As culture wars pit us against each other, A Great Disorder looks to the myths that have shaped American identity and reveals how they have brought us to the brink of an existential crisis.
Red America and Blue America are so divided they could be two different countries, with wildly diverging views of why government exists and who counts as American. Their ideologies are grounded in different versions of American history, endorsing irreconcilable visions of patriotism and national identity.
A Great Disorder is a bold, urgent work that helps us make sense of today’s culture wars through a brilliant reconsideration of America’s foundational myths and their use in contemporary politics. Famous for his trilogy on the Myth of the Frontier, Richard Slotkin identifies five myths, born of different eras, that have shaped our conception of what it means to be American: the myths of the Frontier, the Founding, the Civil War (which he breaks into two opposing camps, Emancipation and the Lost Cause), and the Good War, embodied by the multiethnic platoon fighting for freedom. His argument is that while Trump and his MAGA followers have played up a frontier-inspired hostility to the federal government and rallied around Confederate symbols to champion a racially exclusive definition of American nationality, Blue America, taking its cue from the protest movements of the 1960s, envisions a limitlessly pluralistic country in which the federal government is the ultimate enforcer of rights and opportunities. American history—and the foundations of our democracy—have become a battleground. It is not clear at this time which vision will prevail.
Throughout his storied career, Richard Slotkin has worked tirelessly to pierce America’s fictions with facts. His new work chronicles the creation of our central myths and shows quite clearly how they have been mobilized by both sides of the contemporary culture wars. A Great Disorder is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the past, present, and future possibilities of American democracy.
Here we see a master at work: Richard Slotkin takes five foundational myths—the stories that bind together the American experience—and explores how each one has shaped our shared history and infuses the present. A provocative culmination of Slotkin’s field-defining arguments on the place of violence in creating America, this book is a kind of decoder ring for understanding the ideologies, politics, and cultural productions of the current moment.
Richard Slotkin has shown, in three celebrated books, how the myths of the frontier have shaped American history, culture, politics, and institutions. Now, he reveals how America’s foundational myths have profoundly shaped its culture wars since the late 1990s. This book is a masterpiece, a fitting capstone to an extraordinary career. It should be required reading for all Americans, for it will change our understanding of the United States today.
A supple and dazzling paean to the democracy our mythology once inspired, then impeded, and now fatally distorts. It affirms W. E. B. Du Bois’s truth of truths: ‘the contested meanings of the color-line have been fundamental to the shaping of American nationality, politics—and mythology.’
- 528 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
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