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The End of Irony. Emotions and Criticism of Capitalism in the United States in the Global 1970s

  • Maurice Cottier EMAIL logo
From the journal New Global Studies


The aim of this article is to explore an emotional divide within the critical discourse on capitalism in the United States in the period from the late 1950s to the 1970s. By using the examples of John Kenneth Galbraith and Robert Lekachman, the article shows how an older generation of liberal economists used irony and sarcasm to create an air of emotional distance and disengagement between the critic and the subject at hand. This mode corresponded with the emotional regime of “American cool.” In the late 1960s, however, a younger generation of radical economists started to intervene. The rhetoric of this group was distinctively more emotional. Although the younger generation of radicals, like the older liberals, mostly belonged to the white middle class, the new global identity made it possible to overcome the emotional restraints of “American cool” and enabled the use of emotions and affectedness as a discursive tool in the fight for social and economic justice at home. Yet, the fact that the radical emotionality was linked to the hope for revolutionary change made it difficult to make compromises and agree to less radical reforms.

Corresponding author: Maurice Cottier, University of Fribourg, Fribourg, 1700, Switzerland, E-mail:


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Received: 2022-10-27
Accepted: 2023-06-27
Published Online: 2023-07-24

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