The Freeing of the American Mind

The Freeing of the American Mind
AP Photo/Ron Edmonds, File

Free minds. Freedom fries. Free speech. The Freedom Caucus. Freedom from. Freedom to. What do Americans really mean when they talk about freedom?

Louis Menand’s “The Free World” is a 700-plus-page intellectual history of the Cold War period that traces the opening of the American mind to new ideas in art, literature, politics, music, foreign policy, criticism, higher education and campus activism. John Cage was making silent music, Jackson Pollock was throwing paint on canvases, Pauline Kael was giving us permission to actually enjoy movies. Thinkers like James Baldwin, Isaiah Berlin and Hannah Arendt were arguing over what it meant to be free. Liberatory movements were trying to actually make Americans free. But what did it all get us? Out of all this ferment and conflict, what forms of freedom did Americans secure, and which did we lose?

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