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One Nation, Two Cultures: A Searching Examination of American Society in the Aftermath of Our Cultural Revolution Paperback – January 30, 2001
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?Of all those who write about the moral condition of America, Himmelfarb is best.??Commentary
From the Inside Flap
From one of today's most respected historians and cultural critics comes a new book examining the gulf in American society--a 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 film--a "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."
Top customer reviews
If you want political theory from de Tocqueville and since, this could prove worthwile. If you want to understand what really divides us as a people, read something else.
Himmelfarb's analysis of the democratic institutions which might remedy the moral disorder she describes is cogent. She develops a typology of civil society proponents and prefers hard advocates to soft; she echoes Schumpeter's analysis of the decline of the family, and she analyzes religion's positive effects on citizen's morality thoroughly.
Himmelfarb is a historian. Her book consequently has a depth which is lacking in the policy writings of conservative scholars. Civil society, liberals and conservatives agree, needs strenghtening. But did you now that, as she points out, civil society was not in our political vocabulary until the 1980's?
Himmelfarb's meditation on the two cultures which have developed because of the cultural revolutions is similarly thoughtful. For instance, she notes that the gap between elites who are non-judgemental, permissive, and post-modern and a dissident, moral, culture which cuts across class and racial lines is not static. "Elites may provoke a reaction on the part of many who otherwise acquiesce in the values of a domination culture, (but) pushing the envelope may also have the contrary effect of inuring people to such excesses."
Criticisms of Himmelfarb may focus on her writings' ideology or its persuasiveness. Judging whether she comes out on the correct side, politically, on issues like single mother-hood is not simply a matter of comparing your beliefs with hers, but it is mostly that.
I take her least persuasive argument to be that we should legislate morality because we are constantly doing just that. First, the scope of her argument is greater than the evidence she provides--the civil rights legislation of the 1960's, the welfare system's subsidies for out-of-wedlock births, and no-fault divorce laws. Many laws outside the field of civil rights and family laws or can be neutral on questions of morality.
Second, only in the first case is there any real proof that morality has been legislated. Out-of-wedlock births are practical now, as a result of subsidies, but not regularly condoned by communites. No-fault divorce laws have not legitimated divorce, women who are divorcees have come to constitute a sizeable group with its own morality.
Finally, Himmelfarb's argument is most flawed in that it contradicts the unstated premise of Himmelfarb's book, which is that social disorders can be cured by democratic institutions and, without the state's involvement. Civil society can be a hard authoritaive collection of individiuals, families can be rebuilty without the state's intervention, and religion can be a guardian of mores, all without the use of the state by social conservatives.
Moreover, social conservatives will not succeed in creating allies in the culture war if legislating morality becomes their primary tactic. While there is no explict reason that they create allies, Himmelfarb's title seems to suggest that conservatives are not pleased with their dissident status.
There is no love of Christendom here, no grasp of the pulse of western civilization or the underlying culture of America, only an ongoing attempt to impose on the reader an either/or alternative that will appeal to the unimaginative. Read some Thomas Sowell instead. Gertrude and her apartment-dwelling NY friends really are the Reanointed.