Yesterday I noted that the new issue of the Claremont Review of Books is in the mail and, thanks to our friends at the Claremont Institute, I have read it in galley to select a couple of articles to be submitted for the consideration of Power Line readers. At the heavily subsidized price of $19.95 a year, the CRB affords the most cost-effective political education available in the United States of America. Subscribe by clicking on Subscription Services at the link and get immediate online access thrown in for free.
Yesterday we highlighted senior editor William Voegeli’s essay on political correctness and campus fascism. Today we look at Wilfred M. McClay’s review of Shelby Steele’s new book, Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country.
Professor McClay was a student of the late, great American historian Kenneth Lynn, and he follows in his footsteps. He writes with deep insight and understanding. Here Professor McClay examines Steele’s take on the shifting meaning and use of shame in our “liberated” culture.
Far from banishing shame to the dustbin of history— “as a superfluous psychological burden, the disabling and pleasure-squelching product of punitive childrearing and ignorant religious beliefs”—we’ve turbocharged it:
Perhaps the general weakening of moral authority, accompanied by the declining importance of marriage, family, kinship networks, communities, places of worship, and other morally formative institutions, along with the rise of an anomic individualism, has left a moral vacuum that begs to be filled by alternative forces. It is in this context that one can understand the growing sanctioning power of social media, a force for shaming that is unprecedented, and capable of being marshaled at will and wielded with sudden and remorseless power. Far from disappearing, shame and shaming appear to be everywhere, and lurking around every corner. There is an atmosphere of The Lord of the Flies about it all, a chaos of amoral moralism and reputation-trashing in which there is no visible adult supervision.
Nowhere does the new shaming play out more intensely than on our college campuses, where shame is today “a consciously wrought and wielded instrument of cultural warfare, fought by digital or pick-up armies in the name of abstract causes like social justice or sustainability,” a “sinister…malevolent” force, closing off all possibility of rational discourse in favor of a powerful and destructive moral invective.
Professor McClay’s rich review covers ground from Cole Porter to Bill Clinton and beyond: “The higher shamelessness.” Please check it out.