Book Review

Book Review: Hartman on Rodgers, *Age of Fracture*

All That Is Solid Fractures
Andrew Hartman

(Note: This review formed my comments as part of a roundtable on Age of Fracture at the U.S. Intellectual History Conference 2011. Stay tuned for further roundtable posts.)

“All that is solid melts into air.” Marx and Engels, 1848

“Concepts of society fragmented.” Daniel T. Rodgers, 2011

“All that is solid melts into air,” one of the more memorable of the many pithy allegories from The Communist Manifesto—which Marshall Berman playfully calls “the first great modernist work of art”—has persisted as a persuasive metaphor for the modern experience. Permanence has been “pitilessly torn asunder,” replaced by compulsory obsolescence. For many, this modern transformation is felt as vertigo, and as loss, anxieties given voice to by Jackson Lears, who laments the modern uprooting of “people from kin and communal ties, transforming them into mobile, interchangeable units of ‘human capital.’” For antimodernists in general, the separation of the self from longstanding bonds of mutuality produces disastrous, even inhuman consequences. For antimodernist leftists like Lears, uprooted people are seemingly incapable of collective resistance to capitalist dehumanization. But for Marx and Engels, and for latter-day modernists like Berman, rootlessness is to be embraced as a weapon against estrangement: “All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”

Daniel Rodgers offers a similarly explanatory metaphor for recent U.S. intellectual history: ours is an “age of fracture.” Since the 1970s, “the terrain of common sense shifted.” Structuralist and other “strong readings” of society have given way to disaggregation. Rodgers writes: “Notions of power moved out of structures and into culture. Identities became intersectional and elective. Concepts of society fragmented. Time became penetrable. Even the slogans of the culture war’s conservatives were caught up in the swirl of choice.” But whereas the “all that is solid” analogy explains modern cultural change as a by-product of capitalism—culture as epiphenomenal to “the dull compulsion of economic relations”—for Rodgers, “the age of fracture” is a metaphor that arises from a world where the boundaries between perception and reality are porous to non-existent. To those who want to know what explains the age of fracture, or to whom we should assign blame, Rodgers offers no solace, only ambiguity: “Which foot moved first? Did the economic transformations of late capitalism set loose these new debates? Or did ideas move first? My response is neither and both.”

In addition to ambiguity, Age of Fracture exudes ambivalence, a moral position neither for nor against our age. Like the modernists, Rodgers sees no point pretending we can go back to the way it was. But like the antimodernists, Rodgers is unsettled by the present condition. This is evident in his disapproval of many of our age-defining ideas, the worst of which seem to find the most acolytes. In what might be my favorite aspect of his approach, Rodgers heaps polite abuse, if there is such a thing, on several such bad arguments. For instance, in his analysis of the “law and economics” movement that found a home in prestigious law schools such as the University of Chicago, where Richard Posner holds court, Rodgers makes quick if mannerly work of the movement’s seminal text, Ronald Coase’s 1960 article, “The Problem of Social Cost.”

Coase’s Noble-prize winning argument went as follows: since social efficiency is best achieved when two parties are left alone to bargain their way out of their conflicting positions, civil litigation need not be weighed down by such quaint considerations as justice. Rodgers’s concise critique then follows as such: “The social good was a maximization problem in aggregate market value: crops and cattle, property values and pollution-abatement costs, not, he had been candid enough to say, any close assessment of who stood best to bear the pain of the compromise or how unequally matched their resources might have been at the outset.” The precision with which Rodgers implicitly unmasks the most significant problem with Coase’s crude brand of utilitarianism, that in failing to account for historically-rooted power imbalances it empowers those best positioned to benefit from the “free market,” works in microcosm as an argument against the microeconomic impulses that define the age of fracture: the seemingly neutral application of microeconomics, the prototypical weak reading of society, to theretofore macro-problems, is anything but neutral.

One of the more odious representations of the microeconomic contagion was libertarian Charles Murray’s racialist 1984 book, Losing Ground, a de facto handbook for several Reagan administration domestic policymakers. Murray argued that expensive Great Society programs designed to alleviate poverty actually resulted in increased poverty, the unintended consequence of the ironic incentives built into welfare policy. According to Murray, after calculating the costs and benefits of marrying and seeking employment, a poor couple, whom he imagined as rational economic actors “Harold” and “Phyllis,” would have concluded that it made more sense to remain unmarried and on welfare. Rodgers crisply summarizes the implications of Murray’s contention: “The cure constructed the disease and fed on its own perverse failures.”

