Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Something for Nothing: Luck in America

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Something for Nothing: Luck in America

Article excerpt

Something for Nothing: Luck in America, by Jackson Lears.

An ambitious book, though one more stimulating in its argument than compelling in its evidence. "Will and Grace" would have been an apt title for this book, except for two facts: first, that it was already taken; and second, that the conjunctive, on Lears's account, should be a disjunctive: will or grace. Lears tracks the history of a debate which he sees as perennial in American culture, between (largely Protestant) "defenders of diligence" and control and the (largely non-Protestant-Native American, African, and Catholic) "devotees of chance" and grace. The two groups represent different ways of being in the world, and their argument has echoed through the centuries of American culture. Lears envisages a synthesis of the two, combining a recognition of will with an awareness of chance and rupture which would entail a "tragic sense of life." There's lots that's interesting here, but one wonders whether Lears has really found this or has instead fit the evidence to a pre-given thesis. …

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