Ever since Henry Luce, the publisher of "Time" and "Life," proclaimed in 1941 that the 20th century is the "American Century," many Americans have been trying to understand their role in it. In a reinterpretation of America's rise to world power, this text shows how Americans appropriated the 20th century; America's ascension was not the result of Europe's self-destruction. By the Second World War, Olivier Zunz argues, American policymakers, corporate managers, engineers, and social scientists were managing the country from within a powerful matrix of institutions devoted to fostering new knowledge. These men and women promoted a new social contract of abundance which was capable, in theory, of deradicalizing class, and their efforts helped create an American middle class defined by consumer behaviour. In the name of democracy, they promoted a controversial ideology that stressed the value of respecting differences among people. The result was a culture that allowed Americans to intervene on the world scene with the justification that they were right in doing so. The text explores the struggles of these American elites as they tried to maintain a democratic, modern mass society.
While acknowledging the successes of their plans, it also reveals the limits of a system ultimately benefiting an abstract "average" consumer. Zunz goes on to show how their principles were tested on postwar Japan while Americans debated the respective merits of modernization and individualism. This book restores an appreciation of the forces that produced a unique period in American history and, at the same time, exposes the internal contradictions that would ultimately undermine Americans' belief in their own ideology.
Preface: "The New Colossus" Pt. 1: Making the Century American Ch. 1: Producers, Brokers, and Users of Knowledge Ch. 2: Defining Tools of Social Intelligence Ch. 3: Inventing the Average American Pt. 2: The Social Contract of the Market Ch. 4: Turning out Consumers Ch. 5: Deradicalizing Class Pt. 3: Embattled Identities Ch. 6: From Voluntarism to Pluralism Ch. 7: Enlarging the Polity Pt. 4: Exporting American Principles Ch. 8: Individualism and Modernization Ch. 9: The Power of Uncertainty Acknowledgments Notes Index