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Christopher Capozzola

Uncle Sam Wants You

World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen

University Press 2008

New Books in American StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Military HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network July 25, 2008 Marshall Poe

I confess I sometimes wonder where we got in the habit of proclaiming, usually with some sort of righteous indignation, that we have the...

I confess I sometimes wonder where we got in the habit of proclaiming, usually with some sort of righteous indignation, that we have the “right” to this or that as citizens. I know that the political theorists of the eighteenth century wrote a lot about “rights,” and that “rights” made their way into the the U.S. and French constitutions. But when did they begin to dominate political discourse in the way they do today? Christopher Capozzola has written a terrific book tracing the rights reflex to the aftermath of World War I. It’s called Uncle Sam Wants You: World War I and the Making of The Modern American Citizen (Oxford UP, 2008). The book focuses on a particular aspect of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American political culture that Chris calls “coercive voluntarism”: putting pressure on one’s confederates to “voluntarily” participate in a state-sponsored enterprise. He finds echoes of it throughout the American experience in World War I, and sees its fallout as one of the origins of rights talk. I can’t force you to read this book, but if I could I would.

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