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THE TWILIGHT OF COMMON DREAMS by Todd Gitlin

THE TWILIGHT OF COMMON DREAMS

Why America is Wracked by Culture Wars

By Todd Gitlin

Pub Date: Nov. 17th, 1995
ISBN: 0-8050-4090-0
Publisher: Henry Holt

 A noted cultural historian prophesies the demise of the American Left in the current battles over political correctness. Gitlin (Culture and Communications/New York Univ.; The Sixties, 1987, etc.) looks at some of the current polemic surrounding issues like affirmative action, immigration, and multiculturalism. His real subject, however, is fundamentalist notions of what is true and good, whether held by William Kunstler or Rush Limbaugh, a moral view of politics for which America is regarded with puzzlement by the rest of the world. Serving as a recurring theme is a strange controversy around a set of history textbooks being considered for adoption by the Oakland school board, a controversy that brought out seemingly every special interest group in northern California. At a public meeting, Gitlin writes, one speaker angrily protested that a book in the series did not mention Martin Luther King Jr. or Jackie Robinson, although the volume's coverage ended in 1900; another that the Japanese internment camps received short shrift; still others that Chinese- American, Armenian, Portuguese, Italian, and other ethnic histories did not rank at the forefront. Gitlin acknowledges some merit in these arguments but offers the view that ``like it or not, the decisions that shaped America's political, legal, and economic institutions were largely made by Europeans and their descendants.'' Gitlin observes that such ultimately trivial controversies keep liberal thinkers and activists from their larger work: ``While the right has been busy taking the White House, the left has been marching on the English department.'' He opines that the loss of a multicultural but distinctly American patriotism, now splintered by ethnic and class divisiveness, will certainly doom progressivism: ``If there is no people, but only peoples, there is no Left.'' Provocative and convincing reading that will doubtless earn Gitlin demerits from the PC orthodox. (Author tour)