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The Fractious Nation?

The Fractious Nation?: Unity and Division in Contemporary American Life

Edited by Jonathan Rieder
Stephen Steinlight Associate Editor
Douglas S. MASSEY
Martha MINOW
Cecilia MUÑOZ
Jonathan RIEDER
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 302
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  • Book Info
    The Fractious Nation?
    Book Description:

    What are we to make of the speed with which the new climate of national solidarity emerged after September 11? Does it not look strange against a backdrop of the much-touted divisiveness of American life? In truth,The Fractious Nation?makes clear, the contrast of the time of divisiveness before and the time of unity that followed is much too stark, indeed. Less than a year before two planes slammed into the World Trade Center, the 2000 presidential election produced not just the starkly blue and red electoral map but also the two tribal Americas those totemic colors emblazoned. And from the cultural wars to immigration restriction, from the Christian right to political correctness, recent decades have witnessed much hand-wringing on the left and the right about the fragmentation of American life.The Fractious Nation?enlists the critical intelligence of fourteen distinguished contributors who illuminate the schisms in American life and the often volatile debates they have inspired in the realms of culture, ethnic and racial pluralism, and political life. The collective wisdom ofThe Fractious Nation?suggests a counterview to all the overheated rhetoric. The authors warn against fixating on flamboyant incidents of racial conflict when black-and-white values overlap considerably. On a range of cultural issues, the gap between our citizens has closed as well. And even as the rivalry between liberalism and conservatism transmutes into new forms, the political center remains vital and democratic. We are tied together not just by shared values but by institutions-the Constitution, the culture of consumption, the etiquette of ethnic respect. In private life and public affairs, our nation has expanded the meaning of democratic citizenship. Still, there's no room for self-congratulations here. Tendencies toward preoccupation with private life encourage indifference to the suffering of the less privileged. This is also one of the main failings of the narrative of fragmentation: In its focus on matters of shared values, it too distracts from issues of poverty and inequality that also fragment the human spirit.Contributors:Richard Bernstein, John J. DiIulio Jr., Paul DiMaggio, E.J. Dionne, Jr., Kevin Gaines, Jennifer Hochschild, Douglas S. Massey, Martha Minow, Cecilia Muñoz, Jonathan Rieder, Theda Skocpol, Paul Starr, Mary C. Waters, Jack Wertheimer

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93691-1
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Jonathan Rieder
  4. INTRODUCTION: The Fractious Nation?
    (pp. 1-12)
    Jonathan Rieder

    Throughout the last decades of the twentieth century, Americans recurrently worried about the conflicts that divided the nation. On the right and the left, mulling bitter struggles over abortion, politics, and race, people voiced concern that a certain testiness, and beyond, even fragmentation, had come to afflict our national life.The Fractious Nation?seeks to illuminate the schisms, the often anxious debates they inspired, and the powerful forces that continue to generate unity in the United States.

    On the surface such political, racial, and cultural rancor seems starkly out of kilter with the feelings of shared purpose and molten outrage...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Getting a Fix on Fragmentation: “Breakdown” as Estimation Error, Rhetorical Strategy, and Organizational Accomplishment
    (pp. 13-54)
    Jonathan Rieder

    It is not easy to get a fix on “fragmentation.” There is something too primal about social conflict and the passions it stirs to encourage calm appraisal. It is common to say that change can be “dizzying”; naturally enough, people become unnerved by the ominously open character of uncertainty. By upsetting familiar expectations, as Durkheim famously argued, even moments of good fortune may plunge its beneficiaries into the abyss of anomie. And cognitive psychologists have observed how the fallibility of human beings, who aspire to rationality but often fall short of attaining it, leaves them vulnerable to distorted judgment as...

  6. PART I Moral Unity, Moral Division

    • CHAPTER 2 The Fetish of Difference
      (pp. 57-66)
      Richard Bernstein

      In his biography of Meyer Amschel Rothschild, the founder of the international banking dynasty, the Israeli writer Amos Elon talks about the creation of the first modern Jewish school in the city of Frankfurt, where the Rothschilds lived in the narrow, overcrowded ghetto known as the Judengasse. The school was the brainchild of Seligmann Geisenheimer, an “Enlightenment” Jew whom Rothschild had hired to be his book-keeper. Geisenheimer is an important figure. Until he arrived on the scene very early in the nineteenth century, the Jews of the Frankfurt Judengasse were educated strictly along religious lines, with no instruction in the...

