Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Stikkers, Kenneth


My dissertation examines the difference between European and American forms of alienation. My thesis is that while European forms of alienation tend to arise out of an ideology (that of bourgeois culture) that disparages the material world, encouraging an attitude of resignation toward the established order, American forms of alienation tend to arise out of an ideology (that of the frontier) that disparages the social world, encouraging an attitude of rugged individualism which also results in an attitude of resignation toward the established order. Thus, both forms of alienation end up affirming the given order, but in very different ways. These different ways should affect how social theorists analyze American culture and help them avoid totalizing analyses that blur the distinctions between American and European cultures. In order to comprehend the nature of alienation in post-1945 American society, I trace three forms of alienation from three spaces of possibility: that of (1) European bourgeois culture; (2) the American frontier; and (3) the American counterculture. These three spaces are examined successively in each chapter of this dissertation. In the "Introduction" I provide a general overview of the project, explaining its origins and significance. Then, I delineate the scope of this project, offer provisional ways of understanding of "alienation," "alienation in the European context," and "alienation in the American context," and discuss how my dissertation employs the metaphor of "space." Chapter One uses Herbert Marcuse's work to analyze the European space of possibility found in bourgeois culture. The first part of the chapter presents a general overview of Marcuse's thought. Here, I examine: Marcuse's "humanistic" reading of Marx, as found in "The Foundations of Historical Materialism"; the difference between Marcuse's interpretation of Marx and the "standard" mechanistic reading, including a discussion of Marcuse's criticisms of reductionist use of the base and superstructure model of historical materialism; and Marcuse's analysis of the revolutionary status of the proletariat under twentieth century conditions. The second part of Chapter One uses Marcuse's article "The Affirmative Character of Culture" to provide an account of bourgeois culture. This article, which describes affirmative culture as simultaneously regressive and progressive, provides the general framework for the entire dissertation. Chapter One ends with a discussion of One-Dimensional Man, where Marcuse provides his most detailed analysis of post-War culture. Here, I ask if there is a "refuge of hope" even in what is usually considered Marcuse's most pessimistic work. Chapter Two presents the nineteenth century American space of possibility, the frontier. I begin with Frederick Jackson Turner's and Jean de Crevècore's analyses of the American frontier as constitutive of the American character. Then, I move to a study of the material and ideological conditions underlying the culture of the frontier: the enclosure of the commons and the Protestant work ethic. Next, I ask if Marcuse can provide an analysis of American culture as distinct from European culture, and ask if we may consider Marcuse an "American philosopher." The chapter ends by considering the work of Paul Goodman, who provides an alternative understanding of American possibility, from the point of view of a native inculcated from birth with an American worldview. Chapter Three examines the central twentieth century American space of possibility, the counterculture. The first two parts of this chapter provide general histories of the American New Left of the 1960s and 1970s and the American counterculture of the same period. Here, I focus on how these movements interacted and how they were responding to similar experiences of alienation. Then I examine the primary material basis for both movements, which I take to be post-War economic expansion. The final two sections of Chapter Three attempt an interpretation of the American counterculture and the New Left through the use of Marcuse's aesthetic theory. The "Conclusion" restates the general argument of the dissertation, now with all of the details in place, examines two other reactions to alienation, political rollback and religious revivalism, asks what spaces of possibility may be emerging in the twenty-first century, and proposes some avenues for further research.




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