Age of Fracture

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Overview

In the last quarter of the twentieth century, the ideas that most Americans lived by started to fragment. Mid-century concepts of national consensus, managed markets, gender and racial identities, citizen obligation, and historical memory became more fluid. Flexible markets pushed aside Keynesian macroeconomic structures. Racial and gender solidarity divided into multiple identities; community responsibility shrank to smaller circles. In this wide-ranging narrative, Daniel Rodgers shows how the collective purposes and meanings that had framed social debate became unhinged and uncertain.

Age of Fracture offers a powerful reinterpretation of the ways in which the decades surrounding the 1980s changed America. Through a contagion of visions and metaphors, on both the intellectual right and the intellectual left, earlier notions of history and society that stressed solidity, collective institutions, and social circumstances gave way to a more individualized human nature that emphasized choice, agency, performance, and desire. On a broad canvas that includes Michel Foucault, Ronald Reagan, Judith Butler, Charles Murray, Jeffrey Sachs, and many more, Rodgers explains how structures of power came to seem less important than market choice and fluid selves.

Cutting across the social and political arenas of late-twentieth-century life and thought, from economic theory and the culture wars to disputes over poverty, color-blindness, and sisterhood, Rodgers reveals how our categories of social reality have been fractured and destabilized. As we survey the intellectual wreckage of this war of ideas, we better understand the emergence of our present age of uncertainty.

Winner of the 2012 Bancroft Prize

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Editorial Reviews

Bookforum

Rodgers offers a series of penetrating soundings into the social thought of the end of the twentieth century. He considers the recasting of terms in economic theory, the reconceptualizations of power in social theory, the attacks on "essentialism" in race and gender theory, and the diminished notions of obligation in political theory. Finally, he stresses our own curious encounters with the disaggregated past, via glib interpretations that impart an "increasingly malleable, flexible, and porous" quality to history...Again and again in the dominant modes of thought in these years, Rodgers finds institutions, identities, social bonds, and even history itself thinning out and coming apart.
— Robert Westbrook

Salon

While Rodgers' narrative about the right is fascinating, none of it is terribly surprising: Defending the prerogatives of corporations and the wealthy, in new and novel ways, is what conservatives do. Age of Fracture provokes by showing that just as conservatives were marshaling their intellectual and philanthropic forces for what New Right gladiator Paul Weyrich called "a war of ideology...a war of ideas, it's a war about our way of life," liberals and progressives themselves "fractured" instead...Rodgers acknowledges both the long, shameful history of oppression as well as the thrilling cultural and political ferment that fractured the left into separate, sometimes warring mini-caucuses. But the book makes it clear that those fissures left liberalism without the ideology or rhetoric to combat the language of choice, markets and freedom that replaced social responsibility in the Reagan years.
— Joan Walsh

The National

Rodgers has a knack for characterizing and assessing ideas without reducing them to their strictly polemical dimensions. But he also conveys the urgency and consequence of intellectual debate: the sense that it has stakes...Age of Fracture provides a frequently insightful narrative of recent public intellectual life in this country—and also some understanding of its precarious situation now.
— Scott McLemee

Times Higher Education

A blend of commentary and contextualization, admirably judicious. Rodgers is an excellent anatomist. His forte is clarity. Once in a while, he delivers himself of an opinion that seems positively clairvoyant.
— Alex Danchev

New Republic online

I live in a different country than the one into which I was born in 1942. I have never been quite able to pinpoint exactly what makes it so different. More than any other book I've read in recent years, Age of Fracture, by the Princeton historian Daniel T. Rodgers, has helped me to discover and to understand that difference...His ability to explain complex ideas—the Coase theorem comes to mind—is exemplary. He is unapologetic about treating intellectuals, and even academics, as producers of ideas worth taking seriously. He has the ability, unusual for historians of our day, to engage directly in current debates and to write with the clarity of a future observer of these same events. Intellectual history is never that easy to do. An intellectual history of our own time is even harder to pull off. Rodgers has done it and done it well. Perhaps, then, this book will have the happy effect of bringing to an end the trends it brings to light. Rodgers writes about our descent into thinking small because he wants us to once again think big—or so I read between his lines. If more thinkers wrote books like this, the country in which I live may once again resemble the one in which I was born. How sweet that would be.
— Alan Wolfe

Dissent

[An] important and well-written book...Age of Fracture helps us understand how the recent past set the terms for our current attempts to see society whole and conceive of an agenda for its future...[Rodgers] is a master of his craft; and this book, in which he takes history into the near present, shows what this mastery looks like in practice...Rodgers's diagnostic survey of the most local and recent turn in the modern cycle of integration and disaggregation is essential reading for thinking about what is to come.
— Samuel Moyn

History News Network

In The Age of Fracture, Daniel Rodgers offers an elegant, often eloquent, history of intellectual life in the last quarter of the twentieth century.
— Lisa Szefel

Commonweal

Age of Fracture dazzles as it moves from cultural history to political philosophy, Michel Foucault to John Rawls.
— John T. McGreevy

Times Literary Supplement

It is hard to think of a work of American intellectual history, written in the last quarter of a century, that is more accomplished or more likely to remain permanently influential.
— Michael O'Brien

