“Ultimately, for Seldes, the most important legacy of the ‘fanatics, and radicals, and mountebanks’ is their anti-materialism (we would now say ‘anti-capitalism’). ‘Something was needed to break down the monotony of an exceptionally materialistic existence,’ he says of the popularity of the Second Great Awakening. It was the ‘American radical’—’crackbrained or perverse as he was’—who most vehemently refused the culture of ‘make-money,’ and committed himself to seeking out alternatives. ‘In a society peculiarly preoccupied with things, he held to ideas,’ writes Seldes. When the gospel of ‘the spade, the rifle, and the steam-engine,’ threatened domination, the radical held onto his contemplative indolence.”
—from Evan Kindley’s review of Gilbert Seldes’s The Stammering Century, which comes out tomorrow, in The New Republic. The power of the “crackbrained” to change the country, and in an unexpected direction.