Is America Breaking Apart?

By John A. Hall; Charles Lindholm | Go to book overview

8
Anti-politics in America

“Niceness” and its corollaries are but one side of a complex cultural picture. As S. M. Lipset has written:

The lack of respect for authority, anti-elitism, and populism contribute to higher crime rates, school indiscipline, and low electoral turnouts. The emphasis on achievement, on meritocracy, is also tied to higher levels of deviant behavior and less support for the underprivileged. … Concern for the legal rights of accused persons and civil liberties in general is tied to opposition to gun control and difficulty in applying crime-control measures.1

In other words, American culture is charged with inner tensions. Such tensions cannot be avoided; they are intrinsic to any living society and give it its dynamism. What is unique is that Americans believe this should not be so. We have seen that many intellectuals believe that stress is destructive, that the nation is so frail that it will break apart as it loses its moral base.2 These interrelated anxieties are symptoms of an American cultural belief that society is knit together only through the continuous and laborious reaffirmation of fragile moral and emotional bonds between autonomous individuals. Stability is felt by Americans to be precarious, and all contradictions are experienced as dangerous. In this chapter and the next, we explore the sources and directions of some characteristic loci of anxiety, and show why these do not really challenge the equilibrium of society.

Many readers will no doubt have been amazed and perhaps appalled at our Durkheimian characterization of the American

____________________
1
S. M. Lipset, American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword (New York: Norton, 1996), 290. Cf. S. Huntington, American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981).
2
R. Wilkinson, The Pursuit of American Character (New York: Harper and Row, 1988).

-109-

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Is America Breaking Apart?
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Is America Breaking Apart? *
  • Contents *
  • Preface xi
  • Is America Breaking Apart? *
  • Introduction 3
  • Part One - The Growth of Political Stability 11
  • 1 - The State and the People 15
  • 2 - The National Question 31
  • 3 - The Challenge of Class 47
  • 4 - The World in America, America in the World 61
  • 5 - Reprise 75
  • Part Two - Sociability in America 79
  • 6 - Conceptual Baselines 83
  • 7 - Sacred Values 91
  • 8 - Anti-Politics in America 109
  • 9 - Ambivalence about Association 121
  • 10 - Ethnicity as Choice, Race as Destiny 129
  • 11 - Two Cheers for Homogeneity 145
  • Conclusion 149
  • Index 155
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