U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Marking Time through War

Mary Dudziak’s new work on war and time resonates with me. For those unfamiliar with Dudziak’s argument you can read about it in her new book “War Time” and in an excellent essay in the California Law Review entitled, “Law, War, and the History of Time,” (2010). In brief, Dudziak argues that while we have traditionally assumed that wartime is a time of “exception” (ala Giorgio Agamben), for at least the last ten years it seems wartime has replaced peacetime. As she writes in the law review essay: “Viewing war as an exception to normal life, however, leads us to ignore the longstanding persistence of war.”

I couldn’t agree more. In a book that I have just completed, entitled “God and War” (due out in July 2012), I noticed and attempted to play upon references to time in the debate over how war shaped different versions of an American civil religion. What follows is a brief review of some of the more interesting comments I found about time and war.
In my introduction, I found it important to deal briefly with Randolph Bourne’s warning that war was “the health of the state” because through war the state exercised its ultimate power to command sacrifice. What Bourne probably didn’t imagine was that his country would enter a period of almost perpetual war. And thus, as war became a constant presence in American society, it also became something more than the political barometer Bourne suggested. I argue that war grew from a moment to reckon with immediately following America’s atomic bombing of Japan (the photo above is from Hiroshima) to, in our time, a source of almost theological inspiration for the nation. Along the way, a variety of actors also considered how the idea of war had grown increasingly commonplace.
One of interesting debate emerged immediately after the end of World War II that questioned whether America was in a period that could accurately be considered “post” war. The folks who wanted to return to civilian life certainly thought so. Within ten months of the war ending in Europe, nearly 11 million men and women left the military. Yet, unlike in the time of war itself, in the postwar era the nation had to prevent attacks and rally Americans intellectually as much as economically and militarily. In other words, the postwar era required leaders to frame rhetorically the imperative to sacrifice in order to stave off another war–the use of war as a means of understanding time had not ended. Most Americans agreed that following the next world war there would be no need to name a new time of war–for that war would be the last.
If we jump to the president that perhaps did more than any other to incorporate war into American life we see an interesting tension. Dwight Eisenhower knew war intimately and believed that in order to stave of a real war, he needed to rally Americans through a rhetorical or, as I argue and others such as Will Inboden contend, a theological war. And so Ike made clear that America was in a time of war that demanded fealty to the national cause–he said in a public campaign called “Back to God,” “there are no atheists in foxholes…in a time of test and trial, we instinctively turn to God for new courage and peace of mind.” For Ike, the cold war made American into one large foxhole.
I argue that the nation remained in that foxhole for the rest of the cold war. Until, that is, Reagan’s near death experience. Others will contest this view, but I agree with John Diggins’s assessment that it was Reagan who first articulated that the cold war was over (or would soon be over) in a way that pushed a substantially different understanding of time in the postwar era. Obviously, Reagan used the cold war to support a brutal war in Latin America, but he also believed and seemed willing to act on perhaps his most famous and notorious statement: “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” A radical notion of time if ever there was one.
While the cold war did end, the idea that war continued to shape American life continued. As an organizing force that gave meaning amidst an “age of fracture,” war became too impossible to imagine doing without. For Reagan’s successors, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, war defined their time in office–for both, the lack of the cold war seemingly haunted them and the persistence of real war punctuated their lackluster time in office with moments of heroic pronouncements.
But the reliance on war struck theologian Stanley Hauerwas as dangerous. During the first Gulf War and crystallizing in the second, Hauerwas developed a critique of war that got at the way it began to replace any other organizing principle in American life. Among his most searing statements to this effect was one he made in a debate with Richard John Neuhaus (founder of the journal “First Things”). Hauerwas declared: “War names the time we send the youth to kill and die (maybe) in an effort to assure ourselves the lives war lead are worthy of such sacrifices…War makes clear we must believe in something even if we are not sure what that something is, except that it has something to do with the ‘American way of life.'”
Does war have something to do with the American way of life? For Hauerwas, religious support of war meant that war, rather than Christology, replaced the central way to understanding meaning in “our time.” Interestingly, it was Eisenhower who in his farewell address suggested the dangers that Hauerwas pounced on. Ike ended his presidency as he began it, using prayer to convey his hopes for the nation. In his final prayer as president, he counseled Americans that they needed to become comfortable with a new understanding of time. He could not see a time that when the world would be truly postwar, nor did he believe he could hasten the postwar period by resorting to war. And so he asked for patience so that “in the goodness of time” a postwar period might be realized.
Are we beginning to imagine such a period as America draws down in Iraq and Afghanistan? And what will the absence of war do to our collective and therefore abstract understanding of the nation?
In the coming weeks, I hope to look at the theology of war in different guises and with different observers, from soldiers to professors.

