The rhetoric of pluralism, or the struggle to reconcile cultural difference, neither originated nor disappeared with the experience of the 1930s. The productive question, therefore, is why the phenomenon of cultural nationalism and the rhetoric of "unity out of diversity" surfaced in the ways it did at this particular historical moment?

Peter Novick, tracing the history of the so-called "objectivity wars" within the American historical profession, has argued that during times of ideological consensus, historians have shared a greater faith in objective truth. Likewise, he suggests, during more contentious periods, a pluralist, multiperspectival orientation was more successful in maintaining professional civility (That Noble Dream).

Perhaps we can extend that idea, stepping outside of the narrower context of the historical profession, to suggest that as a nation we fall back on our pluralist ideological roots during contentious times. It becomes ever more important for us to be able to articulate a vision of, to give voice or outlet to, the diversity that makes up our supposed harmony.

As a litmus test for the question of how 1930s struggles with pluralism are historically unique, we have to compare the ways in which democratic rhetoric surfaced, the particular methods and subjects that became identified with the voice of American diversity.

William Stott, speaking of the cultural programs of the New Deal, suggests that what emerges is "an idiosyncratic America, a country of anecdote or, as the French would better call it, petite histoire" (113). What he touches on here is how peculiar stories, small and local stories, and storyness itself could convey an American essence to contemporary audiences. In this period, there was a real faith in the ability of an emblematic figure or story to speak to a universal condition. This representational faith was crucial to the notion of political solidarity.

Would the Left feel comfortable today with one image standing for a "universal condition," with a series of portraits depicting the brotherhood of man? On the one hand, we have a level of consciousness about how tokenism works that would give us a more sophisticated perspective. We've also inherited a certain intellectual and political insecurity about the act of representation. Our notions of "coalition" and "diversity" are not entirely analogous to that 1930s faith in "solidarity" and "pluralism;" we can not reinhabit that political and cultural worldview.





Juliet Gorman, May 2001




(this is the last stop)






You have several options at this point:

Have you read everything on notions about history during the time?

If you have, you might want to move on to the idea of "the real" during the 1930s

If you came into this discussion of culture at page 3, you may want to revisit the first two pages.