From one of today's most respected historians and cultural critics comes a new book examining the gulf in American societya division that cuts across class, racial, ethnic, political and sexual lines.
One side originated in the tradition of republican virtue, the other in the counterculture of the late 1960s. Himmelfarb argues that, while the latter generated the dominant culture of today-particularly in universities, journalism, television, and filma "dissident culture" continues to promote the values of family, a civil society, sexual morality, privacy, and patriotism. Proposing democratic remedies for our moral and cultural diseases, Himmelfarb concludes that it is a tribute to Americans that we remain "one nation" even as we are divided into "two cultures."
This is a complicated, disturbing treatise on the moral balkanization of contemporary society by a leading light of the intellectual right that, in spite of its urgent cadence, sings predictably in the dour choir of the culture wars. Himmelfarb (The De-Moralization of Society, etc.) draws on varied historical sources in order to see through the public spyglass darkly: she explores close correlations between this century's countercultural movements and various marked declines in the virtue of the polity, as exhibited in such alarming symptoms as the welfare state, with its insidious attack on individual motivation and choice, and the relation between widespread cohabitation and "alternative" parenting and a concomitant degradation of marriage. She extends this model, in succinctly constructed chapters, into many of our contentious cultural arenas: for example, discussing contemporary divides between a bland ideal of "civil religion" and competing factions of evangelism and secularism, viewing "fundamentalism," because it comes in various forms, as a pluralist creed. She depicts this sort of cultural schism--"dissidents" possessing religiously influenced moral lives and accustomed to traditional family models vs., for example, the triumphant social entropy of Clintonite governance and Hollywood pop-culture--as our current primary conflict, negating issues of class, wealth, labor or identity politics. Her arguments are forceful and sophisticated, but dovetail cleanly with contemporary rightist rhetoric: refusing to acknowledge, for instance, that participants in unorthodox lifestyles may subscribe to authentic frameworks of personal morality or that even flawed governmental-assistance initiatives may serve noble and necessary ends. This substantive, well-articulated volume is destined to provide credence to the dark fears of true believers. (Nov.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.