Readers piqued by Yale president Giamatti's recent frontal assault on the Moral Majority et al. will find nothing similarly contentious or controversial in this collection of 14 occasional, blandly right-minded pieces. It's all very well for Giamatti to praise old-fashioned liberal education (vs. narrow-minded vocationalism), or to cheer for ""a civilized order"" and ""the deeply important traditions of independence and pluralism that have so marked our country's history""; but one expects to hear such things from a college president as one expects preachers to castigate sin. Yet when it comes to spelling out concretely what ""civic humanism"" (Hans Baron) might think or do about the current state of America and the world, ex-Professor (of English and Comp. Lit.) Giamatti takes refuge in studied abstractions. ""There is in America a retreat from structures of mutuality to strategies for special accommodation,"" etc. One of the few times he applies his incisive style to take a bold critical cut at anything is when he assaults the sentimentality of student cultists of writers like Vonnegut and Kahlil Gibran as well as the self-indulgent anarchism of Abbie Hoffman: a valid point, of course, and also (coincidentally?) a position that neither senior faculty nor conservative trustees are liable to find fault with. Standard liberal fare, mostly for local consumption.