Agnotology and the Know-Nothing Party: Then and Now


Belligerent ignorance has always proved strategic in the hegemonic goals of empire. The imperial history of the present is no exception. The Know-Nothing Party was founded in the USA in 1843, a pivotal year in America’s history of territorial expansion. It was disbanded as a national political party in the no-less pivotal year of 1860, a year in which patriotic gore would turn on itself as the grossly misnamed Civil War. Nonetheless, the political and ideological tenets of the Know-Nothing Party endure with global repercussions in the twenty-first century. The literary and historiographic diagnoses of this deliberate bellicosity founded on the cultivation of ignorance have ranged from poetic to critical discourse starting in the nineteenth century. Nonetheless, in the twenty-first century, what the Germans termed schrecklichkeit (“ruthless terror”) to describe the horrors of World War I continues to be visited on peoples and nations targeted by imperial hubris and economic rapacity through a cynical strategy of expediently manufactured ignorance.

Keywords: agnotology, doublespeak, empire, epistemology, hegemony, media, realpolitik, xenophobia.


agnotology; doublespeak; empire; epistemology; hegemony; media; realpolitik; xenophobia.

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Published : 2017-06-30

KadirD. (2017). Agnotology and the Know-Nothing Party: Then and Now. Review of International American Studies, 10(1). Retrieved from

Djelal Kadir
DEPARTMENT OF COMPARATIVE LITERATURE Pennsylvania State College of Liberal Arts  United States

Djelal Kadir the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Pennsylvania State University. He is the Founding President of the International American Studies Association and former Editor of the international quarterly World Literature Today. His authored books include: Juan Carlos Onetti (1977); Questing Fictions: Latin America's Family Romance (1987); Columbus and the Ends of the Earth: Europe's Prophetic Rhetoric as Conquering Ideology (1992); The Other Writing: Postcolonial Essays in Latin America's Writing Culture (1993); and Memos from the Besieged City: Lifelines for Cultural Sustainability (2011). He is co-editor of Other Modernisms in An Age of Globalization (2002); co-editor of the three-volume Literary Cultures of Latin America: A Comparative History (2004), of the six-volume Longman Anthology of World Literature (2004), and of The Routledge Companion to World Literature (2011).

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