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A Renegade History of the United States by…

A Renegade History of the United States (2010)

by Thaddeus Russell

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Really revealing exploration which creates many questions for the conventionally educated. 'We have met the enemy and it is us'. But read this after you have read 'The People's History of the United States' by Howard Zinn'. This book gives me hope for survival against our current right wing advocates, although, reaching back into our history demonstrates a stunning sameness to the past. It seems to me that so many negative comments show a fear to 'question authority'. ( )
  Joelwb | Oct 16, 2016 |
Interesting thesis, but too many babies thrown out with the "down with Puritanism" bathwater. ( )
1 vote CSRodgers | Jun 24, 2015 |
Thaddeus Russell used to teach history at Bernard College. He says in spite of the fact that his classes were so popular, he “had tripled the sizes of the introductory U.S. history course and the American Studies program” he was asked to present his work to colleagues at the college. He was hoping to get on the track toward tenure, instead some respected historians looked on him with disgust. He thinks that's just because they were closed minded.

His theory is that the founders of the United States, in fact the leaders of most governments want citizens to forgo personal gratification for the good of all. He says that the guiding principle of the US is the puritan work ethic, not just that work is good for whatever one wants to accomplish, but that work is good as an end in itself. The requirements of citizenship merge with Christian asceticism and self abnegation. Citizens should want no more than work and responsibility. Renegades, on the other hand, have no stake in the common good. They live for pleasure, and by doing so have brought freedom to the repressed good citizens.

This is how he puts it: “If you were a typical American living in the early part of the nineteenth century, you had to plant, tend, harvest, slaughter, and process your own food,. You had to make your own clothing, and all of it had to be strictly utilitarian; no decorations, unnecessary colors, or 'style.' You worked from before dawn until late at night. Your only source of entertainment was books, and most that were available were moral parables. You spent your entire life within a fifty-mile radius of your home. You believed that leisure was bad. There was no weekend.” You also maintained strict sexual monogamy.

“By the end of the nineteenth century Americans bought attractive clothing from stores, ate a variety of pleasing foods, read for fun, attended amusement parks and vaudeville shows, went dancing, rode trains, greatly decreased the number of hours a day they worked, and believed that leisure was good.” Renegades were responsible for the desire for comfort, fun and adornment. Desire produced demand and demand lead to production. African Americans, former slaves, (also drunkards, homosexuals and prostitutes) were the source of that desire. Waves of immigrants from Irish to Jews to Italians initially looked to African Americans for companionship, were even thought of as
"Negroid", and spent the first part of their history as immigrants imitating Black culture, dress, sexual freedom, dance, music, and rejection of the Puritan work ethic. The only problem with this premise, the lynchpin of the whole book, is that Russell says African Americans had it better as slaves than they did as free people. “slave culture offered many liberating alternatives to the highly repressive, work-obsessed, anti-sex culture of the early United States”

In Russell's view of slavery the owners took on all the responsibility of feeding, clothing, housing, child care and health care for their slaves leaving the African Americans free to dodge work (sure some got whipped, but when the overseer was at the other end of the field, the slaves completely slacked off), to malinger, to live promiscuous lives, (really, only about 8% of slave women were raped, probably fewer than white women), to dress better than their masters, to dance and sing with abandon. The onus was entirely on the slave owners because if the slaves didn't like the way they were treated they would just run away, for days or hours, even weeks or years, then they would “come back,” (Russell's term - he didn't say they were captured and brought back) He doesn't mention the slave ships bringing these lucky new Americans from Africa, but I think he must have seen them as something like a Carnival Cruise gone wrong. Because of their experience of slavery African Americans are less likely to internalize repression, they are less likely to relinquish their culture of personal freedom in exchange for potential rights as citizens. They are Russell's heroes.

Oh, and FDR was a fascist and 12% of first and second generation Japanese Americans actively supported Japan in the second world war.

