[Marxism] Joyce Appleby, Historian of Capitalism and American Identity, Is Dead at 87

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Jan 6 10:07:21 MST 2017

NY Times, Jan. 6 2017
Joyce Appleby, Historian of Capitalism and American Identity, Is Dead at 87

Joyce Appleby, a distinguished historian and author who argued that 
ideas about capitalism and liberty were fundamental in shaping the 
identity of early Americans, died on Dec. 23 at her home in Taos, N.M. 
She was 87.

The cause was complications of pneumonia, her daughter, Ann Lansburgh 
Caylor, said.

Dr. Appleby, a former journalist who began her Ph.D. training at 32 
while caring for three children, rose to the top ranks of the 
discipline, serving as president of the Organization of American 
Historians, the American Historical Association and the Society for 
Historians of the Early American Republic.

She wrote several books, contributed to others and edited several more; 
she was 84 when her final book, “Shores of Knowledge: New World 
Discoveries and the Scientific Imagination,” was published.

She was also a scholar of Thomas Jefferson and wrote a brief biography 
of him, published in 2003.

Dr. Appleby was part of a generation of historians who examined the 
ideologies and beliefs that animated the American Revolution. These 
scholars took seriously the ideas of the founding generation, breaking 
with Progressive Era historians like Charles A. Beard, who had dismissed 
revolutionary ideas as rhetorical cover for the founders’ economic 
interests. But the scholars were not united in their interpretation.

Following a path laid by Caroline Robbins, historians like Bernard 
Bailyn and Gordon S. Wood emphasized civic republicanism, a set of 
beliefs that focused on the threat of power to liberty and the need to 
put the common good above personal self-interest. They traced the 
Americans’ revolutionary beliefs to the so-called radical Whigs of 
17th-century England, thinkers like Algernon Sidney and James 
Harrington, who feared a slide toward despotism.

Dr. Appleby challenged this view.

“The classical republican convictions that Bailyn ascribed to America’s 
founders drew on a vocabulary of political pathology to predict tyranny, 
chaos, usurpations and conspiracies,” Dr. Appleby said in a 2012 
lecture. “Locke was turned into an eccentric figure, the center now 
being held by an inherited way of interpreting events harking back to 
Renaissance fears about power lusts.

“Classical republicanism involved several propositions: that change 
generally brought degeneration, or worse, and that history pointed to 
the instability of all political orders. Civic virtue, where leaders put 
the common good above their own interests, formed the only bulwark 
against decay.”

In books like “Capitalism and a New Social Order: The Republican Vision 
of the 1790s” (1984) and “Liberalism and Republicanism in the Historical 
Imagination” (1992). Dr. Appleby argued that the revolutionaries were 
more individualistic and optimistic than they had been given credit for.

John Locke and Adam Smith had as much influence on founders like 
Jefferson as the radical Whigs — if not more, she said. In her view, the 
revolutionaries believed that the public good would arise out of the 
harmonious pursuit of private interests in a market economy.

“For me, liberalism had entered American consciousness as a potent brew 
blended from 17th-century entrepreneurial attitudes and the 
Enlightenment’s endorsement of liberty and reason,” Dr. Appleby said in 
the 2012 lecture. “Because nature had endowed human beings with the 
capacity to think for themselves and act on their own behalf, 
representative government seemed the perfect fit for them.

“Rather than classical republicanism’s fixation on social traumas, 
liberalism was optimistic, moving forward with the rational, 
self-improving individual who was endowed with natural rights to be 
exercised in a widened ambit of freedom.”

Or, as she put it in a 2007 essay on the intellectual underpinnings of 
American democracy, “Fear moved aside to make room for hope.”

The debate between liberalism and republicanism, especially active in 
the 1970s, eventually subsided. A new generation of social historians 
analyzed the concerns of marginalized groups — workers, women, free and 
enslaved African-Americans, and Native Americans, among others. Later 
still, a new cohort of scholars, influenced by postmodernism and 
cultural studies, looked at how human consciousness is shaped by language.

Dr. Appleby did not reject postmodernism and multiculturalism out of 
hand, but she feared that they had taken history too far toward 
relativism. In “Telling the Truth About History” (1994), she and the 
historians Lynn Hunt and Margaret C. Jacob waded into the “culture wars” 
over what should be emphasized in museums and textbooks.

They agreed that claims of the “absolute character” of scientific truth, 
and the supposed triumph of Enlightenment reason, needed to be 
challenged. But they argued that some thinkers had gone too far in 
arguing that there can be no historical truth at all, only opinion, 
ideology or myth.

The notion of truth, they argued, makes possible science itself, as well 
as the self-criticism necessary for democratic society. They turned to 
19th-century American thinkers like John Dewey and Charles Sanders 
Peirce to argue for “pragmatic realism” — for history that is aware of 
philosophy but that is also grounded in empirical data.

Dr. Appleby was born Joyce Oldham on April 9, 1929, in Omaha, the 
youngest of three children of Junius G. Oldham and the former Edith G. 
Cash. Her father, a World War I veteran and a salesman for the United 
States Gypsum Corporation, came from a Democratic family; his father had 
been a friend of William Jennings Bryan. Her mother, a homemaker, was 
the daughter of a Republican land speculator.

After graduating from Stanford in 1950, Dr. Appleby won a contest to 
work in the advertising department of Mademoiselle magazine in New York. 
The publishing executive Harold W. McGraw Jr. offered her a job, but she 
felt compelled to return to California to get married, as her friends 
were doing.

She worked for a time at Restaurant Reporter, a trade magazine based in 
Beverly Hills, laying out pages, delivering copy and sending out 
subscription notices. After her first child was born and the family 
moved, she was the South Pasadena stringer for The Star-News, a local 
newspaper, but concluded that she “didn’t have the brassy spirit to be a 

She eventually enrolled in a Ph.D. program at what is now Claremont 
Graduate University — because it was close by — and set about studying 
the impact of American nation-building on French and English politics 
early in the French Revolution. “It was a topic I could handle from 
Escondido, Calif., after two weeks of document-gathering in the East,” 
she recalled.

She began teaching in 1967 at San Diego State University and later moved 
to the University of California, Los Angeles, where she taught until her 
retirement in 2001. Her book “Inheriting the Revolution: The First 
Generation of Americans,” published that year, looked at memoirs and 
autobiographies to reveal how Americans born between 1776 and 1830 
reinvented themselves and their society.

Her first marriage, to the art historian Mark Lansburgh Jr., ended in 
divorce. Her second husband, Andrew Bell Appleby, a scholar of British 
social history, died in 1980. In addition to her daughter, she is 
survived by two sons, Mark Lansburgh and Frank Bell Appleby, and four 

Later in her career, Dr. Appleby returned to the study of capitalism, 
the topic of her first book, “Economic Thought and Ideology in 17th 
Century England” (1978), and of her penultimate book, “The Relentless 
Revolution: A History of Capitalism” (2010).

In a 2001 essay in The Journal of the Early Republic, she argued that 
capitalism, “viewed as a cultural, rather than an economic, phenomenon,” 
was like “an invisible social engineer.” She added:

“Because it affected access to both wealth and power, its success 
provoked the outrage of successive groups of moralists, aesthetes and 
traditionalists. We do not need to take sides in these battles to do 
justice to their histories.”

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