    • CHAPTER 3 Fragments or Ties? The Defense of Difference
      (pp. 67-78)
      Martha Minow

      There is a school of thought that holds that ours is a time of unusually high conflict between groups. Generations square off against each other as senior citizens support cutting funds for schools and children’s services while maintaining support for themselves. Fiscal warfare is intensified by a lack of compassion across ethnic and racial lines. New regionalisms arise even as global communications surge. Class divisions find expression in spatial separation, as privileged whites wall themselves off from others, huddling in suburbs and gated communities with their own security, garbage collection, and after-school entertainment.

      Even more dangerous, some argue, are the...

    • CHAPTER 4 The Myth of Culture War: The Disparity between Private Opinion and Public Politics
      (pp. 79-97)
      Paul DiMaggio

      In June 1999, speaking before Congress in opposition to gun control, Representative Tom Delay attributed school violence to such apparently disparate features of modern life as daycare, abortion, evolution, the entertainment industry, individualism, moral relativism, and contraception.New York Timescorrespondent Francis Clines described the speech as “Joshua’s trumpet to a full-scale cultural war.”¹

      For almost a decade now journalists and political pundits have told us that a culture war is raging. Bitter disputes over matters that most Americans once regarded as inappropriate for government intervention—abortion, sexuality, artistic expression, parenting—have divided communities and reshaped the contours of national...

    • CHAPTER 5 America’s Jews: Highly Fragmented, Insufficiently Disputatious
      (pp. 98-114)
      Jack Wertheimer

      During the 1997–98 academic year five Orthodox Jews filed a lawsuit against Yale University, claiming Yale’s policy requiring all freshman and sophomores to live in a mixed-sex dormitory was discriminatory because it forced them into an environment whose mores were sharply at odds with their strict religious and ethical sensibilities. The students requested either to be exempted from the requirement or to be housed in a single-sex residence “where rules against visitation by members of the opposite sex and against cohabitation are enforced.”¹

      The response of the secular organized Jewish community to the lawsuit was telling. The community relations...

  7. PART II Refiguring the Boundaries of Citizenship:: Race, Immigration, and National Belonging

    • CHAPTER 6 Once Again, Strangers on Our Shores
      (pp. 117-130)
      Mary C. Waters

      Americans have a fundamental ambivalence about immigration. We are a nation of immigrants, yet racism and xenophobia are constitutive parts of our national psyche. Although we voice warm feelings about our immigrant ancestors, we see the present crop of immigrants as unworthy or even as demonic others, and the United States has a long history of trying to restrict immigration.

      The current debate on immigration perfectly embodies this ambivalence. In the nearly four decades since the Hart-Celler immigration reforms opened the doors to non-European immigration, the largest flow in the nation’s history has profoundly transformed U.S. society. For some the...

    • CHAPTER 7 Expelling Newcomers: The Eclipse of Constitutional Community
      (pp. 131-142)
      Cecilia Muñoz

      For a nation of immigrants the United States has long been ambivalent about immigration. On the one hand, we have a rich tradition of treating immigrants generously. The attitude of welcoming strangers, embodied informally in the symbolism of the Statue of Liberty and the integration of each generation of new immigrants into the fabric of American life, has nurtured a formal tradition that codified generosity in legal forms: the relative ease and universalist criteria that encouraged becoming an American citizen; a doctrine of birthright citizenship, quite different from most European societies, that automatically conferred citizenship on children born in the...

    • CHAPTER 8 The United States in the World Community: The Limits of National Sovereignty
      (pp. 143-154)
      Douglas S. Massey

      The large immigration of recent years has stimulated popular debate and popular unhappiness over the impact of immigration on American life. As recently as the 1950s only 2.5 million immigrants arrived in the United States, with 60 percent coming from Europe or Canada, 25 percent from Latin America or the Caribbean, and only 6 percent from Asia. Given the relatively small numbers, mostly of European origin, no one paid much attention. By the 1980s, however, immigration to the United States had nearly tripled to 7.3 million persons, only 12 percent of whom came from Europe or Canada, with 47 percent...

    • CHAPTER 9 “Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?”: Narrowing the Enduring Divisions of Race
      (pp. 155-169)
      Jennifer Hochschild

      “Who cares who killed Roger Ackroyd?” Edmund Wilson asked in a famous 1945New Yorkeressay, referring to Agatha Christie’sWho Killed Roger Ackroyd?Finding such mystery novels “a waste of time,” Wilson advised, “We shall do well to discourage the squandering of . . . paper that might be put to better use.”¹ Wilson’s warning might well be applied to arguments over the causes of racial animosity in America that have raged during the past several decades. It’s not that asking who’s to blame for racial hierarchy and division is entirely a waste of time. But it risks raising...

