978-0-375-40455-9 / 9780375404559

One Nation, Two Cultures





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About the book:

Acclaimed historian Gertrude Himmelfarb builds on a cultural insight made by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations: Every civilised society has a pair of yin and yang-like subcultures, one that values hard work and thrift, and a bohemian foil that treats vice more indulgently. "Much of the social history of modern times can be written in terms of the rise and fall, the permutations and combinations, of these two systems", she writes. The problem, according to One Nation, Two Cultures, is that what used to be called the counterculture, with its full embrace of moral relativism and disdain for religious devotion, now dominates American life. It controls the media and the universities, and has started to reach down into the public at large. The "dissident" minority culture is no longer made up of tuned-out Woodstock radicals, but otherwise ordinary Americans who cling to traditional bourgeois values. What sets One Nation, Two Cultures apart from the increasingly tired "culture wars" debate is the historical backdrop it provides. Himmelfarb draws on her immense knowledge of Victorian England and her deep reading of old sources to make her case. With both concision and precision, Himmelfarb explains the problem, gives it vital context, and outlines a few reasons for optimism. Social conservatives who enjoyed Slouching Toward Gomorrah, Robert Bork's best-seller, will definitely want to read One Nation, Two Cultures.

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