American Thought and Culture in the 21st Century

American Thought and Culture in the 21st Century

Martin Halliwell
Catherine Morley
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 336
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    American Thought and Culture in the 21st Century
    Book Description:

    Will the twenty-first century be the next American Century? Will American power and ideas dominate the globe in the coming years? Or is the prestige of the United States likely to crumble beneath the pressure of new international challenges?This ground-breaking book explores the changing patterns of American thought and culture at the dawn of the new millennium, when the world's richest nation has never been more powerful or more controversial. It brings together some of the most eminent North American and European thinkers to investigate the crucial issues and challenges facing the United States during the early years of our new century.From the subterranean political shifts beneath the electoral landscape to the latest biomedical advances, from the literary response to 9/11 to the rise of reality television, this book explores the political, social and cultural contours of contemporary American life - but it also places the United States within a global narrative of commerce, cultural exchange, international diplomacy, ideological conflict and war. These eighteen new essays address such pressing issues as leadership, foreign policy, propaganda, religion, health, technology, immigration, 9/11 culture and digital media. Searching for the roots of our contemporary concerns, the authors look back to the Clinton years and even earlier periods of twentieth-century American life. But they also look forward to the new horizons of the century to come - to the unanticipated dangers of a global future and to the soaring possibilities of American enterprise and imagination.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-3132-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Catherine Morley
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-18)
    Martin Halliwell and Catherine Morley

    One of the most symbolic political speeches of the early 21st century was given by the British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Speaking at the Labour Party Conference a month after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Blair gave a lasting image of the political and moral chaos created by events of 11 September 2001. After discussing the need to extend freedom around the globe, Blair proclaimed ‘This is a moment to seize. The kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us reorder this world...


    • 1. AMERICAN POLITICS IN THE 1990s AND 2000s
      (pp. 21-34)
      Dominic Sandbrook

      On 11 June 2004, the American people bade farewell to President Ronald Reagan with a day of mourning on a scale not seen for 30 years. For Reagan’s funeral, the first such state occasion since the death of Lyndon Johnson in 1973, the nation appeared united in grief. A few days earlier, more than 100,000 people had filed past the former governor’s coffin at his presidential library in California. In Washington, a similar number queued to pay their respects as Reagan lay in state at the Capitol Rotunda. And on the day of the funeral itself, every American military base...

      (pp. 35-48)
      John Dumbrell

      In 1987, George Shultz, Secretary of State under President Reagan, declared that ‘the great ideological struggle that has marked this century ever since the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 has essentially been decided’.¹ Speaking two years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, George Shultz was a little premature in proclaiming the termination of the Cold War. However, the significance, not least for American thought and culture, of the late 20th-century ideological and material ‘victory’ over Soviet communism can scarcely be overstated. The international business of the 20th century – admittedly diverted by the rise of fascism in the 1930s – was the...

      (pp. 49-64)
      David Ryan

      For all the horror of that Tuesday and the fathomless pain and grief visited on countless families, 9/11 was an event that thus far does not represent a significant turning point in US diplomatic history or foreign policy.¹ It was quickly superseded by other events unrelated to the causes of 9/11. Influential strategists within the Bush administration seized on the horror to gain assent from liberal Americans to move the country towards a war in Iraq that neoconservative strategists desired, but that many within the US, albeit with considerable liberal acquiescence, shunned because of the memories of Vietnam.

      This chapter...

      (pp. 65-80)
      Peter Kuryla

      Liberalism in the United States refers to a politico-cultural persuasion that has advocates almost exclusively in the American Democratic Party. The word also describes a group of political theorists who ‘do’ philosophy, and who tend to complicate and defy mainstream American party identifications and labels because their concerns largely transcend them: a debate that pits theorists called ‘liberal’ against those called ‘communitarian’. Most books and articles written about liberalism in the United States in recent years consider political culture and strategy, which can appeal to most every liberal, especially those of the more partisan variety. Less frequent, knottier treatments take...

