War, wrote Clausewitz, is the continuation of politics by other means; so, to its cost, is higher education, argues Bromwich (English/ Yale) in this indictment--by turns lively and learned--of the herd mentality of contemporary American culture. Bromwich's distinction between the traditional notion of ``culture as a tacit knowledge acquired by choice and affinity'' and the debased modern sense of ``culture as social identity'' sets him squarely against contemporary agglomerations of culture and community, which are held together only by the need to identify oneself with all the best current ideas and ideologies. The fissure between left- leaning academics and right-thinking politicians conceals their mutual idolatry of authority over tradition, which would allow the formation of individual thought and identity in dialectical response to a community of writers, thinkers, and actors. In successive chapters, Bromwich traces the abdication of tradition and the individuality it fosters in the face of a superstitious veneration of authority in legal cases involving political correctness, the neoconservatism of George Will and Allan Bloom, and the radical conformism of the ivory tower. His discussions range from trenchantly free-wheeling commentary to exhaustingly close readings of both friends (Burke and Hume, surprisingly, are claimed as forebears of liberal secularism) and foes (Will is vivisected with the kind of care usually reserved for cartoon characters; though he's left for dead, you know he'll be back whole and unmarked in the next episode). But only in the last chapter--a well-informed critique of the politics of literature departments that value new theoretical work in proportion to their failure to comprehend it--does Bromwich find a mordantly persuasive tone worthy of his high argument. More impressive, then, for its range than its achievement; like Irving Howe, Bromwich seems more successful in breathtaking individual polemics than in sustained argument.