Barbarian Virtues: The United States Encounters Foreign Peoples at Home and Abroad, 1876-1917

Matthew Frye Jacobson, Author
Matthew Frye Jacobson, Author Hill & Wang $30 (324p) ISBN 978-0-8090-2808-5
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
Paperback - 336 pages - 978-0-8090-1628-0
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A sense of moral outrage simmers throughout Barbarian Virtues, an outrage that tacitly informs Jacobson's exploration of U.S. attitudes toward immigration and foreign policy (which he sees as two sides of the same coin) in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but which is kept from boiling over until the last page. There, Jacobson concludes: ""Despite some opposition, the United States consciously chose imperial power along with the antidemocratic baggage and even the bloodshed that entailed; and many Americans liked it."" This is not really news. But Jacobson, a professor of American Studies at Yale and author of Whiteness of a Different Color, does have an interesting thesis: at a time when America depended on nonwhite foreigners as both reliable consumers of American products abroad and industrious workers in the U.S., it also reviled them as ""primitives"" in need of civilization and as potential threats to the national order. The strength of his book is the wealth of evidence it provides; referring to a wide range of documentation--from journalism to literature, political rhetoric to pseudo-scientific studies, Tarzan to Teddy Roosevelt--Jacobson explores every conceivable nuance of his thesis. He might have written a book with far greater resonance, however, had he devoted more than a few pages to sketching out how his thesis also applies to America today. Still, Jacobson succeeds in presenting an analysis of a crucial period in the development of American identity as forged in the simultaneous ""crucible of immigration"" at home and ""empire-building"" abroad. 24 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. (Apr.)
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