American Singularity: The 1787 Northwest Ordinance, the 1862 Homestead and Morrill Acts, and the 1944 G.I. Bill

American Singularity: The 1787 Northwest Ordinance, the 1862 Homestead and Morrill Acts, and the 1944 G.I. Bill

American Singularity: The 1787 Northwest Ordinance, the 1862 Homestead and Morrill Acts, and the 1944 G.I. Bill

American Singularity: The 1787 Northwest Ordinance, the 1862 Homestead and Morrill Acts, and the 1944 G.I. Bill

Excerpt

America, Goethe wrote almost two hundred years ago, "du hast es besser." America, insisted my Rice University colleague, historian Allen Matusow, no longer has it better. Instead, he suggested in his important 1984 book on the quality of American liberalism in the 1960s, this society is unraveling.

Not so, assert more optimistic historians Peter Clelak and William Chafe who argue in their recent books that, though America's problems and frustrations were recurring and tenacious and divisions profound, the decades since 1945 were marked by high aspirations and achievements for social justice and individual fulfillment. Sometimes progress has been stunning, they conclude about America's unfinished journey into the present.

Choruses from the Critical Legal Studies left and from the neoconservative right call for poxes on all these houses. In one 1985 meeting, as an example, Norman Podhoretz denounced the new "treason of the intellectuals," and on another occasion Wellesley sociologist Brigitte Berger deplored the "general ideological constellation that is antagonistic to basic American institutions, notably those of capitalism and bourgeois culture, and therefore is almost instinctively sympathetic to socialist...alternatives." Saul Bellow, speaking at the stormy ideological battleground of the 1986 PEN conference, stated that "alienation is something to which American writers sometimes have 'a fatuous attachment'...[and] the American middle class has been preoccupied with 'common sense desires' such as clothing, shelter, and health care."

Acrimony in academe sinks me into what Lynn White, Jr., called "intellectual gloom," a gloom deepened because this is the season of our Constitution's bicentennial and of the modern . . .

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