Myron Magnet, prizewinning author of The Founders at Home: The Building of America, 1735-1817, was the editor of City Journal from 1994 through 2006 and is now the magazine’s editor-at-large. A former member of the board of editors of Fortune magazine, Magnet has written about a wide variety of topics, from American society and social policy, economics, and corporate management to intellectual history, literature, architecture, and the American Founding.
His earlier book,
The Dream and the Nightmare: The Sixties’ Legacy to
the Underclass (William Morrow, 1993; second
edition: Encounter Books, 2000) argues that the radical
transformation of elite and mainstream American culture
that took place in the 1960s produced catastrophic
changes in behavior at the bottom of society that gave
rise to the urban underclass. Hilton Kramer called the
book “an indispensable guide to the outstanding question
of the day,” while columnist Mona Charen deemed it “the
book of the decade.” President George W. Bush told the
Wall Street Journal that it was
the most important book he’d ever read after the
Bible, and Bush strategist Karl Rove called The
Dream and the Nightmare a roadmap to the
president’s compassionate conservatism.
Dr. Magnet is also the author of Dickens and the Social Order (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985; second edition: ISI Books, 2004) and editor of The Millennial City: A New Urban Paradigm for 21st-Century America; What Makes Charity Work? A Century of Public and Private Philanthropy; Modern Sex: Liberation and its Discontents; and The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan than Today’s.
In addition to his many City Journal and Fortune articles, he has written for The Wall Street Journal, National Review, The American Spectator, Commentary, The New York Times, and other publications. He has also appeared on numerous television and radio programs.
Magnet holds bachelor’s degrees from Columbia University (1966) and the University of Cambridge. He earned an M.A. from Cambridge and a Ph.D. from Columbia, where he taught for several years, before joining the staff of Fortune in 1980. President Bush awarded him the National Humanities Medal in 2008.
Married, with two grown children, Magnet lives in Manhattan.
excerpts from the New Your Post
Fathers’ Warnings Powerful Reminder
Amid Government Crisis
By Michael Goodwin
October 12, 2013
In his masterful new book on early America, author Myron Magnet uses concise biographies of George Washington and other Founders to illustrate why our revolution unleashed more than two centuries of freedom and prosperity.
“The Founders at Home” is a work of scholarship and a labor of love, and offers vivid reminders of the courage of extraordinary individuals who birthed a new idea on Earth.
Take, for instance, the back-stabbing rivals trying to oust Washington as head of the Continental Army. Even as soldiers were leaving bloody footprints in the snow at Valley Forge, their commander had to defend himself against a vicious campaign by supposed comrades. Imagine if they had succeeded.
Or consider the unsentimental wisdom of John Jay, the diplomat who negotiated the treaty for independence with Great Britain and later became the first chief justice. Jay warned against the false “nostrums and prescriptions” of the ambitious and greedy, and urged his countrymen to “take men and things as they are.” Otherwise, he wrote, “the knaves and fools in this world are forever in alliance,” and self-government was doomed.
Magnet’s warts-and-all tour is so seductive in part because of our current troubles. Despite the success of the Founders’ grand experiment, events in Washington and around the world have many Americans fearing we are headed for a crack-up.
The fear provokes a wish we had a Washington or a Jefferson to guide us now. But the genius of Magnet’s book is that the “home” in the title refers not only to the actual homes the Founders built, many of which still stand, but also to the profound personal responsibility they felt to their new nation.
At enormous risk and cost, they created a model of patriotism that is not reserved for great men with lofty responsibilities. Their examples still matter because American exceptionalism ultimately is about ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
It is not enough to complain about our leaders and declare a pox on both their houses. We the people, are sovereign and get the government we deserve. If bums are running the country, look in the mirror.
This does not mean that political strife is the problem. In fact, the system of checks and balances is based on the Founders’ assumption that human nature would be guided by self-interest, and that the clash of interests would produce a result that fairly represents the will of the people and the common good of the country. But, obviously, something is broken. The balance between rights and responsibilities has been shattered and the nation’s character diminished.
The same sense of self-gratification and entitlement that infects our culture rules our politics. Elements of our government are as vulgar as the worst of our entertainment. As Magnet shows, the Founders predicted the peril we now face. Washington saw the Constitution as but a piece of parchment that depended upon “virtue in the body of the people.” If that virtue was eroded, he warned, by a “corruption of morals, profligacy of manners and listlessness for the preservation of the natural and unalienable rights of mankind,” America would degenerate into tyranny.
No, we are not there yet, but ask yourself this: Where on the spectrum of our history are we?
Are the founding virtues still intact, or has their spirit been eroded by the “corruption of morals”?
Are we closer today to the ideals of liberty, or to the tyranny the Founders warned would follow the death of those ideals?
Each of us should answer those questions and act accordingly.
After all, accepting individual responsibility is the foundation of American exceptionalism.
Thank you, Michael Goodwin
October 12, 2013
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