What We Are Reading Today: Conditional Citizens

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Updated 26 September 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Conditional Citizens

Author Laila Lalami structures Conditional Citizens as a series of personal vignettes and historical dives that are more broad than deep.
Lalami was born in Morocco and came to the US for graduate school. She stayed because she fell in love with an American, whom she married.
“Conditional citizens, in Lalami’s account, are not allowed to dissent or question the choices of their government; if they do, they are viewed with suspicion, their allegiance to their new country questioned. Conditional citizens also have less freedom of movement,” said Sonia Nazario in a review for The New York Times.
Lalami “is less insightful when she widens her lens to argue that all minorities in the United States — including people born here but of a race, faith or gender not shared by the dominant majority — are discriminated against by their government and others, a heavily worn argument,” Nazario added.
“While her book convincingly lays out the inequalities among citizens, she’s woefully short on remedies and specific ideas for achieving change,” the review said.


What We Are Reading Today: Gentlemen Revolutionaries by Tom Cutterham

Updated 20 October 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Gentlemen Revolutionaries by Tom Cutterham

In the years between the Revolutionary War and the drafting of the Constitution, American gentlemen—the merchants, lawyers, planters, and landowners who comprised the independent republic’s elite—worked hard to maintain their positions of power. Gentlemen Revolutionaries shows how their struggles over status, hierarchy, property, and control shaped the ideologies and institutions of the fledgling nation.

Tom Cutterham examines how, facing pressure from populist movements as well as the threat of foreign empires, these gentlemen argued among themselves to find new ways of justifying economic and political inequality in a republican society. At the heart of their ideology was a regime of property and contract rights derived from the norms of international commerce and 18th-century jurisprudence. But these gentlemen were not concerned with property alone. They also sought personal prestige and cultural preeminence. Cutterham describes how, painting the egalitarian freedom of the republic’s “lower sort” as dangerous licentiousness, they constructed a vision of proper social order around their own fantasies of power and justice.

 In pamphlets, speeches, letters, and poetry, they argued that the survival of the republican experiment in the US depended on the leadership of worthy gentlemen and the obedience of everyone else.

Lively and elegantly written, Gentlemen Revolutionaries demonstrates how these elites, far from giving up their attachment to gentility and privilege, recast the new republic in their own image.