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The Fractious Nation?

Unity and Division in Contemporary American Life

Jonathan Rieder (Editor), Stephen Steinlight (Editor)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 302 pages
ISBN: 9780520236639
November 2003
$34.95, £24.95
Other Formats Available:
What are we to make of the speed with which the new climate of national solidarity emerged after September 11? Does it not look strange against a backdrop of the much-touted divisiveness of American life? In truth, The Fractious Nation? makes clear, the contrast of the time of divisiveness before and the time of unity that followed is much too stark, indeed.

Less than a year before two planes slammed into the World Trade Center, the 2000 presidential election produced not just the starkly blue and red electoral map but also the two tribal Americas those totemic colors emblazoned. And from the cultural wars to immigration restriction, from the Christian right to political correctness, recent decades have witnessed much hand-wringing on the left and the right about the fragmentation of American life. The Fractious Nation? enlists the critical intelligence of fourteen distinguished contributors who illuminate the schisms in American life and the often volatile debates they have inspired in the realms of culture, ethnic and racial pluralism, and political life.

The collective wisdom of The Fractious Nation? suggests a counterview to all the overheated rhetoric. The authors warn against fixating on flamboyant incidents of racial conflict when black-and-white values overlap considerably. On a range of cultural issues, the gap between our citizens has closed as well. And even as the rivalry between liberalism and conservatism transmutes into new forms, the political center remains vital and democratic. We are tied together not just by shared values but by institutions—the Constitution, the culture of consumption, the etiquette of ethnic respect.

In private life and public affairs, our nation has expanded the meaning of democratic citizenship. Still, there's no room for self-congratulations here. Tendencies toward preoccupation with private life encourage indifference to the suffering of the less privileged. This is also one of the main failings of the narrative of fragmentation: In its focus on matters of shared values, it too distracts from issues of poverty and inequality that also fragment the human spirit.

Contributors: Richard Bernstein, John J. DiIulio Jr., Paul DiMaggio, E.J. Dionne, Jr., Kevin Gaines, Jennifer Hochschild, Douglas S. Massey, Martha Minow, Cecilia Muñoz, Jonathan Rieder, Theda Skocpol, Paul Starr, Mary C. Waters, Jack Wertheimer
Acknowledgments

Introduction: The Fractious Nation?
Jonathan Rieder
l. Getting a Fix on Fragmentation: "Breakdown" as Estimation Error, Rhetorical Strategy, and Organizational Accomplishment
Jonathan Rieder

PART 1. MOREAL UNITY, MORAL DIVISION
2. The Fetish of Difference
Richard Bernstein
3. Fragments or Ties? The Defense of Difference
Martha Minow
4. The Myth of Culture War: The Disparity between Private Opinion and Public Politics
Paul DiMaggio
5. America’s Jews: Highly Fragmented, Insufficiently Disputatious
Jack Wertheimer

PART 2. REFIGURING THE BOUNDARIES OF CITIZENSHIP: RACE, IMMIGRATION, AND NATIONAL BELONGING
6. Once Again, Strangers on Our Shores
Mary C. Waters
7. Expelling Newcomers: The Eclipse of Constitutional Community
Cecilia Muñoz
8. The United States in the World Community: The Limits of National Sovereignty
Douglas S. Massey
9. "Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?": Narrowing the Enduring Divisions of Race
Jennifer Hochschild
10. The Ambivalence of Citizenship: African-American Intellectuals in Search of Community
Kevin Gaines

PART 3. UNITY AND DIVISION IN THE POLITICAL REALM
11. Social Provision and Civic Community: Beyond Fragmentation
Theda Skocpol
12. Stable Fragmentation in Multicultural America
Paul Starr
13. The Moral Compassion of True Conservatism
John J. DiIulio Jr.
14. Shaking Off the Past:
Third Ways, Fourth Ways, and the Urgency of Politics
E.J. Dionne Jr.
Epilogue: Into the Unknown: Unity and Conflict after September 11, 2001
Jonathan Rieder

List of Contributors
Index
Jonathan Rieder is Professor and Chair in the Department of Sociology at Barnard College, Columbia University. Stephen Steinlight is a former Director of National Affairs and Director of Publications for the American Jewish Committee.
“A rich collection of original essays [that] acknowledges this endemic contentiousness and yet, on balance, insists that it does not represent fragmentation or the breakdown of social order. An important counterpoint to analyses that stress disunity, and it provides a helpful window on deeper currents swirling below the surface events of conflict.—Joseph E. Davis, Univ. of Virginia Contemporary Sociology
“Well-organized, thoughtful essays...Highly recommended for its clarity and multidisciplinary approach to the current national condition.”—E. C. Dreyer Choice: Current Reviews For Academic Libraries
Less than a year before two planes slammed into the World Trade Center, the 2000 presidential election produced not just the blue-and-red electoral map but also revealed the fractured nation that those totemic colors represent. And from the cultural wars to immigration restriction, from the Christian right to political correctness, recent decades have witnessed much hand-wringing on the left and the right about the fragmentation of American life. The Fractious Nation? enlists the critical intelligence of fourteen distinguished contributors who illuminate the schisms in American life and the often volatile debates they have inspired in the realms of culture, ethnic and racial pluralism, and political life.

"This collection of essays offers a bracing challenge to widely held beliefs about cultural and political fragmentation in the United States today. The Fractious Nation? may well change the debate on issues ranging from multiculturalism and race relations to governance and public philosophy."—William A. Galston, author of Liberal Purposes: Goods, Virtues, and Diversity on the Liberal State

"The virtue of this stunning collection of essays is the shrewd moderation of its authors, who explain that while we in the United States have serious social conflict, we also have the intellectual resources to address it. Most of all, The Fractious Nation, whose contributors embrace very different political approaches, reminds us that we must struggle to understand what constitutes nationhood in this difficult century."—Stanley N. Katz, professor, Woodrow Wilson School, and director of Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies, Princeton University

"With an all-star team of contributors, this volume explores the many ways that fear of fragmentation plagues the American psyche today and provides the kind of understanding that allows us to overcome such fears. The breadth of talent assembled between the covers of this book is simply awesome."—Robert Suro, author of Strangers among Us: Latino Lives in a Changing America

"This is an accessibly written and valuable collection by outstanding social scientists addressed to the broad question of whether the United States is experiencing or headed for a 'culture war.'"—R. Stephen Warner, author of New Wine in Old Wineskins: Evangelicals and Liberals in a Small-Town Church

"This is an exceptionally well-focused collection of up-to-date, analytical reflections on several of the most pressing issues in American political culture today, written by some of our most discerning scholars and journalists."—David A. Hollinger, author of Postethnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism

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