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Slouching towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline

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In this New York Times bestselling book, Robert H. Bork, our country's most distinguished conservative scholar, offers a prophetic and unprecedented view of a culture in decline, a nation in such serious moral trouble that its very foundation is crumbling: a nation that slouches not towards the Bethlehem envisioned by the poet Yeats in 1919, but towards Gomorrah.

Slouching Towards Gomorrah is a penetrating, devastatingly insightful exposé of a country in crisis at the end of the...

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Overview

In this New York Times bestselling book, Robert H. Bork, our country's most distinguished conservative scholar, offers a prophetic and unprecedented view of a culture in decline, a nation in such serious moral trouble that its very foundation is crumbling: a nation that slouches not towards the Bethlehem envisioned by the poet Yeats in 1919, but towards Gomorrah.

Slouching Towards Gomorrah is a penetrating, devastatingly insightful exposé of a country in crisis at the end of the millennium, where the rise of modern liberalism, which stresses the dual forces of radical egalitarianism (the equality of outcomes rather than opportunities) and radical individualism (the drastic reduction of limits to personal gratification), has undermined our culture, our intellect, and our morality.

In a new Afterword, the author highlights recent disturbing trends in our laws and society, with special attention to matters of sex and censorship, race relations, and the relentless erosion of American moral values. The alarm he sounds is more sobering than ever: we can accept our fate and try to insulate ourselves from the effects of a degenerating culture, or we can choose to halt the beast, to oppose modern liberalism in every arena. The will to resist, he warns, remains our only hope.

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Editorial Reviews

David Futrelle

Like some horrid recurring nightmare, Robert Bork is back, and he's carrying a big fat book with him. It's called Slouching Towards Gomorrah, and its contents are pretty much what one would expect from a book with such a title, only worse.

In the 300-odd pages galumphing up to his less-than-ringing final summation, Bork offers a kind of K-Tel's Greatest Hits of conservative cultural curmudgeonism, bringing back for an encore all the tired arguments launched against our culture by the likes of Allan Bloom and William Bennett. He denounces everything from flag burning to feminism, and even manages to work in a small tirade against performance artist Karen Finley, the chocolate-smeared, NEA-supported nemesis of all that is good and true.

For all of the attention Bork pays to popular culture, however, he doesn't seem to know terribly much about it. Indeed, his only contact seems to be with the boilerplate denunciations that clutter the pages of contemporary conservative writings. As a result, most of his attacks are a bit off-key. He believes that MTV stands for "Music Television Videos," and he seems to think Nine Inch Nails are a rap group.

It seems a tad preposterous for a man whose writing is so aggressively unwieldy, whose use of evidence is mercenary at best, and whose facts are often glibly wrong, to prattle on about the decline of intellect and the abandonment of objective truth. Bork begins this long tirade with a memory from the '60s: a heap of burning books, smoldering outside the Yale law library after being set afire, of course, by radical students. The image symbolizes to him the "violence [and] mindless hatred" of that decade. Later, Bork makes a vigorous (if not terribly coherent) case for censorship. After a while, one begins to realize that Bork's book is a case study in what Freudians call "projection."

Like some off-brand version of near-beer, Slouching Towards Gomorrah tastes bad, and isn't the slightest bit filling. But the book did succeed in making me feel good about one thing: I'm just glad its author isn't on the Supreme Court. -- Salon

