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By Eugene D. Genovese
Editing the American Mind
"A Companion to American Thought"
Edited by Richard Wightman Fox and James T. Kloppenberg
804 pp.; $39.95
Despite some fine moments, "A Companion to American Thought" is a bad book. The editors declare their intention to bring the adversaries in the Cultural War into respectful contention, but they end by providing one more extended, superficial polemic for radical ideology. They do provide some welcome lapses from the current hypocrisy of suppressing debate while claiming to advance diversity, but their penchant for accommodating intellectual and political fads ruins their effort.
The positive features of "A Companion to American Thought" include some good articles on discrete subjects--Diane Paul on "Heredity," to mention only one. The editors, to redress balances, include articles on Indian, Asian, and Latino contributions to American culture, some of which are worth reading. The many articles on black movements and individuals are generally well done. Especially noteworthy are those by David W. Blight and James Smethurst's fine piece on Amiri Baraka.
The articles on religion expose the strength but the greater weakness of this book. Most are solid, and some, like Roland A. Delattre's "Jonathan Edwards," are superior. Most notably, Mark Noll is splendid on "Evangelicalism," "Fundamentalism," and "Charles Hodge." As might be expected, most of the articles promote theological liberalism in one form or another, but the principal problem lies in a ghettoization of subject matter that recurs with other subjects. Thus, despite the excellent work on the impact of religion on late colonial and early national American history, the generally interesting article on the "American Revolution" ignores the impact of religious movements and ideas.
Certain editorial decisions defy understanding. I am no fan of Horace Bushnell but must ask why he gets only passing notice while William Ellery Channing gets full treatment. The decision to give Samuel Hopkins a long article and dismiss ...