By Stephen Carter
Basic Books, 241 pp., $22
'Integrity" is a word Americans voice often as an ideal.
But in practice, Americans have lost touch with the real meaning
of the term, argues Stephen Carter, a condition he feels is
poisoning the body politic. Cheating and dissimulation come too
easily, writes the Yale law professor, author of the acclaimed
"Culture of Disbelief."
Whether it is the "expedient lie" on the witness stand, the
football player who artfully hides the dropped pass, or the
political "spin," a lack of integrity has slowly become "built
into" American institutions and behavior.
Not only are lies now easily excused, he argues, but they so
befog daily life that people no longer even think of them as lies.
What's needed, Carter writes in this searching work, is a
restoration of basic "uprightness" - the capacity to discern right
and wrong in a complicated era, and the courage to act and speak on
that basis. Carter calls this "integrity."
Political leaders with integrity would "shun our national habit
of engaging in misdirection and instead simply tell us what they
Part sermon, part seminar, Carter spices his argument in
"Integrity" with a stream of anecdotes, allegories, Biblical
proverbs - and draws heavily from the news: the O.J. Simpson trial,
major -league baseball, Supreme Court decisions, Iran-Contra, and
Whitewater. He explores the meaning of integrity; shows its role in
media, law, marriage, and sports; and marks some avenues to
reassert its importance.
It is refreshing to find a sustained, intelligent discourse on a
subject some writers might find too moralizing or parochial.
Carter's nuanced approach shows it is neither. Rather he is trying,
in his emerging role as a "public intellectual," to start a
conversation about right and wrong that transcends specialized
categories or expertise. This is not an in-house treatise for the
academy, but a work for the everyday thinking person.
"The Culture of Disbelief" earned Carter accolades as a message
to those in law, politics, and the university about how secular
attitudes in those professions create an atmosphere of hostility
toward spiritual faith that harms civic culture.
In "Integrity," Carter backs off a "religious" focus. He takes
as a given that Protestant codes girding previous American cultures
of belief have been washed out; moral language now substitutes for
honest behavior. …