Liberal democracy in America has always contained contradictions—most notably, a noble but abstract commitment to freedom, justice, and equality that, tragically, has seldom been realized in practice. While these contradictions have caused dissent and even violence, there has always been an underlying and evolving solidarity drawn from the cultural resources of America’s “hybrid Enlightenment.”
James Davison Hunter, who introduced the concept of “culture wars” thirty years ago, tells us in this new book that the historic sources of national solidarity have largely dissolved. While a deepening political polarization is the most obvious sign of this, the true problem is not polarization per se but the absence of cultural resources to work through what divides us. All political regimes require some level of consensus. If it cannot be generated organically, it will be imposed coercively.
Can America’s political crisis be fixed? Can an Enlightenment-era institution—liberal democracy—survive and thrive in a post-Enlightenment world? If, for some, salvaging the older sources of national solidarity is neither possible sociologically, nor desirable politically or ethically, what cultural resources will fund liberal democracy going forward?
“A fresh and challenging interpretation of America in crisis. Hunter has the insight to discern the nihilism pervading our politics, the courage to see its authoritarian consequences, and the wisdom to imagine humane alternatives.”—Jackson Lears, author of Animal Spirits: The American Pursuit of Vitality from Camp Meeting to Wall Street
“Political theorists and others worried about American democracy increasingly recognize that successful politics rests on cultural bases. James Davison Hunter’s Democracy and Solidarity is among the most insightful analyses of these bases, the tensions making them unstable, and what it means today that so many so-called leaders have pulled back from working through the challenges.”—Craig Calhoun, coauthor of Degenerations of Democracy
“In Democracy and Solidarity, James Davison Hunter offers a sweeping history of the American culture war. This book is extensively researched, extremely engaging, and offers a powerful, clear, and original argument.”—Kathleen Sands, author of America’s Religious Wars: The Embattled Heart of Our Public Life