29 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Ray, this is a wonderful post — you have situated this inquiry in a way that makes this reader believe it absolutely imperative for me to not just follow but really try to grasp and grapple with your coming posts as you unfold your thinking here. Really, this is just a brilliant, bracing inquiry and I can’t wait to see how you do it.

  2. Let me join LD in praising this post. I really look forward to reading your book, Ray!

    There seems to be an exploding interest in these questions among historians in recent years. In addition to your book and Dudziak’s, two books that are sitting yet-unread on my bookshelf mine similar territory: James Sparrow’s Warfare State and Michael Hogan’s (admittedly older) A Cross of Iron.

  3. Thanks to you both for the words of encouragement. My hope is to investigate in some systematic way the reckoning with the most recent period of war in light of the period of war that had great continuities since 1945. I want to start next week reviewing the Home Fires section at the NYT, where a number of really interesting essays from vets and current military personnel have gestured toward something like a theology of war.

    If you heard Beth Bailey’s remarks at the final plenary of the 2011 S-USIH conference (and LD, you need to join us if only so we can share a few more reference points) her work has suggested some very interesting and probably disturbing trends in the way civilians view the military and vice versa.

    I also hope to write on Andrew Bacevich, Tom Ricks, and (more formally) Mary Dudziak.

    I look forward to our conversations.

  4. Very interesting post I would like read more on. I find this idea of rallying the people intellectually with the same rhetoric as war very intriguing and applicable to what is seen in America today. I like the ties discussed between the military and religious rhetoric, and believe that evidence for this can be found in everyday life. An easy example of the military rhetoric being transferred from to peace can be witnessed in our media. Every time I flip on a news channel, it seems like we have declared war on something, be it drugs, poverty, the economy, what have you. The simple word choices by media are a reflection of this pervasion of war rhetoric to the everyday. I find Hauerwas conclusion fixing war at the center of society through religious support to be accurate as well. Are individuals who do not seem to support the troops in this country slandered for not being “patriots” while atheists simply get a raised eyebrow?
    Finally, I can only begin to struggle with the question posed at the end of your article. While the optimist in me hopes that America can move away from our reliance on war, the pessimist in me is not so sure. I view war as too central to our society, we have gained much from wars in the past and it seems our economy relies on war in order to expand our markets. Being a child of the 80’s, throughout my life America has been involved in some form of armed conflict. It is hard for me to imagine what true “peace time” America looks like.

  5. I love this post Ray. I so look forward to reading your book. Given that you’ve been discussing the themes of your book here at the blog for months, I expect your book deals with the following complexity: the nation is perpetually at war and yet very little sacrifice is required by the vast majority of its citizens. How is this squared with your assumption that war gives the nation meaning akin to religion?

    I honestly have a difficult time imaging the nation not at war. But I also have a difficult time imagining this fact meaning very much to most of us.

  6. Thanks for the comments and questions. By addressing Andrews excellent question I can get at Nathan’s astute observations.

    I think your question Andrew points to how our projects parallel each other. If we can agree that the culture wars emerge out of the debates over a real war–Vietnam–then we can see how from those early debates over the meaning of the nation grew contested and increasingly abstract at the same time.

    Throughout the period from Vietnam through to today Americans were rarely asked to sacrifice for the wars their nation fought, but American did become avid celebrators of the troops and successive ‘wars’ provided the only unifying moments for almost all the presidents of this period.