      (pp. 81-96)
      Kevin Mattson

      If an American talks about contemporary politics with a citizen of the European Union, the term neoconservatism will likely come up. This is not the neoconservatism of the 1970s, when the term originated, but the neoconservatism that propelled George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq. It suggests a conservatism that draws from Leo Strauss and emphasises America’s role in spreading democracy abroad; a conservatism of grand universals willing to embrace the nasty practice of war; a conservatism that hopes to make democratic omelettes by breaking caseloads of eggs. This type of conservatism is important and has been discussed widely elsewhere,...

      (pp. 97-112)
      Nancy Snow

      In September 1992, a relatively obscure international treaty took effect in the United States. Originally signed by Democratic President Jimmy Carter in 1977, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) ultimately oversaw passage by Carter’s Republican successor once removed, President George H. W. Bush, after a two-thirds Senate vote. Article 20 of the ICCPR reads: ‘1. Any propaganda for war shall be prohibited by law. 2. Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law’.¹

      The covenant makes no attempt to legally define propaganda. It was...


      (pp. 115-126)
      Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn

      Alexis de Tocqueville, whose great work Democracy in America (1835–40) captured with such intricacy and eloquence the hopes and dreams of the new Republic just a generation after its founding, defined democracy as ‘a habit of the heart’.¹ Despite their important differences and shortcomings, the founders’ communal spirit breathed life into the laws, governmental structures, and social forms of the new nation, thus affecting the social, cultural, political and intellectual experience of Americans down to the early 21st century. Including, but not reducible to, a particular political system or set of social arrangements – from enfranchisement and representative government to...

      (pp. 127-144)
      Wilfred M. McClay

      As with so much else in American society at the outset of the 21st century, what one thinks about the present and future status of religion in American life depends a great deal on what interpretive stance or narrative framework one brings to the subject. Who would have imagined, even two decades ago, the kinds of debates we would see roiling the post-9/11 world, at a moment when the immense motivational power of religion has roared back into view, as potent as a force of nature? At the dawning of the 21st century, the secular worldview, whose triumph once seemed...

      (pp. 145-160)
      Howard Brick

      The theme is centuries old and it has risen to consciousness at several points over the course of US history, but the precise term ‘globalisation’ crystallised at the centre of American consciousness in the mid-1990s. Globalisation concentrated the elements of a discourse that had been thickening since the late 1970s, forming those elements into a kind of master concept that has now largely supplanted such predecessors as ‘post-industrial society’ or ‘postmodernism’. The claims adhering to the term are diverse, and even the simplest definition is bound to be very partial; basically, it asserts that the bonds of world connection have...

      (pp. 161-178)
      Christopher Thomas Scott

      British authorities, including former Prime Minister Tony Blair, greeted a gravely ill George W. Bush, aged 70, as he arrived on a hospital gurney to a subdued gathering at Heathrow International Airport. Bush suffers from Guillain-Barré (ghee-yan bah-ray) Syndrome (GBS), an immune system disorder that mercilessly attacks the body’s nervous system.¹ In its severe form, it causes paralysis of the legs, arms, breathing muscles and face. GBS affects thousands of Americans every year. In acute cases such as Mr. Bush’s, the pulmonary complications can be deadly.

      Bush’s sickness came on suddenly after suffering about of flu at his ranch in...

      (pp. 179-194)
      Carroll Pursell

      Any attempt to discuss the technology of the 21st century, based on the record of the first five to ten years, demands a caveat. Futurology, so popular 30 years ago, has all but disappeared, perhaps because in so much of the United States fortune telling is illegal. Even the easy prediction that change, however unclear in its details now, will continue, is no doubt true but misleading. Technologies change, but not because they must. Technologies change because people with the power to make it happen want it to.

      While change will no doubt take place over the remainder of the...

