If the word zeitgeist has any legitimacy left, then it’s a useful descriptor of what Daniel T. Rodgers’s new book, Age of Fracture, tries to describe for the united States during the last quarter of the twentieth century. As such, the book is an enlightening tour through the intellectual life of the nation from the 1973 oil crisis to 9/11. In fact, it’s the best we’ve got to explain how the ideas that made post-1973 America d if fe r en t f r o m w ha t c am e before and different, perhaps, from what came after 9/11.
But still, Rodgers needs a better metaphor than fracture. Rodgers, following the call of Richard Rorty, is an intel- lectual historian concerned with the use of language, with the metaphors and words that dominate the way people talk and therefore think in various eras. And he’s a master at it.
But rather than fracture, what Rodgers really describes here is a transformation from thinking big in the pre-1973 era to thinking small after it, from thinking about things like the common good, the use of federal power in the name of acting in the right, and macro- economics in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, to thinking about individual or small-gr oup benefits, the diffusion of power into culture and the masses, and the pursuit of individual unregulated wealth.