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Inventing the "American Way"

Wendy Wall

Published in print February 2008 | ISBN: 9780195329100
Published online January 2008 | e-ISBN: 9780199870226 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195329100.001.0001
Inventing the "American Way"

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For fifty years, scholars and popular commentators have portrayed the decades immediately following World War II as a time of unusually deep and well-grounded national unity, a period when postwar affluence and the Cold War combined to naturally produce a remarkable level of agreement about the nation’s core values. This book challenges that vision of inevitable consensus. Americans were united, it argues, not so much by identical beliefs, as by a shared conviction that a distinctive “American Way” existed and that reinforcing such common ground was essential to the future of the nation. This book also suggests that the roots of that consensus political culture lie, not in the postwar years, but in the turbulent decade that preceded U.S. entry into World War II. The social and economic chaos of the Depression years alarmed a diverse array of groups, as did the rise of two “alien” ideologies: fascism and communism. In this context, Americans of divergent backgrounds and agendas seized on the notion of a unifying “American Way” and sought to convince their fellow citizens of its merits.

This book traces the competing efforts of business groups, politicians, leftist intellectuals, interfaith proponents, foreign policy strategists, civil rights activists and many others over nearly three decades to shape public understandings of the “American Way.” It explores the politics behind cultural productions ranging from The Adventures of Superman to the Freedom Train that circled the nation in the late 1940s, and locates the origins of phrases such as “free enterprise” and the “Judeo-Christian tradition” that remain central to American political life. In uncovering the culture wars of the mid-twentieth century, it sheds new light on a period that proved pivotal for America’s national identity and that provides the unspoken backdrop for debates over multiculturalism, national unity, and public values today.

Keywords: American Way; national identity; consensus; interfaith; Freedom Train; fascism; communism; free enterprise; national unity; Depression; World War II; Cold War

Book.  384 pages.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of the Americas

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Table of Contents

Introduction in Inventing the "American Way"

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“Are We a Nation?” in Inventing the "American Way"

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Industrial Democracy versus Free Enterprise in Inventing the "American Way"

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In Search of Common Ground in Inventing the "American Way"

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The Spectre of “Divide and Conquer” in Inventing the "American Way"

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“The House I Live In” in Inventing the "American Way"

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United America in Inventing the "American Way"

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The Freedom Train in Inventing the "American Way"

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Crusading for Freedom at Home and Abroad in Inventing the "American Way"

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Conclusion: The Limits of Consensus in Inventing the "American Way"

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