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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

American Empire

As some of you may know I’m a huge fan of authentically based and well written popular history, biography and historical fiction. Think Stephen Ambrose, David McCullough, Doris Kearns Godwin, Shelby Foote and many others. They took history away from pedantic boredom and brought it to the masses with the verve of real storytelling. Or the writers of fiction like Coleen McCullough  and Ken Follet who brought the past alive with wonderful writing surrounding an aura of historical accuracy.

Now comes Professor Joshua B Freeman’s American Empire – The Rise of a Global Power The Democratic Revolution At Home 1945-2000.  It’s densely factual and slow to read. Old school with footnotes you might say. And yet, I couldn’t put it down.  Perhaps it brought out the inner “history geek” in me.  But not really. This is a book that I found by turns both fascinating and appalling. Fascinating in that it tied together all the things about the last thirty years in our countries development that I disliked and showed how they were connected.  And appalling in that the pervasiveness of the trends that brought those developments  about and their interconnections seems likely to mean that they will be with us for a long time.

In “American Empire,’’, the United States emerges as an empire with a character all its own — modern, often subtle, but unmistakably powerful. The author demonstrates how postwar economic growth helped spur the great process of democratization that placed America in the first rank among nations in terms of standard of living and basic rights for all citizens. Yet, along with the rise of consumerism, globalism and prosperity, the power shifted from the public to the private realm, specifically corporate. From the 1970s onward, Freeman shows how incipient economic inequality, unharnessed military spending and burgeoning political conservatism threatened to check much of that social progress at the end of the century. The expansion of government with the New Deal promoting socially benevolent programs generated an ongoing debate about whether government should be a muscular arm of progressive reform in the fashion of FDR or more restrained, the latter conservatism given new energy by Barry Goldwater’s ascendancy in 1960. Freeman comes down fairly hard on Kennedy’s “hyperbolic rhetoric” and “obsession with manhood and virility,” while the sections on LBJ and the “democratic revolution” of the 1960s, including civil-rights legislation and the antiwar movement, are masterly and thorough. With the dawn of the ’70s, the country moved from “dreams to nightmares,” from equal rights for women and gays toward an utter contempt for government amid Watergate, urban decline, manufacturing shutdowns, stagflation, new corporate models, deregulation and Reaganism. Fascinating yes.  Appalling as well……  



Anvilcloud said...

Good report. America has become a strange place to many outsiders recently.

Ms Sparrow said...

You might like to read the blog of
She is a Twin Citian who comments on local and national events. I always find her blog interesting.

Should Fish More said...

Thanks for pointing this blog out, don't know why I hadn't found it before. I've seen this book in stores, now I'll get a copy.
I'll be interested to see if he covers the rise of the corporate giants such as J.P. Morgan, and Standard Oil.
What's happening now is sometimes termed 'populism', and actually it's quite the opposite.
In your teaching career did you experience being on the outside of political views of your peers? I know in my last 15 years in the private sector, the pharmaceutics industry, I was viewed as odd at best.

Kathy H said...

I will get this book. Thanks for the recommendation. It is good to see some honest books being published that shine the light on the events that have brought us all (your country, my country and most First World counties) to this dreadful return of the 'plantation' culture.