Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Virtual Debate about the Real World amid the Smoke of the Culture Wars, One Author Negotiates with Himself

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Virtual Debate about the Real World amid the Smoke of the Culture Wars, One Author Negotiates with Himself

Article excerpt

DEBATING THE GOOD SOCIETY: A QUEST TO BRIDGE AMERICA'S MORAL DIVIDE By Andrew Bard Schmookler MIT Press 422 pp., $29.95

In "Debating the Good Society," Andrew Bard Schmookler imagines a Socratic dialogue striving to bridge the gap between battling sides in America's culture wars.

Cast primarily as an e-mail discussion among two dozen people from various points of view, Schmookler's book turns what could have been a cheap device into something truly provocative. Instead of focusing on a single protagonist, he uses the format to open up a variety of perspectives, leaving many unfinished and inviting further investigation. His core concern is a search for the sources of good order in society. He presents two competing visions - a conservative, religious vision of human nature as essentially sinful and a countercultural, secular view of human nature as essentially good. Summarizing a core argument of his underappreciated "The Parable of the Tribes" (1995), Schmookler explains that if people "are not organized in a way that can contain the evils of power-seeking that may arise, their world will come to be dominated by what might have begun as a very tiny evil exception to a not quite universal benign rule." That earlier work was primarily concerned with absolving human nature of responsibility for the spread of that evil exception; now he's concerned with organizing a way to contain it. This struggle clearly shapes his approach to the culture wars, but much is still left unexplained. Members of the two competing factions he presents here provide a measure of internal disagreement and debate, but these groups leave important viewpoints under-represented - or absent. There is only one traditional secular liberal, who appears more as a centrist criticizing both sides, and no religious liberal. This latter omission echoes common misperceptions and undercuts any reading of "Debating the Good Society" as an accurate real- world portrayal. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.