Synopses & Reviews
For too many people, America has become the primary symbol of all that is grotesque, deadening, and oppressive. It is time, says James Ceaser in this provocative book, to take America back, to reaffirm confidence in our principles, and to remind ourselves that the real America-as opposed to the symbolic one-has forged a system of liberal democratic government that has shaped the destiny of the modern world.A splendid, . . . important book.-Adam Wolfson, Wall Street Journal A fascinating compendium of misconceptions about America, a catalog of expressions of European anxiety and paranoia that may be followed down to the historical present. . . . Ceaser's knowledge of European political traditions is prodigious, and he puts it to excellent use. . . . Like all good histories, his is motivated by an impassioned concern for our precarious present.-Richard Wolin, The New RepublicAn important book . . . about the European image of the United States, showing the ways in which philosophers of both left and right have constructed a symbolic America often bearing little resemblance to the place itself. This] wryly written . . . book is a timely corrective to loose thought in the academy and a candid appeal to reason.-John S. Gardner, The Weekly StandardGracefully written and provocative.-Solomon L. Wisenberg, Wilson Quarterly
For too many people, America has become the primary symbol of all that is grotesque, deadening, and oppressive--or, as Heidegger once put it, the "emerging monstrousness of modern times." This image of a degenerate America, constructed by European intellectuals, has been gradually accepted within the United States, for America is now under siege by its own philosophers, literary critics, and postmodern thinkers. It is time, says James Ceaser in this provocative book, to take America back, to reaffirm confidence in our principles, and to remind ourselves that the real Americas opposed to the symbolic one has forged a system of liberal democratic government that has shaped the destiny of the modern world.
With wit and passion, Ceaser traces the origins of the negative images of America, beginning with French scientists in the middle of the eighteenth century who viewed the country as a land of racial and physical degeneracy, and continuing with German thinkers from Hegel to Nietzsche, Spengler, and Heidegger, who viewed America as culturally inferior and a technological wasteland. Ceaser puts these critics of America in a dialogue with the country's defenders--among them Alexander Hamilton, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Leo Strauss. By revealing the sources of the hostility to America, Ceaser undermines the position of its present attackers. He contends that only if we reassert political science rather than cultural and literary criticism as the proper intellectual discipline to direct politics will we free the real America from the symbolic America and vindicate its name.