Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



“You can’t beat brains,” said President John Kennedy of the intellectuals and technicians he assembled in his cabinet. Kennedy was perhaps the greatest political champion for the virtues of expertise. However, all over America during the 1960s and ‘70s, diverse groups voiced doubts about how much experts, such as social scientists, policy specialists, and others, actually improved life. This dissertation examines how movements on the political left and right, and spiritual ruptures such as the rise of ‘60s counterculture and of evangelicalism, spoke in different language to express a similar point: human mastery over the world is profoundly limited. Many believed, as a result, that rational planning too should be limited. In this regard, the dissertation is part of the historiography of the decline of American liberalism, and its foundation, expert management. The dissertation is foremost a cultural and intellectual history – locating for its sources the artifacts of mass culture – and, to a lesser extent, political. A reading of American cinema produced from the 1950s through the 1970s, as well as of songs, sermons, presidential rhetoric, and popular nonfiction, demonstrates the tense relationship Americans had with experts. The study pays especially close attention to several of the films of Henry Fonda, and the symbolic meaning of some of his characters as idealized rational humanists. Through the rhetoric of psychedelic music, presidential speeches, anti-war rallies, and evangelical nonfiction, this dissertation locates the sources of hostility toward those who justify their authority by appealing to expertise.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Culbert, David



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