by Kyle Forti
February 7, 2011
Jonathan Beans Race and Liberty in America addresses the role race has played in the history of the United States. It develops the conjunction of race and ideas of liberty by compiling a diverse survey of pieces from Americas earliest days to the present. Bean takes advantage of the perch that the year 2011 offers and allows history to speak for itself as these issues were (and most currently are) queried. As a result, this is a book likely to appeal to a wide audience as has already been evidenced by the praise it has received from critics on both sides of the isle.
From page one, Bean leaves very little doubt that Race and Liberty in America is not a partisan book, nor one advocating a conservative or liberal ideology. Rather, his thesis and emphasis is to track the classical liberal tradition and its response to slavery and other race issues by offering an excerpt from each period in American history. To do this, Bean fills each chapter by citing journalists and authors, pastors and activists, political leaders and businessman. He scopes-out the structure of the early anti-slavery movement, on into the Republican Era, through color consciousness, the Roosevelt years, and classical liberalisms involvement in the Civil Rights Era.
As Bean prefaces most of these historical markers, he weaves in the definitive ways in which the American idea of liberty so affected the outcome of racial tensions in every season of note. The last part of the book takes the observations of the past and then turns to the role race and liberty will, in coming years, follow in the United States.
Ultimately Race and Liberty in America provides insight into what was central to the progress made by the classical liberal tradition and its critique of slavery and race in recent history. Bean effectively ties together the chronological flow of history and parallel flow of ideas that went along with it. It is because of this approach that Bean is able to thoroughly identify and investigate those concepts that played the most significant role in streamlining race and liberty in America: individual freedom, Christianity and Judaism, the Constitution, colorblindness, and capitalism.
Bean seeks to move beyond placing trust in political parties for the answers to the questions that yet remain, but rather encouraging citizens to once again seek out the basic questions for themselves: What is race? Why should government define race as it chooses? Why are immigrants available for other benefits not with other citizens? Why is government involved in the race business at all?
Bean poses these challenging questions as well as sobering, provocative statements: If race is a fiction, then it is a fiction worth disposing of because it has done far more harm than good. Race and Liberty in America maintains distance from the distractions of todays political debate by providing a comprehensive framework on the issues of race and American liberty in which to properly gain knowledge and move forward.