Daniel T. Rodgers

 

On his book Age of Fracture

Cover Interview of March 30, 2011

The wide angle

Age of Fracture began in my attempts to explain modern America to myself and to my students.  Having made a pledge that I would take my courses right up to the present moment, I spent much of this era trying to figure out what was happening as the world shifted beneath us.

Conservative writers rejoiced that the nation was finally coming to its senses after the cultural upheavals of the 1960s.  Liberals protested that the new-right think tanks were simply putting into circulation the best pseudo-ideas their money could by.  Neither explanation worked for me. Both liberalism and conservatism were transformed in these years, and there were sometimes uncanny resemblances and crossovers in their remaking.

The nation was not becoming, in any straightforward way, more conservative.  It was becoming something unprecedented.  It was thinking in smaller, more individualist pieces than at any earlier time in its modern history.  It was trying to get through the extraordinary hazards of the late twentieth century with fragments.

There were fractures on the ground of society and politics, too.  The polarization of the media as the Walter Cronkite generation of news broadcaster passed from the scene was a striking fact of the age.  With the breakup of network television into wired-in, micro-communities of like-minded others, arguments became more shrill and polarized.  Secession is in the air once again.  Communities have walls, gates, and security guards.  But this is not as unusual in American history as it appears.  Social and political polarization has been a fact of much of our past.  It is not to be dismissed.  What is new is the very fracturing of the words and categories by which we try to grasp social reality.