Examines whether cultural studies has been too dismissive of the tradition of literary-cultural criticism that preceded it
Cultural Conservatism, Political Liberalism is an impassioned response to the debates on culture and the literary canon over the last decade. James Seaton argues that the attempts of E. D. Hirsch and Allan Bloom to unite cultural conservatism with political liberalism have been inadequate. He believes that their fullest integration is found not in a doctrine, but in a tradition, the tradition of cultural critics from Mencken through Ellison.
Chapters on Lionel Trilling, H. L. Mencken and Irving Babbitt, Ralph Ellison, Dwight Macdonald, Diana Trilling, and Edmund Wilson affirm the continuing pertinence of their work to today's concerns. Seaton then turns to the careers of Leslie Fiedler and Susan Sontag to explore the impact of the cultural radicalism of the sixties on literary criticism. Subsequent chapters analyze the successes and failures of contemporary cultural studies through the writings of Richard Rorty, Edward Said, Stanley Fish and Fredric Jameson.
Separately, these chapters provide provocative readings of the individual critics; together they make a case for the tradition exemplified by these critics as an alternative to contemporary cultural studies. The issues the book discusses extend beyond literary criticism and the academic world to the political-religious- cultural conflicts of today's culture wars.
"These lively, closely argued essays explain very clearly what the issues are, how they arose, and why they are important." --Christopher Lasch
"A forceful argument about the relationship between literary studies and politics that will add something important to the vigorous, and often fierce, discussion of the canon, the politics of literature, and educational reform."--William Cain, Wellesley College
James Seaton is Professor of English, Michigan State University. He is co-editor, with William K. Buckley, of Beyond Cheering and Bashing: New Perspectives on the Closing of the American Mind.