Emma Rothschild
Age of Fracture is an extraordinary book — an engrossing story of the new age of markets, a new kind of history of ideas, traversing the frontiers between intellectual, political and public words, and a brilliant explanation of contemporary public life.
Ira Katznelson
With verve and fierce intelligence, Age of Fracture captures jagged truths about fluid thought, temporal upsets, and confrontations with fear. I could not put it down.
Jackson Lears
Rodgers ranges deftly and expertly from Judith Butler to Jerry Falwell, exploring the fragmentation of American social thought in every conceivable arena. Age of Fracture is an indispensable guide to where we have been, and where— if anywhere— we might be going.
James Kloppenberg
The most wide-ranging and ambitious interpretation of late-twentieth century American intellectual history available.
Bookforum - Robert Westbrook
Rodgers offers a series of penetrating soundings into the social thought of the end of the twentieth century. He considers the recasting of terms in economic theory, the reconceptualizations of power in social theory, the attacks on "essentialism" in race and gender theory, and the diminished notions of obligation in political theory. Finally, he stresses our own curious encounters with the disaggregated past, via glib interpretations that impart an "increasingly malleable, flexible, and porous" quality to history...Again and again in the dominant modes of thought in these years, Rodgers finds institutions, identities, social bonds, and even history itself thinning out and coming apart.
Salon - Joan Walsh
While Rodgers' narrative about the right is fascinating, none of it is terribly surprising: Defending the prerogatives of corporations and the wealthy, in new and novel ways, is what conservatives do. Age of Fracture provokes by showing that just as conservatives were marshaling their intellectual and philanthropic forces for what New Right gladiator Paul Weyrich called "a war of ideology...a war of ideas, it's a war about our way of life," liberals and progressives themselves "fractured" instead...Rodgers acknowledges both the long, shameful history of oppression as well as the thrilling cultural and political ferment that fractured the left into separate, sometimes warring mini-caucuses. But the book makes it clear that those fissures left liberalism without the ideology or rhetoric to combat the language of choice, markets and freedom that replaced social responsibility in the Reagan years.
The National - Scott McLemee
Rodgers has a knack for characterizing and assessing ideas without reducing them to their strictly polemical dimensions. But he also conveys the urgency and consequence of intellectual debate: the sense that it has stakes...Age of Fracture provides a frequently insightful narrative of recent public intellectual life in this country—and also some understanding of its precarious situation now.
Times Higher Education - Alex Danchev
A blend of commentary and contextualization, admirably judicious. Rodgers is an excellent anatomist. His forte is clarity. Once in a while, he delivers himself of an opinion that seems positively clairvoyant.
New Republic online - Alan Wolfe
I live in a different country than the one into which I was born in 1942. I have never been quite able to pinpoint exactly what makes it so different. More than any other book I've read in recent years, Age of Fracture, by the Princeton historian Daniel T. Rodgers, has helped me to discover and to understand that difference...His ability to explain complex ideas—the Coase theorem comes to mind—is exemplary. He is unapologetic about treating intellectuals, and even academics, as producers of ideas worth taking seriously. He has the ability, unusual for historians of our day, to engage directly in current debates and to write with the clarity of a future observer of these same events. Intellectual history is never that easy to do. An intellectual history of our own time is even harder to pull off. Rodgers has done it and done it well. Perhaps, then, this book will have the happy effect of bringing to an end the trends it brings to light. Rodgers writes about our descent into thinking small because he wants us to once again think big—or so I read between his lines. If more thinkers wrote books like this, the country in which I live may once again resemble the one in which I was born. How sweet that would be.
Dissent - Samuel Moyn
[An] important and well-written book...Age of Fracture helps us understand how the recent past set the terms for our current attempts to see society whole and conceive of an agenda for its future...[Rodgers] is a master of his craft; and this book, in which he takes history into the near present, shows what this mastery looks like in practice...Rodgers's diagnostic survey of the most local and recent turn in the modern cycle of integration and disaggregation is essential reading for thinking about what is to come.
History News Network - Lisa Szefel
In The Age of Fracture, Daniel Rodgers offers an elegant, often eloquent, history of intellectual life in the last quarter of the twentieth century.
Commonweal - John T. McGreevy
Age of Fracture dazzles as it moves from cultural history to political philosophy, Michel Foucault to John Rawls.
Times Literary Supplement - Michael O'Brien
It is hard to think of a work of American intellectual history, written in the last quarter of a century, that is more accomplished or more likely to remain permanently influential.
London Review of Books - Corey Robin
Rodgers is onto something, and many of his observations are startling.
Library Journal
Rodgers (history, Princeton Univ.; Atlantic Crossings) offers a challenging interdisciplinary overview of the last quarter of the 20th century. Although President Reagan's foreign and economic policies tend to dominate, Rodgers also looks at a broader range of social and political influences to support his contention that the center no longer holds, that the key underlying values of American society fell apart from the late 1970s through the 1980s (an "era of disaggregation"), and that we are still coping with this significant break from the past. The great value of this book is that the major contentious issues of our time are discussed within a historic and intellectual framework. For example, he traces economic policy back to the 1940s with brief assessments of Keynesian and neo-Keynesian theories, "monetarism," etc. Rodgers is comfortable discussing the writings of both scholars (e.g., Cornel West, Charles Murray) and more popular writers (Francis Fukuyama, Alex Haley—and even Jerry Falwell). The final chapter considers the political and social response to the day when "history broke apart," 9/11. VERDICT Rodgers's work may not enter the vernacular like David Riesman's The Lonely Crowd, but it's a similarly seminal look at the way we live (and govern) now. Highly recommended.—Thomas A. Karel, Franklin & Marshall Coll. Lib., Lancaster, PA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674064362
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 9/3/2012
  • Pages: 360
  • Sales rank: 243,677
  • Product dimensions: 9.10 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel T. Rodgers is Henry Charles Lea Professor of History at Princeton University.

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Table of Contents

Prologue 1

1 Losing the Words of the Cold War 15

2 The Rediscovery of the Market 41

3 The Search for Power 77

4 Race and Social Memory 111

5 Gender and Certainty 144

6 The Little Platoons of Society 180

7 Wrinkles in Time 221

Epilogue 9/11 256

Notes 273

Acknowledgments 335

Index 337

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