THE DEATH OF CHARACTER by James Davison Hunter


Moral Education in an Age Without Good or Evil
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A too-strongly argued case for modifying moral education and rescuing character from the self-esteem Nazis and feel-good shrinks.

Sociologist Hunter (Before the Shooting Begins, 1994) echoes Neitzsche at the start by declaring that `Character is dead.` He goes on to describe how the humanistic and Bible-based moral education of the past has been replaced by subjective values and vapid advice (on the order of `Just say no`). Having adopted the optimistic premises of secular psychology, teachers believe that morality is innate and will flourish if left alone. Traditional family values, where children bowed to parents and didn't speak until spoken to, have become `offensive to our cosmopolitan sensibilities.` Hunter's third source of moral guidelines—besides the psychological strategy (if it feels good, it must be right) favored by liberals and the neo-classical strategy (to err is sinful) maintained by conservatives—may be found in the values of social consensus, based on shared experience. Rather than suggesting this synthesis between the extremes, Hunter is mostly concerned with accusing liberals of crucifying character. A history of the reformers who led up to Dewey (such as Horace Mann, the progressive Unitarian who robbed schoolroom Bible-reading of its Calvinist interpretations) is mapped out. Hunter also provides survey questions on character issues, such as cheating on exams and premarital sex. The charted results show that children with the contemporary, psychological-based sense of character are five times more likely than religious children to condone suicide. Hunter strongly makes his point, but he fails to address the question of what negative effects theist concepts and upbringing can inculcate in children.

Hunter provides some important balance for excesses in contemporary amorality, but he won't be able to roll back the tide that has long since washed over us.

Pub Date: May 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-465-04730-0
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2000


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