Dark Mirror: African Americans and the Federal Writers’ Project explores Black writers’ engagement with the emerging welfare state. J. J. Butts highlights the conflicting understandings of culture and modernity that pervaded the New Deal’s most ambitious and important cultural project of the 1930s, the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP). FWP guidebooks produced by African American writers such as Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, and Ralph Ellison introduced an inclusive, pluralist understanding of the nation’s culture and history. Using sociological discourses of urban pathology, they justified rebuilding landscapes to remedy social ills as part of a broader agenda for modernization. Drawing on archival research and textual analysis, Dark Mirror shows how FWP guidebooks sought to minimize the tensions between pluralism and modernization, often at the expense of the former. It also demonstrates how Black FWP authors responded to these ideas in FWP texts and in their own narrative and documentary writing. Highlighting the deep racial currents undercutting the promises of the welfare state, these texts provide what Richard Wright called a “dark mirror” for the nation, setting up new modes of engagement with liberalism and reshaping African American literature.
Today those who believe in liberal democracy must reexamine and reaffirm their commitments. Here, Charles Anderson probes our urgent concerns and questions. Even those who believe that liberal democracy is the best form of government may think that liberal individualism leads to selfishness, permissiveness, and irresponsibility. Many would teach a cultural or religious counter-ethic to offset the excesses of freedom.
Grounding his view in classic philosophic and religious ideals, Anderson argues that a deeper vision of individuality and freedom can lead to both a sound public philosophy and a worthy personal ethic. In the same way that we as humans try to understand our place in nature and the cosmos, Anderson seeks to understand how we, as unique individuals, can understand our place among our fellow humans. Beginning with friendship and love, he extends his inquiry to the relationships of teaching, community, work, and democracy. Anderson shows how the natural desire of free people to find meaning in relationships with one another can lead to depth and fullness both in private and public life.
A renowned political philosopher updates his classic book on the American political tradition to address the perils democracy confronts today.
The 1990s were a heady time. The Cold War had ended, and America’s version of liberal capitalism seemed triumphant. And yet, amid the peace and prosperity, anxieties about the project of self-government could be glimpsed beneath the surface.
So argued Michael Sandel, in his influential and widely debated book Democracy’s Discontent, published in 1996. The market faith was eroding the common life. A rising sense of disempowerment was likely to provoke backlash, he wrote, from those who would “shore up borders, harden the distinction between insiders and outsiders, and promise a politics to ‘take back our culture and take back our country,’ to ‘restore our sovereignty’ with a vengeance.”
Now, a quarter century later, Sandel updates his classic work for an age when democracy’s discontent has hardened into a country divided against itself. In this new edition, he extends his account of America’s civic struggles from the 1990s to the present. He shows how Democrats and Republicans alike embraced a version of finance-driven globalization that created a society of winners and losers and fueled the toxic politics of our time.
In a work celebrated when first published as “a remarkable fusion of philosophical and historical scholarship” (Alan Brinkley), Sandel recalls moments in the American past when the country found ways to hold economic power to democratic account. To reinvigorate democracy, Sandel argues in a stirring new epilogue, we need to reconfigure the economy and empower citizens as participants in a shared public life.
Despite the success of American life in the last half-century—unprecedented affluence, greater social justice for women and minorities, the end of the Cold War—our politics is rife with discontent. Americans are frustrated with government. We fear we are losing control of the forces that govern our lives, and that the moral fabric of community—from neighborhood to nation—is unraveling around us. What ails democracy in America today, and what can be done about it? Democracy’s Discontent traces our political predicament to a defect in the public philosophy by which we live. In a searching account of current controversies over the role of government, the scope of rights and entitlements, and the place of morality in politics, Michael Sandel identifies the dominant public philosophy of our time and finds it flawed.
The defect, Sandel maintains, lies in the impoverished vision of citizenship and community shared by Democrats and Republicans alike. American politics has lost its civic voice, leaving both liberals and conservatives unable to inspire the sense of community and civic engagement that self-government requires.
In search of a public philosophy adequate to our time, Sandel ranges across the American political experience, recalling the arguments of Jefferson and Hamilton, Lincoln and Douglas, Holmes and Brandeis, FDR and Reagan. He relates epic debates over slavery and industrial capitalism to contemporary controversies over the welfare state, religion, abortion, gay rights, and hate speech. Democracy’s Discontent provides a new interpretation of the American political and constitutional tradition that offers hope of rejuvenating our civic life.
We commonly think of the psychedelic sixties as an explosion of creative energy and freedom that arose in direct revolt against the social restraint and authoritarian hierarchy of the early Cold War years. Yet, as Fred Turner reveals in The Democratic Surround, the decades that brought us the Korean War and communist witch hunts also witnessed an extraordinary turn toward explicitly democratic, open, and inclusive ideas of communication and with them new, flexible models of social order. Surprisingly, he shows that it was this turn that brought us the revolutionary multimedia and wild-eyed individualism of the 1960s counterculture.
In this prequel to his celebrated book From Counterculture to Cyberculture, Turner rewrites the history of postwar America, showing how in the 1940s and ’50s American liberalism offered a far more radical social vision than we now remember. Turner tracks the influential mid-century entwining of Bauhaus aesthetics with American social science and psychology. From the Museum of Modern Art in New York to the New Bauhaus in Chicago and Black Mountain College in North Carolina, Turner shows how some of the most well-known artists and intellectuals of the forties developed new models of media, new theories of interpersonal and international collaboration, and new visions of an open, tolerant, and democratic self in direct contrast to the repression and conformity associated with the fascist and communist movements. He then shows how their work shaped some of the most significant media events of the Cold War, including Edward Steichen’s Family of Man exhibition, the multimedia performances of John Cage, and, ultimately, the psychedelic Be-Ins of the sixties. Turner demonstrates that by the end of the 1950s this vision of the democratic self and the media built to promote it would actually become part of the mainstream, even shaping American propaganda efforts in Europe.
Overturning common misconceptions of these transformational years, The Democratic Surround shows just how much the artistic and social radicalism of the sixties owed to the liberal ideals of Cold War America, a democratic vision that still underlies our hopes for digital media today.
What should the aims of education policy be in the United States and other culturally diverse democracies? Should the foremost aim be to allow the flourishing of social and religious diversity? Or is it more important to foster shared political values and civic virtues?
Stephen Macedo believes that diversity should usually, but not always, be highly valued. We must remember, he insists, that many forms of social and religious diversity are at odds with basic commitments to liberty, equality, and civic flourishing. Liberalism has an important but neglected civic dimension, he argues, and liberal democrats must take care to promote not only well-ordered institutions but also well-ordered citizens. Macedo shows that this responsibility is incompatible with a neutral or hands-off stance toward diversity in general or toward the education of children in particular. Extending the ideas of John Rawls, he defends a "civic liberalism" that supports the legitimacy of reasonable efforts to inculcate shared political virtues while leaving many larger questions of meaning and value to private communities.
Macedo's tough-minded liberal agenda for civic education offers a fundamental challenge to free market libertarians, the religious right, parental rights activists, postmodernists, and many of those who call themselves multiculturalists. This book will become an important resource in the debate about the reform of public education, and in the culture war over the future of liberalism.