Apocalypse, War and Our Call to Greatness
In this thought-provoking, big-idea book, Betsy Hartmann sheds light on a pervasive but—until now—invisible theme shaping the American mindset: apocalyptic thinking, or the belief that the end of the world is nigh. Tracing our nation’s fixation with doomsday from the Puritans to the present, Hartmann makes a compelling case that apocalyptic fears are deeply intertwined with the American ethos, to our detriment.
Hartmann shows how apocalyptic thinking has historically contributed to some of our nation’s biggest problems, such as inequality, permanent war, and the exploitation of natural resources. While it is tempting to view these problems as harbingers of the end times, this mindset constricts the collective imagination and precludes social change. The truth is that we have much more control over the future of our planet than we think, and our fatalism is much more dangerous than the apocalypse.
In The America Syndrome, Hartmann seeks to reclaim human agency and, in so doing, revise the national narrative. By changing the way we think, we just might change the world.
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Praise for The America Syndrome
“Apocalypse, says Betsy Hartmann, is as American as apple pie. In an insightful, crisply written blend of memoir, social history, and political theory, Hartmann shows how the prospect of the imminent end of days has been used for centuries to justify almost any American action—and feed the destructive conviction that this country has a special mission of salvation. Left and right, secular and religious—Americans of every stripe have been infected with the virus of apocalypse. Hartmann shows why we badly need a cure.” —Charles Mann, author of 1491 and the forthcoming The Wizard and the Prophet
“From its origins in Puritan thinking Betsy Hartmann traces the history of how fears of imminent disaster have shaped American thinking on war, population and most recently climate change, invoking fear and violence as responses when practical cooperation would serve so much better for dealing with all manner of social ills. As political therapy for troubled times this very timely volume shows that overcoming misplaced fear of the future is an essential step to seeking ways to live together peacefully in a rapidly changing world.” —Simon Dalby, Balsillie School of International Affairs
“Betsy Hartmann calmly eviscerates the prophets of apocalypse whether it be Malthusian doomsayers obsessed about brown-skinned immigrants with high birth rates or climate-change fearmongers . . . Hartmann’s book is a timely debunking of anti-intellectualism in American life and of all those demagogues who have stoked American nativist paranoia. The America Syndrome explains the Age of Trump in the deepest cultural sense.” —Kai Bird, Pulitzer Prize–winning historian and executive director of the Leon Levy Center for Biography at CUNY Graduate Center in New York City
“The ‘America First’ stance espoused by Donald Trump appears as little more than a pastiche of crowd-pleasing campaign tropes, but in fact draws on themes long embedded in American political thought. To guide us through this rich and momentous history, stretching from the Pilgrims’ landing in Plymouth to the onset of climate change, there is no better account than Betsy Hartmann’s The America Syndrome.” —Michael Klare, author of The Race for What’s Left
“For large swaths of the body politic, the December 2016 US elections offered up the prospect of a long and dark winter in America. Hartmann shows that catastrophist thinking has a deep history in the United States, which she traces from early Puritanism to utopian movements, Malthusianism, the Cold War, and more recently global climate change. The America Syndrome is a powerful reminder of how deep is the river of fear and apocalyptic thinking and how it works against important forms of solidarity and common humanity. A timely and provocative primer for the world that President Trump has wrought.” —Michael Watts, Class of ’63 Professor, UC Berkeley
“Betsy Hartmann has written a compelling tragedy of the American psyche that is a fitting riposte to Trumpery. It’s a tragedy about a country that lacks self-awareness, that thinks itself special when it is ‘not so special after all.’ Militarists and apocalyptic environmentalists alike are caught up in this quagmire of exceptionalism, this tragedy of failed imperialism. Cut the hubris, America; it is your undoing.” —Fred Pearce, environment consultant, New Scientist magazine
Chris Lehmann, “How the Threat of Apocalypse Justifies American Empire,” In These Times, May 23, 2017.
Steve Pfarrer, “Apocalyptic America: Hampshire College professor looks at the history of ‘the end is nigh,'” Daily Hampshire Gazette, May 10, 2017.
Read this excerpt about utopian dreams from The America Syndrome on Literary Hub.
Read this excerpt on Alternet about why Americans are so predisposed to imagine the end of the world rather than the end of American war-making.