America's Crisis of Values

America's Crisis of Values: Reality and Perception

Wayne Baker
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 328
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt4cg9m0
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  • Book Info
    America's Crisis of Values
    Book Description:

    Is America bitterly divided? Has America lost its traditional values? Many politicians and religious leaders believe so, as do the majority of Americans, based on public opinion polls taken over the past several years. But is this crisis of values real?

    This book explores the moral terrain of America today, analyzing the widely held perception that the nation is in moral decline. It looks at the question from a variety of angles, examining traditional values, secular values, religious values, family values, economic values, and others. Using unique data from the World Values Surveys, the largest systematic attempt ever made to document attitudes, values, and beliefs around the world, this book systematically evaluates the perceived crisis of values by comparing America's values with those of over 60 other nations.

    The results are surprising. The evidence shows overwhelmingly that America has not lost its traditional values, that the nation compares favorably with most other societies, and that the culture war is largely a myth.

    The gap between reality and perception does not represent mass ignorance of the facts or an overblown moral panic, Baker contends. Rather, the widespread perception of a crisis of values is a real and legitimate interpretation of life in a society that is in the middle of a fundamental transformation and that contains growing cultural contradictions. Instead of posing a problem, the author argues, this crisis rhetoric serves the valuable social function of reminding us of what it means to be American. As such, it preserves the ideological foundation of the nation.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4962-8
    Subjects: Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. CHAPTER ONE A Question of Values
    (pp. 1-16)

    This book is an attempt to regard old questions about moral values from a new angle. By doing so, I hope to clarify the widespread perception at the turn of the millennium of an American crisis of values.

    I chose the words “perception” and “American crisis of values” intentionally. I use “perception” because I do not begin this treatise with the assumption that there is a crisis, only that many Americans perceive a crisis—real or not. The reality of a crisis and the perception of a crisis are separable questions. For example, it is possible that many Americans believe...

  6. CHAPTER TWO America’s Values in Global Context
    (pp. 17-63)

    The perception of an American crisis of values may arise from a loss of traditional values, unfavorable comparisons with other societies, or the division of America into two opposed moral camps. As discussed in chapter 1, evidence supporting one or more of these hypotheses would indicate a threat to the imagined community of America. This chapter tests the first and second hypotheses—the trend and comparative hypotheses—using data from multiple waves of the World Values Surveys.* These surveys are the largest systematic attempt ever made to document values, beliefs, and attitudes around the world (see appendix A for description...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Culture War
    (pp. 64-109)

    America has not lost its traditional values, and it does not compare unfavorably with other societies; the evidence in chapter 2 does not support the trend or comparative hypotheses. This chapter explores the distribution hypothesis: the popular theory that America is engaged in a culture war, an apocalyptic vision of Americans taking sides in a battle between incompatible views of the American way of life. Of the three explanations of a crisis of values, this one may be the most devastating. If true, it means that Americans are irreconcilably divided and the inevitable outcome is the defeat of one group...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Dynamics of Crisis
    (pp. 110-158)

    We have arrived at a puzzling discrepancy between fact and perception. The evidence presented in the previous two chapters shows that America has not lost its traditional values, that the nation compares favorably with most other societies, and that it is not polarized into two opposed moral camps. Americans today continue to have a lot in common and share many values, beliefs, and attitudes. Yet most Americans do not feel this way; most perceive a crisis of values. Does this fact-perception gap indicate mass ignorance of the facts, as some argue?¹ Or is it nothing more than another instance of...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Search for Meaning
    (pp. 159-188)

    The goal of this book, set forth in the opening paragraph of chapter 1, is to clarify the widespread perception at the turn of the millennium of an American crisis of values. As such, this book is an attempt to regard old questions about moral values from a new angle. These questions are old because concerns and debates about moral values recur throughout American history and world history. The present-day crisis of values in America is the latest expression of cycles of crisis that can be traced back in history and, I believe, will continue in the future.

    The questions...

  10. APPENDIX A World Values Surveys: Methods, Sampling, and Measures
    (pp. 189-196)
  11. APPENDIX B Statistical Tables
    (pp. 197-250)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 251-298)
  13. Index
    (pp. 299-308)