    Yet at the same time, as Nathan points out, we grew comfortable with using the rhetoric of war to describe everything from energy to abortion. What interests me now that I have finished this book is how the post-war period we seem to be entering shows some signs of igniting a “culture war” over the way Americans have avoided dealing with real war. And this is where the view or, if you will, the theology of the troops and vets might play an important role. If many Americans find it consequential to engage in wars over of art, abortion, and the environment, then perhaps now that the war has come home in the form of returning troops we will have a debate about what they just did and what the nation asked them to do.

    To to answer Andrew’s question more directly: war became something akin to what religion was in the 1950s–we lost the consequential nature of religion in the revival of the 1950s and we lost the consequential nature of war in the revival of the 1970s and 1980s. We got religion-in-general and war-in-general, and I argue that both combined to create a civil religion that existed in parallel to the culture wars.

  7. I wondered the same thing as Andrew did as I read this post, viz., whether the proliferation of “war” correlates to the fact that war involves fewer and fewer Americans. The more distant, remote, and impersonal it becomes, the easier it becomes to declare “war” on this, that, and everything. “Wartime” is perpetual for those who bear its burden (think of those in the military who are on their tenth deployment), while it becomes background noise for civilians.

    How does the distinction between civilians and combatants function here, if it’s relevant? A major theme of military history is that in pre-modern times, wars were limited to the hostile armies and they fought clearly defined engagements (no guerilla warfare, they faced each other across a battlefield, etc.); whereas warfare in modern times is “total war,” which sees the whole of society mobilized to defeat another totally mobilized society. The levée en masse is the model. Are we returning to the pattern of the old days, with war belonging only to those who fight it?

    I can’t help but mention Carl Schmitt, who argued that the militarization of life is inherent to liberalism’s tendency to politicize everything and hence write the friend/enemy distinction onto all relationships. That might be one way of explaining why “wartime” seems to have become perpetual, if not normalized.

  8. I’m glad Varad brought Schmitt into the discussion–very pertinent.

    varad asks: “Are we returning to the pattern of the old days, with war belonging only to those who fight it?” For Americans, perhaps, but not for Iraqis, Afghanis, etc… Its asymmetrical.

  9. Ray: Your analysis of war and civil religion in relation to the culture wars intrigues me, to say the least. If you’re right that we’re about to have a culture war over the role of the troops, well damn, I already have enough to cover in my book!

    Certainly Vietnam and its legacy plays a large role in the culture wars, alongside other factors, such as the changing patterns of race and gender relations, and the epistemological fracturing that we’ve talked so much about. The Enola Gay controversy was a debate between those who understood “America” through the lens of WW2–the good war–and those who defined the nation by Vietnam.

  10. While the two world wars certainly had the Western world thinking in terms of total war, I have a hard time pointing to the current conflicts we are involved in as being a total war. I personally have not been asked to sacrifice anything for the wars except personal freedoms and a large portion of my government’s tax dollars. To me the war only seems to be “real” to those involved. Again this seems to reinforce the concept of war as religion, at least in terms of being a function that molds society but is only actually applicable to a few.
    Andrew I’m glad you brought up that point in response to Varad Mehta, for the American involvement in Iraq would directly reach far more Iraqis than Americans. Perhaps conflicts between “developed” countries (ie not colonial expeditions) would be fought in a manner akin to pre-modern times. I would see this as necessary, for these “developed” countries could either pursue this manner of war or degrade into the use of non-conventional weapons; in which case it is hard to imagine either side emerging in a fiscally advantageous way.

  11. This thread has been dealing with some truly intriguing ideas — the pervasiveness of war rhetoric, its possibly systematic relation to the removal of real war from the experience of all but a few Americans, and seeming parallels between Ray’s study of war and Andrew’s study of the form of it known as “culture war.”

    Perhaps the cold war helped to break the connection between the real and figurative, in that nuclear war was somehow not only impossible to imagine, but, as it turned out, merely an abstract, counterfactual possibility. At the same time, Ray may on to something in suggesting that the metaphorizing of war could facilitate the prosecution of real wars, partly because problematical justifications are shrouded in a sort of “theology of the troops.” Policy issues are nearly off the table, personalized as the injunction to “support our troops.” Roboticized military technologies and increasing reliance on special forces and military contractors further reduce the connection between experience and war.

