U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Widening the Circle of “We” in the Age of Fracture

I find David’s recent post a really smart exploration of the Rortyean methodology employed by Daniel Rodgers in Age of Fracture. But rather than further examine the merits of Rortyean analysis, or lack thereof, or whether Rodgers actually follows this code, I would like to use David’s concluding call for “reaggregation” as my starting point. Interestingly, in different language, this also seems to be how David concludes his excellent book, The Myth of American Religious Freedom (which is nothing short of an ambitious attempt to revise the overarching historical narrative of America). David asks the question, in the final sentence of his book: “What minimal moral standards do we expect of one another, and how do we maintain them with fairness to all?” (291)

To understand this question, a brief summary of David’s argument is necessary. (By now most of our regular readers must be familiar with it, but in case anyone has missed it, here goes.) David argues that, although the institutional establishment of any one religion was interpreted to be unconstitutional early in the history of the republic, a moral establishment became the norm. The Bill of Rights was never applied to the states throughout most of American history, and most states legislated Protestant morality as law. Moral establishmentarians assumed that the only way to maintain order in a democracy was by way of a religious check on public behavior. Since Protestants were in power for much of the nation’s history, this moral establishment was the de facto codification of Protestant values, often of the evangelical strain. The Supreme Court uniformly upheld the Protestant moral establishment until the twentieth century, when an evolution in legal interpretation slowly gave way to a more secular public sphere. In his final chapters, David analyzes the court cases that ratified the end of the moral establishment, including two of the most famous: Engel v. Vitale (1962) and Roe v. Wade (1973). The Christian Right has been fighting for the return of the moral establishment since, in a battle commonly referred to as the culture wars. (This very short summary hardly does justice to David’s densely researched 300-page book—check back in a few weeks, when we’ll be holding a roundtable on the book. Daniel K. Williams, author of God’s Own Party, will lead off our roundtable discussion.)

So to return to David’s concluding question, as related to the problem posed by Rodgers. In a post-moral establishment time, how can we rebuild collective ethical norms (the given rationale for the moral establishment) that are fair to the individual (in ways that moral establishmentarian repression was not)? Or to put a Hollingerian spin on the question: how do we have solidarity without coercion? How do we widen the circle of “we” without alienating and repressing those newly brought into the expanding circle? The confusion surrounding these important questions seem implicit in Age of Fracture, and that Rodgers has no clear answers is made evident in the final passage of his book (which served as part of David’s Tuesday Quote): “The age of fracture had permanently altered the play of argument and ideas. The pieces would have to be reassembled on different frames, the tensions between self and society resolved anew. But how that would be done, amid the anger and the confusion, the liberations and the anxieties, still hung in the balance” (271).

Or, as Robert Bellah asks in Habits of the Heart (a question Rodgers uses as an epigraph for the chapter he titles “The Little Platoons of Society”): “Is it possible that we could become citizens again and together seek the common good in the post-industrial, post-modern age?”

David Hollinger has probably done the most of any U.S. intellectual historian to think about some of these questions in terms of race and religion (he seems to be expanding his work on religion, as indicated by his OAH presidential address—“After Cloven Tongues of Fire: Ecumenical Protestantism and the Modern American Encounter with Diversity”—see the video posted here at the History News Network). His best known book, Postethnic: Beyond Multiculturalism, and his most recent book, Cosmopolitanism and Solidarity: Studies in Ethnoracial, Religious, and Professional Affiliation in the United States, a collection of essays that build on Postethnic, represent a cosmopolitan exploration of the ways in which our solidarities and identities—racial, religious, national—govern our lives.

In Postethnic, Hollinger focuses on how solidarities and identities should ideally only operate according to the principles of “affiliation by revocable consent” (a concept that I blogged about awhile back). In other words, he sought to move beyond the stultifying debates about multiculturalism, which assumed identities to be rooted in blood, culture, and history, to embrace a more open, individualistic, voluntary conception of identity and solidarity. In Cosmopolitanism and Solidarity, although he does not eschew his cosmopolitan dreams of individual agency in relation to identification, he seems intent on emphasizing the less voluntary structures of solidarity, or what he terms a “political economy of solidarity.” Solidarity, for him, “is a commodity distributed by authority,” especially when tied to the nation state. “Central to the history of nationalism, after all, has been the use of state power to establish certain ‘identities,’ understood as performative, and thus creating social cohesion on certain terms rather than others.” But the political economy of solidarity is also operative in the divisions within the American nation that are central to culture wars: “The ‘identity debates’ of the United States of recent decades,” Hollinger writes, “have been largely driven by this concern to distribute the energies that make solidarities” (C&S, xvi-xvii).

