Main Currents in Modern American History

Main Currents in Modern American History

Main Currents in Modern American History

Main Currents in Modern American History

Excerpt

The United States from its inception has been a nation blind to itself --its past, its present, and its future. Intellectually and culturally underdeveloped, it has left it to a handful of European commentators and rare, alienated mavericks to produce some of the more penetrating assessments of American life and society. No industrialized people confronts reality so ill-prepared in terms of ideas and insights to cope with the problems before it.

In a critical sense, this myopia is the consequence of the pervasive self-satisfied chauvinism which characterized the United States during its first modern century after the Civil War, and optimism is virtually the national ideology. Until the traumatic experience of Vietnam, which undermined the illusions of an unprecedented number of Americans, vaingloriousness or the absence of a critical vision was virtually unanimous among those who wrote about their own nation. Even occasional critics thought that reforms which were, in the scale of things, essentially minor could redeem the society. Vietnam temporarily and quite superficially broke that consensus, but how long this skeptical mood among some will continue remains to be seen. America yet marches into a future with its eyes turned toward the past, remaining astonishingly indulgent of its own tragedies and foibles, and as menacing to itself and the world as ever. The large majority of its writers and scholars continue to reinforce its optimism, mindlessness, and banality, even if they no longer celebrate the nation as during the great euphoria of the first two decades of the postwar epoch. And they nevertheless persist in avoiding the . . .

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