Inventing the "American Way," the Politics of Consensus from the New Deal to the Civil Rights Movement

By Skidmore, Max J. | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), December 2011 | Go to article overview
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Inventing the "American Way," the Politics of Consensus from the New Deal to the Civil Rights Movement


Skidmore, Max J., Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Inventing the "American Way," The Politics of Consensus from the New Deal to the Civil Rights Movement Wendy L. Wall. Chapel Hill: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Americans who are old enough may remember the "Freedom Train." Probably even more of them are familiar with Superman's fight in the 1940s and 1950s for "truth, justice, and the American way." Some perhaps may even recall the 1950s project encouraging private parties to direct a steady flow to other countries of praise for American institutions - the project that came to be called the "Crusade for Freedom" (obviously, its target was Europe, not the Middle East). It is highly unlikely, however, that more than a handful have the knowledge to recognize these examples as parts of a concerted advertising campaign.

American business groups for years had worked diligently to foster American unity. A primary goal of their campaign was to dampen class consciousness and to suppress (or preferably to eliminate) friction between workers and management. Almost no one now knows that the term "free enterprise" - the term that has a commonplace in this country today that it seems almost to have characterized America since the Revolution - hardly existed prior to 1935. Rather, it entered into general usage with astonishing speed following a change in the "political strategies of America's corporate leaders" (48-49).

Wendy Wall has studied the "American Way" campaign exhaustively, and draws upon her findings to present a superb social and political history. FDR had called for economic security for all, and in 1941 included "freedom from want" among his four essential human freedoms. Striking fear into the hearts of those he called "economic royalists," he even had said that he did not favor "a return to that definition of liberty under which for many years a free people were being gradually regimented into the service of the privileged few" (37).

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