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Palgrave Macmillan

The Dream of a Democratic Culture

Mortimer J. Adler and the Great Books Idea

ISBN 9780230337466
Publication Date November 2013
Formats Hardcover Ebook (PDF) 
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan
Series Palgrave Studies in Cultural and Intellectual History

From the middle of the twentieth century to today, the Great Books idea has been perennially contested in successive iterations of the 'culture wars.' Whether embraced as the distillation of the best of Western culture or dismissed as hegemonic, elitist, and outdated, it has encapsulated the contradictions of intellectual life and civic culture in the era of American dominance. Drawing on previously unexamined sources, this book casts the Great Books idea in a new light, arguing that its proponents aimed to support an intellectually robust, consensus-oriented democratic culture. Moving from the concept's origins in nineteenth-century cultural, industrial, and educational initiatives, author Tim Lacy highlights the life and career of Mortimer J. Adler, who moved the idea out of the academy and worked to weave it into social and cultural fabric of the United States. With attention to the frequently changing fortunes of the project and its own inherent virtues and vices, The Dream of a Democratic Culture conclusively shows that neither liberals nor conservatives can claim ownership of the Great Books idea, whose significance has always depended upon usage, selection criteria, and context.

Tim Lacy has a PhD in American History from Loyola University Chicago, USA, where he is currently employed. He has taught history at Monmouth College, USA, and several Chicago-area colleges and universities.

1. The Great Books Movement, 1920-1948
2. Building Britannica's Great Books of the Western World, 1943-1952
3. Making 'Seventy-Four Corpses…Pay Off': The Context and Commerce of the Great Books, 1952-1968
4. 'Mixing Vice and Virtue': Adler, Britannica's Cottage Industry, and Mid-century Anxiety
5. The Common Sense of Great Books Liberalism, 1965-1970
6. Diminished Dreams: Great Books in an Age of Crisis, Fracture, and Transition, 1968-1977
7. 'The Poobah of Popularizers': Paideia, Pluralism, and the Culture Wars, 1978-1988
8. 'The Most Rancorous Cultural War': Bloom, Adler, Stanford, and Britannica, 1988-2001

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