So it might seem Hollinger is skeptical that the American nation is the appropriate place in which to invest our solidarity. He writes that “any solidarity capacious enough to act effectively on problems located in a large arena is poorly suited to satisfy the human need for belonging.” However, conversely, Hollinger also contends that “any solidarity tight enough to serve the need for belonging”—such as race or religion—“cannot be expected to respond effectively to challenges common to a larger and more heterogeneous population” (C&S, xvi). So we seem to be stuck. This is the problem at the heart of the Rodgers and Sehat concluding passages. To repeat David’s question: “What minimal moral standards do we expect of one another, and how do we maintain them with fairness to all?” How do we achieve solidarity without coercion?

This bind does not, by Hollinger’s reckoning, render the American nation incapable of serving the ends of justice. Despite his hesitations and qualifications, mostly related to the persistent racial injustices suffered by the descendents of African-American slaves, Hollinger defends the American nation as the proper place to solve our problems. But he does want to redefine an appropriate relation to the American nation contrary to those national constituencies he views as the most common: (1) the business elite who see little need for the nation in an era of multinational capitalism (except, I might add, to enforce their interests around the world); (2) members of the various diasporas who conceptualize the United States “more as a site for transnational affiliations than as an affiliation of its own”; and (3) “a great variety of Middle Americans, evangelical Christians, advocates of family values, and supporters of Newt Gingrich and of Rush Limbaugh. Many of these Americans are suspicious of the state except as an enforcer of personal morality, but they claim the nation as, in effect, their own ethnic group” (PE, 15-16).

In contrast, Hollinger is an unapologetic nationalist for democratic egalitarian purposes and defies fashionable academic anti-nationalism as seen in Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities. He writes: “If all solidarities are ultimately constructs, and not primordial, it will not do to pronounce as artificial the cultural continuities that have developed in relation to the American nation-state, and to then take at face value the claims of authenticity made on behalf of other cultures” (PE, 160). Why? “A stronger national solidarity enhances the possibility of social and economic justice within the United States. This is a simple point, but an extremely important one. Any society that cannot see its diverse members as somehow ‘in it together’ is going to have trouble distributing its resources with even a modicum of equity” (PE, 201).

Of course, on what theoretical grounds can we defend the “in it together”-ness of American nationalism? For Hollinger, cosmopolitanism is the proper response to such problems of solidarity. We should seek solidarity at the national level, but only if we also denounce both the divisions normally associated with solidarity, and the arrogance of universalism. Splitting the differences between the particularities of race and religion, and the universalism of Americanism, seems sensible on its face, but can it be defended at the epistemological level? Or are we really just whistling in the winds of disaggregation? We return to the terrain of the great antiepistemologist, Richard Rorty.

Hollinger traces the shifts in Rorty’s thought to build his case for cosmopolitan nationalism. Rorty, he argues, went from defending ethnocentrism in opposition to Kantian universalism, to developing a more inclusive political philosophy. In Contingency, Irony, Solidarity, Rorty expanded the notion of “we,” and furthermore argued that it is particular to Americanism to expand the “we.” Hollinger seems to agree, and for this reason makes the point that anyone wishing to understand the problems associated with diversity would be well served studying American history.

Now let’s return to The Myth of Religious Freedom. Hollinger’s thinking in terms of solidarity, identity, and nation seem to underwrite David’s narrative. To put a pithy spin on this, Sehat seems to write from a post-religious standpoint that comports with Hollinger’s post-ethnic thinking. As such, David’s book is a narrative of progress. The twentieth-century victory of secularism over the moral establishment represents a widening of the circle of the American “we.” Yes, David qualifies this victory in light of recent Christian Right attempts, sometimes successful, to chip away at the secular public sphere and return the nation to the coercions of the moral establishment. And yes, David is critical of the ways in which liberal jurists gave life to the myth of American religious freedom, which led to confusion regarding the rationale for overturning the moral establishment, and in turn left the door open to Christian Right obfuscations regarding the historical link between Christianity and religious freedom.

Such qualifications notwithstanding, David’s open contempt for the moral establishment (which I share) can’t but lead to any other conclusion than that he thinks progress has been made. But despite such progress, we remain in our state of fracture. Perhaps the age of fracture, intriguingly, is partly because of progress against the moral establishment. Let me explain.