The seductiveness of Murray’s microeconomic solution was obvious, especially in an era defined by austerity: doing less was both inexpensive and achieved a better result. At a time when urban poverty seemed more and more intractable, and more and more linked to racial inequality—evident in the racialized discourse of the so-called “underclass”—Murray’s “benign neglect” approach proved salient, particularly since the electorate was impatient with political measures that appeared to benefit blacks.

It is no surprise, then, that Losing Ground helped lay the foundation for Clinton’s “end welfare as we know it” legislation. But just because Murray’s anti-welfare screed was influential does not make it right. Rodgers undermines Murray’s “tendentious” and “slipshod” argument by pointing to some pesky facts, such that the percentage of welfare mothers had remained constant since the late 1960s, and that the number of unwed mothers had only gone up relative to the number of married mothers because married couples were having fewer children. Rodgers also relays that “the incidence of poverty had, in fact, fallen sharply in the Great Society years that Murray had surveyed.” Government inaction, then, was an unlikely means to economic equality given that inequality was the result of historical power imbalances that the Great Society successfully, if inadequately, counter-balanced. Add to that the sympathetic reading that Rodgers gives to structural considerations of racial inequality—“to be born into a society marked by race was to be born into a system saturated with power”—and it seems clear that Rodgers seeks to correct the faulty microeconomic interpretations prevalent in the age of fracture by layering them with macro forms of analysis.

In his final chapter, “Wrinkles in Time,” about the proclivity with which assorted political actors construed the past in anti-historical fashion, as if “one could penetrate through the incomplete and muddled historical record to its original, undistorted core,” Rodgers analyzes the development of “originalism,” a legal principle popular amongst conservative jurists like Antonin Scalia and Robert Bork. Originalists theorized that jurisprudence should be constrained by an absolute understanding of the Constitution, in terms of either its original meaning or the original intent of those who framed it. Although microeconomic legal thinkers like Richard Posner sharply criticized originalism’s anti-utilitarian neglect of “consequences in the world of fact,” the two forms of jurisprudence were flip sides of the same noxious anti-contextualist coin: where microeconomic legal theorists contended that legal interpretation should avoid historically-structured concepts like justice, originalists fantasized that the law, properly understood, folded time over onto itself so as to escape history.

Obstreperous U.S. District Judge Brevard Hand, who “set out to show that history proved the Supreme Court wrong” on its rulings on religion in school, made arguments from his Alabama bench in the early 1980s that served as an important precursor to the originalist movement, particularly in his disagreement with incorporation, a process by which portions of the Bill of Rights were applied at the state level. Among other revolutionary legal transformations, the precedent set by incorporation led to the 1962 Engel v. Vitale landmark decision that ruled school prayer violated the First Amendment. In contrast, based on a properly originalist understanding of the Constitution, Hand declared that states were not bound by the First Amendment and, as such, that Alabamans were free to establish religious practices of their choosing.

Rodgers obligingly lays out the obvious criticism of originalism: it distorted the history of the framing of the Constitution, which was, after all, a careful compromise between partisans who held multiple, often oppositional intentions. But his most damning charge is that originalists were ignorant of historical structure: “The originalist argument tapped not a desire to go back to any actual past but a desire to escape altogether from time’s slipperiness—to locate a trap door through which one could reach beyond history and find a simpler place outside of it.”

In making his devastating critique of conservative anti-structuralist thought, Rodgers shows that structural notions of power mattered where weak readings of society led to conservative conclusions. Coarse could only make the case that aggregate social efficiency should be the judicial system’s core objective by deflecting structural inequality, the consideration of which required giving thought to concepts infused with history, such as justice. Murray could only argue that welfare destroyed incentives for poor people to find jobs by ignoring the structural causes of unemployment, such as the trade policies that decimated the urban-industrial job sector, thus impoverishing large pockets of inhabitants in cities across the nation. Hand could only contend that the Constitution did not stipulate for incorporation by thinking of the document as devoid of history, by erasing two centuries of American jurisprudence that had ineluctably given constitutional law new meaning. In sum, it might seem that Rodgers is a structuralist doing battle with anti-structuralist ideas. But this is a selective reading of Age of Fracture. For although he respects some structural explanations, Rodgers also believes historical change can result from the power evinced by free-floating contrivances such as metaphors: market metaphors shape new material realities, and vice versa, new market forms give life to new metaphors. Rodgers, then, employs a soft poststructuralist methodology. As such, his critique of anti-structural ideas is mostly confined to those with conservative manifestations. In contrast, he shows some sympathy for left-leaning forms of poststructuralism, such as the cultural turn taken by the historical discipline.

