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Culture Wars and Enduring American Dilemmas

Irene Taviss Thomson

Publisher: University of Michigan Press
Imprint: University of Michigan Press
Published: 01/2010
Pages: 284
Subject: Social Science - Sociology/General, History - United States/20th Century, History - United States/21st Century
Print ISBN: 9780472050888
eBook ISBN: 9780472900916


The idea of a culture war, or wars, has existed in America since the 1960s—an underlying ideological schism in our country that is responsible for the polarizing debates on everything from the separation of church and state, to abortion, to gay marriage, to affirmative action. Irene Taviss Thomson explores this notion by analyzing hundreds of articles addressing hot-button issues over two decades from four magazines: National Review, Time, The New Republic, and The Nation, as well as a wide array of other writings and statements from a substantial number of public intellectuals.

What Thomson finds might surprise you: based on her research, there is no single cultural divide or cultural source that can account for the positions that have been adopted. While issues such as religion, homosexuality, sexual conduct, and abortion have figured prominently in public discussion, in fact there is no single thread that unifies responses to each of these cultural dilemmas for any of the writers.


"Snowballing from a sample of 436 articles that occurred between 1980 and 2000 in The Nation, National Review, New Republic and Time, Irene Thomson demonstrates that the putative American "culture war" is more fiction than fact. She provides a splendid inventory of our cultural tensions and disagreements among as well as between liberals and conservatives on the myriad matters implicated in U.S. religion, morality, pluralism, elitism, and exceptionalism. Our choir of critics and analysts is more discordant than either angelic or antiphonal, and the same is true of the culture it assesses." 

—N.J. Demerath III, Emile Durkheim Distinguished Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst