Encountering the Other
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As they attempted to define and shape American identity through a national culture, the intellectuals of the early Republic discovered their need for “the Other.” They found it impossible to think and write about American identity without also thinking and writing about its negative image, or everything that it was not. Civilization could only be described in relation to savagery, virtue to vice, freedom to slavery, and so forth. For the sake of cognitive coherence, American intellectuals tended to focus and project most of those negative qualities on a single social group. American identity, like other social identities, was constructed in contrapuntal fashion, in opposition to a culturally different Other.
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