Attendant Cruelties: Nation and Nationalism in American History

Attendant Cruelties: Nation and Nationalism in American History

by Patrice Higonnet
     
 

An exploration of the nature of American nationalism and its manipulation by unscrupulous presidents.

For nearly four centuries, religion and capitalism have been the central values of the American way. Most Americans have made of this national legacy a force of inclusion in a land shaped by successive waves of change and immigration. But others have chosen to

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Overview

An exploration of the nature of American nationalism and its manipulation by unscrupulous presidents.

For nearly four centuries, religion and capitalism have been the central values of the American way. Most Americans have made of this national legacy a force of inclusion in a land shaped by successive waves of change and immigration. But others have chosen to define their nation's values by exclusion, within a Republic to be sure, but within a democratic polity that was also constrained by race, class, and gender. In consequence, America has often been deeply divided—as during its terrible Civil War—but it is also the only country in the world where Left and Right have had and still have so broad a common origin. Anticlericalism and anticapitalism, which are the cornerstones of European leftist thinking, have never secured a broad audience in the United States.

Throughout the nation's history, unforeseen circumstances have often decided which of these two themes — inclusion or exclusion — will prevail. Hence the power of America's presidents to push their country toward either humane libertarianism — as did Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt during America's darkest hours — or toward racism, imperialism, and war — as did Jackson with the expulsion of the Cherokees, McKinley with the Philippines in 1898, and George W. Bush with the whole world today.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Publishers Weekly

Higgonet's broad knowledge of French history is on display as he emphasizes the telling absence in the United States of European anticlericalism and anticapitalism.

Kirkus Reviews

Blistering examination of American nationalism’s dark side.

Publishers Weekly

This frustrating book offers an interpretation of American history as an enduring conflict between inclusionary and exclusionary impulses. Harvard's Higgonet (Paris: Capital of the World) has his sights set on the Bush administration, which he places among the exclusionists—those who try to retard the incorporation of all peoples within the American dream. And he has no warmth for those who, like Theodore Roosevelt and Bush, accept as necessary the cruelties and costs attendant upon forging a nation and becoming a world power. Higgonet's broad knowledge of French history is on display as he emphasizes the telling absence in the United States of European anticlericalism and anticapitalism. But as a work of history serving as contemporary criticism, the book largely fails. Yes, the nation's history has been marked by shifting attitudes—inclusionary during the Civil War era, exclusionary for the first third of the 20th century. But that binary division scarcely exhausts the complexities of our history. Higgonet's scheme will appeal to those who want their national history to conform to a lazy, contemporary kind of feel-good liberalism. But few readers will be challenged to think afresh about their country's past. (June 19)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
Blistering examination of American nationalism's dark side. In this uneven, deeply personal essay in cultural/political history, Higonnet (History/Harvard) traces the strands that might explain the "darkening present" of George W. Bush's United States, which the author deems a threat to world peace and a betrayal of the country's own best instincts. A Jekyll-and-Hyde duality drives Americans' national self image, the author declares. Since the Puritans, they have viewed differences with enemies as a conflict between good and evil, using their sense of superiority and divine election to justify a messianic bent that sometimes involves violence. Shaped by this persistent view, Americans have long shown themselves to be capable of both benevolence (Lincoln freeing the slaves, Franklin Roosevelt easing the Depression) and brutality (wars against Native Americans and Mexico). The author demonstrates how one or the other of these two behaviors dominated various periods, emphasizing that imperialist pursuits have depended largely on "the ability of a president, abetted by gutter journalists, public intellectuals, and theoreticians of empire, to involve rank-and-file Americans in his own demagogic program of war, conquest, and exclusion." President Bush has succeeded by pursuing the darkest forms of religious and economic individualism, Higgonet avers, going well beyond anything history has prepared us for. As he tries to make sense of the country's current course, his text is repetitious, overwritten and sometimes given to jarring, ill-tempered outbursts (Bush and Osama bin Laden are deemed "two religious extremists desperately in need of each other") that detract from passages of thoughtfulanalysis. May appeal to patient students and scholars.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781590512357
Publisher:
Other Press, LLC
Publication date:
06/19/2007
Pages:
384
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.23(h) x 1.31(d)

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