Michael Novak
A brilliant blend of passionate conviction and sustained arguement. May be the most important book of the '90s.
Eugene D. Genovese
Clearly and gracefully written, this humane and well-reasoned analysis. . . invites the respectful attention of liberals and conservatives alike.
William J. Bennett
A brilliant and alarming exploration of the dark side of contemporary American culture. Bork has done an important and good deed.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Controversial former federal court judge Bork (The Tempting of America) has produced a wide-ranging but turgid jeremiad, citing mostly familiar, conservative explanations for American decline. Thus he attacks multiculturalism, racial and sexual politics, the Supreme Court and the criminal justice and welfare systems, among others, often relying on the work of critics such as Charles Murray, Thomas Sowell, Richard Bernstein and Christopher Lasch. Bork's tone can be overwrought: "[M]odern liberalism... is what fascism looks like when it has captured significant institutions, most notably the universities." He also offers a knee-jerk condemnation of rock and rap. Despite such verbiage, Bork does strike a chord with his criticisms that individualism and egalitarianism have loosened social ties and weakened America, and with his warnings that recent decisions on assisted suicide may have broad, Roe v. Wade-like implications. Several arguments should spur debate. Bork disagrees with those who call for greater economic equality"it is not that America is odd compared to Sweden, but that Sweden is odd compared to us." He believes that constitutional legitimacy can only be reclaimed if we pass a constitutional amendment allowing Congress to override federal and state court decisions. He also supports censorship of "the most violent and sexually explicit material," though he doesn't suggest how it might be implemented. Bork finds some hope in the rise of religious conservatism, and proposes a multiple-front strategy to reclaim American institutions.
Library Journal
With its emphasis on outcomes vs. opportunity and on personal gratification, liberalism is destroying the cultural fabric of America, says Bork, author of the best-selling The Tempting of America (LJ 11/1/89). The liberal elites that control all major social institutions, most significantly the universities, churches, media, and government bureaucracies, regard morality as an impediment to personal convenience. Bork regards the 1960s as a loathsome decade when moral integrity was destroyed and the current leaders of these elites were spawned. He details how these "barbarians" have unleashed torrents of political correctness, radical feminism, anti-intellectualism, and affirmative action on society. Writing with an ardent certitude that true conservatives will applaud while those with moderate and liberal leanings will regard as demagoguery, Bork states his views effectively, but he repeatedly uses examples of excess to define mainstream liberalism. For an excellent liberal view of the culture wars, see Todd Gitlin's The Twilight of Common Dreams (Holt, 1995). Strongly recommended for public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/95.]-Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, Pa.
Richard A. Glenn
William B. Yeats' classic poem "The Second Coming," written in 1919, is about the world disintegrating amidst a brutal force. It concludes: "And what rough beast, its hour come round at last/Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?" While Yeats could not have known it, that "rough beast" of decadence has reached its maturity in the last three decades and threatens to send the United States slouching not towards Bethlehem, but towards the depravity of Gomorrah. (Gomorrah, a city legendary for its intractable wickedness, was demolished by God in a cataclysm of "brimstone and fire" in the Old Testament book of Genesis.) Such is the thesis of Robert H. Bork's book SLOUCHING TOWARDS GOMORRAH: MODERN LIBERALISM AND AMERICAN DECLINE. Mr. Bork, a John H. Olin Scholar in Legal Scholars at the American Enterprise Institute, served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit from 1982 to 1988. He was nominated by President Ronald Reagan to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987. (His nomination was rejected by the U.S. Senate.) In addition, Mr. Bork has been a partner in a major law firm, taught constitutional law at Yale Law School, and was solicitor general and acting attorney general of the United States. According to Mr. Bork, the enemy within that brings about this corrosion is modern liberalism, of which the defining characteristics are radical egalitarianism ("the equality of outcomes rather than of opportunities") and radical individualism ("the drastic reduction of limits to personal gratification"). Modern liberalism differs from classical liberalism. Classic liberalism--the liberalism of Locke, Montesquieu, Smith, and Jefferson, for instance--has the twin thrusts of liberty and equality. But because liberalism has no corrective within itself, all it can do is endorse more liberty and demand more rights. This unqualified enthusiasm for liberty has trumped the need for order. In decades and centuries past, order took care of itself because liberty and equality were tempered by restraining forces in American culture--family, church, school, neighborhood, and inherited morality. Today the authority of those institutions has been eroded. As such, the concepts of liberty and equality have changed since their enshrinement in the Declaration of Independence. Liberty has become "moral anarchy." Equality has become "despotic egalitarianism." Rot and devastation follow. Such is modern liberalism. According to the author, modern liberalism finds is roots in the radicalism of the 1960s. From the PORT HURON STATEMENT of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in 