Rodgers analyzes the historiographic cultural turn under the rubric of “the search for power,” which, for historians, “led to a virtual abandonment of the terrain of economics for new worlds of culture.” In other words, “power grew less tangible, less material, more pervasive, more elusive until, in some widespread readings of power, it became all but impossible to trace or pin down.” Much of this owed to the influence of French theory, especially Foucault’s evocative notion that discourse was everything, which collapsed the brackets separating material and linguistic sources of power, a particularly convincing framework for those who studied the constructedness of race and gender. But the cultural turn in American historiography predated the French invasion by a decade or so, when historians of the United States eagerly embraced E. P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class. Thompson’s cultural Marxism, which inscribed the working class with agency, had an enormous impact on this side of the Atlantic. “It formed an outlet for the politics of consciousness that had run so strongly through the new left, the civil rights movement, and feminism. Culture gave historical ‘agency’ to the common folk of history, who had so little else to offer.” Less optimistically, Antonio Gramsci’s theory of power, another cultural Marxist-inspired paradigm that went by the name of “hegemony,” was paramount in popularizing ideas about the top-down power of culture, as opposed to Thompson’s bottom-up power. In Rodgers’s eloquent words: “Hegemony was the power of the dominant class not only to impose its social categories on others but also, and still more, to make its system of meaning come to seem the natural order of things, so that by insensibly absorbing that order the many consented to the domination of the few.” The most important American historian working in the Gramscian school was Eugene Genovese, who famously argued in Roll, Jordan, Roll that the agency of the slaves—“the world the slaves made”—though significant, was only possible within a “system of meaning” made to seem natural to those who inhabited slave society. In other words, slave agency was constrained by a reified vision of slavery’s social parameters.

Both of these readings of history, whether in the guise of Thompson’s rosy understanding or Genovese’s dour interpretation, remained tied to the structural form of historical analysis that went by the name of Marxism. And yet, Thompson and Genovese’s understandable attempt to make sense of how the oppressed were able to resist power, if at all, led them to innovate a sort of soft poststructuralist approach that emphasized culture as a motive force unto itself. This, in turn, created a bridge to more radically poststructuralist readings of history, readings beyond even Foucauldian, such as the feminist destabilizing of identity, best enunciated by Judith Butler, or the deconstruction of race as a stable category, a position eventually taken by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Interestingly, Rodgers comes across as sympathetic to this left-leaning move away from historical structure. Perhaps this is because leftist poststructuralism could be interpreted as less radically anti-structuralist than the conservative obliteration of history. More likely, the degree to which Rodgers is more sympathetic to the poststructural turn taken by left-leaning theoreticians than he is to the anti-structuralist turn taken by conservative intellectuals is predicated more on politics than epistemology. Maybe this is fine, since the link between politics and epistemology is often unclear. Anti-foundationalists like Richard Rorty have found some common political ground with foundationalists like Noam Chomsky. Arguably, Rodgers is adhering to one of the fundamental principles of philosophical pragmatism: he is basing his conclusions about different forms of anti-structuralism on their varied political results. And yet, an inconsistency redounds from Rodgers’s selective readings of anti-structuralism.

If results matter more than epistemology in determining the quality of an idea, then the structural critique of conservative anti-structuralism is groundless: what matters in judging originalism is not that it toyed with time in radically anachronistic ways, but that it resulted in a less liberal society, the political standard by which Rodgers tacitly judges ideas. Of course, what this stark juxtaposition makes clear is the absurdity of the argument. Originalism is bad politics precisely because it is bad epistemology, and vice versa. In other words, epistemology often presupposes politics.

To sum this up, a poststructuralist critique of a poststructuralist age is a paradox, fitting perhaps, but still a paradox. To be fair, Rodgers is not a social critic. He is a historian, and Age of Fracture is, first and foremost, historical scholarship, agenda-setting at that. However, Rodgers seems to want intellectual history to double as social criticism (though he is far subtler in going about this than was someone like Christopher Lasch). Insofar as Age of Fracture is a piece of social criticism, it lacks the razor-sharp edge of someone who takes aim from a position of alienation. Though Rodgers is uncomfortable with some of the conservative ideas that gained traction in the age of fracture, he seems to have made peace with the anti-structuralist zeitgeist in ways that antimodernists and Marxists alike cannot abide.

