Alan Brinkley

Alan Brinkley whose Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin and the Great Depression came out in 1983, is Dunwalke Associate Professor of American History at Harvard.


Alan Brinkley, 7 January 1988

The history of the United States since the close of World War Two has so far produced relatively little in the way of academic scholarship and even less in the way of serious scholarly argument. There are, however, two major issues that have produced both: the origins of the Cold War and the Eisenhower presidency – issues that have been the subject of extensive literature and extensive controversy and for which there are now not only well-established orthodox views but fully-developed revisionist stances as well.

Total Solutions

Alan Brinkley, 18 July 1985

About ten years ago, I heard Edward Thompson give a public lecture at Harvard University. He was not then an internationally renowned spokesman for the peace movement: there was at that point no peace movement of any consequence to be a spokesman for. He was, however, one of the most influential historians of his time. Thompson was speaking in one of the university’s largest lecture halls, and the room was full to overflowing. People were sitting on the floor, standing against the walls, spilling out of the doors into the corridors. Unlike audiences at many academic lectures, the men and women who had come to this one were overwhelmingly young. Many were graduate students (in history and other social sciences) for whom Thompson’s scholarship – above all, his great book The Making of the English Working Class – had been an intellectual inspiration. But many were also people in some way affected by the anti-war movement and the other upheavals of the Sixties; and for them, his work was also a political inspiration.’

God bless America

Alan Brinkley, 2 May 1985

For nearly ten years Americans watched – with mingled fascination, horror, anger and incredulity – as the Iranian Revolution transformed a nation once assumed to be firmly moored to the world of the modern West into an apparent bastion of anti-Western, anti-modern, fundamentalist values. It was an event that seemed to confound the normal patterns of analysis; and the only explanation with which most Americans have since felt comfortable has been one that stresses a cultural irrationality rooted in the oddities of the Islamic mind or the peculiarities of the Persian character. A rational society, Americans believe, does not turn its back on modern development. It does not embrace fanaticism. It does not reject progress. During roughly the same years, the United States itself has experienced a resurgence of Christian fundamentalism which, if far less powerful and far less radical than its Islamic counterparts, has raised some of the same challenges to secular, scientific values and some of the same threats to what most Americans have come to consider the norms of modernity. And when American liberals attempt to understand what is happening in their own society, they begin with many of the same assumptions they use to explain fundamentalist fervour in the Middle East. In America, as in Iran, fundamentalism is essentially irrational, even pathological, the product of alarming cultural or psychological maladjustments. For in America, as elsewhere, rational men and women do not reject progress.

Keeping out

Alan Brinkley, 7 March 1985

Intervention, according to Hedley Bull, is ‘dictatorial or coercive interference, by an outside party or parties, in the sphere of jurisdiction of a sovereign state, or more broadly of an independent political community’. And if there is any principle on which the international community can be said to agree, it is that intervention, so defined, is legally and morally illegitimate. Every nation, no matter what its size or power, is entitled to internal sovereignty. All states have an obligation to refrain from violating the sovereignty of others. It is one of the epochal changes in the nature of International relations that this idea, so recently dismissed as a visionary dream by many of the world’s most powerful nations, has become the foundation of modern international law.

America is back

Alan Brinkley, 1 November 1984

Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale have presented the American electorate with as clear an ideological choice as any set of Presidential candidates in the 20th century. The two men disagree fundamentally on their prescriptions for the economy, their approaches to national defence, their views of foreign policy, their stances on social issues. Above all, they differ in their philosophies of government. Reagan has built a career on denunciations of the state and celebrations of the possibilities of unfettered individualism. Mondale has wedded himself equally firmly to the belief that government can and must be a forceful instrument for social progress. For much of the past year, therefore, it seemed likely, even inevitable, that the 1984 Election would serve as a referendum on the divergent philosophies of the two major parties. Democratic candidates in the early going talked incessantly about their visions of the role of government. Both the Democratic and Republican platforms took pains to point out how starkly each differed from the other in its view of the state. The columnist Richard Reeves predicted in February that the contest for the Presidency would be decided by a single issue: what Americans think of the President’s statement that ‘government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.’ This would be, he claimed, an ‘ideological election’, in which voters would face the starkest choice they had confronted since 1936.

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