Ambition, A History: From Vice to Virtue

Ambition, A History: From Vice to Virtue

Language: English

Pages: 256

ISBN: 0300182805

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


From rags to riches, log house to White House, enslaved to liberator, ghetto to CEO, ambition fuels the American Dream. Americans are driven by ambition. Yet at the time of the nation's founding, ambition was viewed as a dangerous vice, everything from "a canker on the soul" to the impetus for original sin. This engaging book explores ambition's surprising transformation, tracing attitudes from classical antiquity to early modern Europe to the New World and America's founding. From this broad historical perspective, William Casey King deepens our understanding of the American mythos and offers a striking reinterpretation of the introduction to the Declaration of Independence.

Through an innovative array of sources and authors—Aquinas, Dante, Machiavelli, the Geneva Bible, Marlowe, Shakespeare, Thomas Jefferson, and many others—King demonstrates that a transformed view of ambition became possible the moment Europe realized that Columbus had discovered not a new route but a new world. In addition the author argues that reconstituting ambition as a virtue was a necessary precondition of the American republic. The book suggests that even in the twenty-first century, ambition has never fully lost its ties to vice and continues to exhibit a dual nature, positive or negative depending upon the ends, the means, and the individual involved.

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Kassler, Jamie C., 213 Kastan, David Scott, 206 Katzenellenbogen, Adolf, 196 Keightly, Thomas, 203 Kelly, John, 214 King, Lester S., 211 Kirschbaum, Leo, 72 Knights Baronets of Nova Scotia, 121, 144, 146–149, 152, 223 Knights of the Golden Spur, 142–143 Knox, John, 41 Kocis, Robert A., 197 Kohut, Heinz, 3, 191 Kupperman, Karen, 225 La Dorotea (de Vega), 221 Lady Macbeth, 83–86 La Rochefoucauld, François de, 113 Las Casas, Bartolomé de, 126–131, 139–142, 161–165, 217–219, 221, 225

His daily service was Turning spits at the fire; And to scour pots of brasse, For a poore scullions hire. Meat and drinke all his pay, Of coyne he had no store; Therefore to run away, In secret thought he bore. Interestingly, the reason the ballad gives for Dick plotting to run away, to break his bond to his master, is that his compensation is in room and board, “meat and drinke,” not “coyne.” He is disappointed with the lack of monetary compensation for his labor. There was a disparity

scholar Robert N. Watson writes of ambition in Shakespeare’s plays as a “Sisyphean task … a perpetual quest for elevation that is baffled by some moral equivalent of the law of gravity.”108 This “law of gravity” assumes a poetic justice in which these tragic heroes, or villains in the case of Richard III, are destroyed by the disorder they, in fact, create in their “unnatural” subversion of natural order. The word villainy itself is derived from the word villein, or low-born serf. It is no

ambition, to offer certain Englishmen the opportunity to be “the author of their nobility.”8 Unexpectedly, though titular incentives were most commonly associated with Spain, they were more widely realized in England. The new incentives for colonization had a profound impact on the idea of ambition and the rights of the king. Once ambition was harnessed with the object of planting flags and saving souls, individual aspiration conflated with virtuous goals, both Christian and national. Could

working departmental administrators I have ever met; John and Geneva for picking me off the ground and dusting me off; Henry Schwab for the quality of being “schwaby”; Robert Stone, who helped me learn to write; Keith Wrightson for making me more fully interrogate regicide; Mike Kane for his friendship, camaraderie and constant reminders that “real artists ship”; Bob Vivona for his thirty years of most excellence; Atticus and Caleb for running around the towers of books in my office, and learning

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