17 Thoughts on this Post

  1. To summarize Andrew’s summary of Rodgers: “Right-wing ahistorical mumbo jumbo bad, left-wing ahistorical mumbo jumbo good.”

    How did he react when you said that’s what he’s saying?

  2. And new Philosophy cals all in doubt,
    The Element of fire is quite put out;
    The Sunne is lost, and th’earth, and no mans wit
    Can well direct him where to looke for it.
    And freely men confesse that this world’s spent,
    When in the Planets, and the Firmament
    They seeke so many new; they see that this
    Is crumbled out againe to his Atomis.
    ‘Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone;
    All iust supply, and all Relation:
    Prince, Subiect, Father, Sonne, are things forgot,
    [F]or euery man alone thinkes he hath got
    To be a Phoenix, and that then can be
    None of that kinde, of which he is, but he.

    That’s John Donne in 1621. The fracturing and melting started a long, long time ago.

  3. What seems to be most frustrating about Rodger in his book is, while trying to be that social-critic, while being a historian, just leaves the reader wanting more or at least for him to make an argument that is solid and complete. Rodger’s seems to want his reader to draw conclusions without saying what those conclusions are. I left this book, take it I would enjoy reading it again more than when I read it at the end of august, wanting Rodgers to make a stand and left me rather frustrated. But maybe that was his point, but then again he is trying to be a social-critic and a historian at the same time.

  4. Andrew, thanks for posting this. It’s a thoughtful and challenging reading of Rodgers.

    I did not get the impression that Rodgers was concerned with social criticism to the degree that you suggest. I did notice and comment on some of the same kinds of wry assessments you note here — I guess am thinking in particular of the leitmotif of intellectual capital and the academy as marketplace. But to some degree I noticed those moves in the text only because they were putting words to something that was already important to me.

    As I mentioned in my review of the Historical Society forum on _Age of Fracture_, Rodgers’s text seems to evoke, and perhaps demand, a reading that mimics the fragmentation he describes with such singular vision. Seeing as we must through the shattered lens of the post-fracture era, even Rodgers’s text *seems* to dissolve into a multiperspectival montage of contradictory commitments. The key word, I think, is seems.

    But I have beat this poor dead horse all the way to Princeton and back, so I will leave my worn reading of Rodgers to rest in peace on your blog and mine.

    However, I am very curious to hear / know his rejoinder. Maybe to be published in the S-USIH journal?

  5. LD: Rodgers hasn’t decided if he’s going to address the roundtable in this context. But I think I can sum up his response to me with justice. I don’t think he sees Age of Fracture as a work of social criticism at all–so you’re right about that. I probably overstated that case, but his subtle criticism of bad ideas struck me as his understated way of doing social criticism. We read what we want in Rodgers!

    Rodgers said he did not mean to strike a tone of ambivalence. He wonders how anyone can be for or against an age. Fair enough. But for me, to be alienated is to be, if not against an age, against a zeitgeist. Dan Wickberg asked Rodgers if he saw Age of Fracture as a study of the zeitgeist. Rodgers demurred.

    Rodgers also said that he thought I wanted him to choose a side: structuralist or anti-structuralist; foundationalist or anti-foundationalist; etc… He said understanding what propelled disaggregation was not an either-or problem. Again, fair enough. But I wish he would have explored his methodology more explicitly. In the introduction he mentioned that we need to take the Marxist way of understanding cultural change in so-called “late” capitalism seriously–the arguments made by Harvey and Jameson and the like. But he also contended that they were ultimately wrong to ascribe so much causative power to capitalism. Yet Rodgers never really grappled with their argument in serious fashion. Harvey and Jameson became straw men of sorts. I don’t need Rodgers to agree with Marxists, but I would have liked a more fully fleshed out methodological statement. I think the content and approach demand it.

    OK, now to post Livingston’s review, with Dudziak’s and Szefel’s to follow.

  6. On the basis of this review alone I want to read “Age of Fracture.” I plan on reading the other review hosted here after I make a brief comment here.

    Varad, I think you are being entirely too dismissive of the unique character of fragment or fracture in the modern era. Donne experienced fracture, certainly, but within a certain historical context I’m sure you are already acquainted with. The modernist experience is so messy that I haven’t quite come to terms with it yet, but it has certain characteristics of unity and a focus on convergence which make the experience of post-modernity and the character of anti-modernist critiques peculiarly fragmented.

