Thursday, June 26, 2008
Novak on The Myth of the 'Weak' American State
Posted by Mary L. Dudziak
The new issue of the American Historical Review has a number of articles of interest to legal historians. Among them is a new piece by William J. Novak, Department of History, University of Chicago, The Myth of the'Weak' American State. AHR Editor Rob Schneider describes it this way: In “ The Myth of the ‘Weak’ American State,” William J. Novak attempts to explain, critique, and ultimately displace the long-standing historiographical and theoretical tendency to view the American state as somehow “weak.” He reviews the histories that have constructed and reinforced this myth of American statelessness and introduces the key texts in an emerging historical revision. Given present-day realities as well as a new generation of work on American state power, nationally as well as internationally, the article argues for a new historical appreciation of the rise of a global hegemon. This, it asserts, is what needs more explanation in modern American history. In the second half of the article, Novak suggests that early American pragmatism and social science offers up some useful alternative models for evaluating the history of the American state. In contrast to the European models of classic social theory, the critical and realistic approach to state power allows more room for the examination of such things as the rule of law, the distribution of power, and the public-private distinction in the creation and perpetuation of powerful techniques of American governance. This article will be the subject of a future AHR Exchange.