The Great Exception
The New Deal and the Limits of American Politics
Princeton University Press 2016
New Books in American StudiesNew Books in EconomicsNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Political ScienceNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in Public PolicyNew Books Network April 18, 2016 Lilian Calles Barger
Jefferson Cowie is the James G. Stahlman professor of history at Vanderbilt University. His book The Great Exception: The New Deal and the Limits of American Politics (Princeton University Press, 2016) interprets the New Deal as a massive but unstable experiment from the main of American political culture. Against arguments that the New Deal was the product of the American penchant for reform, Cowie asserts that it was a remarkable historical detour. The Great Depression and WWII were specific historical circumstances that wrought a short-lived effort for central government intervention in securing collective economic rights. Unions flourished, industrial workers gained job security and good wages, and the country enjoyed a relative amount of political cohesion. Multiple legislative measures and the growth of unions offered a countervailing power against corporate wealth accumulation and promised a bright economic future. Several enduring fissures in political culture would all but undo the New Deal after the 1970s. The long tensions over immigration, religious and racial hostility, the frailty of unions, and the ideology of Jeffersonian individualism remained and assured that the new interventionist role for the state would not last. By examining the birth of New Deal and its decline, Cowie locates a legacy of individual rights that stood against its long-term viability. As the central government has continued to expand under free market ideology, collective initiatives are being led at the local and state level by a cross-class neo-progressivism organizing labor and advocating for immigrants and other minorities. While the New Deal gave way to free market ideology, the future may lie in a new imaginary rising from below.
Lilian Calles Barger, www.lilianbarger.com, is a cultural, intellectual and gender historian. Her current book project is entitled The World Come of Age: Religion, Intellectuals and the Challenge of Human Liberation.