The American Scholar

How We Came Together

UNION: The Struggle to Forge the Story of United States Nationhood


Viking, 432 pp., $30

THE ANTHROPOLOGIST Sally Falk Moore thought that some portion of legal reasoning was really masquerade. Studying colonial East Africa, she found that legal changes billed as rational reforms were, when viewed over a century, simply mirroring economic and political changes.

The implication? Seemingly disinterested law is a cover for politics. Judges and lawyers may not realize it, Moore wrote, but their careful arguments of legal norms really function as a means of displacing responsibility. Those involved are not reasoning; they are unwittingly disguising the exercise of power behind a vague abstraction called The Law.

I kept thinking of Moore’s argument while reading Colin Woodard’s an exploration of the ideas that guided the country from its first days as

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