    • CHAPTER 10 The Ambivalence of Citizenship: African-American Intellectuals in Search of Community
      (pp. 170-184)
      Kevin Gaines

      It has never been easy being an intellectual in America. The culture of the sound bite, the fetish of celebrity, and the eagerness of the news media to promote scandal rather than the public interest have eroded what little authority intellectuals ever had. But to be a black intellectual these days carries its own special vexations. On the one hand, African-American intellectuals have come to symbolize for many white intellectuals the separatist fragment that threatens American cultural unity. On the other hand, for many African Americans they seem distant and even disloyal figures in internal disputes over identity and the...

  8. PART III Unity and Division in the Political Realm

    • CHAPTER 11 Social Provision and Civic Community: Beyond Fragmentation
      (pp. 187-205)
      Theda Skocpol

      We Americans find it easy to dwell on what keeps us apart—and perhaps nowhere is this truer than in recent debates about social policies. Reforming the “urban underclass” and ending “welfare as we know it” have preoccupied Americans since the 1960s. Recently, social security programs for the elderly have also become controversial. To judge from the tone and content of public debates—especially those featured in the mass media that feed on dramatic controversy—irreconcilable conflicts of identity and interest are at work.

      Conservatives have denounced “welfare queens,” and liberals suggest that mass starvation will follow the abolition of...

    • CHAPTER 12 Stable Fragmentation in Multicultural America
      (pp. 206-216)
      Paul Starr

      The complaint is familiar: Americans no longer identify with their nation and its common good but only with their tribe and its particular interests. Conservatives see this “new tribalism” as threatening to devalue America’s national achievements and undermine patriotism; some liberals say it undercuts the sense of mutual obligation vital to the welfare state and complicates the formation of broad, progressive political coalitions.

      The pattern of social cleavages, however, may be neither as new nor as threatening as those views suggest. No doubt, when Americans disagree about education, moral conduct, and many other issues, they often divide into groups defined...

    • CHAPTER 13 The Moral Compassion of True Conservatism
      (pp. 217-224)
      John J. DiIulio Jr.

      The final decades of the last century are rightly considered a period of conservative ferment. From the Reagan years through Clinton’s declaration that the era of big government is over, and beyond into the new century, in many respects the nation’s ideological center of gravity shifted. But for all this ferment, there have been a lot of false prophets and pretenders claiming the mantle of conservatism.

      Our image of conservatism has been obscured most obviously by the insistence of liberals that conservatism is by its nature divisive, ethnocentric, bigoted, mean-spirited, selfish, irrational, and anti-American. More critically, many self-proclaimed conservatives have...

    • CHAPTER 14 Shaking Off the Past: Third Ways, Fourth Ways, and the Urgency of Politics
      (pp. 225-247)
      E. J. Dionne Jr.

      Long before the 2000 presidential election, Steve Goldsmith, one of George W. Bush’s top campaign policy advisers and the former Republican mayor of Indianapolis, was explaining the inner balances and tensions within compassionate conservatism. After he had described the importance of both the government and the market to this putatively new philosophy, Goldsmith was asked the obvious question: Didn’t it all sound a lot like the “Third Way” of which Bill Clinton and Tony Blair were so fond?

      “No,” Goldsmith replied firmly but with a chuckle. “It’s the Fourth Way.”

      The notion of cross-ideological larceny was not entirely new. “The...

    • EPILOGUE: Into the Unknown: Unity and Conflict after September 11, 2001
      (pp. 248-278)
      Jonathan Rieder

      We have roamed far and wide over the last fourteen chapters, from the tensions of race to the heated disputes of culture war, from the distinctive dilemmas of Jewish organizations and black intellectuals to the global forces that shape decisions to migrate. Along the way we have encountered gentle polemic and the cool dispassion of social science, analytic journalism in defense of a liberal Third Way and a prophetic sermon in favor of conservative compassion.

      Given the range of subjects examined and the levels of analysis engaged, it seems only fitting to pick up the thread of the introduction to...

  9. List of Contributors
    (pp. 279-282)
  10. Index
    (pp. 283-295)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 296-296)