- The Mediating Nation: Late American Realism, Globalization, and the Progressive State by Nathaniel Cadle
Nathaniel Cadle’s book takes its title from a speech delivered by President Woodrow Wilson on April 20, 1915. In that speech, delivered at the annual Associated Press luncheon, Wilson defended his administration’s isolationism, arguing that, in Cadle’s words, “remaining disentangled from [World War I] allows the United States to continue improving its domestic affairs and thus to be in a stronger position to help Europe arbitrate peace and rebuild once the war ends.” Describing the United States as “the mediating nation,” Wilson’s isolationism, in Cadle’s analysis, is evidence of an “aesthetic conceptualization of the nation that is characterized by polyvocality, the ability to give expression to other nations’ ‘sentiments’ and ‘passions.’” Cadle convincingly argues that Wilson’s conception of the United States as “the mediating nation,” as a nation through which global finance, international policy, and immigration would be articulated in the twentieth century, is an idea developed during late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century realism, as writers of novels, reportage, literary reviews, and local color fiction represent the United States as both central to yet one nation among many in emergent globalization.
Cadle moves effortlessly and convincingly from writings by political figures, such as Randolph Bourne, Louis Brandeis, and Wilson, to those by realists and local color writers, some of whom are less well-known today than others. While Cadle devotes entire chapters to W. D. Howells and Henry James, analyzing A Hazard of New Fortunes and the revised 1907 version of The American, respectively, other chapters of the book focus on pairs of figures: W. E. B. Du Bois and William James; Abraham Cahan and Knut Hamsun; Jack London and Lafcadio Hearn. This array of writers, many of whose writings appeared in prominent turn-of-the-century magazines, is complimented by the array of scholarship that informs Cadle’s argument, ranging from contemporary accounts of globalization and transnationalism to classic works from the early-twentieth century that established the received, nationalized canon of American literature. [End Page 187]
The Mediating Nation is a convincing account of how realist writers imagined the United States as one nation among many. While acknowledging that writers like London, whose writings about Japan are the subject of one of the strongest chapters in the book, trade in racial tropes, Cadle argues convincingly that these racial terms might be approached as less about race than about an emergent understanding of cultural difference. Resting in tension alongside racism and nativism, this understanding of cultural difference, Cadle argues, is established by realism, articulated as foreign policy by Wilson’s League of Nations, and then revised as multiculturalism in the postwar period. A studious revision of how American nationalism functioned during realism, Cadle’s The Mediating Nation offers an alternative view of literature’s relation to the state—not as a simple mouthpiece for nationalism or a subversion of hegemony, but instead a “critical tradition that maintained a consistently internationalist perspective.” [End Page 188]