Aside from the above mentioned rather unpleasant charges, Russell proposes some interesting ideas: movies, amusement parks, dancing (with bent knees) non reproductive sex are all activities engaged in by renegades. Renegade music: jazz, R and B, rock and roll and disco was responsible for the US winning the cold war. Country music is patriotic, heterosexually family oriented and expresses both a hated of work yet pride in doing it. Country music therefore does not promote freedom.

The mafia is responsible not only for the popularization of jazz, Broadway and Las Vegas but was also instrumental in protecting the gay subculture because Vito Genovese, a big mob boss, was married to a lesbian.

The Stonewall Riots lead to gay liberation, gay pride parades, the flaunting of purely recreational sex and nudist beaches increasing sexual freedom for the rest of us. The recent move toward gay marriage is lead by the usual conservative type and works against freedom emphasizing the ideal for both homo and hetero sexuals that sex should be hidden.

Those on the side of repression and decreased personal freedom: J. Edgar Hoover and Martin Luther King, Jr. Renegades were Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Alan Ginsberg.

This is a very interesting book, but Russell was so intent on making his "renegades save the world" point that I fear he went pretty far from reality in a few important cases. I'd rate the book 4 for interest, 1 for accuracy. ( )
1 vote Citizenjoyce | Nov 14, 2010 |
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(Introduction): This is a new story.
In the spring of 1777, the great men of America came to Philadelphia for the fourth meeting of the Continental Congress, the de facto government of the rebel republic.
Indeed, if Americals throughout history had only sacrificed themselves and made themselves, "good," what kind of society would we live in now? To answer that question, you might count the things in this book that you value in your own life or wish to enjoy, then imagine them as impossibilities. Renegades made these illicit joys not only possible but real. They didn't intend their actions as gifts to us. But now is our chance to take them as gifts, take the side of the renegades when the guardians of social order to try to keep them down, and take more.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 141657106X, Hardcover)

In this groundbreaking book, noted historian Thaddeus Russell tells a new and surprising story about the origins of American freedom. Rather than crediting the standard textbook icons, Russell demonstrates that it was those on the fringes of society whose subversive lifestyles helped legitimize the taboo and made America the land of the free.

In vivid portraits of renegades and their “respectable” adversaries, Russell shows that the nation’s history has been driven by clashes between those interested in preserving social order and those more interested in pursuing their own desires—insiders versus outsiders, good citizens versus bad. The more these accidental revolutionaries existed, resisted, and persevered, the more receptive society became to change.

Russell brilliantly and vibrantly argues that it was history’s iconoclasts who established many of our most cherished liberties. Russell finds these pioneers of personal freedom in the places that usually go unexamined—saloons and speakeasies, brothels and gambling halls, and even behind the Iron Curtain. He introduces a fascinating array of antiheroes: drunken workers who created the weekend; prostitutes who set the precedent for women’s liberation, including “Diamond Jessie” Hayman, a madam who owned her own land, used her own guns, provided her employees with clothes on the cutting-edge of fashion, and gave food and shelter to the thousands left homeless by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake; there are also the criminals who pioneered racial integration, unassimilated immigrants who gave us birth control, and brazen homosexuals who broke open America’s sexual culture.

Among Russell’s most controversial points is his argument that the enemies of the renegade freedoms we now hold dear are the very heroes of our history books— he not only takes on traditional idols like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Carnegie, John Rockefeller, Thomas Edison, Franklin Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy, but he also shows that some of the most famous and revered abolitionists, progressive activists, and leaders of the feminist, civil rights, and gay rights movements worked to suppress the vibrant energies of working-class women, immigrants, African Americans, and the drag queens who founded Gay Liberation.

This is not history that can be found in textbooks— it is a highly original and provocative portrayal of the American past as it has never been written before.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:30 -0400)

Aruges that criminals, prostitutes, rebels and other people on the fringes of society were largely responsible for such American achievements as the American Revolution, labor unions, women's liberation, the fall of the Soviet Union, gay rights and much more. By the author of Out of the Jungle: Jimmy Hoffa and the Re-Making of the American Working Class.… (more)

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