Reconstructing America: The Symbol of America in Modern Thought

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9780300084535: Reconstructing America: The Symbol of America in Modern Thought

For too many people, America has become the primary symbol of all that is grotesque, deadening, and oppressive or, as Heidegger once put it, the "emerging monstrousness of modern times." This image of a degenerate America, constructed by European intellectuals, has been gradually accepted within the United States, for America is now under siege by its own philosophers, literary critics, and postmodern thinkers. It is time, says James Ceaser in this provocative book, to take America back, to reaffirm confidence in our principles, and to remind ourselves that the real Americas opposed to the symbolic one has forged a system of liberal democratic government that has shaped the destiny of the modern world.

With wit and passion, Ceaser traces the origins of the negative images of America, beginning with French scientists in the middle of the eighteenth century who viewed the country as a land of racial and physical degeneracy, and continuing with German thinkers from Hegel to Nietzsche, Spengler, and Heidegger, who viewed America as culturally inferior and a technological wasteland. Ceaser puts these critics of America in a dialogue with the country’s defenders among them Alexander Hamilton, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Leo Strauss. By revealing the sources of the hostility to America, Ceaser undermines the position of its present attackers. He contends that only if we reassert political science rather than cultural and literary criticism as the proper intellectual discipline to direct politics will we free the real America from the symbolic America and vindicate its name.

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From Library Journal:

Ceaser (government and foreign affairs, Univ. of Virgina) distinguishes between the "metaphysical or symbolic" America (the notion of America as a materialistic, decadent country) and the "real" America (America as a preeminent bastion of freedom and opportunity). The negative concept, he argues, originated in Europe?primarily in Germany and France. To flesh out this idea, he traces the thought of pertinent Germans from Hegel to Heidegger ("with passages through Spengler and Junger") and the French from Buffon to Bandrillard ("with passages through Maistre and Kojeve"). An engagingly written excursion through American and European political and intellectual history. this book touches on an important issue in contemporary American society: not only how other countries see America but the negative attitudes prevalent among certain groups, including academics here at home. In view of the climate of opinion surrounding Waco and Oklahoma City, this book's positive appraisal, written in a style accessible to the lay reader, could be of interest to a wide readership.?Leon H. Brody, U.S. Office of Personnel Mgt. Lib., Washingon, D.C.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review:

... splendid.... [an] important book. -- The Wall Street Journal, Adam Wolfson

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