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God-Fearing and Free: A Spiritual History of America's Cold War
God-Fearing and Free: A Spiritual History of America's Cold War
Jason W. Stevens
Harvard University Press, 2010
448 pp., $45.50

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Molly Worthen


God-Fearing and Free

"Countermodernism" and Cold War America.

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Stevens focuses on the early Cold War, and does not examine intellectuals' engagement with the geopolitical events that may trouble him most, especially Vietnam. (He does not even mention the intellectual and policymaker to whom his charges of perfidious realism might apply most directly, Henry Kissinger.) But he appears to take for granted a highly debatable interpretation of America's foreign interventions. We learn in a footnote that he has adopted revisionist historian William Appleman Williams' account of Cold War international politics. Williams and other revisionist historians, building on Charles Beard's analysis of American history through the lens of economic determinism, have argued that the United States' imperialistic drive to expand foreign markets for American goods provoked and perpetuated the Cold War. The view of the Cold War that undergirds Stevens' critique, then, is an entirely materialist one that disregards questions of ideology or strategy as epiphenomenal. The very notion of Cold War "spirituality" becomes a callow distraction. If he realizes this contradiction, he does not address it.

Stevens has written a penetrating study of one significant theme in early Cold War intellectual life. The book's questionable political agenda and untethered arguments distract from his often impressive critical insights into thinkers and cultural forms who are rarely treated together. God-Fearing and Free demonstrates both the rewards and the pitfalls of intellectual history at its most intrepid and interdisciplinary.

Molly Worthen writes about American religion for Christianity Today and The New York Times magazine.


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