From a leading young intellectual and the author of For Common Things: a thoughtful and provocative look at the history and meaning of American freedom. Freedom has always been an essential part of American identity, shaping both our personal lives and our political beliefs. Now, Jedediah Purdy traces this ideal from the American Revolution to today's debates over national security, economic opportunity, and personal liberty. This book shows how freedom has inspired the country's best and worst moments--courage and emancipation, but also fear, delusion, and pointless war. Purdy grounds his theme in the stories of individuals: Frederick Douglass urging Americans to extend freedom to slaves; Ralph Waldo Emerson arguing for self-fulfillment as an essential part of liberty; reformers and presidents struggling to redefine citizenship in a fast-changing world. He asks essential questions: Does capitalism perfect or destroy freedom? Does freedom mean following God's word, tradition, or one's own heart? Can a nation of individualists also be a community of citizens? Throughout, he shows the paradox at the heart of American freedom: believing we have mastery of our own lives, we are increasingly thwarted by economic and political forces beyond our control. A Tolerable Anarchy is a book of history that speaks plainly to our lives today, urging us to claim our tradition of freedom in all its vitality.