The Team here at Ruthless Reviews isnÂt about moving with the crowd, but reading popular books about the founders of the country, like Founding Brothers and John Adams; Will there Ever be a Rainbow is a trend IÂve enjoyed following. Gore VidalÂs (first hand?) account, Inventing a Nation, is the most recent Founding Fathers book IÂve read, and it fits in nicely with the others.
Fox News assholes, will predictably be offended by VidalÂs work because he makes no effort to cover the blemishes of the founders or their intentions for our republic. Vidal isnÂt afraid, for example, to assert that the United States is and was always intended to be a republic, not a democracy. The founders rarely spoke of democracy and, even setting aside classist, racist and sexist voting restrictions, never intended anything much stronger than public consent. Vidal also conveys the foibles and failings of the founders, but doesnÂt fall into the mentality of the Fox News assholeÂs counterpart, the asshole who majored in womenÂs studies and thinks everyone who isnÂt a vegetarian lesbian tree sitter is evil. While he ridicules the Mount Rushmore mentality, Vidal is not so childish as to condemn these great men for their shortcomings. Unlike the assholes, he is able to accept them as both admirable and mortal. ItÂs clear that Vidal has a deep respect for most of these men, and a bit surprisingly, an almost reverent attitude toward Washington.
Apart from the fact that it is very short, there are really two reasons to read this book, rather than any number of others on the topic. One is that Vidal sees these events with the eye of skeptic. He presents the most pessimistic quotations from the founders, and applies them to what might be the nadir of our 200+ year history, the present. Ben Franklin, for example, is said to foresee the W era in saying:
“I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such: because I think a General Government necessary for us,
and there is no Form of Government but what may be a Blessing to the People if well-administered; and I believe farther that this is
likely to be well administered for a Course of Years and can only end in Despotism as other Forms have done before it, when the People shall
become so corrupted as to need Despotic government, being incapable of any other.”
The second reason to read the book is that itÂs written by Gore Vidal in his usual, witty and well crafted prose. His asides are sometimes a bit awkward–like when he steps out of a discussion of Article III to point out that Clarence Thomas is a bad writer– but always entertaining nonetheless. These same reasons could be and in fact have been cited against this book. Those who prefer a straightforward historical account with maximal fact and minimal editorializing would do better to look elsewhere, or to peruse this book for a few unusual quotations and facts. Clearly, however, it is not VidalÂs intention to do hard-nosed, historical scholarship. His intention is to give Gore VidalÂs uninhibited take on a fascinating point in history. IÂll take that any day.