      (pp. 195-208)
      John Wills

      ‘Thank God men cannot fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth’, Henry David Thoreau pondered at his Walden retreat near Concord, Massachusetts in the late 1840s. The rise of industrialisation, commerce and materialism offended the sensibilities of a man dedicated to intellectual contemplation and transcendental nature. Thoreau struggled with the enterprise of nation-building going on about him. On some days, the sounds of the Fitchburg Railroad penetrated his forest surroundings, an ‘iron horse’ that made ‘the hills echo with his snort like thunder, shaking the earth with his feet, and breathing fire and smoke from his...


      (pp. 211-226)
      Martin Halliwell

      Late 20th-century American culture is often characterised in terms of its plurality and eclecticism. The diversification of cultural forms, particularly in visual and digital media, and broader horizons about what constitutes cultural production have contributed to an environment in which being black, poor, female or gay (at least in theory) no longer stands in the way of talent or strength of vision. Young graduates are finding showcases for low-budget movies in the burgeoning film festival circuit; many new authors are being published, helped by the promotion of new fiction on the Oprah Winfrey Show, particularly writing by young black women;...

      (pp. 227-244)
      Rebecca Tillett

      Fundamental concerns about cultural pluralism are evident in America’s continued emphasis upon the principle of e pluribus unum. The notion of ‘one nation under God, indivisible’ remains a crucial aspect of a united American identity, with ethnic and cultural differences assimilated to ensure a homogeneous ‘Americaneity’ based primarily on the enduring worldview and ideologies of the original white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant pilgrims. In the context of immigration, the primary source of American cultural pluralism, this remains of extreme importance in the 21st century, as millions continue to emigrate to the US each year. While immigration numbers rose so that 10 per...

    • 15. WRITING IN THE WAKE OF 9/11
      (pp. 245-258)
      Catherine Morley

      For the literary scholar, one of the most revealing things abut 9/11 was the great public interest afterwards in what writers would have to say: how could the writer respond to such a catastrophic event, an event that seemed so cinematic that, according to Kathryn Flett in The Observer, it ‘mocked all power of description?’¹ Yet there seemed an overriding need for words in the wake of 9/11. As Ulrich Baer has pointed out:

      In the first days after the attack, the astounding efforts by the rescue workers found a symbolic echo in the poems postered on walls and fences:...

      (pp. 259-274)
      Liam Kennedy

      In 1936 Henry Luce, the founder of Life magazine, famously articulated the magazine’s purpose:

      To see life; to see the world; to eyewitness great events; to watch the faces of the poor and the gestures of the proud; to see strange things – machines, armies, multitudes, shadows in the jungle and on the moon; to see man’s work – his paintings, towers and discoveries; to see things thousands of miles away, things hidden behind walls and within rooms, things dangerous to come to; the women that men love and many children; to see and to take pleasure in seeing; to see and...

      (pp. 275-290)
      Lynn Spigel and Max Dawson

      In February 1941, when publisher Henry Luce dubbed the 20th century ‘the American Century’, his magazine empire was about to fall prey to an even more dazzling media attraction: television. In May of that year, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) procured government-sanctioned technological standards for its television receivers and eagerly planned for a consumer boom. Although commercial TV was delayed by World War II, in the 1950s television would become the signature technology of the American Century that Luce described, functioning both as a central fixture in the home and as a symbol (for better or worse) of the...

      (pp. 291-306)
      Paul Wells

      The digital revolution happened without marches, placards and conflict; it was not about the overthrow of monarchs and governments; it was played out by corporate culture in cahoots with scientists, engineers and technologists. There was no conspiracy. For some, clinging to the term ‘new media’ meant that there was a modicum of resistance. There was still ‘old media’ – print, television, cinema – but with each passing day, these too were absorbed within the digital realm. Some suggested that it was the end of history, the end of cinema, the end: a quiet apocalypse that ironically found a key touchstone in the...

    (pp. 307-317)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 318-324)