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Buchanan's fiery speech marked a high point in the culture wars, but as Andrew Hartman shows in this richly analytical history, their roots lay farther back, in the tumult of the 1960s--and their significance is much greater than generally assumed. Far more than a mere sideshow or shouting match, the culture wars, Hartman argues, were the very public face of America's struggle over the unprecedented social changes of the period, as the cluster of social norms that had long governed American life began to give way to a new openness to different ideas, identities, and articulations of what it meant to be an American. The hot-button issues like abortion, affirmative action, art, censorship, feminism, and homosexuality that dominated politics in the period were symptoms of the larger struggle, as conservative Americans slowly began to acknowledge--if initially through rejection--many fundamental transformations of American life.
As an ever-more partisan but also an ever-more diverse and accepting America continues to find its way in a changing world, A War for the Soul of America reminds us of how we got here, and what all the shouting has really been about.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-03-23
- Reviewer: Staff
Hartman (Education and the Cold War) does a good job of surveying the cultural issues that split the U.S. in the late 20th century, even if not all readers will agree with his conclusion that the culture wars “are history.” Hartman begins by locating the origins of the culture wars in the 1960s, before focusing on the 1980s and 1990s, which saw debates over reproductive rights, homosexuality, race, religion, and education. Those who lived through those decades won’t find anything particularly novel in his analysis, but millennials will find this useful background for understanding today’s clashes between the right and the left. Hartman does lapse into academese on occasion (“When we think about the neoconservative persuasion as the flip side of the New Left, it should be historically situated relative to what Corey Robin labels ‘the reactionary mind’ ”) and he underestimates the continuing strength of the blue state–red state divide in American life, as seen recently in debates over such issues as same-sex marriage and Obamacare. In general, this is an accessible summary of the recent history of several contentious issues. (May)