    David Harvey’s “The Condition of Postmodernity” seems to be a great resource for gauging these historical processes and currents, though as an undergrad with minimal experience in intellectual history (let alone US intellectual history) I feel as if a good bit is going over my head. Here’s what I can meaningfully extract from what I’ve read.

    There’s a fundamental tension within modernism which Harvey most succinctly explains through Baudelaire’s formulation, “Modernity is the transient, the fleeting, the contingent; it is the one half of art, the other being the eternal and the immutable.” A particular compartment of modernity, “high modernity,” expressing itself through “cultural modernity,” exhibits the unifying character I mentioned earlier.

    Harvey clarifies the coordinates of cultural modernism by analyzing modernist architects like LeCorbusier and van der Rohe. These men had grand designs and sought control of the phenomenal world by means of the straight line, or the creation of time within time. In a similar attempt to create a time within time, or rather to eradicate time and replace it with a mythologized time, Heidegger (tragically) elevated Being above Becoming and in an important way became a philosopher directly in line with, even helping to develop, Nazi aesthetics. Such examples of modernism were predicated on notions of perfectibility, and they aimed at a radical reconstruction of society unthinkable before turn-of-the-century leaps in scientific and industrial knowledge.

    The experience of fragmentation brought to the fore by the First World War and sped up further with WWII and the Cold War is fragmentation away from these grand narratives in particular, as both Harvey and Zygmunt Bauman have pointed out rather eloquently. As a Marxist, Harvey aims in some way to tie these changes to the character of “late capitalism” through an historical materialist project. Regardless of whether or not we take this at face value or turn to a purer historicism, your conflation of 17th century experiences of dissolution and the so-called “age of fracture” fall flat.

    Thanks for everyone who make blog posts and posts comments here, this site is a wonderful resource!

  7. “Varad, I think you are being entirely too dismissive of the unique character of fragment or fracture in the modern era.”

    I wasn’t dismissing anything. Rather, I was pointing out that the notion that modernity is inherently fissiparous, that its fissiparousness is its essential characteristic, goes back a long way; to the beginning of modernity, even (if one dates its beginning to the Scientific Revolution). Berman takes it as the characteristic experience of modernity, following Marx. There’s a history here. I have no idea if Rodgers touches on it or not. Nor whether he has to. But it is there.

    “[Y]our conflation of 17th century experiences of dissolution and the so-called ‘age of fracture’ fall[s] flat.”

    Again, I wasn’t conflating anything. There’s a difference between drawing parallels and conflating things. There are four centuries between Donne and Rodgers. What is flat is a historical perspective that assumes that because of that gap, we can learn something of one or the other, but nothing of one from the other, or of both together. That seems to be your perspective, Mike, and I think it is a mistaken one.

  8. Mike, welcome aboard. As far as I can remember, this seems to be your first comment on the S-USIH blog. You have followed what I think is the best m.o. for this blog — just jump into the fray and join the conversation — and I think that’s going to work just fine for you here.

    Varad, you make some salient points in this recent comment about the deep roots of modernity’s self-alienation, the relationship between the past and the present, the need for awareness of not just a wider but a much longer context for the Riveting History of Right Now.

    But Mike is to be excused for reading your original comments as a historically naive conflation of past and present, because in those comments you substituted cryptic snark for careful argument. What your recap of Andrew’s review and your invocation of Donne amounted to was something along the lines of, “Yawn. Plus ça change…”

    Andrew, I have to confess I’m becoming a tad impatient with Daniel Rodgers, though I can understand perfectly why he is being coy. His text has made a Big Splash, and remains the subject of fairly acute and sophisticated conversation among scholars and intellectuals (God, that word grates on me, but I am going to have to get over it and get used to it). By design or happy accident, much of that conversation seems to revolve around pinning down Rodgers — his thesis, his methodology, his ideological commitments. I would say it’s by design — he wrote a very slick book about a slippery idea of the slipperiness of ideas, and he did so in a way that invites and perhaps demands the very kinds of conversations we and others have been having. So as he ponders how to respond, the conversation continues.

    I have a feeling that his response to the S-USIH roundtable and the audience questions and subsequent discussion it has generated is going to be something along the lines of the response he made to the Historically Speaking forum: basically, “Very interesting conversation. Do keep talking.” Only someone with intellectual capital to burn could get away with that indefinitely. So quit flaunting your wealth, Rodgers, and buy us a round, eh?

