The Primacy of Culture

By Will, George F. | Newsweek, January 18, 1999 | Go to article overview

The Primacy of Culture


Will, George F., Newsweek


Conservatives say of compassion what liberals say of passion: it should be kept private

Progress has become puzzling. when history was thought to be cyclical, progress seemed impossible. However, a few centuries ago there was an outbreak of cheerfulness: progress seemed not only possible but inevitable. At least it would be if governments applied social learning, which is cumulative, through wise policies.

But recently the prerequisites of progress have become less clear. Consider the United States, which is flourishing, and Russia, which is (literally) sickening. The trajectories of both nations underscore the importance of culture-customs, mores, traditions, values, institutionalized ideas-rather than just legal institutions and economic policies as agents of progress.

Russia is remarkably resistant to progress, material and moral. Its imploding economy is now smaller than Denmark's, and public health is calamitous. Demographer Murray Feshbach reports in The Atlantic Monthly that radioactive and chemical contamination is rife. Russia's government reports that 76.5 percent of the children in one town are mentally retarded because of lead emissions, which nationwide are 50 times those in the European Union. Tuberculosis is widespread, and even basic pharmaceuticals are scarce. Some analysts expect mortality from this disease to increase 70-fold in the next few years-90-fold among children-and to exceed Russia's toll for heart disease and cancer.

AIDS and other infectious diseases (there has been a 30-fold increase in syphilis cases among girls 14 and younger), parasitic diseases, malnutrition, alcohol and violence continue to produce a horrifying anomaly in the industrial age: declining adult life expectancy. In America, says Feshbach, 83 percent of 16-year-old males will live to the age of 60. Only 54 percent will in Russia. One hundred years ago in European Russia the figure was 56 percent.

Can Russia take heart from Western Europe's-and America's-rapid progress from 19th-century conditions that today seem astonishingly primitive? Not necessarily.

Charles Dickens was, and still is, criticized for the number of children's deaths in his novels. Well. Dickens's biographer Peter Ackroyd notes that in 1839 almost half of London's funeralswere for children under 10. The average age of death in London was 27-22 in the working class. London's air reeked of theputrescence of decomposing bodies erupting through the surface of overcrowded graveyards, and the stench of human excrement. It puddled in gutters in the middle of muddy streets, and in"cess lakes" scattered through congested neighborhoods, suchas the one where 2,850 people lived in 95 dilapidated houses. Families of eight in a single room were not unusual. Brown water, for washing and cooking, came unfiltered from the Thames. In November and December 1847 half a million of London's 2.1 million residents had typhus fever.

In late-19th-century France, milk, when not diluted by polluted water, was cut by plaster, lime, chalk, white lead and dried ground brains, according to historian Eugen Weber. In "France: Fin de Siecle" he writes that even among the middle and upper classes, "washing was rare and bathing rarer," partly because of the cost of getting water above ground floors. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Primacy of Culture
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    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.