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Ellison was always a bleeding-heart patriot despised by the American youth, while Baldwin and Morison were ambivalently patriotic like Socrates, who criticized Athenian laws but ultimately accepted his punishment because of his civic love. Yet the grave offence for which Socrates would be tried and punished—corrupting the youth by asking them to personally examine their deepest commitments and values—could be attributed to all three in their critique of Cold War American exceptionalism and demonstration of American liberalism’s exclusionary and paternalistic impulses.
Despite this, he never wavered from them. Why? What was his understanding of freedom? And why did he always insist that the personal was as important as the political for creating a racially just society? 15 But no study has offered sustained reflection on these questions. One reason for this is that Baldwin’s idea of freedom was almost always philosophically undeveloped; the term was usually couched in unsystematic fragments and asides, replete with dense, textured language and evocative metaphors.
56 Daniel Boorstin’s The Genius of American Politics (1953) said that a lack of genuinely creative and programmatic American political theorizing came from Americans always assuming the “American Way”—a revolution-free history and expansive, amorphous and possibility-filled geography. 58 Such historical narratives of American political exceptionalism obscured an unexceptional experience Baldwin emphasized. Telling historical lies, he concluded in his mediation on artistic craft, “The Creative Process” (1962), had profound effects.