Title: The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society, and Politics
Author: Bruce Schulman
Categories: Cultural History, Political History, Sunbelt, New Right, Conservatism
Place: United States
Time Period: 1969-1984
Bruce Schulman attempts to rehabilitate the importance of the 1970s from its popular image as a "lost decade" between the 1960s activism and the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s. Instead, Schulman argues that the seventies marked a monumental shift in politics, culture, race relations, family life, and religion. Specifically, he points to two broad trends. First was the "Southernization" of the country that swung its political and cultural center of gravity towards the South and Southwest. Second, he charts a pivot away from government and the public sector towards a stronger faith in the market and private sector to solve societal problems.
Schulman begins by noting where society moved from: the liberal postwar consensus of the 1950s and early 1960s that allowed for an activist state. Starting with the 1968 election campaign, Schulman charts how Richard Nixon begins to move away from the liberal consensus by surreptitiously undermining people's faith in government. This came both intentionally (by cunningly downsizing government while creating a smokescreen of support for popular liberal measures without actually fulfilling them) and unintentionally (Schulman argues that Watergate helped more than hurt the Republican party by spurring on a broader distrust of government). Schulman goes on to describe a cultural fracturing, embodied by the move from racial integrationist ideals of the 1960s towards an emphasis on multicultural diversity and ethnic identity politics. This move away from communalism also took the form of increased attention to the individual, which Schulman sees in both New Age spirituality and the "Third Great Awakening" of evangelical revivalism. The evangelical revival also highlighted the growing "Southernization" of popular culture - from country music to Evel Knievel to the Dallas Cowboys.
Schulman describes the Carter years as being a period of national malaise marked by deepening skepticism of authority and the government. A more positive side of this was the feminist movement, which challenged traditional authority and made significant gains such as Title IX during the seventies. With Carter unable to tame stagflation or the energy crisis, people grew more and more disillusioned with government and facilitated the rise of the New Right. Schulman points to the tax revolt of 1978-1981 as a spark that touched off the conservative revolt that launched Reagan to power in 1980. The tax revolts and Reagan's election represented the apex of a decades-long shift from vague anti-liberalism to a coherent, conservative ideology. Reagan's success during his first term brought about the crowning achievement of this movement, as Reagan radically slashed government, cut taxes, and ushered in an aggressive embrace of the private sector and business as providing the engine for social prosperity.
Key Themes and Concepts
- Wants to rehabilitate 1970s from image of a "lost decade"
- Twin processes:
1. "Southernization" of country - both politically and culturally
2. Triumph of Americans' faith in the market over federal government
- Importance of cultural trends and currents
- "Plugging in" - striving for personal fulfillment and identity -> carried on activist spirit of 1960s but focused it on inwards growth
U.S. History Qualifying Exams: Book Summaries
by Cameron Blevins
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