David demonstrates that the loudest opponents of the moral establishment during the nineteenth century were radical individualists, or even libertarians, from abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison to women’s rights activists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton to freethinkers like Robert Ingersoll. David writes that “the ultimate goal of the moral establishment was to tame the individual” (97) and, as such, those who resisted the moral establishment on these various fronts did so in the name of individual rights. But, individualism negates solidarity, which became especially problematic towards the end of that century, when corporations came to dominate the political economy. David argues that because the moral establishment sided with the corporate order, it only made sense that those opposed to the moral establishment would find ways to also fight against the corporate order. Thus, labor organizers like Eugene V. Debs threatened both the corporate order and the moral establishment. But the question I have: were these new alignments anything more than marriages of convenience? Did the libertarianism of the anti-moral establishmentarians ever effectively mesh with the new forms of solidarity arising to oppose corporate domination, namely the labor movement?

David ponders these questions as well. He asks: “where did liberty end, and mutual obligation and social solidarity begin? If Ingersoll symbolized the breakdown of social order sustained by the moral establishment, he also defined the limits of religious liberty by putting a fine point on an issue that religious partisans wanted to keep rather vague. Ingersoll demanded that the moral establishment withdraw its restraints so that people could achieve individual empowerment and self-control. Religious conservatives could not see how to do so without risking the dissolution of society into moral anarchy. That disagreement constituted an unbridgeable gap” (175). Does this gulf represent the problematic of solidarity in an age of fracture? How do we bridge this gap?

Some, such as Bellah, think that a civil religion is the best form of solidarity. David is skeptical of that claim, since he seems to view civil religion as merely another word for the moral establishment. For him, the theologians of civil religion “revel in the same fantasy” (284)—a belief in American consensus about the role of religion in public life. Our USIH colleague Ray Haberski is writing a book on the ways in which Americans come together around a civil religion in times of war. I think Ray contends that the American civil religion is a worthwhile project if and when spirits other than war animate it. (Perhaps Ray could say more about this.)

David seems to contend that answers to these vexing questions were found in the liberal moral vision developed in the Progressive Era by thinkers in the orbit of The New Republic, such as Herbert Croly, who “claimed that the radical diversity of American life—created through immigration and the centrifugal forces of market expansion—invalidated ‘the earlier instinctive homogeneity’ that moral establishmentarians had sought to promote.” But to what ends? “The new political philosophy had to be capable of promoting ‘solidarity’ in American life without eliminating the ‘desirable individual and class distinctions that were integral to a society that was liberal and free” (206). In short, it seems Croly was an early cosmopolitan, a premature post-ethnic, post-religious thinker. But I’m unclear how this vision offers us a way out of fracture, especially since Croly recognizes “class distinctions” as “integral to a society that was liberal and free,” which highlights the central contradiction of liberal attempts to form a post-moral establishment solidarity.

My solution to the problem of fracture is not new. It would have been very familiar to Eugene Debs. Simply put, I think we must focus on class solidarity of the type that implies intolerance towards certain forms of individual rights, namely, the right to unlimited wealth. Such class solidarity might imply coercive measures, in the form of taxing the wealthy and regulating and even nationalizing their corporations. I think the cosmopolitanism enunciated by Hollinger, and implied by Sehat and Rodgers, is a good thought, but is easily undermined in a society as unequal as ours. Hollinger seems to realize this when he writes that “a society that will not take steps to help its poor citizens of all ethno-racial groups will have little chance to find out how successful have been its efforts to overcome the racist attitudes empowered by whites.” Poor blacks, he continues, “will find it harder to hope for a middle-class existence and will have more and more reason to interpret as structural or institutional racism those policies that, even if devoid of prejudicial intent, have a disproportionately negative impact on them. Meanwhile, the prejudiced attitudes of some members of more prosperous groups will be reinforced by what they take to be evidence of the criminality of ‘other races.’” He concludes: “In the absence of a more ambitious national program for enabling poor people to find their way out of poverty and attendant suffering, ethno-racial particularism will flourish” (PE, 167-168).

Yet bromides about “a more ambitious national program” seriously understate the politically harsh measures necessary to creating equality, and it ignores the only solidarity that can ensure it: class solidarity. We need to widen the circle of “we” to include all except those who oppose equality. And given that need, the problem that we need to accept is that in today’s America, such solidarity ensures fracture. But, I would argue, this would be a more healthy form of fracture than that described by Rodgers.

