Andrea Friedman’s Citizenship in Cold War America is a valuable contribution to the literature on the politics of citizenship, and it offers new evidence that the alleged Cold War consensus was more wishful thinking than fact. Her book joins recent work in the “Cold War civil rights” field in showing how marginalized Americans capitalized upon the domestic politics of the Cold War, and its own language of liberal democracy, in order to make claims upon the state. Friedman is careful to illustrate how some of these claims were more successful than others, but she suggests that each one, in different ways, laid bare the “contradictions” of the Cold War state, which had tasked itself with safeguarding freedom but was at the same time obsessed with national security.
Friedman’s argument, that individuals were able to levee challenges on the national security state in the 1950s on the basis of citizenship and civil liberties, unfolds through a variety of well-chosen case studies. One chapter, for example, tells the story of Annie Lee Moss, a government worker whom Edward R. Murrow defended after being targeted by Joseph McCarthy. Moss was able to make appeals for justice in ways that disarmed the practices of McCarthyite anticommunism by invoking racial liberalism and conventional ideas about [End Page 773] gender. In another chapter, Friedman examines the politics of Puerto Rican nationalism. She illustrates convincingly the ways in which such a political movement could both be marginalized by a dominant political culture consumed with American exceptionalism and also be aided by a popular definition of citizenship based upon freedom and self-determination.
If there is a fault to Friedman’s excellent work, it is that some implications of the Cold War’s language of freedom are circumscribed by her attention to the “state” as an origin and locus of power. The idea that the ways in which challenges to Cold War authorities were rooted in the language of freedom had its own kind of governmentality dwells beneath the surface of nearly every chapter, but it perhaps sees the most light in Friedman’s exploration of Frederic Wertham, the psychologist famous for his crusade against comic books in the 1950s. Wertham’s politics were more socialist than moralistic, and Friedman rightly and convincingly argues that Wertham’s challenges to the individualistic social theories of the time were misconstrued and ill applied because they could only be understood in the context of a discourse that proposed individual solutions to societal problems. But because of her chosen focus, Friedman gives short shrift to Wertham’s own observation that the state might exercise power in ways that structure social relations differently. In his case, Wertham sought to “make national security social” as a means to forward social justice (p. 191). In her case studies of resistance, Friedman shows us that the state did not have a monopoly on defining citizenship or in attempting to shape the conduct of citizens. If we read between the lines, we can also see that both its admirers and its critics understood as much, even as they sought to impose their own overlapping and conflicting forms of liberalism that might govern Americans.
Friedman’s work makes an indisputably valuable contribution to discussions about “repression” and “consensus” in the postwar domestic Cold War. And for this reviewer, it suggests some provocative questions as to where scholars might now take this conversation. If we cannot ignore the fact that in the 1950s, concerns about civil liberties, [End Page 774] individualism, and conceptions of American freedom mitigated and complicated the effects of the red scare, how might the discourse of civil libertarianism that emerged, from both the right and the left, have itself shaped definitions of American citizenship? What if we begin with the assumption that governing through civil liberties is not a paradox and not inevitably a good for social justice? How does the language that refutes the governing methods of a powerful state, a language that was renascent in the...