DOGMATIC WISDOM by Russell Jacoby


How the Culture Wars Divert Education and Distract America
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 Jacoby (The Last Intellectuals, 1987, etc.) joins the culture wars with the aim of striking a middle balance between ``left'' and ``right''--and manages the job with brio. The author is as incisive and convincing in unraveling the Great Books controversy as he is in tackling the speech codes formulated in response to pornography and racism by law theorists like Catherine MacKinnon. Jacoby provides, as context, a history of the concept of relativism from the Sophists onwards; a history of the ill-fated classical curriculum in the American university; reflections on inter-minority racism; and even on attempts by early lexicographers like Witherspoon and Webster to create an American language distinguishable from the British. Jacoby makes the little- heard argument that much of the hysteria concerning our country's cultural dis-uniting fails to acknowledge that an ever-accelerating homogenization may itself create what we call ``multi- culturalism''-- as people of their own volition frantically search for identities that are fast being swallowed up and forgotten. The dominant consumer culture, argues Jacoby, tends to call the shots, subsuming everything into it and blending out all significant or important differences. Jacoby's claim, in sum, is that true multiculturalism, properly understood not as superficial cultural consumerism but as an integral part of the Western intellectual tradition since the Enlightenment, need not be diversionary. In fact, used as a means of overcoming misunderstanding (rather than as a weapon of ethnic chauvinism and division), it should be at the heart of the American academic experience. Tolerance and common sense could make it so. Although welcome for its clarity and elegance, Jacoby's account, much more importantly, looks beyond faction toward the common good.

Pub Date: April 7th, 1994
ISBN: 0-385-42516-3
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1994


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