The Course of American Democratic Thought

By Ralph Henry Gabriel; Robert H. Walker | Go to book overview

Chapter 30
INDIVIDUALISM AT BAY: SYMBOLS AND LIBERTIES

FOR THE PEOPLE of the United States the age of wars and revolutions began in 1917 when they mobilized a great army to fight in Europe. That war stimulated a sentiment of nationalism that remained a factor of primary importance in American history from that time forward. Nationalism in 1924 virtually closed the borders to immigrants who, before 1914, had entered sometimes at the rate of a million a year. The methods chosen for restrictive nationalism took on some of the coloration of the race theories that stemmed from the nineteenth-century Frenchman Gobineau. National strength was by some advocates of restriction identified with a supposed purity of race. A perverted nationalism powered the racial prejudices and the barbarities of the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920's. Nationalism, conditioned by the disillusionment that Americans experienced after World War I and reinforced by the seeming security provided by oceans on east and west, revived traditional isolationism. The United States refused to enter the League of Nations or to make any commitments that might involve the country in the politics of Europe. Americans in the 1920's did not fear any particular nation but they feared war. Assuming that Europe, home of nations that for centuries had engaged in intermittent conflicts, was the breeding ground of war, Americans determined to remain aloof from that danger area. Never again should American young men become involved in those old tribal contentions. A minority of citizens opposed the policy of isolation, but their voices did not prevail. Only in 1941, after the Japanese had sunk or wrecked much of the Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, did Americans find unity in a war for survival.

The "long truce" that intervened between the two world wars was a time of contrasts, of progress and deterioration, and of uncertainties. Swift technological advance speeded the growth of indus

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