This dissertation examines the various movements to propagate and publicly display the Ten Commandments in the United States since the end of World War II, using that history as a window to better understand the nexus of religion, nationalism, and capitalism. It demonstrates that such displays first emerged out of the impulses and needs of postwar liberalism, which sought to construct a broad and inclusive “Judeo-Christian” consensus, but were quickly seized upon by reactionary forces working to construct a more exclusionary form of nationalism. It then documents the role the Ten Commandments played in the politics and ideology of the Christian Right for whom they symbolized the foundations of a “Christian nation” that were under siege. This dissertation argues that public displays of the Ten Commandments, and the broader fusion of religion and nationalism they came to represent, helped to reconcile two contradictory impulses within postwar religious conservatism. Specifically, the embrace of liberal capitalism as a guarantor of freedom and prosperity on the one hand, and a deep aversion toward many of its material and social effects on the other. The Ten Commandments worked to displace concerns about structural changes onto individual moral failings or cultural institutions believed to shape individual conduct. For their proponents, the Ten Commandments offered a way of ameliorating social crises, arresting cultural liberalization, and reasserting traditional patriarchal authority without necessitating a broader systemic critique. This also helps to explain how conservative Christianity became reconciled with, or even necessary to, the functioning of neoliberalism.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation.August 2018. Major: History. Advisors: Lary May, Elaine May. 1 computer file (PDF); v, 277 pages.
The Rock of the Republic: The Ten Commandments in American Life from World War II to the Culture Wars.
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