Introduction: Culture and Democracy,
WORRIES ABOUT A “divided” America are no secret. Inthe wake of several evenly divided election campaigns andpolls showing vast public disagreement on vital social issues, fears are on the rise that the once “united” states are being rived apart by conflicting views on issues such as gay marriage, immigration, and the war in Iraq. As a recent report from the Pew Center for the People and the Press put it, “The red states get redder and the blue states get bluer, and the political map of the United States takes on the coloration of the Civil War.”1 A lengthy debate on the subject has been taking place in American society for much of the past two decades, touched off by a handful of books published in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The most influential of these were Alan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students, and E.D Hirsch’s Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know in 1987.2 Both books argued that America had been weakened by declining cultural values-specifically by the abandonment of schools teaching the “great books” and traditions of Western thought.