20 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Thanks for a wonderfully interesting post, Andrew! Lots to chew on here….

    Some quick (and too off-the-cuff, I’m afraid) responses:

    1) I’m at least potentially politically sympathetic to your suggestions re: class solidarity, but doesn’t this un-ask the Hollinger/Rodgers/Sehat question rather than answer it? Class solidarity is not national solidarity. And it defines an Other within the nation itself–the very wealthy–against which solidarity for the rest of us is defined.

    2) You’re not very clear on how far you’re willing to go with your “coercive measures.” Either they will be designed simply to limit the power (and wealth) of the very wealthy or they will be designed to, if you’ll pardon the expression, liquidate the very wealthy as a class. If your methods merely do the former, you’re institutionalizing class war. That’s potentially good for class solidarity, but not so good for national solidarity. If you manage to successfully do the latter, how do you build class solidarity in a society without a very wealthy class? Eventually does your vision become solidarity around the idea of equality itself?

    3) You seem to be defining your class solidarity negatively, that is as solidarity among the vast array of U.S. Americans who are not very wealthy. In what sense do the people you hope to unite constitute a single class? It seems to me the rhetoric of populism–the masses vs. the classes–is a more powerful (and descriptively accurate) tool to achieve what I think you’re driving at. Perhaps the overwhelming sense that Americans have of belonging to the “middle class” might form a kind of rhetorical ground for class solidarity, but I’m not convinced that the myth of the American middle class is helpful to your project.

    4) I do, however, think that when it comes to building national (or nearly national-scale) forms of solidarity, some kind of myth-making may be necessary (here I’m sympathetic to Benedict Anderson). If the myth of American religious freedom doesn’t work, chances are we’ll need some other myth to bind us. I do think such myths work best when they arise fairly organically rather than being dreamed up by some Nocturnal Council. And any such myth is probably a temporary solution, as it eventually fails to handle some reality that exceeds its bounds. National (or quasi-national) solidarity is probably always a work in progress.

    5) Whatever happened to solidarity built around the ideals of individual liberty themselves? This was surely an important part of the US’s World War II-era civil religion. It’s the core of Gunnar Myrdal’s “American Creed.” Building solidarity around a shared commitment to individualism is distinct, I think, from building solidarity around the idea of cultural diversity (also an old idea as the reference to Croly suggests, but Bourne would have worked, too). Of course, the devil is in the details (what limits to individualism are justified?), but I think any broad form of solidarity will run into such problems. In a sense, they’re a feature, not a bug: politics in a society with a functional form of solidarity will largely be about refining its meaning. And there’s an inherent tension, as you suggest, between the goals of individual liberty and the ideal of solidarity let alone more coercive forms of national unity (as I suggest in my work on the image of the U.S. military in World War II as a democratic and even voluntaristic institution).

    6) I have a hard time imagining the emergence in the early-21st century US of the kind of class solidarity you describe. Like it or not, the thing that most unifies Americans today IMO is a commitment to capitalism as such. I can’t think of any time in American history in which anti-capitalist visions had less salience in American political culture.

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful comments Ben. I’ll let them marinate a bit, and see if other comments role in, before I respond. In the meantime, it was pointed out to me that my persistent use of the first name “David” in this post is confusing, given I’m analyzing the work of two Davids: Sehat and Hollinger. I only refer to David Sehat as the familiar “David” because he’s a USIH colleague. Hollinger is always referred to as Hollinger. Sorry for the confusion! Cheers.

  3. “Whatever happened to solidarity built around the ideals of individual liberty themselves? This was surely an important part of the US’s World War II-era civil religion. It’s the core of Gunnar Myrdal’s “American Creed.” Building solidarity around a shared commitment to individualism is distinct, I think, from building solidarity around the idea of cultural diversity…”

    From a great piece from a few years ago by MIT professor and student of F. O. Matthiessen, Leo Marx:

    “In those early years it was customary for Americanists—including several of my teachers—to invoke the egalitarian rhetoric of 1776 to convey the singular character of a republic founded on Enlightenment principles and institutions. Whereas most national identities derive from a people’s geographic or ethnolinguistic origins, they noted, the American identity was grounded in the universalist ideas and values of the Enlightenment. This nationalistic homily often featured Abraham Lincoln, the revered disciple of the revolutionary fathers who famously singled out—as the defining fact about America—that the young republic was dedicated to “a proposition,” a moral and political principle to which candidates for citizenship must swear allegiance, and in which all American citizens presumably “believe.”