    I’m fascinated by the idea of parallels between “religion-in-general” and “war-in-general,” which I take to mean that war has been genericized, de-contextualized both socially and temporally, becoming, in effect, a universal. This appears akin to Bellah’s point, in the 1967 article, that the genius of American civil religion has always been its abstraction and generality, allowing it to function as a quasi-sacred canopy. To paraphrase and extend Eisenhower, the particulars of this or that war matter less than that we maintain ourselves as people capable of strenuous effort, decisive mobilization of energies, and sacrifice in matters of ultimate concern.

    Maybe there is a connection: as literal war becomes more abstract and remote, metaphors of war get closer and more familiar, available to frame all sorts of activities, from the war on poverty to the war on drugs, culture wars, to sports and politics as war — as Christopher Lasch wrote, appealing whenever we feel “the thirst for action, the craving for involvement, the longing to commit ourselves to the onward march of events…” [1963, 223]

    The issue is not, then, the implications of war in some form for American democracy — a formulation that preserves war as “outside” — but democracy re-framed as war, as the tribal logic of friend and enemy is de-nationalized, and politics becomes war by other means, the rhetoric of war democratized.

    Would it be right to suggest that while Albert Hirschman traced the historical evolution from the passions to the interests, Karl Schmitt turned the tables to argue that the pursuit of rational interest in bourgeois life is boring and meaningless unless, at the very least, it can be invested with passion and the sense of absolutes at stake? Is culture war then interest group politics by other means, or a really sinister kind of fracturing? If the Schmittian logic can work internally, then we might recover something like the Hobbesian state of nature.

    Perhaps this abstraction of war metaphors from specific events, from exceptional times and places, is the sine qua non of the culture war idea. At the same time, it seems that understanding the culture war figure — whether used by historical actors or historians themselves — depends in part on how we understand the nature of metaphor.

    If we see metaphor as merely decorative, a matter of style, then “culture war” is a kind of adornment for politics more/less as usual — akin to the relatively harmless tribal logic operating in spectator sports.

    If on the other hand, we see it as constitutive, the very stuff of thought, then the “culture war” figure may circle back to make social life and politics more literally war-like …and here there must be some sort of continuum.

  12. This essay by Corey Robin, which is condensed from his newest book, also pertains to this discussion. Today’s conservatives are engaging the ideological war that Burke presaged as necessary to engage the left radicalism of the French—and American— Revolutions. – TL

  13. Here are two salient passages from Robin’s essay:

    1. Condemning Pitt and his allies, Burke wrote:

    They spoke neither to the understanding nor to the heart. Cold as ice themselves, they never could kindle in our breasts a spark of that zeal, which is necessary to a conflict with an adverse zeal; much less were they made to infuse into our minds that stubborn persevering spirit, which alone is capable of bearing up against those vicissitudes of fortune which will probably occur, and those burdens which must be inevitably borne in a long war.

    These “creatures of the desk” and “creatures of favour,” Burke complained, charged with defending the old orders of Europe, “had no relish for the principles of the manifestoes.”

    2. This was not to be an old-fashioned war of rules and constraints. Burke called for total war, of Sein oder Nichtstein, against not a country or a people but “an armed doctrine.” That doctrine had to be exterminated, for “if it can at all exist, it must finally prevail.” Against even its most infinitesimal expression, no quarter could be given: “It must be destroyed or it will destroy all of Europe.”

    So there’s some food for thought in terms of the connections between the rhetoric of war, politics, culture, and class. – TL

  14. One area of great difference I see between the culture wars and reckoning with real wars are the intellectual, political, and even physical “spaces” where issues are hashed out. Organizations formed and have continued to develop–OWS is one of the latest–to carry forward the culture wars. I don’t see any comparable structure to debate real wars. This is not to say that people don’t debate them, but neither Republicans nor Democrats have taken up a genuine position and there don’t seem to be organizations that push positions on war that do what the Christian Right or OWS do for their issues. I used debates in First Things over the war to suggest a few moments where conflict over the wars seemed to hit peak moments. Otherwise, the debate has been carried out in essays by the likes of Andrew Bacevich, Stanley Hauerwas, David Rieff in wildly different ways. None would want to be associated with a genuine movement.

