Is There a Culture War?

Is There a Culture War?: A Dialogue on Values and American Public Life

James Davison Hunter
Alan Wolfe
E.J. Dionne
Michael Cromartie
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 118
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7864/j.ctt6wpfn4
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  • Book Info
    Is There a Culture War?
    Book Description:

    In the wake of a bitter 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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-9518-6
    Subjects: Political Science, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. FOREWORD
    (pp. vii-x)
    Strobe Talbott

    In an America that seems increasingly divided between red states and blue states, pro-lifers and pro-choicers, right-wing radio hosts and left-wing bloggers—yet an America where citizens still stand together, hands on hearts, to join in the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at countless sporting events every day—what can we conclude? Is the anthem a symbol of our national tradition and of our shared history that unites us despite our differences? Or are those differences so fundamentally incompatible that we as citizens will be at constant battle against our ideological opposites? Did the collapse of the New Deal coalition...

  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION MODERNIST, ORTHODOX, OR FLEXIDOX? WHY THE CULTURE WAR DEBATE ENDURES
    (pp. 1-9)
    E. J. DIONNE JR. and MICHAEL CROMARTIE

    On August 17, 1992, conservative writer and former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan roused the faithful at the Republican National Convention in Houston by declaring war—a very particular kind of war. “There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America,” Buchanan declared. “It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself.”¹

    With that speech Buchanan might have rallied the socially conservative faithful to President George H. W. Bush’s reelection campaign against Bill Clinton. But many voters in the year of...

  6. THE ENDURING CULTURE WAR
    (pp. 10-40)
    JAMES DAVISON HUNTER

    Liberalism, as a philosophical movement and cluster of political ideals, is rooted in the challenges of difference. Liberalism was, in large part, an attempt to provide a humane solution to the difficulties posed by the coexistence of a plurality of dissimilar communities in shared political order. The differences that originally animated liberalism were differences of the most profound sort, those over competing understandings of the good and the sources by which those understandings are known and practiced—most important, religious and metaphysical differences. It is a conundrum indeed when individuals and communities hold competing views of the good that they...

  7. THE CULTURE WAR THAT NEVER CAME
    (pp. 41-73)
    ALAN WOLFE

    Everything was all set. An important assistant to a Republican senator had written the memo demonstrating the benefits his party would receive by taking immediate action. His party’s leaders in Congress started drafting legislation and writing their speeches while the Republican president, a man well known for his determination to stay on course, changed his travel plans to fly to Washington at short notice from his Texas ranch. Democrats, meanwhile, struck dumb by the unfolding events, had nothing to say, fearing, once again, that anything they did say would confirm their reputation as liberal elitists insufficiently respectful of the culture...

  8. COMMENT THE OTHER CULTURE WAR
    (pp. 74-82)
    GERTRUDE HIMMELFARB

    The culture war has taken an interesting turn. Combatants on both sides are declaring victory and, in doing so, pronouncing the culture war over and done with. This is especially odd at a time when the Schiavo case, the Supreme Court nominations, abortion, and gay marriage have inflamed tempers and exacerbated the divisions between liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans. Before that there was the election of 2004 that produced the map demarcating “red” and “blue” America as cultural as well as political entities. And before that there were the evangelicals who brought the religious-secular divide into the public arena...

  9. COMMENT FURTHER REFLECTIONS ON THE CULTURE WAR THESIS
    (pp. 83-89)
    MORRIS P. FIORINA

    Academic scribblers soon learn that two things may happen when they set their arguments down on paper. First, no one may take notice, an unhappy but common outcome. Second, in the happier eventuality that fellow thinkers deem one’s published thoughts sufficiently interesting to merit response, the original scribbler loses ownership of them. Published thoughts will be reinterpreted, amended, transported into different contexts, and otherwise transformed in ways not always anticipated by the originator who set them down.

    James Davison Hunter is such a victim of his own success. He takes this occasion to object to some of the interpretations of...

  10. A RESPONSE FROM JAMES DAVISON HUNTER
    (pp. 90-96)
    James Davison Hunter

    One way to gain clarity in the debate over the culture war is to make a distinction between “the politics of culture” and “the culture of politics.” On the face of it, these phrases may seem to refer to the same thing.They each contain the same words, after all; confusion is understandable. But there is an important difference implied by the two statements, a difference that goes to the heart of this debate.

    The “politics of culture” refers to the push and pull of the mechanisms of power over cultural issues. Within democratic regimes, of course, this would include the...

  11. A RESPONSE FROM ALAN WOLFE
    (pp. 97-108)
    Alan Wolfe

    Morris fiorina expresses my own thoughts with respect to one point raised by James Davison Hunter. Of those who have questioned the extent of the American culture war, Hunter writes, “These critics argued, in effect, that nothing of particular consequence was occurring [in American politics] at all.” Nowhere, Fiorina replies, has he made a claim along those lines. Nor have I. Much has happened of great consequence in American politics since the 1970s: politics has become more partisan; candidates rely more on focus groups; issues that focus on moral and cultural matters, at least for a time, displaced those dealing...

  12. CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. 109-110)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 111-118)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 119-119)