    The young Americanist’s reluctant admission to Hoggart that his scholarly subject also is an article of deep personal conviction thus identifies a motive, at once psychological and ideological, that arguably has played a vital if largely overlooked role in the history of the American studies project. I can think of no better demonstration of the persistence of this conviction than its capacity to elucidate what surely was the most important chapter in that (roughly) 65-year history. I refer to the Great Divide in the conception and practice of American studies that suddenly emerged, like a fissure opened by an earthquake, in the aftermath of the political upheaval of the Vietnam era.

    It is… striking that in the reams of argument that the ardent [post Vietnam era] revisionists put forward in support of the post-Divide turn toward difference, they never to my knowledge admit that a change in their own attitude toward the United States had anything to do with their renunciation of the original project. But here, as often, the avoidance betrays the motive being avoided. Consider what their proposed revision of the American studies agenda entailed. Although they derided as fraudulent the presumed commitment of the American republic to the political program of the Enlightenment, they nonetheless reaffirmed their own commitment to the egalitarian principle at its core. But they did not renounce that vital principle, they relocated it. They disconnected Lincoln’s proposition from the idea of America and reattached it to the aspirations of those subordinate groups of Americans—women, African Americans, the working class—oppressed, victimized, or excluded by an irremediably corrupt nation. This was the only significant exception to their all but total repudiation of the original American studies project. I think it represents that quotient of disappointed idealism, its effect intensified by suppression or denial, that helps to explain the extremity of the Great Divide.”


  4. An excellent essay, Professor Hartman. I’ll offer a few ingredients to the marinate which I will attempt to keep short.

    First, it appears that historian’s “master narrative” rears its ugly head yet again. Are professional historians still clinging to what the late Nathan Huggins referred to as “The Deforming Mirror of Truth”?

    In my opinion, previous historians have answered the “solidarity question” by arguing that Americans practiced a “democracy of cupidity instead of fraternity.” This facet of the American character was helped immeasurably by being what David Potter termed a “People of Plenty.”

    It also appears that if one is prepared to abandon notions of a common language, cultural folkways, and a common vernacular culture, and instead characterize the nation as being defined by as an “idea-state” in which “affiliation is determined by revokable consent and not assumed identities” instead of a “nation-state,” it would appear to me then that “American exceptionalism” is rearing its ugly head once again into this site’s debates. Perhaps, Rogers Smith’s bifurcation between the ascriptive and consensual approaches to citizenship which he detailed in Civic Ideals might be helpful.

    The “circle” is much wider and inclusive than it was forty years ago, and the “circle” is exponentially wider than it was two hundred and thirty five years ago.

    Having been reared in a working class culture in the 1970s, I am curious how you define “class.” Are you defined by your upbringing determined by your parents’ occupations. It is determined by your current position? the standing of your graduate institution in the overall hierarchy? your zip code plus four?

    Best Wishes as always,


  5. Andrew, I love this post (and not just because it is partly about my work). I think it wonderfully captures the essential dilemma facing American liberalism. But it will probably not surprise you when I say that I don’t like your answer to the question of solidarity. As Ben says, unless you are waiting for the coming communist revolution, class solidarity is not national solidarity, so it does not form much of a basis for distributive justice. After all, class solidarity cuts both ways. Upper-class solidarity does not convince those who have reaped the most fruits of the economic system that they have a moral obligation to give back (in the form of taxes) to help those who have reaped the least. Only national solidarity can do that, and that is why Hollinger’s insight (building on that of John Rawls) is so important.

  6. Superb post. Great analysis. I’ll add to Ben and David’s points though: I think that class solidarity is not strong enough to provide the sense of community and belonging that human beings long for, while Hollinger’s willed affiliations to communities of descent do provide that sentiment.

    Class solidarity, to me, is just universalism by another name. A noble and admirable ideal, but not really “adhesive” enough, and without the power of ethnic/racial/religious communities. The circle of “people committed to equality” is just too wide to do the trick.

    Wasn’t it E.P. Thompson who said that class is inherently relational? People use class solidarity as a means to an end: to improve their own lives, to become wealthier, to become their own bosses, or to provide greater opportunities to their children. Class, to many, is inherently transient. It’s something they want to change.

    For those who express interest in their communities of descent, who make those voluntary affiliations, ethnic/religious/racial identity is something they want to preserve and perpetuate. The key is continuity. Sure these identities can be fluid and adapt, but some core is supposed to be retained. This strikes me as a fundamental difference.

