Wednesday, March 24, 2010

America's Consumerist Culture

I am currently reading Andrew Bacevich's book American Empire. It is an excellent study on American foreign policy from President George H.W. Bush through the first year of President George W. Bush. The basis of the book is that though American foreign policy has looked confused and unfocused since the end of the Cold War, it has in fact remained on the same trajectory since the Spanish-American War at the end of the 19th century. The trajectory has been one of American power projected across the globe in an effort to open markets to American products and influence.

Here, Bacevich comments on the problem of consumerism in America:

"In a society in which citizens were joined to one another by little except a fetish for shopping, professional sports, and celebrities along with a ravenous appetite for pop culture, prosperity became a precondition for preserving domestic harmony. Arguing on behalf of a populist vision of an engaged, independent, self-reliant citizenry, an acerbic critic like Lasch might rail against luxury as morally repugnant, insisting that "a democratic society cannot allow unlimited accumulation." But in reality, the prospect of unlimited accumulation had long since become the lubricant that kept the system functioning. A booming economy alleviated, or at least kept at bay, social and political dysfunction. Any interruption in economic growth could induce friction, stoke discontent, and bring to the surface old resentments, confronting elected officials with problems for which they possessed no readily available solutions. Lasch may well have been correct in charging that "the reduction of the citizen to a consumer" produces a hollowed-out American democracy. But by the 1990s no one knew how to undo the damage without risking a massive conflagration."

Andrew Bacevich American Empire pages 80-81

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