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Debating the End of History

The Marketplace, Utopia, and the Fragmentation of Intellectual Life

David W. Noble

Publication Year: 2012

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, have come 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.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press

Series: Critical American Studies


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9

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pp. ix-xi

At an American Studies Association session honoring David Noble some years ago, the most arresting tribute came from the Chicana feminist Dr. Edén Torres, a former student of David’s. Torres allowed that in her early encounters with him she harbored doubts about what...

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pp. xiii-15

My greatest debt is to my wife, Gail. She is a student of American cultures, and we have never-ending conversations about themes in this book. She translates my handwriting into print and in doing so makes important editorial suggestions about particular words, sentences,...

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Chapter 1: Two-World Metaphors, From Plato To Alan Greenspan

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pp. 1-23

Why do modern people believe that there will be perpetual economic growth? The answer I present in this book is that such a utopian belief is the necessary foundation for bourgeois culture. One can imagine the existence of modern middle classes only as long as the...

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Chapter 2: Historians Against History

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pp. 25-53

The American Founding Fathers had defined their revolution in negative terms. They had made an exodus from an old world of artful culture to a new world of artless nature. They had escaped timeful societies to achieve harmony with timeless space. They also...

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Chapter 3: Economists Discover A New New World

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pp. 55-87

Sacvan Bercovitch, in his The American Jeremiad (1978), argued that the first English settlers coming to North America believed they had received a promise from the Divinity. They were promised that they were entering a land of timeless harmony. When they...

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Chapter 4: Literary Critics Become Cultural Critics

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pp. 89-119

When I started my graduate work at Wisconsin I planned to focus on American intellectual history. My adviser, Merle Curti, encouraged me to substitute courses in American literature and in America philosophy for the usual requirement of a cluster of courses...

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Chapter 5: Ecologists On Why History Will Never End

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pp. 121-148

The relationship of science to the current middle-class world is one of monumental irony. From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment, bourgeois men in Europe and in their American colonies appealed to the authority of their new science to demonstrate that...

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Chapter 6: When Prophecy Fails

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pp. 149-177

Irrational Exuberance is the title of a book published in 2000. The author, Robert Shiller, is an economist. He was responding to what he called the “herd behavior” of people in the 1990s. Why, he asked, did so many intelligent people believe they were entering a “New Era”...


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pp. 179-195


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pp. 197-204

About the authors

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pp. 206-221

E-ISBN-13: 9780816681976
E-ISBN-10: 081668197X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816680580

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Critical American Studies