I LIVE IN A DIFFERENT country than the one into which I was born in 1942. I have never been quite able to pinpoint exactly what makes it so different. More than any other book I’ve read in recent years, Age of Fracture, by the Princeton historian Daniel T. Rodgers, has helped me to discover and to understand that difference.
One explanation for what happened holds that in the intervening years—the second half of the twentieth century—the United States shifted from the big government liberalism of the Democrats to the laissez-faire nostrums of the Republicans. There is an obvious truth to such a view, but the problem with this account, which fits so nicely into Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s cyclical interpretation of American experience, is that it views the changes of the past half-century as the latest replay of long-established patterns, and therefore fails to grasp just how radical some of those changes have been.