Does Religious Pluralism Require Secularism?   /   Fall 2010   /    Essays & Short Takes

The Myth of a Non-Polarized America

The strength of a myth lies in its persistence.

Carl Desportes Bowman

Paul Schulenburg/©

By 2005, a long, hard-fought scholarly debate, which had lasted over twenty years, finally reached a consensus: there was no “culture war” in America. Extinguishing the debate originally ignited by James Davison Hunter’s 1991 book on the topic,11xJames Davison Hunter, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America (New York, NY: Basic, 1991). a legion of reputable scholars produced evidence to support this conclusion. Paul DiMaggio and co-authors were among the first, publishing an analysis of General Social Survey data in 1996 concluding that Americans, if anything, were becoming more similar. Shortly thereafter, Alan Wolfe’s qualitative study, One Nation After All: What Americans Really Think.... added to the cases. His interviews with American suburbanites from four urban areas led Wolfe to conclude, “there is little truth to the charge that middle-class Americans, divided by a culture war, have split into two hostile camps.” Among scholars, Morris Fiorina’s 2005 book, Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America dowsed whatever flame remained in the culture war embers. The evidence was in. Polarization was passé.

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