Cowan’s Out-of-Print Look at 70’s Culture Wars Still Relevant Today?

In the current issue of Columbia Journalism Review, Rick Perlstein recalls Tyler Cowan’s Tribes of America, an out-of-print book about the 1970’s “culture wars.” He heralds Cowan’s ability “to probe where those he disagreed with were coming from while still understanding why he disagreed with them” as a token of the author’s “moral seriousness and his comfort with moral complexity.”

The divide between the left and the right as Cowan describes it sounds eerily familiar:

In the fall of 1974, in Kanawha County, West Virginia, Christian fundamentalists enraged at the imposition of “blasphemous” textbooks in the public schools demolished a wing of a school board building with fifteen sticks of dynamite. When the board insisted on keeping the books in the curriculum, homes were bombed and school buses shot at. “Jesus Wouldn’t Have Read Them,” read one of the slogans of a movement whose leader, a preacher, would soon face charges of conspiracy to bomb two elementary schools.

Into this whirlwind stepped Paul Cowan, a shaggy-haired, bespectacled, left wing New York Jew, trying to make sense of why he felt sympathy for the side that was laying the dynamite.

(Many thanks to John for the link.)


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