The content of the research funded by the ICJS in 2006 can be summarized in these terms. The United States has often been portrayed as the “future of Europe” and the American man as the prototype of the self-reliant and faith-steady person. But even though activism, assertiveness, optimism, faith in the future and self-confidence are inseparable from American cultural identity, a profound disquiet looms large in American history. Suspicion, anxiety, or distrust about the significance of the future and about the very course of American history are far from unfamiliar to American white elites. “Limit yourself,” “stay at home,” “be prepared,” “guard against…” are no foreign metaphors to white Americans and to their master narratives. My research aims at classifying the disturbing uncertainties and reservations that entered the minds of the master builders of the American identity in the very moment they were planning to draw the blueprints of the future. To put it shortly, I will try to show that public optimism—from the outset—worked as a compensatory device to dispel extant doubts and anxieties. American optimism, assertiveness, and self-confidence should be read as compensatory attitudes vaunted in public that meet an all-consuming anxiety and a deep sense of inadequacy. In other words, I will interpret optimism and pessimism, assertiveness and passivity dialectically, as two sides of a single question.

Cultural Roots of American Pessimism: A History, 1763-1865

VALSANIA, Maurizio
2006

Abstract

The content of the research funded by the ICJS in 2006 can be summarized in these terms. The United States has often been portrayed as the “future of Europe” and the American man as the prototype of the self-reliant and faith-steady person. But even though activism, assertiveness, optimism, faith in the future and self-confidence are inseparable from American cultural identity, a profound disquiet looms large in American history. Suspicion, anxiety, or distrust about the significance of the future and about the very course of American history are far from unfamiliar to American white elites. “Limit yourself,” “stay at home,” “be prepared,” “guard against…” are no foreign metaphors to white Americans and to their master narratives. My research aims at classifying the disturbing uncertainties and reservations that entered the minds of the master builders of the American identity in the very moment they were planning to draw the blueprints of the future. To put it shortly, I will try to show that public optimism—from the outset—worked as a compensatory device to dispel extant doubts and anxieties. American optimism, assertiveness, and self-confidence should be read as compensatory attitudes vaunted in public that meet an all-consuming anxiety and a deep sense of inadequacy. In other words, I will interpret optimism and pessimism, assertiveness and passivity dialectically, as two sides of a single question.
http://www.monticello.org/icjs/index.html
http://www.monticello.org/research/fellowships/fellows.html
History; Philosophy; American History; Thomas Jefferson; Enlightenment
M. Valsania
File in questo prodotto:
Non ci sono file associati a questo prodotto.

I documenti in IRIS sono protetti da copyright e tutti i diritti sono riservati, salvo diversa indicazione.

Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/2318/66069
Citazioni
  • ???jsp.display-item.citation.pmc??? ND
  • Scopus ND
  • ???jsp.display-item.citation.isi??? ND
social impact