James Ceasar, Reconstructing America: The Symbol of America in Modern Thought (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997).
Canadian couch potatoes naturally enjoy curling up with a book attacking the United States; the more fit among us even enjoy writing them. It is unclear how large a market James Ceaser can expect to command up here in my adopted country, as he has gone so far as to write a book repelling criticism of the United States. If it's any consolation, what at first appears a resounding vindication proves in the end a somewhat ambiguous one.
In Reconstructing America, Ceaser sets out to defend "the real America" against the symbolic one. By the "symbolic" (or sometimes "metaphysical") America he means the United States treated as a symbol of something other than itself, of something "grotesque, obscene, monstrous, stultifying, stunted, leveling, deadening, deracinating, rootless, uncultured." This symbolic America is closely associated with the notion of "Americanization", "which refers to such fundamental developments of modernity as cultural homogenization, democratization, and degeneration." "Once this point is reached, it is clear that the real America is no longer at issue: an idea or symbol called 'America' has taken over." Symbols matter, however; indeed they matter very much, and this one, according to Ceaser, has proved pernicious at home as well as abroad. For American intellectuals, particularly those denizens of the university who practice "cultural studies", have taken the symbolic America to their bosoms. "One objective of this book is to free the real from the symbolic America, thus liberating a country from the mastery of a metaphor and the tyranny of a trope."