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The 1970s

The 1970s: A New Global History from Civil Rights to Economic Inequality

Thomas Borstelmann
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    The 1970s
    Book Description:

    The 1970slooks at an iconic decade when the cultural left and economic right came to the fore in American society and the world at large. While many have seen the 1970s as simply a period of failures epitomized by Watergate, inflation, the oil crisis, global unrest, and disillusionment with military efforts in Vietnam, Thomas Borstelmann creates a new framework for understanding the period and its legacy. He demonstrates how the 1970s increased social inclusiveness and, at the same time, encouraged commitments to the free market and wariness of government. As a result, American culture and much of the rest of the world became more--and less--equal.

    Borstelmann explores how the 1970s forged the contours of contemporary America. Military, political, and economic crises undercut citizens' confidence in government. Free market enthusiasm led to lower taxes, a volunteer army, individual 401(k) retirement plans, free agency in sports, deregulated airlines, and expansions in gambling and pornography. At the same time, the movement for civil rights grew, promoting changes for women, gays, immigrants, and the disabled. And developments were not limited to the United States. Many countries gave up colonial and racial hierarchies to develop a new formal commitment to human rights, while economic deregulation spread to other parts of the world, from Chile and the United Kingdom to China.

    Placing a tempestuous political culture within a global perspective,The 1970sshows that the decade wrought irrevocable transformations upon American society and the broader world that continue to resonate today.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3970-4
    Subjects: History, Political Science
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface and Acknowledgments (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction (pp. 1-18)

    The 1970s are a decade of ill repute. “A kidney stone of a decade,” one character in the popular cartoon stripDoonesburycalled it. The nation’s core institutions seemed to be breaking down as the United States, in most tellings of the story, sank into a mire of economic decline, political corruption, and military retrenchment. The last U.S. combat troops left Vietnam in defeat and demoralization, a new outcome for armed forces that, despite something closer to draws in the War of 1812 and the Korean War, had little experience with outcomes other than victory. The United States withdrew from,...

  6. Chapter 1 CROSSCURRENTS OF CRISIS IN 1970S AMERICA (pp. 19-72)

    Big trouble splashed into most Americans’ lives in the 1970s. Few symbols embodied this as fully as the 25-foot great white shark that rose from the murky depths to devour swimmers and terrorize a Long Island beach town in the blockbuster movie,Jaws. The film opened on June 20, 1975, after an unprecedented television advertising campaign, and quickly became the first movie to earn over $100 million, the model for future summer blockbusters, and one of the two most popular films of the decade (along with 1977’sStar Wars).Jawsspawned a series of spoofs and parodies, including a towering...


    “Good morning, boys and girls!” This greeting has rung out in elementary school classrooms throughout the United States for generations. Almost no one objects. After all, sex is a biological reality. The children are boys and girls. It seems natural to call them that. But is it really natural? Children can also be categorized in many other ways using different criteria. “Good morning, tall kids and short kids!” would surely raise some eyebrows. Why call attention to people’s height, another clear biological difference? “Good morning, blacks and whites!” is unimaginable, a visible distinction freighted with an invidious past that few...

  8. Chapter 3 THE SPREAD OF MARKET VALUES (pp. 122-174)

    “This is like 1931,” long-time socialist writer and activist Michael Harrington wrote in 1978. “Just as the conventional wisdom of the 1920s was totally shattered by the depression, the conventional wisdom of the 1960s has been shattered by inflation.” Economic growth had defined human history for two hundred years, reaching a peak in the generation after 1945 when world economic growth averaged an extraordinary 5–7 percent per year. Americans rode that growth to a higher standard of living than anyone else. But in the 1970s it all seemed to be flowing away. Unemployment, oil shortages, a plunging stock market,...


    Across the political spectrum, Americans tend to think of their country and their history as exceptional. From the fortuitous geographical buffer of two vast oceans to a founding Constitution that emphasized liberty, from a robust base of natural resources to regular inflows of industrious immigrants, the United States has appeared to most of its citizens and to many foreign observers as a land uniquely blessed with wealth and freedom. But the American story is not separate from the larger narrative of world history. Historians of U.S. foreign relations have long made this point, and other historians of the United States...


    Not everyone found comfort in the increasingly though not fully entwined enthusiasms for greater human equality and the marketplace that took shape in the 1970s. An unfettered individualism, with all progressively more welcome to participate as autonomous buyers and sellers, was emerging as the central feature of contemporary American culture and gaining traction around the globe, but it deeply troubled certain observers. Some of the objections came from predictable if diverse corners. Socialist revolutionaries from Vietnam to Angola to Nicaragua, for example, saluted equality, at least in principle, but rejected the market and restricted private property. They fought for a...

  11. Chapter 6 MORE AND LESS EQUAL SINCE THE 1970S (pp. 278-311)

    “You can call me anything you want, but do not call me a racist.” President George W. Bush was responding to accusations that the failure of the federal government to respond swiftly to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was partially due to the hardest-hit New Orleans residents being primarily poor and working-class African Americans—and likely Democratic voters, to boot. Bush’s reply captured a fundamental truth about American public life in the new millennium. No label was more damaging to a public figure than being identified as racist. Even this conservative Texas Republican, whose party since 1964 had...

  12. Conclusion (pp. 312-318)

    Out of the 1970s emerged the dominant contemporary American values of formal equality and free-market economics. Few would disagree that the United States became a more inclusive society while also one more deeply skeptical about the benefits of activist government, just as none would deny the reality, on the world stage, of the crumbling of colonialism and the retreat and near-collapse of socialism. But what was the precise relationship between these two developments? How were the simultaneous flowerings of egalitarianism and free-market values related to each other?

    Both commitments had deep roots in the American past and had long helped...

  13. NOTES (pp. 319-370)
  14. INDEX (pp. 371-401)