UCL Institute of the Americas


Christopher Sarjeant

The Forgotten Culture War: The Roots, Structures and Implications of Intellectual Divergence on the American Left During the 'Long 1990s'


Dr Nick Witham and Professor Jonathan Bell

My research focuses on the intellectual challenge posed by a loose grouping of left-liberal scholars, writers and journalists (many of whom shared links to the social democratic journal Dissent) to the orthodoxies of the American ‘academic’, ‘cultural’, and ‘anti-imperial’ lefts of the 1990s. Working within an expanded timeframe that stretches from Jesse Jackson’s second Presidential campaign (’87) and the beginning of the fall of Soviet communism (’89) to the attacks and subsequent public debates of 9/11, the project examines the hardening of divisions that accompanied the American left's attempts at comprehending a series of dramatic domestic and world-historical events at the end of the Twentieth Century.

Drawing upon close documentary analysis and oral history methodologies, the project engages with the nascent historiographies both of the recent American left, and of the ‘culture wars’ -a series of politico-cultural battles frequently defined as an exclusive feature of left/right ideological division during the 1990s. In addition, my research touches upon the founding and subsequent fragmentation of the New Left during the 1960s; the theoretical debates that surrounded the rise of communitarianism in the 1980s; the philosophical underpinnings of Just War Theory and the advent of the Human Rights paradigm; and the influence of postwar Jewish-American history and philosophy on left-liberal thought.