Deforming American Political Thought

Deforming American Political Thought: Ethnicity, Facticity, and Genre

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Deforming American Political Thought
    Book Description:

    By affirming the relativity of the American historical imagination, political theorist Michael J. Shapiro offers a powerful polemic against ethnocentric interpretations of American culture and politics. Deforming American Political Thought analyzes issues that range from the nature of Thomas Jefferson's vision of an egalitarian nation to the persistence of racial inequality. Shapiro offers a multifaceted argument that transcends the myopic scope of traditional political discourse. Deforming American Political Thought illustrates the various ways in which history, architecture, film, music, literature, and art provide approaches to the comprehension of diverse facets of American political thought from the founding to the present. Using these seemingly disparate disciplines as a framework, Shapiro paints a picture of American political philosophy that is as distinctive as it enlightening. Shapiro explores the historically vital role of dissenting points of view in American politics and asserts its continuing importance in today's political landscape. Exploring such diverse works as slave narratives, contemporary films, genre fiction, and blues and jazz music, Shapiro reveals that there have always been dissenting voices casting doubt on the moral purpose and exceptionalism of the American mind. An unprecedented inquiry into American politics, Deforming American Political Thought will surely serve to reinvigorate discussions about the essence of American political thought.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7153-1
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xx)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  6. 1 Securing the American Ethnoscape Official Surveys and Literary Interventions
    (pp. 1-30)

    When Judith Shklar, the late and much-revered Harvard political theorist, delivered her presidential address at the American Political Science Association’s annual meeting in 1990, she said that she felt her responsibilities “particularly deeply.” One aspect of that depth derived from her position as the first female president of the association. The other was associated with her vocation as a political theorist. Entitling her address “Redeeming American Political Thought,” Shklar insisted that American political theory, “far from being demeaning and scientifically superfluous,” ought to be integrated into a political science that is, in its best incarnation, “fact-minded.”¹

    The redemption of American...

  7. 2 The Micropolitics of Crime Aesthetic Comprehension and the “Brutality of Fact”
    (pp. 31-64)

    During the latter half of the twentieth century, Judith Shklar’s vocational model for political theory, analyzed in chapter 1, stood in dramatic contrast with that of another notable political theorist, Sheldon Wolin. While they both evinced deep commitments to American democracy, produced influential bodies of work, and served as mentors to generations of political theory students, they diverged sharply in their views of the political theory–social science relationship.¹ Wolin viewed the development of a method-obsessed, social scientization of political science as radically incompatible with the vocation of the political theorist. In contrast, Shklar insisted that there is a fundamentally...

  8. 3 Deforming America’s Western Imaginary
    (pp. 65-104)

    One of the legacies of the western political theory canon is the myth that the modern state emerged as a historically evolving contract in which individuals, seeking to avoid getting caught up in a war of “every man against every man,” assent to a centralized authority. For security reasons, or so the story goes, they participate in a collective sensibility that assembles and legitimates the body politic as a centrally governed, sovereign entity.¹ Among the more articulate and strenuous challenges to this enduring fable of the social contract is Michel Foucault’sLectures at the Collège de France, 1975–1976. In...

  9. 4 Constructing America Architectural Thought-Worlds
    (pp. 105-130)

    When operatives of the Al Qaeda network crashed planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001, they were attacking what they regarded as the quintessential architectural expression of American global hegemony. From their perspective, the attack was one battle in a prolonged war between incommensurate thought-worlds, a strike against an evil that expresses itself in both thought and material culture. Whatever resonances the episode has had in various parts of the globe since the attack—antagonistic, neutral, or friendly—it has created an intense process of domestic reflection on what America...

  10. 5 Composing America
    (pp. 131-164)

    Two inspirations inaugurate this investigation of “American music.” The first is the contrapuntal soundtrack of Spike Lee’s 1998 film,He Got Game, in which an American basketball story provides the main narrative. An African American father, in prison on a murder conviction for killing his wife (accidently, as a flashback shows), is temporarily paroled to try to convince his son, a high school basketball star, to sign a letter of intent to play for the governor’s alma mater. He is offered a commuted sentence if he succeeds. The film explores a range of corrupt college recruitment practices as well as...

  11. 6 Democracy’s Risky Businesses Pluralism and the Metapolitics of Aesthetics
    (pp. 165-198)

    In this chapter on democratic theory, I seek both to rearticulate the central conceptual contributions in earlier chapters and to open up some new ground by focusing on the differential experiences of diverse ethnic Americans—in particular, Euro-, African, and Latino Americans— in their working lives. This latter focus presumes that people’s daily working lives are a more important terrain for gauging the functioning of the American democracy than are the occasional episodes of public choice involved in elections, plebiscites, school board participation, and so on, which have been the basis of mainstream evaluations of democratic performance. Indeed, the ground...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 199-232)
  13. Index
    (pp. 233-246)