Cultural Conservatism, Political Liberalism

From Criticism to Cultural Studies
James Seaton
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.

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.

Praise / Awards

  • "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, Wellsley College
  • "This well-wrought, well-researched book tackles one of the major academic battles of our times, the culture wars. . . . It endorses a tradition going back to Samuel Johnson and Matthew Arnold. It denounces, or at least criticizes, 'contemporary cultural leftists' such as Richard Rorty, Fredric Jameson, Edward Said, and Stanley Fish--all of whom agree that the past is not a corrective to the present but a source of error. The error, Seaton argues, is theirs. . . . Seaton's book . . . argues well for that 'sense of wonder' which is, by anyone's measurement, our priceless heritage and hope."
    --Roanoke Times & World News
  • "This wonderful book defends a tradition of American cultural self-criticism that includes Irving Babbitt, H. L. Mencken, Dwight McDonald, the Trillings, Edmund Wilson, and Ralph Ellison from famous and formidable contemporary opponents. Seaton takes on Richard Rorty's pragmatism, the cultural radicalism of Leslie Fielder and Susan Sontag, the trendy academic cultural studies movement of Frederic Jameson, Edward Said, and Stanley Fish, and the cultural conservatism of E. D. Hirsch and Allan Bloom. . . . This book, above all, is a criticism of the pretensions of American romantic idealism, the desire to liberate the self from all constraints for its natural innocence. Because such liberation is really impossible, all that disappears is what is required for genuine self-scrutiny and self-restraint. The pursuit of the innocent self produces the imperial self and the deranged self. . . . Seaton is a most reasonable, sensible, courageous, instructive, and witty liberal, and we should count him among our most helpful friends."
    --University Bookman

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 296pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 1996
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-10645-5

Add to Cart
  • $79.95 U.S.