    I’m reminded of my favourite passage from “The World of Our Fathers,” the magisterial work by my favourite New York Intellectual and Jewish social democrat, Irving Howe. It’s aobut Philip Roth (one of Hollinger’s favourites, I think) and specifically about “Portnoy’s Complaint,” my favourite book of all time and probably the most important American Jewish novel ever written:

    “[Roth’s style] could sometimes be very funny, as in his assemblage of skits called ‘Portnoy’s Complaint,’ but too often it dropped into a mere wail for release from the claims of Jewish distinctiveness and burdens, so that, out of nothingness, the Rothian protagonist could create himself anew as a ‘human being.’ Who, born a Jew in the twentieth century, has been so lofty in spirit as never to have shared this fantasy? But who, born a Jew in the twentieth century, has been so deluded as to stay with this fantasy for more than a few moments?”

  7. Ditto on the reservations expressed about the connection between Rodgers and Rorty as revealed in Fracture. But this doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be worthwhile to explore issues raised by thinking them together — issues that go to the heart of the book — and, I would suggest, of intellectual history, in what many see as the aftermath of the cultural and linguistic turns. Unfortunately, they haven’t been addressed directly.

    In other words, David may be on the mark in suggesting that Rodgers “presumes the anti-foundational turn in philosophy,” even if it turns out that he owes no special debt to Rorty. But in a quick search, I located another reference. In “A House Upon the Sand,” Reviews in American History, 1996, in a review of Diggins’ The Promise of Pragmatism, Rodgers says that Rorty “might as well have had the American pragmatists in mind” when he wrote that Heidegger was one of those philosophers who “‘invented a vocabulary whose purpose is to dissolve the problems considered by his predecessors, rather than to propose new solutions to them.'”

    In the same year, Rodgers wrote “Thinking in Verbs” in the Intellectual History Newsletter #18 — an interesting piece that speaks to his method and long-standing interests. Social history challenged the old intellectual history and American studies, he says, less because it had a dismissive view of ideas, than because it replaced the old notion of a single national mind with “minds” associated w “class, race, region, gender, and ethnicity.” Some intellectual historians countered with a “rescue operation” that restricted the field to study of discrete discourses and groups of intellectuals, while “those who hungered for ‘America’ — or for its fractured but still multitudinous equivalent,” turned to cultural studies. Rejecting the old binaries of “elite and popular, formal and informal, ideas and culture,” they shifted “from nouns to verbs, from thought to thinking,” finding “Americans thinking everywhere.”

    Some of these points were anticipated in his 1992 article, “Republicanism: The Career of a Concept,” which exemplified his interest in Raymond Williams’ concept of keywords. Interestingly, this essay is referenced in Fracture [98n.44] at the beginning of his discussion of the cultural turn, cultural studies, and the vogue of hegemony. [There are quite a few references to Stuart Hall in the book.]

    This is germane to David’s point that if Rorty doesn’t seem very important in Rodgers, it may be because of “the difficulty of historicizing one’s own theoretical inclinations.” But perhaps he has less difficulty than we might think, and it might be beneficial to focus on these points of convergence between his approach and his subject matter. Perhaps, in shifting from keywords to contagious metaphors, Rodgers is adopting an approach more able to capture a fluid reality, and in the spirit of the cultural studies challenge to traditional intellectual history.

    One more point – I’m surprised that no one has discussed Rodgers’ ch. 7, “Wrinkles in Time,” which most directly addresses problems of historiographyand philosophy of history — issues of historical narrative.

  8. Invigorating stuff for all the writers in this broad conversation over many posts.

    I wanted to add to Andrew’s comments about civil religion. My sense of civil religion rests on three points:
    First, the existence of civil religion depends on an active construction and employment of it by people who have the power to ask for sacrifice for the nation.

    Second, civil religion helps me understand how religion and politics mix–thus when thinkers from Bellah to Hauerwas engage it, there must be something there to study.

    Finally, civil religion come closest, it seems to me, to explaining what has been at the heart of our recent conversation about the age of fracture: the way Americans attempt to come to terms with a moral accounting of their world. Obviously, we don’t start by declaring our fidelity toward civil religion, but when we try to imagine the spectrum of voices giving account of what this nation does well and does badly, civil religion allows one way to discuss the mixing of truth claims that, in the end, come down to whether or not the nation is doing good.

