The Seventies (long, short, and in between) has emerged in recent years as an object of intensive scholarly investigation. Many historians of the twentieth century now see that decade as a watershed. It is the focus of books such as Jefferson Cowie’s Stayin’ Alive and Judith Stein’s Pivotal Decade. It is the start of Dan Rodgers’s Age of Fracture. It’s the fulcrum of Robert Self’s All in the Family. It is the star of Rick Perlstein’s tomes Nixonland and Invisible Bridge. I’m one of two members of my department currently writing a book on the decade. But what’s the place of the Seventies in U.S. intellectual history? What works from the Seventies have made it into the USIH canon? What works should?
Two things have me thinking about these questions this week. First, I finished the second volume of David Hollinger and Charles Capper’s American Intellectual Tradition — which is, among other things, an exercise in canonization — in my lower-division Honors intellectual history course. For the first time, I used the 7th edition of this volume, which was published last year. And the Seventies as a distinctive moment in American thought are largely absent from the volume. The book contains fifteen texts written in the 1960s, but only two written in the 1970s. And these two – a selection from Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978) and Nancy Chodorow’s “Gender, relation, and Difference in Psychoanalytic Perspective” (1979) are from the end of the decade. And both point toward the five following works from the 1980s, which are focused, broadly speaking, on questions of identity and postmodernism. The last of the Sixties readings, Noam Chomsky’s “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” was published in 1967. So the book skips eleven years, the longest gap in time between any two readings in the volume.
As I was thinking about AIT‘s largely skipping the Seventies this week, Robert Pirsig, the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance passed away. Inspired initially by a paper friend-of-the-blog Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen delivered at the 2010 USIH conference urging intellectual historians to pay more attention to Pirsig and ZATAOMM, a number of our bloggers (myself included) have long been of the opinion that Pirsig’s novel of ideas is an essential text in the intellectual history of the Seventies.
What texts would one include in a comprehensive intellectual history of the Seventies? How could the Seventies better be represented in a survey collection like AIT, which covers over a century and a half in its second volume? And should historians see the Seventies as an intellectual watershed as well as a social, political, economic, and popular cultural one?
Hollinger and Capper suggest some of what they might add in the chronology of American documents offered at the end of AIT, in which they list twenty-five books from the 1970s:
From 1970: Robin Morgan, ed., Sisterhood is Powerful; Kate Millett, Sexual Politics; Richard Macksey and Eugenio Donato, eds., The Structuralist Controversy, Shulamith Firestone, Dialectic of Sex.
From 1971: John Rawls, Theory of Justice; B.F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity; E.O. Wilson, Insect Societies; Paul de Man, Blindness and Insight.
From 1972: Lionel Trilling, Sincerity and Authenticity.
From 1973: Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow; Daniel Bell, The Coming of Postindustrial Society; Hayden White, Metahistory; Clifford Geertz, Interpretation of Cultures; John Searle, The Campus War.
From 1974: Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia.
From 1975: E.O. Wilson, Sociobiology; Peter Singer, Animal Liberation.
From 1976: Alex Haley, Roots; Daniel Bell, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism.
From 1977: Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon; Carl Sagan, Dragons of Eden.
From 1978: Nancy Chodorow, The Reproduction of Mothering; Edward Said, Orientalism.
From 1979: Richard Rorty, Philosophy and The Mirror of Nature; Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism.
This list is a good start, I think, for thinking about American thought in the Seventies. It includes key early 1970s feminist texts, which I would love to see represented in AIT. The Nozick, Singer, and Lasch books seem like essential texts, too. Hayden White, Clifford Geertz, and E.O. Wilson also stand out as particularly important to me.
But some things are missing even from this list. First, it is by design a list of books, so important shorter works do not appear. Books by conservative thinkers, such as Edward C. Banfield’s The Unheavenly City (1970) seem underrepresented. And many significant books in a more popular register are absent: Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (1970); Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock (1970); Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1972); Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed (1974); Gail Sheehy’s Passages (1976); Shere Hite’s The Hite Report on Female Sexuality (1976); Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror (1978); Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach (1979)…and of course Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
What would go in your canon of American thought in the Seventies?
 There is a similar gap between Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble (1990) and Thomas Pogge’s “Priorities of Global Justice” (2001), so the 1990s also largely go missing. But it’s fair to say that the 1990s have been – and can be – less historicized at this point than the 1970s. Across all of AIT‘s many editions, the end of Volume II is far and away the collection’s most protean section. Since the volume runs up to the present, Hollinger and Capper’s selection of concluding works is often connected to concerns of the time of an edition’s publication. The 6th edition, published in 2011, was the first to contain 21st century texts and seemed more haunted by 9/11 than the 7th is. Like the 5th, published in 2006, the 6th contained more readings from the 1990s than the 7th does. But the 5th and the 6th contain only the same two 1970s texts that the 7th does. You have to go to the 4th edition, published in 2001, to find additional texts from that decade: Samuel Huntington’s “The Democratic Distemper” (1973) and Ralph Ellison’s “The Little Man at Chehaw Station” (1977), which are joined by the Chodorow, but not the Said. Incidentally, Huntington is represented in the 5th and the 6th editions by 1993’s “Clash of Civilizations,” a text which was given new intellectual life in the reaction to 9/11. Huntington is entirely absent from the 7th edition.
 Rawls is represented in the 7th edition by essay “Justice as Fairness,” which anticipates the argument of Theory of Justice.
 Haley is represented in the 7th edition by a selection from The Autobiography of Malcolm X, though it is attributed to Malcolm himself.
 Rorty’s 1986 essay “Science as Solidarity” appears in AIT.