Reflecting in 1949 on the horrors of recent history, exiled philosopher Karl Löwith argued that the image of the universe as one guided by moral order and divine purpose “is now past because it has conscience against it.” Though few Americans shared his bleak assessment of modern moral waywardness, thoughtful observers agreed that the horrors of the “Good War” required Americans’ to reconsider the terms in which they understood themselves and their world. This seminar will examine the varieties of American intellectual and cultural responses to WWII in the 1940s and 50s. We will explore how American commentators made sense of the war, justified American involvement, and likewise how the war set new terms for American self-understanding. By looking at developments in American political thought, moral philosophy, cultural criticism, the visual arts, and popular theology, we will see how America’s wartime experiences dramatically transformed American intellectual and cultural life at midcentury.
Seminar led by Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, University of Wisconsin at Madison