Republic of Drivers: A Cultural History of Automobility in America

By Cotten Seiler | Go to book overview
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chapter three
Crafting Autonomous
Subjects: Automobility
and the Cold War

Autonomous individuals are artefacts, made possible by the power of
the modern state. —John Gray1

The free individual has been justified as his own master; the state as his
servant. —Dwight D. Eisenhower2


what are we for?

The world-historical conflict between capitalism and socialism that crystallized into the “cold war” in the 1940s was at bottom an ontological debate over “the status of the self and the authenticity of its experience of autonomy.”3 American rhetoricians characterized the conflict as a struggle between irreconcilable ideological systems; one in which the freedom of the individual prevailed, and one that bent the individual to the will of the collective. Because the representatives of both ideological systems had at their disposal the means to annihilate the planet as well as one another, this remained largely a war of ideology. The primary antagonists engaged one another, as they engaged their own populations, on the myriad fronts of culture.

As discussed above, the political culture of the United States evinced a “long-standing aversion to collectivism—of which the Soviet variety of communism appeared to be the most extreme example.”4 That political culture reacted to the cold war with a widespread preoccupation with individualism; or more specifically, with its erosion and resuscitation.

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