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Toward an Intellectual History of the Postwar Years

by Noam Chomsky & R.C. Lewontin

Pub Date: Feb. 10th, 1997
ISBN: 1-56584-005-4
Publisher: New Press

A collection of original essays on the troubling impact of government policies and the Cold War on the American university. In 1945, as Chomsky, MIT linguist and left-wing political gadfly, points out, "the United States had a level of preponderance in the international sphere which probably had no counterpart in history," largely due to the country's transformation during WW II. The war had also reshaped the once distant relationship between the federal government and the university into a close partnership, and the nation's developing rivalry with its erstwhile Soviet ally gave the academy (and especially its scientists) a new importance in American life. Noted Harvard biologist Lewontin portrays the relationship as a Faustian bargain in which the university, and scholars in strategic disciplines like applied sciences and political studies, derived new wealth, power, and prestige from government largesse. But the ultimate result of government money, he suggests, was the vitiation of the moral independence of the academy. He further asserts that this close relationship persists, now heavily rationalized by institutions grown used to wealth and influence. Other writers discuss the impact of Cold War culture on their own disciplines: Historian Howard Zinn argues that the public conflict between repression and resistance in the 1950s and '60s mirrors the conflict between scholarly commitment to the truth and pressures to write history along the lines of official propaganda. Richard Oehman discusses the politicization of the teaching of English during the Cold War and Laura Nader the imposition of Cold War priorities on research in anthropology. The writers generally approach their subject from an avowedly left-wing perspective, and the writing is in places obscure and jargon-laden; however, the authors do a service in exploring a topic too little examined but fraught with importance for modern American cultural life.