cover image Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century

Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century

Patrick Smith. Yale Univ, $27.50 (240p) ISBN 978-0-300-17656-8

In this essay collection, Smith (Somebody Else's Century) examines the dissonance between our nation's history and mythical conception of itself, combing what is termed the American Century for evidence. Expressly hoping to provoke the end of exceptionalism, he adduces America's fondness for ritual reenactments to demonstrate the shortcomings of event-specific historicism in light of big-picture history. In a clear and vivid voice, he draws attention to the effusive literary style of many early historical records and shows how science, not just religion, was swept into the perpetuation of certain myths. While he cogently outlines the importance of seeing society as a construct connected to its past, he loses ground when he leaps into the realm of political philosophy. His assertion that fundamentalist beliefs regarding markets, individuality, and government go largely uncontested is difficult to substantiate. Peering through the lens of myth-worship vs. historicism, Smith maligns certain abstract political notions because they have historically coincided with a Christian vision for the country and a reverence for the rugged American prototype; insufficiently acknowledged is that willingness to face the nation's history openly does not automatically discount certain abstract ideas. A thought-provoking collection, its conclusions step beyond what is substantiated by the material. (June)