Daniel T. Rodgers


On his book Age of Fracture

Cover Interview of March 30, 2011


Many readers of Age of Fracture will have a hard time setting aside the nightly news images of the polarized and fractious politics that suddenly erupted during the election of 2010.  The massive “yes we can” gatherings of 2008 were gone; a defensive desire to protect one’s own from the grasp of some distant “they” had risen into ascendance.

The Tea Party is a brand new political form—a compound of grassroots anger, politicized television, and cannily deployed wealth—which carries a very old anti-government message.  It is a creature of the economic turmoil which gave it birth.

Still, the ability of the Tea Party’s libertarian fervor to carry traction in a moment of economic crisis should catch us by surprise.  Franklin Roosevelt responded to a much deeper crisis during the Great Depression of the 1930s by preaching the interdependence of every individual’s economic fate on everyone else’s.

Those sentiments endure.  Social thought is never one-dimensional, never without its dissent and possibilities for change.  But dominant ideas matter.  The shrinking of collective responsibilities and unhinging of collective purposes that the age of fracture accomplished is both the ground on which Tea Party libertarianism organizes and the loudest of its messages.

Age of Fracture is a history of our time, not a prescription for the future.

I did not write this book out of nostalgia for mid-twentieth century social thought, with its heavy Cold War overlay and its stress on social conformity.  Much of that is gone and with good riddance.  When concepts of structure grow too strong, they tyrannize over individual imaginations.  When they grow too weak, they lose any serious relationship to the real worlds of power and institutions.

I wrote this book not with nostalgia but hope: that in looking back on the ways in which one powerful set of assumptions gave way and was replaced by another—by looking hard at the dynamics, accidents, polemics, simplifications, and acts of imagination that shaped the social thinking of our times—we might find a better balance for the future.

© 2011 Dan Rodgers