America in Theory

America in Theory : Humanists Look at Public Life

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The appeal to a shared sense of origins and national purpose is part of the rhetoric of American life. Every new item on the social agenda--from the New Deal, to the Space Program, to affirmative action--has attempted to justify itself as an expression of American ideals. But the historical source of "the American experience" is a matter of dispute: was it the founding documents, New England puritanism, transcendentalism, the sentiment of individualism, the myth of America as a redeemer nation? Indeed, the whole idea of explaining our experience by a single impulse may itself be misconceived. If so, should we continue to justify public policy on these grounds? Drawing together stimulating and original articles by such noted writers as McGeorge Bundy, John Diggins, E.L. Doctorow, Denis Donoghue, Gerald Holton, and David Richards, America in Theory examines the extent to which our perceptions of the past have dictated, and should continue to dictate, the way we address the problems of the present. The essays consider general issues--can we base public policy on an "original intent" of the Framers? Is there an "American way"? How do you reconcile the tension between a fixed tradition and a pluralistic nation? How do our current concerns with theories of interpretation shape our reading of the constitution and a reconsideration of the past? Norman Dorsen points out that many recent policy debates have reached an impasse because opposing forces base their arguments on contradictory interpretations of the American past. And John Brademas, former U.S. Representative and current President of New York University, traces the history of federal support for education and offers a penetrating critique of Reagan's attempts to curtail this support. In addition, there are chapters on civil rights, foreign policy, the Equal Rights Amendment, nuclear arms, and affirmative action. As these thought-provoking essays reveal, the myths and theories that make up our idea of America are still evolving, are still open to debate two centuries after our nation's founding. Anyone interested in the meaning of the American experience, the recent direction of public policy both foreign and domestic, and the futre of America will find this volume provocative and insightful.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 318 pages
  • 146 x 210 x 30mm | 539.77g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • 0195053966
  • 9780195053968

About Leslie Berlowitz

About the Editors Leslie C. Berlowitz is Director of the New York University Humanities Council and Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs. Denis Donoghue holds the Henry James Chair of Letters in the Department of English at New York University. Louis Menand teaches in the English Department of Queens College, City University of New York.show more