    Recognizing this only brings into greater relief what Andrew and Nathan observe–that the antiwar position is taken up by those in the middle of the wars.

  15. Tim: Thanks much for the plug. I’m embarrassed, given that you’ve already mentioned my work, to say that I think a different chapter in my book is actually much more relevant than the post you cite, which mostly involves material that’s not in my book. But my chapter “Easy to Be Hard: Conservatism and Violence,” actually speaks directly to Ray’s point: on the one hand, the hallowing and sacralization of war as a national symbol, and, on the other hand, the remoteness of war from most people’s everyday personal experiences. The argument of my chapter is that that contradictory reality is written into the conservative DNA, going back to Burke (I trace it back to his essay on the Sublime and the Beautiful.) There may be a version of that chapter lurking somewhere or other around the web. In it I look at figures like Burke, Schmitt, the neocons, and more.

    Speaking of Schmitt, I was wondering, Varad, why you claim that he traces the militarization of everyday life back to “liberalism’s tendency to politicize everything.” I always thought his charge against liberalism was that it tried to *depoliticize* everything, that it failed to recognize the friend-enemy distinction, which he thought was endemic to all political life. Or was I misunderstanding you?

    Lastly, Ray, I was wondering if you’ve published on Eisenhower anywhere. Your argument re Ike makes a great deal of sense to me, and I’d love to read it. I often get people invoking the Eisenhower of the Farewell Address but never dealing with all that came before. My sense from afar was that there’s a lot more to look at there, but I haven’t read much about him. Anywhere I can look?

    Really enjoyed this thread; forgive me for going on, but it was really interesting.

  16. Corey and Varad and Tim and Bill and Nathan and Andrew, once again the succinctness and seriousness of your comments and questions makes this format seem sensible! To your question about Ike, Corey, I spend the latter half of a chapter on Ike in this book that is coming out in the summer. But until then, I would certainly recommend looking at Will Inboden’s book The Soul of Containment for interesting views on Ike. I disagree with Will on how far he accepts the American exceptionalism of Truman and Eisenhower, but he also among the few scholars to take their religious views and their use of religion seriously.

    I am reading your latest book just now, enjoying it greatly, and mentioned to Andrew that it would be good to have you at the next conference (which should have a major session or three on conservatism).

  17. Corey: My recollection is that Schmitt contends that in attempting to de-emphasize politics, liberalism winds up letting politics seep into all sorts of other domains. Hence the tendency to politicize everything. But it’s quite some time since I read Schmitt, so it’s not impossible I’m a bit fuzzy on the details.

  18. My effort earlier was in part to problematize the culture war metaphor as used by historical actors, and especially by historians. After a lot of blog discussion and personal struggles, I still wonder about our use of such tropes, and how they might use us. Are we merely being good interpretivists, observing the terms and figures used by historical actors; or are we claiming their activities deserve to be characterized as in some sense “war.” If our position is that actors’ use of the term is necessary and sufficient for us to identify something as an instance of “culture war,” then wouldn’t it be slippery and illegitimate to elide the issue by saying things like, “Actually the culture war started before the term was invented.”

    If we can distance ourselves from the language of a particular time and place enough to say that some “x” existed before people called it “x,” then why couldn’t we go a little further and question the designation in the first place. To say, “Relax, it’s just a metaphor!” is to take a position on the nature of metaphor which ought to be defended.

    I don’t want to come off as a naïve historical realist, but I’d want to maintain an independent judgment, however mired in my local circumstances, to preserve the ability to say that here or there people used war metaphors, but that the conflict referred to was not actually very much like real war.