    This is not to deny all those who reject civil religion, as does Hauerwas, on religious grounds or those who reject it on secular grounds. But civil religion provides one way to describe what I think many political and religious leaders attempt to do.

    I bet many of you read Mark Lilla’s remembrance of Daniel Bell in the latest NYRB. One paragraph in particular captured what I think using civil religion can do to an analysis of certain aspects of American history. Lilla explained: “Dan was a New York Jew who saw religion as primarily a social experience. And he took from Jewish experience the conviction that a society can give individuals a secure sense of meaning only if it gives them a secure sense of belonging to a community rooted in time. Religion does that explicitly, but it can also be accomplished through a secular sense of ‘the sacred,’ a shared understanding of what is ultimate value, of obligations that must be met and line that must never be crossed. Every healthy society, in Dan’s view, needs some sort of orthodoxy.”

    My critique of Rodgers’s new book had less to do with the way he described and catalogued the fracturing of society as with the way he pinpointed what was being fractured. If Bell was correct that all societies need a sense of the sacred or some sort of orthodoxy, what does Rodgers think that sacred orthodoxy was that fractured? I am curious because I am in the midst of wrestling with the transition between the post-cold war era and the era that “began” with 9/11 and I am wondering just how much changed on that day. We often hear that 9/11 changed everything but I see a few “arrows” of time coursing through the period of fracture into the heart of our era.

  9. Wow, thanks for the great comments everyone. I’ll focus my response merely on the critical questions raised about my notion of class solidarity. I agree that class solidarity renders national solidarity inoperable. But I guess that’s the point. Despite my sympathetic reading of Hollinger, Rawls, Rorty, Sehat, etc–all those who wish to bend the arc of the national towards justice–my point is that this is impossible, it always ends in fracture. So, if we’re doomed to fracture, which I think we are, then we might as well endorse a form of fracture that is at least productive in the direction of justice. This, for me, is class conflict. So, if we could mobilize class consciousness against the rich and wealthy, this could only be to the benefit of justice, even by the liberal standards of Hollinger. In other words, class “warfare” would be an illiberal solution to a more liberal ends. So my definition of class solidarity is not static, it’s not about income, it’s about attitude and positioning towards wealth inequality. Perhaps Weiner is right to say that class is not a good way to organize our human sympathies, that it’s a noble but naive universalism, but I think our racial or religious affiliations can only be mutually beneficial if class antagonisms don’t shape them (which they currently do). Cheers.

  10. @Andrew,

    What about the “wealth inequality” within academe — the uneven distribution of “intellectual capital” to which Rodgers alludes, and upon which the whole structure of the academy depends?

    In this light, suggesting that Rodgers overstated his case about the importance of intellectual capital in relation to Foucault’s popularity could be seen as a way of “de-fanging” Rodgers’s observation that the academy has become part of (or a miniature version of?) “the market.”

    I’m not saying that’s why you made the comment — your argument took a different tack, and what you said seems reasonable to me. But I do think it’s possible that not giving due attention to the ways in which we in academe live by, in and for “the market” could provide moral cover for those who would rather lay injustice at the feet of the Other than examine the ways in which we ourselves are implicated in injustice. In other words, it’s a lot easier to equate capitalism with injustice if we can avoid seeing ourselves as intellectual capitalists.

    And, just to be clear, it seems that you are suggesting that the “illiberal” means of class warfare will lead to “liberal” ends of greater justice. I don’t want to be reductionist, and perhaps I’m missing the subtlety of your argument, but it seems to me that you are saying something like, “The ends justify the means.”

    Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a time when that rationale has led to greater justice.

  11. LD: I definitely think that the American university operates by an unfair class system. So in any way that is suitable to overturn this system, I’m all for it. Unionization would be step one. Check out a recent piece by John Summers to get a sense of where I stand on this. HERE But this has nothing to do with my point about Rodgers re: Foucault. The fact that the humanities receive .4% of research funding in American higher education is a much more important indicator of how class operates than how people put Foucault to use.

    On point number two, respectfully, don’t you think its a bit hyperbolic to ay that ALL instances of “ends justifying the means” lead to less justice. There’s a wide spectrum between, say, Stalinist collectivization and hand-holding liberalism. Cheers.

  12. @Andrew

    Fair enough. I definitely see the two-tier “class system” of sciences v. humanities at work when it comes to funding at the university. But in our little .4% of the pie, the distribution of “capital” — money, prestige, reputation, opportunity — is asymmetric to say the least, both between institutions and within them.

