Max Lerner’s America

Max Lerner’s America


This book is disappointingly bland and inconclusive, an exhaustive balance sheet of American assets and liabilities. As in financial balance sheets, some mysterious alchemy equalizes the two sides; unlike the financial statement, Lerner gives us no judgment of the society’s “net worth.” Instead, he oscillates between conflicting judgments.

Does money alone talk in America? No, says Lerner: “other values than the acquisitive find a place in American life, and often they triumph …” Yet “even when they do triumph, it is only after they have been measured and defended against the money values… ‘ Such consistency as the book has lies in hopeful pieties rather than in hard-minded judgments, as witness the way he resolves this dichotomy: “That (non-acquisitive values) survive is the final tribute to their hardihood, and when they do survive .. . they have a greater strength than in those cultures where they do not have to measure themselves so searchingly against the domination effect of the business spirit.” But on what basis can we say that the struggle will leave the “victor” stronger, rather than l...

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