If American culture is centrifugal, and things are falling apart, what is the center that is not holding? Presumably, it is some core of principles—individual rights and opportunities— united by the affirmation that America, heartland of the West, is their home.
There is, in the end, no more coherence in the defense of the center than in the assertion of essential difference, but there is a common rheto- ric. The center under bombardment by barbarians is “Western liberal values,” “civilization,” “culture,” “reason.” The tribute to American greatness joins three themes: the embrace of a canonized American (and Western) history and literature, the opposition to group rights, and the affirmation of free speech. The genius of the attack on “political correctness” in the nineties has been to fuse the three, polarize opinion against them, and thereby seize the initiative....
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