Culture Wars and Enduring American Dilemmas
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: University of Michigan Press
Title page, Copyright, Dedication
1. Culture Wars and Warring about Culture
American culture appears to be deeply divided: those who believe there are absolute moral truths contend with those who place moral authority in individual judgment. Armed with these competing visions, "orthodox" versus "progressive" culture warriors clash on issues of abortion, homosexuality...
2. Respect for Religion but Uncertainty about Its Role
When Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States in the 1830s, he observed that the American case belied the eighteenth-century philosophers' assumption that religious faith would decline in the face of broader freedom and knowledge: "In America, one of the freest and most enlightened...
3. Moral but Not Moralistic
Observers since the time of Tocqueville have noted Americans' propensity to "see the world in moral terms" (Robin M. Williams 1957, 397). The dominant Protestant denominations have called on people to follow their consciences, and even agnostic and atheistic reformers have tended to be "utopian moralists who believe in the perfectibility of man and...
4. Individualism but Not to Excess
In the American cultural lexicon, individualism is always good. When it is "excessive," however, it becomes "selfishness," which is not good. Contrary to culture war stereotypes of individual licentiousness being advocated on the progressive side and deference to larger purposes on the orthodox side, elite opinion on both sides of the cultural...
5. Pluralism within One Culture
The debate about multiculturalism had a precursor in the much less contentious discussion of cultural pluralism beginning in the 1910s. In the early decades of the twentieth century, assimilation or Americanization was so much the dominant idea that cultural pluralism hardly received notice. While Horace Kallen claims to have...
6. Antielitist but Respecting Achievement
One staple of American political discourse is defining one's opponents as elitist while portraying one's own side as reflecting the will of the people. All sides in the culture wars manifest this tendency. What is unusual here is only the number of elites at issue, since every sphere of culture wars contention is characterized by splits between the leadership...
7. Moderation, Plain and Simple
Unlike the other American cultural themes that occupy the culture warriors, moderation is seen as an uncomplicated good. The American admiration for it contains no ambivalences or ambiguities. In his 1979 study of American journalism, Herbert Gans suggested that "moderatism" or distaste for "excess or extremism" was among...
8. Culture, Class, and American Exceptionalism
While this volume argues that there is no culture war, just newer iterations of long-standing American cultural dilemmas, the rhetoric and the social movements associated with the "culture wars" raise questions about the nature of the divisions within contemporary American society. Why is a culture war perceived to...
9. Concluding Comments
Defenders of the culture war idea contend that despite the moderation embraced by the American population, the "deep culture" that frames our understanding of social reality is divided into orthodox and progressive camps. This public culture, enunciated by elites, must be studied separately from public opinion. Examination...
Page Count: 284
Publication Year: 2010
Series Title: Contemporary Political and Social Issues
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