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Ideas that Made America

A survey of America’s thought-life demonstrates our nation’s drift from Biblical moorings.

Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, The Ideas That Made America,is a concise and useful history of the role of ideas in shaping the American social, cultural, and political landscape, from before the Revolution to the beginning of the 21st century. It is useful because it demonstrates the power of cogent ideas to affect the priorities and practices people embrace, and it elaborates the primary ideas that have given shape to America over the years.

The picture that emerges from this study is, I believe, an accurate portrayal of the state of the nation in our day. We are people without commonly-agreed-on foundations, who prefer our own way of thinking about the world to that of our neighbor, and who cannot easily be persuaded to change our views, unless presented with some personal incentive for doing so.

In America, there is not and does not appear ever to have been a consensus on truth or morality or what the direction of the nation should be. From the perspective of this book, Christianity has had but little influence in the shaping of America, and that influence has, in the 21st century, all but ceased to exist.

This book can serve as a handy reference resource for understanding such American ideas as republicanism, romanticism, transcendentalism, modernism and postmodernism, pragmatism, and identity politics. The influence of the Enlightenment, in transplanting America and the world from the soil of Christian thinking to the soil of mere rationalism has been profound.

We live in a day when whoever can make a rational argument for whatever is likely to be able to gain a following. Americans are a State, but not really a Nation, and the Church is a hapless bit of flotsam drifting along on the sea of relativism, narcissism, materialism, and naturalism which is the American intellectual landscape of the day.

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