Eric Rauchway on Joshua Freeman’s American Empire in Dissent:
Joshua Freeman’s American Empire is the second volume in Penguin’s History of the United States, after Alan Taylor’s American Colonies. If this publication schedule suggests a lack of chronological discipline, it makes for a pleasing set of bookends: the nation that emerged from imperialism became an empire of its own, as diverse and difficult to characterize as the colonies from which it developed. But the history of the modern United States, unlike the history of the colonial era, is not over. We do not know how or why it ends. We do not even know when it ends.
Until the 1980s it made sense to teach courses titled “The History of the United States Since 1945.” Normally, lecturers and professors taught such twentieth-century surveys as the history of “what happened to the New Deal?” In classrooms around the country, students heard that the limited program of social insurance adopted under Franklin Roosevelt expanded under presidents of both parties until it began to encompass the civil rights of African Americans in the mid-1960s. And then, or perhaps a little later, the program for social democracy became something called the “rights revolution”: not a series of rights at all, but a set of querulous demands that the nation could not afford to recognize. Once women, Hispanics, and gays began asking recognition for their particular rights, middle (also known as “straight, white, male”) America took a step back toward what textbooks call “The Age of Limits.” Suddenly the expansions of the New Deal became expensive and Americans had to learn to live more modestly (or so their white, southern president told them in the 1970s).
In this story, foreign relations mattered inasmuch as the Cold War was also terribly expensive.