This chapter develops a distinction between two ways of understanding and interpreting the American jeremiad's lament over the present, evocation of the past, and call for reform and renewal. Traditionalist jeremiads understand the past's value to lie in concrete social practices and traditions, and lament the community's falling‐away from those practices. Their political agenda, accordingly, involves recapturing key elements of social reality as, in their understanding, it once existed. Progressive jeremiads, while similarly lamenting present conditions, look to the past not for concrete practices to emulate, but for fundamental principles lying at the heart of American nationhood. The realization of those principles, according the progressive jeremiad, has been repeatedly thwarted, and thus its vision for the future involves realizing such ideals in new and different circumstances. The chapter illustrates these two types of jeremiad by considering the Christian Right (traditionalist) and Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass (progressive.) Rooted in different ways of understanding and engaging with the past, these two types of jeremiads offer sharply contrasting visions for the American future.
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