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Friday, October 27, 2006

"Is There a Culture War"?

That's the title of a new book edited by E.J. Dionne and Michael Cromartie and written by James Davison Hunter and Alan Wolfe.  Here's a description of the book:

In the wake of a bitter 2004 presidential campaign and in the face of numerous divisive policy questions, many Americans wonder if their country has split in two. People are passionately choosing sides on contentious issues such as the invasion of Iraq, gay marriage, stem-cell research, and the right to die, and the battle over abortion continues unabated. Social and political splits fascinate the media: we hear of Red States against Blue States and the "Religious Right" against "Secular America"; Fox News and Air America; NASCAR dads and soccer moms. Is America, in fact, divided so clearly? Does a moderate middle still exist? Is the national fabric fraying? To the extent that these divisions exist, are they simply the healthy and unavoidable products of a diverse, democratic nation? In Is There a Culture War? two of America's leading authorities on political culture lead a provocative and thoughtful investigation of this question and its ramifications.

James Davison Hunter and Alan Wolfe debate these questions with verve, insight, and a deep knowledge rooted in years of study and reflection. Long before most scholars and pundits addressed the issue, Hunter and Wolfe were identifying the fault lines in the debate. Hunter's 1992 book Culture Wars put the term in popular circulation, arguing that America was in the midst of a "culture war" over "our most fundamental and cherished assumptions about how to order our lives." Six years later, in One Nation After All, Wolfe challenged the idea of a culture war and argued that a majority of Americans were seeking a middle way, a blend of the traditional and the modern. For the first time, these two distinguished scholars join in dialogue to clarify their differences, update their arguments, and search for the truth about America's cultural condition.

(Thanks to Melissa Rogers for the post.)

Some of my own thoughts on the "America Divided" claim are set out in this article.  A taste:

Hardly a day goes by without bold-print, full-volume reminders from pollsters and pundits that American society is fractured, split, polarized, partisan--even at "war”--and that it is, about many things and in many ways, "divided."  We are, according to Gertrude Himmelfarb, "One Nation, Two Cultures."  We are, political guru Michael Barone tells us, "Hard America" and "Soft America."  We are, as commentator David Brooks and many others have colorfully described, Bobos and Patio Men, Latte and Sprinkler Towns.  We are Retro and Metro, Fahrenheit 9/11 and The Passion, Wal-Mart and Whole Foods, "values evangelicals" and "legal secularists," even Roundheads and Cavaliers. United we stand, perhaps; seated at the table, though, we seem intractably divided by Brooks's "meatloaf line." Even our book-buying habits, The New York Times reported not long ago, reveal a sharply and starkly "polarized nation"; in line at Borders and Barnes & Noble, we are still two Americas, "Red" and "Blue."  These alleged two Americashave different radio networks, live in increasingly segregated counties, use different online dating services, inhabit and move through different parts of the "blogosphere," and it has even been suggested that they ought to fly different airlines.  The cultural cleavage is so deep, some say, that meaningful disagreement and argument are no longer possible.

Posted by Rick Garnett on October 27, 2006 at 09:51 AM in Culture | Permalink


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An excellent book in the same vein is Morris P. Fiorina with Samuel J. Abrams and Jeremy C. Pope, Culture War?: The Myth of a Polarized America (2d ed. 2006). It debunks a lot of the media analysis touting the culture war, and instead shows that most people are quite centrist, but appear polarized when they have to choose between increasingly polarized politicians.

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