Published Humanitas, Volume VII, No. 1, 1994

America’s British Culture, by Russell Kirk. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1993. ix+122 pp. $24.95.

The Politics of Prudence, by Russell Kirk. Bryn Mawr, Pa.: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 1993. 304 pp. $12.95.

It is apparent to even the most casual observer that the United States is in the midst of a period of extraordinary cultural change. The political maturation of the baby-boom generation, which formed many of its ideas in the turbulent late ’60s and early ’70s, made this change inevitable. From one perspective, it is healthy. Each new generation, after all, must decide the kind of society it desires for itself and for its children. The American republic must change to stay vigorous and alive. But the end of the cold war removed an important unifying element from American society that would have acted as a moderating influence on the inevitable tensions during this period of leadership transfer. This development has heightened the danger that the debate could spin out of control and permanently damage the body politic.

At such a time, a voice of moderation from the White House would be welcome. Instead, we have a president who proclaims that everything is “broken,” that “change” is the touchstone of his administration. The government needs to be “reinvented.” The entire health care system needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. A kind of utopian verve drives White House policy. The president’s wife announces that she has a “burning desire . . . to make the world around me—kind of going out in concentric circles—better for everybody.” Health care reform is just a start, she says. The nation needs an entirely new approach to politics, a new “politics of meaning.”

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