    Then the questions are why they used such language, whether they saw it as descriptive of their situation, used it strategically for rhetorical purposes, etc — and how those tropes conditioned their thinking and behavior.
    I’ll repeat the closing part of my earlier comment, still hoping someone will pick up on the issue —

    If we see metaphor as merely decorative, a matter of style, then “culture war” is a kind of adornment for politics more/less as usual — akin to the relatively harmless tribal logic operating in spectator sports.

    If on the other hand, we see it as constitutive, the very stuff of thought, then the “culture war” figure may circle back to make social life and politics more literally war-like.

  19. To Corey and Varad – My familiarity with Karl Schmitt is very limited. I was drawing on a discussion in Stephen Holmes, The Anatomy of Antiliberalism, Harvard, l993.

  20. Varad: Part of your account of what Schmitt is saying is correct: he does indeed believe that liberalism seeks to depoliticize everything. But I don’t think he sees a causal relationship between that move and the politicization of everything else. And by everything else, what he means primarily is the economy and secondarily culture. His point is that the bourgeois/liberal thinks the economy and culture are apolitical realms; meanwhile the Marxist understands that they are not. Or at least understands that they can be politicized (b/c anything and everything can be politicized) and then proceeds to politicize them. The liberal/bourgeois continues on his merry way, without realizing, as Schmitt puts it, that a true understanding of the friend/enemy distinction, which used to reside in Berlin (in the form of Hegel), has now migrated, via Marx and Lukacs, to Moscow. So a long-winded way of saying that I don’t think he assigns the kind of causal force to the liberal’s depoliticization of everything that you are assigning to it.

  21. Bill, metaphor seems to me to be how one conveys — or constructs — meaning at the most basic level: this is that. The only way for ontological statements to not be tautological is for “this” and “that” to be two different things. We might describe through similitude, but we must define through metaphor. But, as you have suggested, and as Daniel Rodgers gestured toward (but acknowledges that he did not sufficiently argue in Age of Fracture), the metaphors that we use to define the world end up defining us. They don’t just describe what we see, but also determine what we can see. If the governing metaphor for “an” age is “market,” then unless we see something in “market” terms, we might not see it at all. If we say that an ideological conflict is “like” a war in one respect or another, that’s different than saying that it “was” a war — and that’s what the term “culture wars” effectively claims. “Culture” is just an adjective to describe the particular (kind of) war we’re talking about.

    As historians, we (or you, I guess — I am still in training) had better choose our metaphors wisely. Metaphors provide criteria for selection, for including something in an account or excluding it. Yesterday I listened to a discussion on Jackson Lears’s _Rebirth of the Nation_, and the prof raised the question of what might be lost/flattened in a historical account by hewing to a single governing metaphor of “rebirth.” We talked about the extent to which Lears stretched the metaphor, strayed from it, stuck to it.

    Andrew, as far as your work goes — and I think you have said as much here on the blog, though maybe not in these terms — working on the “culture wars” is a way of fighting for ideas. I don’t know if the subject you have chosen, and the metaphor you have inherited, has shaped your approach, or if your approach to ideas made your choice of subject the logical one.

    Does deploying the term “culture wars” end up perpetuating a warlike culture?

    Man, commenting on blog posts is so much more fun than writing these seminar papers…

  22. P.S. — Meant to link to this excerpt from Lakoff and Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By (1980), anthologized in The Production of Reality: Essays and Readings on Social Interaction by Jodi O’Brien (2005). The entire excerpt is accessible in googlebooks (starts on p. 103):

    Metaphors we live by

    I read the Lakoff/Johnson book for a class, and I wasn’t entirely sold on their argument (to borrow a market metaphor!). The authors stretch their own metaphor of metaphor a little bit too far if you ask me — they make too much, I think, of the constitutive metaphorical function of prepositions — but their comments on how metaphors of war reflect and also shape culture seem pertinent here.

  23. To LD – Thanks for the comments, and particularly for reminding me about Rodgers’ attention to metaphor – something I should have thought to mention.

    That sent me back to the blog version of his remarks at the conference, where I found him asserting that metaphors and their contagious qualities are “a realm of intellectual and cultural life that intellectual historians ought to take more seriously than we do.”

