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American Culture in Peril

edited by Charles W. Dunn

Publication Year: 2012

Thirty years ago, Ronald Reagan rode a wave of patriotism to the White House by calling for a return to what he considered to be traditional American values--personal liberty, free markets, and limited government. After the cultural struggles and generational clashes of the 1960s and 70s, it appeared that many Americans were eager to abide by Reagan's set of core American principles. Yet, despite Reagan's continuing popularity, modern America remains widely perceived as a nation weakened by its divisions. While debates over cultural values have been common throughout the country's history, they seem particularly vitriolic today. Some argue that these differences have resulted in a perpetually gridlocked government caught between left and right, red states and blue. Since the American Founding, commonly shared cultural values have been considered to be the glue that would bind the nation's citizens together. However, how do we identify, define and interpret the foundations of American culture in a profoundly divided, pluralistic country?

In American Culture in Peril, Charles W. Dunn assembles top scholars and public intellectuals to examine Reagan's impact on American culture in the twenty-first century. The contributors assess topics vital to our conversations about American culture and society, including changing views of the family, the impact of popular culture, and the evolving relationship between religion, communities, and the state. Others investigate modern liberalism and the possibilities of reclaiming a renewed conservatism today. American Culture in Peril illuminates Reagan's powerful legacy and investigates whether his traditional view of American culture can successfully compete in postmodern America.


Hadley Arkes

Paul A. Cantor

Allan Carlson

Jean Bethke Elshtain

Charles R. Kesler

Wilfred M. McClay

Ken Myers

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Front cover

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pp. c-c

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xii

Seven years ago Regent University established the annual Symposium in Honor of Ronald Reagan, designed to bring to the campus leading scholars and public intellectuals to discuss matters of vital importance to American culture and society. The response of the public has been impressive:...

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pp. 1-10

Like the constantly changing patterns of light produced by a kaleidoscope, a broad and changeable array of values distinguishes American culture. Focusing on the values themselves, though—the product of the kaleidoscope—presents a daunting task, much like piecing together a mosaic of fragments without benefit of the artist’s vision of...

Part 1: Ronald Reagan and Modern Culture

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pp. 11-12

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Ronald Reagan and Modern Liberalism

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pp. 13-32

“The central conservative truth,” Daniel Patrick Moynihan once wrote, “is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth,” he added, “is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.”1 Although there is wisdom in Moynihan’s dictum, it suffers two defects. In the first place, it leaves unclear what culture is and where politics comes from—or to put it...

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A Touch for First Principles

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pp. 33-52

In the 1980s, in the days of President Reagan, Lou Cannon started a running line in the Washington Post, called “Reaganism of the Week.” The insinuation here was that Reagan was speaking a version of what Mel Brooks would describe as “frontier gibberish.” In other words, the president was simple-minded. Or he persistently missed the complications...

Part 2: Cultural Conflict in America

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pp. 53-54

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The Fickle Muse

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pp. 55-78

As an English professor discussing the future of American culture, I think of culture as meaning primarily “the arts.” For the past two decades, I have been especially interested in popular culture, and I can say in all immodesty that I am regarded as one of the world’s foremost academic authorities on The Simpsons.1 Thus, focusing on popular culture, I will make the following predictions about the future...

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Will the Postfamily Culture Claim America?

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pp. 79-96

Ole and Lena are a mythical Swedish-American couple, probably residing somewhere in Minnesota, notable for their remarkably dysfunctional marriage. One story goes like this:
Ole and Lena have grown old, and one day Ole becomes very sick. Eventually, he is confined to his upstairs bedroom, barely conscious, bedridden, and growing ever weaker. After several weeks of this, the...

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The Critic and Culture

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pp. 97-112

Everybody’s a critic. It seems to be a natural right among Americans to gripe about pretty much everything, but government above all. How many times have you heard the plaint “They are all a bunch of crooks,” that politics is an innately dirty game. Trust in politicians and the political process is at a nadir among us. In addition, for many decades, cultural elites anointed themselves the designated critics of...

Part 3: The Possibilities of Cultural Change

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pp. 113-114

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Two Cities, How Many Cultures?

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pp. 115-134

In 1939, just before England entered World War II, T.S. Eliot gave three lectures at Cambridge that were later assembled in an essay entitled “The Idea of a Christian Society.” There are numerous brilliant observations in that essay, but I would like to begin my essay by focusing on one sentence: “The fact that a problem will certainly take a long time to solve, and that it will demand the attention of many...

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Sources of Renewal in Twenty-First-Century America

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pp. 135-154

These past few years have been a rough and discouraging stretch for Americans in general, and perhaps especially for American conservatives. Yet in such times all of us should recall the counsel of Shakespeare, expressed by the exiled and deposed Duke Senior in...


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pp. 155-158


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pp. 159-166

E-ISBN-13: 9780813136035
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813136028

Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 787846236
MUSE Marc Record: Download for American Culture in Peril

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Conservatism -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • Liberalism -- Social aspects -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Culture conflict.
  • Reagan, Ronald -- Influence.
  • Social change -- United States.
  • United States -- Civilization -- 1970-.
  • United States -- Social conditions -- 2000-.
  • Cultural pluralism -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Social values -- United States.
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