  9. Varad:

    “What is flat is a historical perspective that assumes that because of that gap, we can learn something of one or the other, but nothing of one from the other, or of both together. That seems to be your perspective, Mike, and I think it is a mistaken one.”

    I am in absolute agreement with this point, so it could be that I read something into what you wrote that wasn’t there at all; or perhaps you didn’t put enough context out there for me to have given you a fair reading (not to blame the victim or anything).

    There are certainly ways to understand the fracture of Donne’s age in relation to our own, e.g. we can use Marx and Weber to interpret the rise of the modern nation-state and legal-rational forms of social organization as a necessary precondition, primary catalyst and dialectical engine of this fissiparous (thanks for the new word) modernity you speak of. I’m sure there are manifold other ways of seeing that can be dreamed up.

    My beef with your post was that, to me, it seemed to compress and homogenize time and as LD said, to curtly dismiss fracture as “nothing new under the sun.” Since that doesn’t seem to be the case, let the criticism wither away and the general theoretical orientation I presented stand. It’s Harvey’s, and since I honestly don’t have the instruments to build my own and I haven’t yet read other accounts, it’s tentatively mine as well.

    Thanks for the responses you two.

  10. Hmmm. What’s the over-under on some version of, “Interesting conversation; keep talking”?

    Seriously, though, I will be delighted to read what he has to say — but I am assuming (or hoping) that his response here addresses some of the questions that arose following the round-table. Guess I will soon find out!

  11. “I am in absolute agreement with this point, so it could be that I read something into what you wrote that wasn’t there at all; or perhaps you didn’t put enough context out there for me to have given you a fair reading (not to blame the victim or anything).”

    Mike, I tend to do that. The lack of context thing. But that’s the problem with dashing off quick responses – in e-mail, in person, or on a blog. The alternative is to write 1600 words expounding your interpretation, which doesn’t help either (and which I’m also wont to do). In fact, it wasn’t Rodgers that got me thinking of Donne, but Andrew’s allusion to Marx’s lapidary phrasing about “all that is solid.” Andrew went back to the nineteenth century, so I chimed in to say you can go back well before that. Believe it or not, that was the exact and whole point I wanted to make. I probably should have said that the first time. Really, I wasn’t trying to say anything about Rodgers’ analysis at all. Or, for that matter Donne, beyond noting he said something similar. Hence my “cryptic” comment: “The fracturing and melting started a long, long time ago.” I should have used “fragmenting,” since that’s actually the term Rodgers uses in Andrew’s epigram. I thought I telegraphed it, but I messed it up because I got it wrong. D’oh!

    LD: cryptic, yes. Brevity can do that. But it wasn’t snark. I can be snarky, but this was not an instance of it.

  12. I think the author of this review significantly overstates the degree to which Rodgers is “doing” social criticism. One commenter above stated: “we read what we want to in Rodgers!” I concur and suggest that notion itself as an example of the kind of fracturing He was writing about in the first place… Although it is a really well-written and enjoyable review.

  13. Matthewm: Like I said in my comments, I agree I overstate the degree to which Age of Fracture is social criticism, which is why I was also the person who wrote: “we read what we want to in Rodgers!” Rodgers certainly did not mean for his book to be social criticism. That said, how can we write contemporary history–history of an age or phenomena we’re still explicitly living through–without implicitly doing social criticism as well? I don’t think we can, unless we completely abstain from judgment, which makes for banal history. Certainly Rodgers did not abstain from judgment, as I make abundantly clear in my review. I think about this issue–the fine line between contemporary history and social criticism–all the time, since I’m writing a book about the culture wars. I want to write solid history first and foremost, of course. But everyone who opens my book will be looking for my judgment on the matter as well. I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s one of the reasons why I chose to spend years of my life on the topic of the culture wars.

  14. Apologies for coming so late to this thread of Comments, but I’m too intrigued by what exactly LD finds grating when he writes:

    “… Big Splash, and remains the subject of fairly acute and sophisticated conversation among scholars and intellectuals (God, that word grates on me, but I am going to have to get over it and get used to it). …”

    Which word, LD? “Big Splash” is two words, and although that’s the most likely contender, other suspects do include “God,” not to mention “scholars” and “intellectuals.”

  15. I agree with you LD…it sounds to self aggrandising. How does Notional History sound? Practioners would be called notionographers, does that give it a more down to earth sound? I’m,of course,presuming that the reason something grates on you is same reason it grates on me but that may be a false notion.

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