In this new edition of Overcoming America / America Overcoming, Stephen Rowe shows how the COVID-19 pandemic in tandem with Trumpism have brought basic dynamics of the American situation to high relief, and hence provide opportunity to address them – before it is too late. The dynamics he identifies are those of moral disease and political paralysis as symptomatic of the fact that America herself has been overtaken by the modern values which she exported to the rest of the world. He points to a way out of the current and potentially fatal malaise and violence: join other societies which are also struggling to move beyond the modern and consciously reappropriate those elements of tradition which have to do with cultivation of the mature human being. To avoid fundamentalism, Rowe discusses how this reappropriation must be undertaken in dialogue with those who also have come to recognize the unsustainable quality of the modern life, and who have been able to live beyond the nihilistic wish to tear it down. This book supports the call for an emerging global ethic and spirituality, providing resources of articulation and interpretation that allow for an ongoing dialogue between traditional and modern values—both worthy and problematic in their own ways—through which reliable policy and healthy living become possible.
Stephen C. Rowe is founding chair of the Liberal Studies Program at Grand Valley State University and chair of GVSU’s pluralistic Philosophy Department.
Part I: America and the Problem of Modernity
1 Worldview, Choice, and Dialogue
Worldview as Issue and Choice
Dialogue, Tradition, and Practice
2021 Conversational Aside: Dialogue and the Human Future
2 Ideologues, Nihilists, and the Depressed—and Relationalists
Corporate Capitalism and the Abandonment of America
Hating Reasonable Discourse
Ideologues, Nihilists, and the Depressed
Ideological and Relational Worldviews
2021 Conversational Aside: On Relationality
3 Moral Disease: The Late-Modern Condition in America
The Modern Eclipse of America
Conversational Aside: The American Bubble
From Individualism to Moral Disease
2021 Conversational Aside: The Question of Soul
4 Nothingness and Gift: Eleven Glimpses
2021 Conversational Aside: The Ambiguity of Nothingness
Part II: Relational Worldview
5 Reappropriating Tradition
Conversational Aside: The Perspective of Nothingness
Modernity, Reappropriation, and Dialogue
Postmodern Critique and Return of Wisdom
American Tradition and Democratic Spirit
Conversational Aside: Contra Postmodernism
6 Dialogue as Democratic Possibility
The Emergence of Dialogue
Six Qualities of Dialogue
America and New Worldview
Conversational Aside: Reappropriating the Modern
7 What We Can Learn from/with China 101 The Mystery of Chinese Vitality
8 Dialogue, Development, and Pluralism
Conversational Aside: Going to Pittsburg
Dialogue and/as Practice
Huston Smith as Example
Conversational Aside: Paradox and Relationality
Part III: Reviving Civic Virtue
9 A Liberal Confession
Conversational Aside: American Challenge
A Nearly Forgotten Subtradition
From Sixties Activism to Liberal Education
Conversational Aside: ’60s in Shanghai and Chicago
Conversational Aside: Education as Reform
Waves of Discovery and Challenge
Return of Relational Liberalism?
10 American Clash and Revival
Reappropriating the American Vision
11 Pragmatism Revisited
Conversational Aside: A New Universalism
12 Democratic Life, American Hope: A Meditation on/from the
Practice in the Post-Traditional Era
Conversational Aside: Education as Transformation
Decision, Openness, Return
Interpretation and Engagement
Components of Practice
Resistance, Faith, and Surrender
13 Liberal Education as Democratic Practice
Claiming a Liberal Education
Ideas and Relationships
A Democratic Curriculum
Conversational Aside: Nihilists Annoyed
Conclusion: Democracy Somewhere
Stephen Rowe launches a powerful argument for the need to aufheben ('negate-and-uplift') the modern and to construct a relational America. Engaging and refreshing. An excellent example of how comparative philosophy is relevant to the real world.
In this intriguing new book, Stephen Rowe exemplifies the key democratic, educational, moral arts he invites us to understand, to value, to practice. Honestly, caringly, respectfully he invites us to think with him as he lays out the complex weave of analysis, understanding, and hopeful prescriptions on which he has worked for many years. It is a rich conversation we enter, then, with a thinking friend who cares a great deal about our troubled, troubling world. It is also a call to action, but, crucially, Rowe believes that, if we do not also and always keep working on understanding rightly, and truly with equal others, our best-intentioned actions can perpetuate the very harms we want to remedy.
A wake-up call—and just in time! At the book's publication, the upper echelons of American society are wallowing to an alarming degree in the wasteland of unlimited greed, power-lust, pleasure-seeking, and corruption—all this in complete disregard of the deeper wellsprings that have animated America's original vision of 'liberty and justice for all.' This is a 'postmodern' book in the best sense: one that does not simply reject modernity but rather rescues modernity-gone-astray, thus paving the way to recovery. Stephen Rowe is an admirably lucid and courageous writer sounding this wake-up call—not by imposing moralistic formulas from above, but by encouraging a renewed cultivation of civic virtues through mutual openness and dialogical engagement.
This book should go far to establish Rowe as the contemporary American social critic who has inherited the mantle of Christopher Lasch. Rowe continues Lasch's trenchant observations of the sickness of our times, sounds the prophetic call to conversion for the sake of the true American promise, and carries the reader forward with strong, clear, well chosen words and convincing argument. The text reads as if it were spoken onto the page and the reader hears it as much as sees it. Rowe has created a style of writing most fitting for our 'post-traditional' era, and a message which, as he confesses in the book’s first sentence, is 'urgent, large, and a bit wild.' And also intimate, engaged, conversational, reflective, personal, anecdotal. Rowe brings his first-hand experience with inter-cultural dialogue, and in depth knowledge of Chinese culture, as well as his life-long devotion to liberal education as a way for citizens in a democracy to grow morally and spiritually together, to the contemporary public conversation he so celebrates and augments in this book.
Overcoming America represents a pioneering vision of the lineaments of the new map of eternal America as it struggles to stay America—with all the hope for the world which that entails—while the world changes within and around us.
Recommended for the panoramic vision holding this very substantive work together, its faithfulness to the pragmatic vision of democracy, and its responsiveness to dialogue with non-Western traditions.