fragments of an attempted writing.
A superb article on American exceptionalism.


  1. He mentions Henry Steele Commager's bit about health; Commager (a liberal who argued, according to the Wiki, that the funding of the CIA was unconstitutional) was father-in-law to the (by turns) New Leftist/Freudian/New-Oxford-Review type/Populist/Transcendentalist/European-style conservative historian Christopher Lasch, sometime friend and colleague of Eugene Genovese. Once I was in a used bookstore and came across a recent book of quotes by "Great Americans" on the Constitution; Commager was in it, next to, I think, the worse of the Roosevelts, saying something that must have been pulled out of context.

    As an aside, are you familiar with the "Why is there no socialism in the United States" question among historians?

  2. I read Lasch back in the day. That is very interesting (esp. the Genovese, the Marxist turned Catholic conservative of sorts).

    To answer your question. Not really. I've recently read what I could stomach of John Nichols' The S Word but he is too much a wine and Brie liberal writing pep rally like prose for me to stomach for long. I just started Subterranean Fire: A History of Working-Class Radicalism in the United States by Sharon Smith, which is much better. In the last year I have read about ten or so of the University of Illinois Press' Working Class in American History volumes, along with maybe another 10 volumes dealing with U.S. labor history. Almost all of these authors deal with the question, but the way you pose the question suggests that there is some more formal debate with which I am not familiar. I have read perhaps 30 books of American labor history in my lifetime now, 20 in the last 18 months or so, maybe half of those titles from a university press, so I am still very much a novice in terms of getting acquainted with the ins and outs of the field. What is your take on the question?

  3. The "why no socialism" question isn't a formal debate, but has been asked repeatedly by American historians since Marx. Eric Foner's historiographical treatment of the question is seminal:

    Even though I'm supposed to be trained as an American historian, my training is mostly in culture and religion, so you've probably read more labor history than I have. Still, my take is that it's a combination of racial and ethnic heterogeneity, repeated false revolutions and liberative movements, and a concern for what David Montgomery calls "workers' control" - that is, that American labor has historically been more concerned with control over work conditions than with money.

    (If I may ask, what else in labor history have you read recently? My e-mail's on the profile, if you don't feel like posting a list here.)

  4. Adam,

    I had heard somewhere of the Foner but never read it. Thanks.

    Are you on the devil's weaving network Facebook? I keep a list of my current reading there. Otherwise I have thought of putting together a sort of bibliography of American labor history based on things I have read, but that will have to wait until after finals next week.


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