Books in Little: Modern Culture
by Karl C. Schaffenburg
This slim volume is invaluable in setting forth clearly a critical overview of contemporary culture and cultural trends, and belongs on the reading list of all who consider themselves engaged in the life of the mind. In this book, Roger Scruton, the newly-knighted contemporary philosopher best known for his work in the field of aesthetics, and author of many works advancing a conservative viewpoint (including his most recent major work, How to Be a Conservative, 2014), is concerned with the differences betweenculture and high culture, and what these differences mean in the trajectory of what used to be called “civilization” but is now generally simply called “world culture.” He is concerned to defend higher and more critical culture.
Scruton begins with definitions, in which culture is the set of broadly assumed and assimilated markers of what it means to be a person raised in a given time and place as an inheritor of shared norms. What Scruton refers to as high culture was called, in the nineteenth-century formulation of Johann Gottfried Herder, “civilization,” a term now deemed suspect in an era of multiculturalism. In the course of his critical survey of the differences between culture and civilization, Scruton takes his readers on a guided tour of the development of modern and postmodern thought, beginning with the Enlightenment and ending with the “deconstruction” of such postmodernist thinkers as Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault. His insights never lack in penetration (and often in humor), as he surveys the visual arts, philosophy, music, and drama to draw a picture of our current experience of alienation and lack of coherence in goals. The elites of our age not only feel that they are separated from the broader swathe of humanity, they are, and Scruton is incisive in his analysis of how and why.
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