Napoleon III

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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Let me offer a ludicrously premature opinion: Barack Obama has sealed his reputation as a president of great historical import. We don't know what will follow in his presidency, and it's quite possible that some future event--a war, a scandal--will define his presidency. But we do know that he has put his imprint on the structure of American government in a way that no Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson has. The last two generations have no model for such a president.

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