The War for the Soul of America
A History of the Culture Wars
University of Chicago Press 2015
Andrew Hartman is associate professor of history at Illinois State University. His book A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars (University of Chicago Press, 2015) provides a whirlwind tour through the most salient debates of what became known as the culture wars of the late twentieth century. As a set of debates and political tussles the culture wars reflected America’s struggle to deal with the vast changes left by 1960s and more complex than a simple left/right, secular/religious binary that characterized public discussion. Beginning with the normative Americanism fragmenting under the influence of the New Left, Hartman shows us how the watershed decade set the terms for the cultural wars. Public intellectuals such as Paul Goodman and C. Wright Mills to rock stars such as Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix and the comedy duo the Smothers Brothers marked the changes. Seemingly everything about American life from sexual mores to national history was up for renegotiation. Hartman places the genesis of the debate for the American future in the struggle between the New Left and their chief ideological opponents, and former liberals, neoconservatives. Soon this initial intellectual battle fueled a popular war for the social, religious, and economic future drawing in the newly formed Christian Right, self-identified ethnic groups, feminist and others. The struggles over school curriculum, the rewriting of history, cultural power, the family, religion, and the nature of truth, was the process of coming to terms with a new reality – a situation of a permanent culture revolution and the loss of a normative shared culture. With the heat of the battle significantly cooled, we are left with what Hartman calls an “antiauthoritarian individualism” under intransigent capitalism weakening the hope for social democracy.