    And I certainly didn’t claim anything about “ALL instances of ‘ends justifying the means’ [leading] to less justice.” I was being honest: I can’t think of a good historic example where that argument was the rationale for action and where everything turned out well (or at least for the better). That doesn’t mean there isn’t one; I just don’t know it, or it isn’t coming to mind.

    Give us an example of how this would work — or at least of how it has worked.

  13. LD: I agree that class operates at all levels of the academic system, including our little slice of pie. One of the things I dislike most about the academy–though I mostly love my job–is that hierarchy is often touted as meritocracy by people who in most other contexts read historically illegitimate forms of status into all hierarchies, including so-called meritocracies. But the academy isn’t the only place where hypocrisy reigns. Again, we should unionize. And again, the Rodgers/Foucault argument seems overstated and irrelevant to the issue of class in the academy.

    Re: means justifying the ends. I can think of a multitude of examples. In an American context, something as simple as FDR’s court-packing scheme. The means were illiberal, perhaps somewhat autocratic, but the ends–getting New Deal measures through–justified the means. Even though the actual scheme failed, I think there’s an argument that some of the justices began to shift and cave to the pressure of FDR’s tactics. In an international context, the land reform efforts of the decolonizing world could be incredibly harsh in terms of means, especially if you were a member of the landed class. But in many, certainly not all cases, the end was more justice.

  14. @Andrew,

    Thanks. Those are intriguing examples — I hadn’t thought of FDR’s packing the court in quite those terms. I have always seen it as a “Captain Kirk” move — more “creative” than “illiberal.” As to the other example, it’s probably closer to what you’re talking about in terms of widespread structural change, but presumably not what you’re talking about in terms of approach.

    Very interesting discussion. Thanks so much for the sustained conversation. I always learn something from the comments on this blog.

  15. I certainly agree that class antagonism shape racial/religious/ethnic affiliations in problematic ways, and “we” (as in everyone) should continually push for greater socioeconomic equality.

    On the flip side, I’d also argue that racial/religious/ethnic and affiliations have been giving strength to minority groups: Jews, African and African-Americans, Asians, Latinos, etc, for generations if not millenia (though these affiliations have also caused problems themselves, and led to various discriminations too, of course).

  16. One of the historians on this blog expressed an interest in Taylor’s views on “Fracture”. Here’s Robert Bellah commenting on Taylor’s ideas:

    “Yet there is still another, more ominous aspect of the world today that must inhibit any undue optimism about wonderful ideas that have been around for a long time in the great religions and in modernity at least since Kant’s essay on universal peace. That is the stern Durkheimian warning that ideas cannot float too far from a viable social base if they are to be effective. Durkheim’s individualism was ethical, indeed was, in Talcott Parsons’s words, “institutionalized individualism” (though many today would think that individuals and institutions are in principle antagonistic), that is embodied in social solidarities at a number of levels. But an individualism come loose from social solidarities is also a social product. Taylor himself, without using Michel Foucault’s still remotely Durkheimian language of the “social production of the individual,” comes close to it in the following paragraph:

    ‘My hypothesis is that the post-war slide in our social imaginary more and more into a post-Durkheimian age has destabilized and undermined the various Durkheimian dispensations. This has had the effect of either gradually releasing people to be recruited into the fractured culture, or in the case where the new consumer culture has quite dislocated the earlier outlook, of explosively expelling people into this fractured world. For, while remaining aware of the attractions of the new culture, we must never underestimate the ways in which one can also be forced into it: the village community disintegrates, the local factory closes, jobs disappear in ‘downsizing,’ the immense weight of social approval and opprobrium begin to tell on the side of the new individualism.’

    My question here is, how far can this negative post-Durkheimianism go? At what point does a fractured society, one without common values and increasingly without common norms, cease to function? There are, I believe in my sociological heart, certain clear Durkheimian constraints against too much fragmentation. Classically it is at this point that new forms of solidarity, ones based on fear, such as those promulgated by Putin or Bush, begin to take over. So I see a deep tension between solutions to the problem of deep social fracture: regression into classic authoritarianism such as has been all too common at all times and places and especially in the last 100 years, or a movement toward new and larger solidarities, that will not replace the old ones but that just might reinvigorate them.”


  17. JJ – I’m glad you brought up Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age – a major work ignored by USIH bloggers. Many of the issues raised by Taylor and the extensive discussion on the SSRC blog are germane to our efforts to assess Rodgers’ work.

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