This site uses cookies to deliver our services, improve performance, for analytics, and (if not signed in) for advertising. By using LibraryThing you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms.
Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

A Necessary Evil: A History of American…

A Necessary Evil: A History of American Distrust of Government

by Garry Wills

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
286260,368 (3.75)1



Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 1 mention

Showing 2 of 2
The author makes a good case that Americans have a love/hate relationship with government, seeing it as a necessary evil. He proposes that government is much more than a necessary evil, but I don't think his thesis is going to gain too much credence at this time, though he makes a convincing case. It's not his fault; he simply can't be heard over the noise. ( )
1 vote Devil_llama | Apr 26, 2011 |
A study of anti-government attitudes and ideas as they have occurred throughout American history. A lot less dry than it sounds. Engrossing. ( )
1 vote avanta7 |
Showing 2 of 2
no reviews | add a review
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
Information from the Russian Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
To the Unicorn symposiasts for all they teach me
First words
Last words
Disambiguation notice
Events are not tags.
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (4)

Book description
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0684870266, Paperback)

Nothing may be more American than distrust of government, but Garry Wills says there is something deeply wrong with this tradition. "It is a tradition that belittles America," he writes, "that asks us to love our country by hating our government, that turns our founding fathers into unfounders, that glamorizes frontier settlers in order to demean what they settled, that obliges us to despise the very people we vote for." Although A Necessary Evil is full of historical references, it is plainly motivated by contemporary politics: "I began this book in 1994, when the fear of government manifested itself in the off-year election of a Republican majority to Congress." Wills writes at length about matters such as the republic's founding, the 19th-century debate over states' rights, and so on. Yet the most passionate and engaging sections focus on antigovernment attitudes today, as embodied by the term-limits movement (the founders, he says, never were opposed to professional politicians), the National Rifle Association (whose defense of gun-ownership rights, Wills believes, is ahistorical), and abortion-clinic bombings (which Wills unpersuasively blames on Ronald Reagan). In his conclusion, Wills argues that government is in fact "a necessary good." It may do things poorly from time to time, and it may even do great harm. "But," to draw a parallel, "when marriages fail, we do not think it is because marriage is an evil in itself." A Necessary Evil is an erudite treatment of an important subject. --John J. Miller

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:47 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

In his most original and important work on American history since "Lincoln at Gettysburg," Garry Wills examines Americans' skepticism and distrust of government, which he ascribes to our misunderstanding of the Founding Fathers and of much of our history. In "A Necessary Evil," Wills scrutinizes our anti-governmental attitudes -- from the revolt of the colonies against king and parliament (romanticized as a revolution against central authority in general) to the present justifications for tax revolts, gun owning, and term limits. Wills reveals the roots of distrust of government -- from mainstream to extremist -- from the Founding Fathers' rancorous disputes, through secession struggles and Civil War, to the present. He shows how we have handed down a number of myths that inflate or distort our ideas about what freedom means and that perpetuate our mistrust of government. "A Necessary Evil" debunks some of our fondest myths -- that minutemen, not the Continental Army, won the Revolutionary War; that checks and balances were designed to make our government inefficient; that the national ideal should be "citizen-politicians" serving limited terms; that the states are sovereign; that the president is "our" commander in chief; that the three branches of government are equal; that local government is always most responsive to our needs; that the Second Amendment gives everyone a right to own a gun; that the frontier was "tamed" by individualists' firearms; that insurrection is a constitutional prerogative. Embedded deep in our national psyche, Wills argues, is our acceptance of anti-governmental values. From Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton to Webster, Calhoun, and Lincoln; from frontier insurrections to Timothy McVeigh; from Thoreau and Emerson to hippie communes; from John Brown to Martin Luther King Jr.; and from secessionists to bombers of abortion clinics, Wills illustrates the peculiarly American penchant for fighting our own government -- both from left and right -- as he distinguishes between resistance to legitimate government and disobedience to unjust laws. We Americans tend not to value government as a force for good, but to tolerate it as a necessary evil. Wills surprises us continually in "A Necessary Evil," as he shows why we hold our own elected government in disdain.… (more)

Quick Links

Popular covers


Average: (3.75)
2 1
2.5 1
3 4
3.5 3
4 7
5 4

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.


About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 137,298,478 books! | Top bar: Always visible