Debating the End of History

Debating the End of History: The Marketplace, Utopia, and the Fragmentation of Intellectual Life

DAVID W. NOBLE
Foreword by DAVID R. ROEDIGER
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctt2jccv7
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  • Book Info
    Debating the End of History
    Book Description:

    Why do modern people assume that there will be perpetual economic growth? Because, David W. Noble tells us in this provocative study of cultural criticism, such a utopian conviction is the necessary foundation for bourgeois culture. One can imagine the existence of modern middle classes only as long as the capitalist marketplace is expanding. For Noble, the related-and relevant-question is, how can the middle classes believe that a finite earth is an environment in which infinite growth is possible? The answer, which Noble so painstakingly charts, is nothing less than a genealogy of the uses and abuses of knowledge that lie at the heart of so many of our political problems today.

    As far back as Plato and as recently as Alan Greenspan, Noble finds proponents of the idea of a world of independent, rational individuals living in timeless simplicity, escaping from an old world of interdependence and generations. Such notions, although in sync with Newtonian science, have come up against the subsequent conclusions of geology, biology, and the physics of Einstein. In a survey of the responses to this quandary of historians, economists, literary critics, and ecologists, Noble reveals how this confrontation, and its implications for a single global marketplace, has forced certain academic disciplines into unnatural-and untenable-positions.

    David Noble's work exposes the cost-not academic at all-of the segregation of the physical sciences from the humanities and social sciences, even as it demonstrates the required movement of the humanities toward the ecological vision of a single, interconnected world.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8197-6
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. FOREWORD
    (pp. ix-xii)
    David R. Roediger

    At an American Studies Association session honoring David Noble some years ago, the most arresting tribute came from the Chicana feminist Dr. Edén Torres, a former student of David’s. Torres allowed that in her early encounters with him she harbored doubts about what she had to learn from David across differences in race, gender, generation, and class. The process by which she came to treasure David reflected her political sophistication and good judgment. But it also bespoke his ability to listen to, learn from, and care for students rather than to assume that intellectual pyrotechnics could make differences disappear.

    Torres’s...

  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. 1 TWO-WORLD METAPHORS, FROM PLATO TO ALAN GREENSPAN
    (pp. 1-24)

    Why do modern people believe that there will be perpetual economic growth? The answer I present in this book is that such a utopian belief is the necessary foundation for bourgeois culture. One can imagine the existence of modern middle classes only as long as the capitalist marketplace is expanding. There must be endless surpluses for capitalists to exchange. The related question, then, is how is it possible for the middle classes to believe that a finite earth is an environment in which infinite expansion is possible? The answer I propose is that the urban middle classes since the time...

  6. 2 HISTORIANS AGAINST HISTORY
    (pp. 25-54)

    The American Founding Fathers had defined their revolution in negative terms. They had made an exodus from an old world of artful culture to a new world of artless nature. They had escaped timeful societies to achieve harmony with timeless space. They also recognized the gift given them by classical Greece and Rome—the gift of knowing that two worlds existed. They acknowledged this gift by using the architecture of classical antiquity to define their public buildings. They saw the gothic architecture of the Dark Ages as symbolizing an irrational feminine spirit. In contrast, classical architecture was rational and masculine....

  7. 3 ECONOMISTS DISCOVER A NEW NEW WORLD
    (pp. 55-88)

    Sacvan Bercovitch, in hisThe American Jeremiad(1978), argued that the first English settlers coming to North America believed they had received a promise from the Divinity. They were promised that they were entering a land of timeless harmony. When they quickly experienced timeful change, they lamented that this was a sinful declension from the perfect world given them by the Divinity. They searched for scapegoats on whom they could blame the declension. Bercovitch declared that this pattern became secularized and was used by successive generations of European Americans to define America as a nation blessed by timeless harmony. Then...

  8. 4 LITERARY CRITICS BECOME CULTURAL CRITICS
    (pp. 89-120)

    When I started my graduate work at Wisconsin I planned to focus on American intellectual history. My adviser, Merle Curti, encouraged me to substitute courses in American literature and in America philosophy for the usual requirement of a cluster of courses in European history. Earlier, when my professors at Princeton had learned of my interest in intellectual history, they recommended that I read Vernon Louis Parrington’sMain Currents in American Thought,published at the end of the 1920s. Parrington was a professor of American literature, and his narrative was very similar to that presented by the Beards inThe Rise...

  9. 5 ECOLOGISTS ON WHY HISTORY WILL NEVER END
    (pp. 121-148)

    The relationship of science to the current middle-class world is one of monumental irony. From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, bourgeois men in Europe and in their American colonies appealed to the authority of their new science to demonstrate that they and they alone were rational. They contrasted themselves to what they were beginning to define as the European “Dark Ages.” But, for them, all traditional cultures were irrational, unstable, and timeful. Once urban middle-class men had been trapped within such an oppressive old world, but their science showed them that there was an alternative new world. This was the...

  10. 6 WHEN PROPHECY FAILS
    (pp. 149-178)

    Irrational Exuberanceis the title of a book published in 2000. The author, Robert Shiller, is an economist. He was responding to what he called the “herd behavior” of people in the 1990s. Why, he asked, did so many intelligent people believe they were entering a “New Era” with a “New Economy”? Why, he asked, did they believe that in this “New World” the stock market boom was to last forever? Listen to me, he cautioned. This boom is about to burst. And it did.¹

    Unlike the many orthodox economists who imagine they are in the timeless and stable space...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 179-196)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 197-205)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 206-206)