This sweeping history of twentieth-century America follows the changing and often conflicting ideas about the fundamental nature of American society: Is the United States a social melting pot, as our civic creed warrants, or is full citizenship somehow reserved for those who are white and of the "right" ancestry? Gary Gerstle traces the forces of civic and racial nationalism, arguing that both profoundly shaped our society.
After Theodore Roosevelt led his Rough Riders to victory during the Spanish American War, he boasted of the diversity of his men's origins- from the Kentucky backwoods to the Irish, Italian, and Jewish neighborhoods of northeastern cities. Roosevelt's vision of a hybrid and superior "American race," strengthened by war, would inspire the social, diplomatic, and economic policies of American liberals for decades. And yet, for all of its appeal to the civic principles of inclusion, this liberal legacy was grounded in "Anglo-Saxon" culture, making it difficult in particular for Jews and Italians and especially for Asians and African Americans to gain acceptance.
Gerstle weaves a compelling story of events, institutions, and ideas that played on perceptions of ethnic/racial difference, from the world wars and the labor movement to the New Deal and Hollywood to the Cold War and the civil rights movement. We witness the remnants of racial thinking among such liberals as FDR and LBJ; we see how Italians and Jews from Frank Capra to the creators of Superman perpetuated the New Deal philosophy while suppressing their own ethnicity; we feel the frustrations of African-American servicemen denied the opportunity to fight for their country and the moral outrage of more recent black activists, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer, and Malcolm X.
Gerstle argues that the civil rights movement and Vietnam broke the liberal nation apart, and his analysis of this upheaval leads him to assess Reagan's and Clinton's attempts to resurrect nationalism. Can the United States ever live up to its civic creed? For anyone who views racism as an aberration from the liberal premises of the republic, this book is must reading.
List of Figures xiAcknowledgments xiiiINTRODUCTIONCHAPTER 1: Theodore Roosevelt?s Racialized Nation, 1890-1900 14A History of the American ''Race'' 17War, Renewal, and the Problem of the ''Smoked Yankee'' 25CHAPTER 2: Civic Nationalism and Its Contradictions, 1890-1917 44''True Americanism'' 47Racial Dilemmas 59The New Nationalism 65CHAPTER: Hardening the Boandaries of the Nation, 1917-1929 81War and Discipline 8''Keeping Pure the Blood of America'' 95Civic Nationalism in the New Racial Regime 115Aborting the New Nationalism 122CHAPTER 4: The Rooseveltion Nation Ascendant, 1930-1940 128A Kinder and Gentler Nation Builder 131Radicalizing the Civic Nationalist Creed 139Conservative Counterattack 156The Survival of Racialized Nationalism 162CHAPTER 5: Good War, Race War, 1941-1945 187The Good War 189Race War 201''Something Drastic Should Be Done'': The Military?s Hidden Race War 210Combat and White Male Comradeship 220CHAPTER 6: The Cold War, Anticommunism, and Nation in Flux, 1946-1960 28War, Repression, and Nation Building 241The Red Scare and the Decline of Racial Nationalism 246Racial Nationalism Redux: The Case of Immigration Reform 256CHAPTER 7: Civil Rights, White Resistance, and Black Nationalism, 1960-1968 268Civil Rights and Civic Nationalism 270''I Question America'': The Crisis in Atlantic City 286''Speaking as a Victim of This American System'' 295CHAPTER 8: Vietnam, Cultural Revolt, and the Collapse of the Rooseveltion Nation, 1968-1975 311A Catastrophic War 313The Spread of Anti-Americanism and the Revolt againstAssimilation 327The Collapse of the Rooseveltian Nation 342EPILOGUE: Beyond the Rooseveltion Nation, 1975-2000 347Varieties of Multiculturalism 349''A Springtime of Hope'': Ronald Reagan and the Nationalist Renaissance 357Reviving the Liberal Nation 365Notes 375Index 439
Gerstle does provide some more interesting examples to support his dichotomy. It is grimly interesting to learn that Martin Dies, the first Red Scare politician, called for the deportation of Japanese Americans. There is the story of Superman, created by two Jews, the story of an alien who passes as an ordinary Wasp. There are some interesting comments about Frank Capra and Dorothea Lange, and there is the interesting suggestion that the segregated army in the second world war isolated African-Americans from the general sense of male comraderie. It is interesting to point out that Italian American director Frank Capra's Mr. Deeds Comes to Town portrays a New York inhabited entirely by Protestants. He is well aware of recent scholarship by people such ad David Roediger, Alexander Saxton, Noel Ignatiev and Theodore Allen that asks why non-WASP Americans from Celtic, Eastern and Southern Europe are viewed as fellow "white" citizens when for much of American history they could have been denounced as Catholic proletarian scum.
