From Publishers Weekly
"Is loyalty still appreciated in America? Can one still be honest in America today? Is sexual promiscuity a sign of bad character?... What kinds of acts and behaviors are unforgivable?" Using interviews with a diverse group of Americans ranging from gays and lesbians in the San Francisco area and mill workers in small-town America to born-again Christians and Silicon Valley suburbanites sociologist Wolfe (One Nation, After All) poses these and other questions as he surveys the moral landscape of contemporary America. His team's questions focus on the traditional virtues of loyalty, honesty, self-restraint and forgiveness. Throughout their conversations, Wolfe and his interviewers found that even though contemporary Americans reject what they believe are outmoded versions of these virtues, these same Americans struggle to fashion their own versions of them. Moral freedom, Wolfe notes, "means that individuals should determine for themselves what it means to lead a good and virtuous life." He traces the rise of moral freedom to the 1960s and 1970s, and contends that, although it may have some regrettable consequences, this individualistic and pragmatic method of forging morality will shape our moral discourse well into the 21st century. Although there is little new here for keen observers of contemporary American culture and morality, Wolfe's study has the potential to change the ways we think about society and morality in the same way that Robert Bellah's classic Habits of the Heart changed the ways we think about society and religion. (Apr.)Forecast: Wolfe's poll was done in conjunction with the New York Times Magazine, which published the results in a special issue. Wolfe's last book was widely reviewed, and this should be as well.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Wolfe here discusses the results of a national public opinion poll he helped design on American beliefs about values, which he supplemented with detailed interviews of people from eight different U.S. communities. These ranged widely, from the Castro district of San Francisco to San Antonio. Though many writers argue that Americans live in a moral crisis, Wolfe does not concur. He claims, instead, that Americans are still firmly committed to morality, although current values often differ from those of the past. The notion that people are of necessity sinful has lost force. Many of Wolfe's respondents view people as capable of articulating their own values in freedom. The changed emphasis affects a number of particular issues. For example, the virtue of honesty is now taken as more flexible than it was in past eras, and forgiveness has become more central as a trait to be cultivated. Wolfe's sensitive study is highly recommended. David Gordon, Bowling Green State Univ., OH
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.