"If you have finally had it with CNN and Hollywood and John Grisham and New Age 'spirituality,' then pull up a chair, unplug your phone (beeper, TV, fax machine, computer, etc.), and give me a few hours of your time. I promise to do my best not to entertain you."
These are introductory words by Morris Berman to his provocative book The Twilight of American Culture. I don't recall how I came across the works of Berman, but I have found him an insightful critic of the American postmodern cultural scene. He laments that "like ancient Rome [American culture] is drifting into an increasingly dysfunctional situation", and he locates the cause in the increasing dominance of corporate culture and the global economy. He claims that these have created a corporate and consumer culture that has lost its appreciation for art, beauty, literature, and critical thinking. In response, Berman calls upon serious thinkers to renounce the "fashionable patois of postmodernism" and pursue "Enlightenment values" by becoming "sacred/secular humanist monks."
While Berman is a bit unconventional, is certainly theoretical in his response to the cultural crisis, and overly optimistic about the values of the Enlightenment, he is a serious and gifted cultural critic. I found his analysis of the current corporate climate and consumer mentality utterly compelling. His message that America is like other cultures in that it will decline and, in fact, already has, needs to be broadly heard and understood.
Unfortunately, Berman's apparent prejudice against forms of conservative religion sporadically tarnishes his work and obscures his vision. That aside, in my opinion Berman may be read most usefully not for his answers to America's cultural crisis, but for his clear analysis of many of the country's current problems.