkes
Product Details
ISBN: 9781324003625
ISBN-10: 1324003626
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: March 26th, 2024
Pages: 400
Language: English