Alfred Dreyfus

The Old New Thing

The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History By Samuel Moyn (Belknap Press, 337 pp., $27.95) In 1807, in Yorkshire, activists hit the campaign trail for William Wilberforce, whose eloquent parliamentary fight against Britain’s slave trade had won surprising success. “O we’ve heard of his Cants in Humanity’s Cause/While the Senate was hush’d, and the land wept applause,” they sang.

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Pogroms of Words

For the Soul of France: Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfus By Frederick Brown (Knopf, 304 pp., $28.95) The phrase “culture wars” has a peculiarly contemporary and American sound. Its very hyperbole captures something about our over-excited political culture. It summons up images of Sarah Palin denouncing liberal elites to the Tea Party convention, or of hippies facing off against riot police. It triggers associations with a series of “hot button” American issues: gay marriage, abortion, gun control, prayer in schools. Yet “culture wars” are in fact endemic to Western modernity.

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Pogroms of Words

For the Soul of France: Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfus By Frederick Brown (Knopf, 304 pp., $28.95) The phrase “culture wars” has a peculiarly contemporary and American sound. Its very hyperbole captures something about our over-excited political culture. It summons up images of Sarah Palin denouncing liberal elites to the Tea Party convention, or of hippies facing off against riot police. It triggers associations with a series of “hot button” American issues: gay marriage, abortion, gun control, prayer in schools. Yet “culture wars” are in fact endemic to Western modernity.

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