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Debating the End of History

The Marketplace, Utopia, and the Fragmentation of Intellectual Life

2012
Author:

David W. Noble

Debating the End of History

Why the global marketplace doesn’t—and can’t—provide the utopian world it promises

David W. Noble explains that modern people assume there will be perpetual economic growth because such a utopian conviction is the necessary foundation for bourgeois culture. Noble exposes the cost of the segregation of the physical sciences from the humanities and social sciences, while demonstrating the required movement of the humanities toward the ecological vision of a single, interconnected world.

This is a major book by an important American studies scholar who takes a long view of U.S. and transnational history and culture while making important connections to significant contemporary ideas and movements such as neoliberalism and Tea Party politics. David W. Noble makes a compelling case for the continuing significance of the metaphor of two worlds for understanding the neoliberal disorder around us.

Shelley Streeby

Why do modern people assume that there will be perpetual economic growth? Because, David W. Noble tells us in this provocative study of cultural criticism, such a utopian conviction is the necessary foundation for bourgeois culture. One can imagine the existence of modern middle classes only as long as the capitalist marketplace is expanding. For Noble, the related—and relevant—question is, how can the middle classes believe that a finite earth is an environment in which infinite growth is possible? The answer, which Noble so painstakingly charts, is nothing less than a genealogy of the uses and abuses of knowledge that lie at the heart of so many of our political problems today.

As far back as Plato and as recently as Alan Greenspan, Noble finds proponents of the idea of a world of independent, rational individuals living in timeless simplicity, escaping from an old world of interdependence and generations. Such notions, although in sync with Newtonian science, comes up against the subsequent conclusions of geology, biology, and the physics of Einstein. In a survey of the responses to this quandary of historians, economists, literary critics, and ecologists, Noble reveals how this confrontation, and its implications for a single global marketplace, has forced certain academic disciplines into unnatural—and untenable—positions.

David Noble’s work exposes the cost—not academic at all—of the segregation of the physical sciences from the humanities and social sciences, even as it demonstrates the required movement of the humanities toward the ecological vision of a single, interconnected world.

Debating the End of History

David W. Noble is professor emeritus of American studies at the University of Minnesota. He is the author of several books, including Death of a Nation: American Culture and the End of Exceptionalism (Minnesota, 2002) and The End of American History: Democracy, Capitalism, and the Metaphor of Two Worlds in Anglo-American Historical Writing, 1880–1980 (Minnesota, 1985).


David R. Roediger is professor of history at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. He is the author of How Race Survived U.S. History: From Settlement and Slavery to the Obama Phenomenon; Colored White: Transcending the Racial Past; and Toward the Abolition of Whiteness: Essays on Race, Politics, and Working Class History.

David R. Roediger is professor of history and African American studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana–Champaign.

Debating the End of History

This is a major book by an important American studies scholar who takes a long view of U.S. and transnational history and culture while making important connections to significant contemporary ideas and movements such as neoliberalism and Tea Party politics. David W. Noble makes a compelling case for the continuing significance of the metaphor of two worlds for understanding the neoliberal disorder around us.

Shelley Streeby

An account of [Noble’s] break not just with bourgeois economics but with the progressive mythology of humanity’s forward march out of history into stable societies reliant on endless economic expansion.

Bookforum

Reveals the author to be a deep, creative, and exceptional thinker who stresses that society has gone beyond postmodernism, poststructuralism, and the concept that progress and economic expansion is a universal panacea--a wave of the future.

CHOICE

Debating the End of History

Contents


Foreword David R. Roediger
Acknowledgments

1. Two-World Metaphors, from Plato to Alan Greenspan

2. Historians against History

3. Economists Discover a New New World

4. Literary Critics Become Cultural Critics

5. Ecologists on Why History Will Never End

6. When Prophecy Fails


Notes
Index