chapter  3
19 Pages

The importance of being (in) earnest: voluntary associations and the irony of the state–private network during the early Cold War


This chapter traces the genealogy of the state-private network between the US government and voluntary associations during the early Cold War. Using women’s voluntary associations as a case study, the chapter establishes the ideological importance of the voluntary tradition as a key component of American exceptionalism. Women’s voluntary associations sought to export their model of democratic participation in the post-war world. In this endeavour they were encouraged and aided by the government, which shared their understanding of the ideological importance of private voluntary activities as a defining characteristic of American ideology. This first stage of the state-private network can be described as ‘supportive’, because both the US government and voluntary associations shared a similar ideological framework and worked independently towards the same goal.