    He calls them “analogies with powerful real-life consequences,” and goes on to illustrate the “generative” power of figurative language by giving some examples of how war itself is metaphorized, as in “the fog of war.”

    In doing so he sketches what seems a whole new approach to the much discussed transition or break from a putatively unified ‘60s “Movement” to its fracturing into “identity politics,” as the analogies that had sustained identification could no longer do so — or is it the other way around?

    He writes –

    1960s liberation movements were all about seeing one’s own situation and claims for justice as like that of others. To see the Berkeley campus as another version of racist Mississippi, to see the subjugation of women as just as deep as the oppressions committed in the name of whiteness, to see gays as standing in the same social space as a phalanx of other oppressed persons: the “movement” was built on likeness claims of this sort, and it fell into smaller pieces when the analogies could no longer sustain their weight.

    Often — perhaps always in some sense, I don’t know — putting items into categories involves analogizing. For example, consider how women have been treated as “sex” and “gender,” described as a “minority,” “class,” or “status group,” characterized as an “ethnicity,” “race,” or “people,” analogized to Jews under fascism, or described as an “interest group” with a “feminist ideology,” etc. Each characterization implies closeness or identification with some, and distances them from others.

    In an interesting recent article, Joanne Meyerowitz, “‘How Common Culture Shapes the Separate Lives’: Sexuality, Race, and Mid-Twentieth-Century Social Constructionist Thought” [JAH, 2010] tries to bring theoretical concepts of “intersectionality” from feminist and queer theory and critical legal studies into mainstream intellectual history. She argues that intellectual histories that treat race and sex separately have missed their co-formation as part of a 20th century social constructionist “metanarrative” of “common culture.”

  24. @Bill: Thanks a million for the reference to the Meyerowitz essay. Awesome. – TL

    @Corey: Thanks for the correction on my citation of your work.

    @To all: The philosophical literature on metaphors and analogies is long—dating to Aristotle. It’s one thing to assert that we live by, with, and through metaphors. It’s another prove with any historical precision where they stick—to show _exactly_ how people operate with and in metaphors in their lives. We inherit language structures that do not always precisely fit our subjective intent or meaning. The point of a metaphor is to be universal—to have wide applicability. The business of asserting that we live by metaphors, if applied imprecisely, carries the same dangers as asserting “the mind of ____.” While the use of metaphors fits our kind of post-postmodern theoretical sensibilities (we’re “acknowledging” language theory and constructs), it could get us into the same troubles as the 1960s. …Just thinking out loud and off-the-cuff while I should be grading final papers. – TL

  25. Hi all. Great thread. It’s not lost on me that some of you have been implicitly calling me back to the conversation to discuss the meaning of using the term “culture wars.” (Hello Bill!) I apologize for not having time to respond. I’ll try to work up something as a separate post in the coming weeks. Cheers.

  26. Implicitly? Dude, you got called out by name!

    But, yes, Fine was suitably subtle about it.

    And the culture wars are such an under-discussed issue on this blog, we thought we ought to make some space for you in the conversation. 😉

  27. Andrew – Yes, you’re being called, though I wouldn’t say “called out.” And when I said I’ve struggled with these issues for a long time, I was being quite literal. Was it the scholar in The Canterbury Tales who spoke of the life so short, the craft so long to learn?

    There are many issues in play in this thread, only partially overlapping with the discussion back in March. One is certainly how we understand the relationship between terms used by historical actors and those employed by historians.

    In that earlier discussion, I asked:

    In your project, a central issue seems to be whether the culture wars are your subject matter, and/or your historiographic framework — a metaphor persistently deployed by the historical actors you examine, or the basis for your interpretation, or perhaps explanation, of what went on. These might converge or even be equivalent, but they might be quite different. You say that “the culture wars…are the defining narrative of postmodern America,” but I wonder, whose narrative, theirs or yours?

    In response, Andrew said:

    I think it’s mostly impossible, and rarely desirable, to separate out historical interpretation from historical subject matter. In short, the argument that the culture wars allowed Americans to adjust to social change is both my narrative and the (often unconscious) narrative of culture warriors themselves.

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