But on the whole this book has some problems. Much of it has a padded feel as we have reasonable, somewhat conventional accounts of Progressivism, the first world war, Herbert Hoover, the New Deal, McCarthyism. There is little here that is actually new. (There is little new archival evidence, beyond some moving letters in which African-Americans almost beg an indifferent authority for the right to fight for their country). I agree with Gerstle's pessimistic conclusion that the civil rights era was bound to end in disappointment because white Americans were not willing to pay the price for integration. But simply discussing the story of the 1964 Democratic convention, and the ruminations of X and Carmichael do not take us far enough. Gerstle, better known as a social historian, should have used considerably more of that here. Over the past decade Gary Gerstle has published a number of articles which promises to take a new look at the acculturation of immigrants in American society and to look at such concepts as racism, multiculturalism and nationalism. Looking at this book one finds that there is to be a companion volume which looks at the political incorporation of immigrants. One can only hope that book shows more research and a greater profundity. ""In this book Gary Gerstle organizes his narrative of American history through two threads of nationalism: racial and civic. According to the author, Theodore Roosvelt established a prototype of American nation, the Rooseveltian nation (in Gerstle's phrase), in which racial nationalism excludes several manority groups such as Asians and African-Americans and at the same time includes them in the body politic. FDR encouraged the civic nationalism to radicalize itself to promote economic reforms. The Cold War enabled the nation to invite Jewish and Eastern European people by intensifying an anticommunistic version of the civic nationalism. Antiwar activism led by New Left, Black Power movements, and the ethnic revival resulted in collapse of the Rooseveltian nation.Gerstle makes extensive research efforts and full use of recent fruits of social history such as whiteness studies. He defines the nature of civic and racial nationalisms as not rigid and fixed ideologies but as fluid sets of languages which could be used for various purpose of legitimation by diverse groups. For example, he argues that CIO and the early Civil Rights Movement used the rhetoric of civic nationalism in order to legitimate their claim for rights as American citizens. Gerstle insists that concepts of race in the racial nationalism also change by time and place. His treatment of the two nationalism is dynamic and inspiring.This book, however, is not very exciting in comparison to his previous fascinating and inspiring book (Working-Class Americanism, 1989) and articles (for example, "The Protean Character of American Liberalism," American Historical Review, 1994, and "Liberty, Coercion,..." Journal of American History, 1997). This book reduces most events and phenomena in the twentieth-century American history into "either" civic or racial nationalism. As a result, it often loses historical complexities which were vividly described in the author's book on working-class people's various uses of Americanism rhetoric). Subtle, complicated, and sometimes contradictory aspects of working-class or African-American movements are interpreted only as either nationalistic or anti-American. I feel little difficulties in finding fresh and vivid analyses of multi-faceted historical phenomena which I could have found in his previous writings. His method in this book is a kind not of "from the bottom up" but of "from the top down" history.I cannot think that his conceptualization of the two nationalisms could best describe American history. In most of his narrative Gerstle regards the racial nationalism as opposed to the civic one. The civic nationalism, however, not only opposes but also complements the racial. For example, antebellum nativists discriminated the Irish on a basis of patriotic language that they are loyal to the Pope rather than to the American republic. Anti-Affirmative Action arguments, disguising itself with a language of equal citizenship right, often depend on racistic premises (see, for instance, George Lipsitz' book The Posessive Investment in Whiteness, 1998). Moreover, the civic nationalism could promote interests of American citizens but could not embrace noncitizens in or out of the United States. Therefore, we can see that the civic nationalist discourse legitimate both exploiting immigrants---legal and undocumented---as low-wage labor and at the same time excluding them from benefits of citizenship rights. When we pay attention to the above-mentioned facets of the history of American nation, could we really conceptualize the civic ideal as a separate and distinct discourse from the racial nationalism? I think that Gerstle underestimates the complicated and intertwined nature of relations between the civic nationalism and the racial. ""Ok, this is just a quick review. The other three reviews are all fair in their own way (even the negative one...). However, I wanted to add an important point. Students enjoy this book (for a class assigned book). The level of argument is high enough to challenge without being too difficult to follow (with some help). The author's bias is enough to keep it interesting without overwhelming. Best of all, the seemingly simple idea of "what it means to be an American" has an insidious way of seeping into everyone's thinking in a very destabilizing way. Can you be "un-Swedish, un-Czech, un-Chinese, un-Indian...?" but for some reason being "un-American" makes more sense. Scholars and teachers may be less than impressed with such a simple and un-nuanced division, but the typical 21 year old college student can generate some interesting conclusions when presented with it. "