American Culture in Peril

American Culture in Peril

Edited by Charles W. Dunn
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 184
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    American Culture in Peril
    Book Description:

    Thirty years ago, Ronald Reagan rode a wave of patriotism to the White House by calling for a return to what he considered to be traditional American values--personal liberty, free markets, and limited government. After the cultural struggles and generational clashes of the 1960s and 70s, it appeared that many Americans were eager to abide by Reagan's set of core American principles. Yet, despite Reagan's continuing popularity, modern America remains widely perceived as a nation weakened by its divisions. While debates over cultural values have been common throughout the country's history, they seem particularly vitriolic today. Some argue that these differences have resulted in a perpetually gridlocked government caught between left and right, red states and blue. Since the American Founding, commonly shared cultural values have been considered to be the glue that would bind the nation's citizens together. However, how do we identify, define and interpret the foundations of American culture in a profoundly divided, pluralistic country?

    In American Culture in Peril, Charles W. Dunn assembles top scholars and public intellectuals to examine Reagan's impact on American culture in the twenty-first century. The contributors assess topics vital to our conversations about American culture and society, including changing views of the family, the impact of popular culture, and the evolving relationship between religion, communities, and the state. Others investigate modern liberalism and the possibilities of reclaiming a renewed conservatism today. American Culture in Peril illuminates Reagan's powerful legacy and investigates whether his traditional view of American culture can successfully compete in postmodern America.


    Hadley Arkes

    Paul A. Cantor

    Allan Carlson

    Jean Bethke Elshtain

    Charles R. Kesler

    Wilfred M. McClay

    Ken Myers

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-3603-5
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Introduction: The American Cultural Kaleidoscope
    (pp. 1-10)
    Charles W. Dunn

    Like the constantly changing patterns of light produced by a kaleidoscope, a broad and changeable array of values distinguishes American culture. Focusing on the values themselves, though—the product of the kaleidoscope—presents a daunting task, much like piecing together a mosaic of fragments without benefit of the artist’s vision of the finished work. Since the constantly changing patterns of light are not a cause but a result, profit rests in an examination of the causes and consequences of the kaleidoscopic values in American culture.

    First though, how important are values in a culture? Exceedingly important, because culture is like...

  5. Part 1. Ronald Reagan and Modern Culture
    • Ronald Reagan and Modern Liberalism
      (pp. 13-32)
      Charles R. Kesler

      “The central conservative truth,” Daniel Patrick Moynihan once wrote, “is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth,” he added, “is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.”¹ Although there is wisdom in Moynihan’s dictum, it suffers two defects. In the first place, it leaves unclear what culture is and where politics comes from—or to put it differently, it fails to put culture and politics in the context of nature, including human nature. Second, the statement is politically mischievous insofar as it implies that politics is...

    • A Touch for First Principles: Reagan and the Recovery of Culture
      (pp. 33-52)
      Hadley Arkes

      In the 1980s, in the days of President Reagan, Lou Cannon started a running line in the Washington Post, called “Reaganism of the Week.” The insinuation here was that Reagan was speaking a version of what Mel Brooks would describe as “frontier gibberish.” In other words, the president was simple-minded. Or he persistently missed the complications of the world as he reduced matters to things he regarded as rather simple or primary truths. Cannon offered once as a case in point an interview in which the president was asked how, as an officer under the law, he could support the...

  6. Part 2. Cultural Conflict in America
    • The Fickle Muse: The Unpredictability of Culture
      (pp. 55-78)
      Paul A. Cantor

      As an English professor discussing the future of American culture, I think of culture as meaning primarily “the arts.” For the past two decades, I have been especially interested in popular culture, and I can say in all immodesty that I am regarded as one of the world’s foremost academic authorities onThe Simpsons.¹ Thus, focusing on popular culture, I will make the following predictions about the future of America. American cultural production over the next decade will increase at an average rate of 3.7% per year, topping out at 7.6% and never falling below 2.2% on an annualized basis....

    • Will the Postfamily Culture Claim America?
      (pp. 79-96)
      Allan Carlson

      Ole and Lena are a mythical Swedish-American couple, probably residing somewhere in Minnesota, notable for their remarkably dysfunctional marriage. One story goes like this:

      Ole and Lena have grown old, and one day Ole becomes very sick. Eventually, he is confined to his upstairs bedroom, barely conscious, bedridden, and growing ever weaker. After several weeks of this, the doctor visits and tells Lena: “Vell, Ole’s just about a goner. I don’t tink he’ll survive the night.” So Lena, being a practical woman, decides she had better start preparing for all the guests who will be coming to the funeral. She...

    • The Critic and Culture
      (pp. 97-112)
      Jean Bethke Elshtain

      Everybody’s a critic. It seems to be a natural right among Americans to gripe about pretty much everything, but government above all. How many times have you heard the plaint “They are all a bunch of crooks,” that politics is an innately dirty game. Trust in politicians and the political process is at a nadir among us. In addition, for many decades, cultural elites anointed themselves the designated critics of the culture. Much of their criticism consisted of treating with contempt popular or low culture, by contrast to the high culture of which they claimed they were the keepers. Today,...

  7. Part 3. The Possibilities of Cultural Change
    • Two Cities, How Many Cultures?
      (pp. 115-134)
      Ken Myers

      In 1939, just before England entered World War II, T.S. Eliot gave three lectures at Cambridge that were later assembled in an essay entitled “The Idea of a Christian Society.” There are numerous brilliant observations in that essay, but I would like to begin my essay by focusing on one sentence: “The fact that a problem will certainly take a long time to solve, and that it will demand the attention of many minds for several generations, is no justification for postponing the study.”¹

      I offer that as a starting point because I believe the problems present in American culture...

    • Sources of Renewal in Twenty-first-Century America
      (pp. 135-154)
      Wilfred M. McClay

      These past few years have been a rough and discouraging stretch for Americans in general, and perhaps especially for American conservatives. Yet in such times all of us should recall the counsel of Shakespeare, expressed by the exiled and deposed Duke Senior inAs You Like It:

      Sweet are the uses of adversity,

      Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,

      Wears yet a precious jewel in his head. (act 2, scene 1, lines 12–14)

      There is, in other words, something to be said for the sheer gravity of the challenges we now face as a nation, challenges that we...

  8. List of Contributors
    (pp. 155-158)
  9. Index
    (pp. 159-166)