The social and political views of Orestes Augustus Brownson

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Hovarter, Nancy C. (Nancy Carol), 1932-
Menez, Joseph Francis, 1917-
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A work in Nineteenth-century American intellectual history, this dissertation considers the views of Orestes Brownson relating to the intellectual, spiritual, and social activities and changes within the United States during Brownson's lifetime (1803-1876). Brownson is revealed as a consistent absolutist in his basic approach. He maintained a belief in a "divine" absolute truth based on a balance of all extremes. He further maintained that this balance would best be discovered through the use of reason guided by authoritative religious teaching of these "divine" absolute truths.The events in America during Brownson's lifetime constituted challenges and struggles in the new republic that would make it a different country than that existing in 1783. The balance of Brownson's "divine" absolute truth would lead him to criticize all forms of extremism present in Nineteenth-century America; pure democracy, centralization of the federal government, dogmatism, socialism, collectivism, the free-soil movement, feminism, extreme individualism, utopianism, anarchism, special interests, social despotism, the increased power of the Executive, Radical Republicanism, and philanthropy.Brownson was an intellectual gadfly, commenting and criticizing in the face of changes in America, while all the time maintaining his original premises. He abhorred extremism from all quarters. Consequently, there was hardly a reformer, an idealist, or a theorist of any brand who did not at some time offend him and whom he did not subsequently offend by his journalistic retorts.Based primarily on Brownson's original writings and manuscripts and Henry F. Brownson's biography of his father, this discussion of Orestes Brownson's social and political views begins with a biographical sketch of the man behind the thought and then continues with an inquiry into the thought behind the man. Previous Brownsonian scholars have contended that Brownson was inconsistent in his views, directing particular attention to his numerous changes in religious affiliation prior to his conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1844. However, this so-called pilgrimage is considered here as merely a search for the correct authoritative religious teaching to guide reason to find the "divine" absolute truth Brownson already believed to exist. The arguments for Brownson's inconsistency are also based upon his consideration of so vast and varied a number of issues. Such arguments are corrected by placing Brownson in perspective in the discussion of "Orestes A. Brownson and the Spirit of his Times."This examination of Brownson's work discusses his approach to the origin and nature of government, sovereignty and constitutionalism, specifically with respect to the American republic, as well as Brownson's views on the authority of the church and the state. These two subjects of the dissertation lay the foundation for a discussion of Brownson's criticisms of more specific issues of Nineteenth-century America; women, the family, the education of children, and reform and change in government. On these issues, Brownson's criticisms of extreme positions becomes clearer.The final chapter "Orestes Brownson and the American Experience" considers Brownson's arguments for the balance within the American political system. The fundamentals of American government had begun crack and sway under increased centralization of the federal government, increased federal executive authority, and pure democracy brought about by westward expansion, immigration, the slavery issue, and the Civil War. By the end of his life, Brownson was out-of-step with his times, because, in a changed world, he still wrote from the same basic premises of "divine" absolute truth found through reason guided by authoritative religious teachings.