1962 (that he calls the "birth of the sixties") to the "sacking of the universities" (with vivid accounts from Cornell, Yale, and Kent State), Mr. Bork traces the attacks on American culture and bourgeois morals. But while the sixties has passed, modern liberalism has not. Modern liberalism is powerful because those formulations remain deeply embedded in today's culture. Today, student radicals of the sixties occupy positions of power and influence across the nation. Cultural elites dominate "the institutions that manufacture, manipulate, and disseminate ideas, attitudes, and symbols"--universities, churches, Hollywood, the national press, and the judiciary, to name a few. The most excoriating chapter of this book is devoted to the morally illiterate Supreme Court, an "agent of modern liberalism." Calling the Court arguably "the most powerful force shaping our culture," Mr. Bork derides the transfer of democratic government from elected representatives to unelected ones. (This premise was the foundation for his 1990 best-seller, THE TEMPTING OF AMERICA: THE POLITICAL SEDUCTION OF THE LAW.) As a result, the courts govern us in way not remotely contemplated by the framers and ratifiers of the Constitution, inflating enumerated rights and creating new ones (such as the right of privacy, right to physician-assisted suicide, and right to same-sex marriages). The Court's intolerable assumption of complete governing power "disintegrate[s] the basis for our social unity [and] brings the rule of law into disrepute....We head toward constitutional nihilism." To counter this judicial despotism, Mr. Bork advocates (although he calls its passage "highly unlikely") a constitutional amendment making any federal or state court decision subject to being overruled by a majority vote of each chamber of Congress. Also derided is the twentieth century trend toward administrative rule-making. Increasing and extensive governmental regulations have led to greater bureaucratic authority, which makes the democratic process "increasingly irrelevant." (Mr. Bork is crashing through open doors here. This argument was initially advanced in 1969 by Theodore Lowi in THE END OF LIBERALISM.) Mr. Bork concludes: Modern liberalism is fundamentally at odds with democratic government because it demands results that ordinary people would not freely choose. Liberals must govern, therefore, through institutions that are largely insulated from the popular will. The most important institutions for liberals' purposes are the judiciary and the bureaucracies. The judiciary and the bureaucracies are staffed with intellectuals....and thus tend to share the views and accept the agenda of modern liberalism. Judicial and bureaucratic government, which may be well-intentioned, cannot, by definition, be democratic. Yet, in this sense, Mr. Bork's criticism is less an indictment of the judiciary and bureaucracy and directed more appropriately at those who permit the abdication of lawmaking responsibility to institutions that are largely insulated from the popular will. The bulwark of the book is a well-organized and clearly written critique of the collapse of American culture since the 1960s. (As such, this is NOT a book about government.) No institution of that culture has remained untouched. To hear Mr. Bork tell it, nothing positive has happened in this country since the glory days of "I like Ike." This book reads like all-out assault on American culture in the past four decades. Perhaps Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole used this text as a basis for his "bridge to the past" metaphor. Yet in comparison to Mr. Bork, Mr. Dole may well be "optimistic." Mr. Bork equates popular culture with "unrestrained hedonism." He advocates censorship ""for the most violent and sexually explicit material" easily available through popular music, movies, and the internet. ("The very fact that we have gone from Elvis to Snoop Doggy Dogg is the heart of the case for censorship.") Crime has proliferated. The war on drugs has failed. Abortion has led to a lack of respect for human life--"killing for convenience." Physician-assisted suicide will spiral into euthanasia. ("It is entirely predictable that many of the elderly, ill, and infirm will be killed, and often without consent.") Feminism, the "most fanatical and destructive movement of the 1960s," is an attack on hierarchy, family, religion, and national security. Racial tensions have escalated. Affirmative action "was a serious mistake....Continuing it would be a disaster." Education has become politicized to the point that competency has decreased. Teachers do not teach; students do not learn. Religion, "essential to a civilized culture," has become marginalized. (However, Mr. Bork calls the rise in religious conservatism "most promising.") Multiculturalism is a lie because all cultures are not equal. It has fragmented America. A culture of chaos persists. America heads toward moral decline and spiritual decay. While the data presented are solid and the analysis penetrating, the latter is incomplete. Mr. Bork never addresses the major criticisms directed toward his agenda. He ignores the dangers of censorship, the successes of affirmative action, the arguments in favor of assisted suicide, the perils of a union between church and state, and the pitfalls of cultural gerrymandering. On no issue does he offer a balanced analysis. Legitimate discussion is replaced with bold assertions: modern liberalism "is intellectually and morally bankrupt;" modern liberals are "today's barbarians;" Bill Clinton is "the very model of the modern liberal;" etc. Moreover, while Mr. Bork attacks each component of American culture, he fails to offer much in the way of a solution. His book is heavy on description, light on prescription. Only the last chapter (a total of 13 pages)--entitled "Can America Avoid Gomorrah?"--is forward looking. Mr. Bork advocates a revival of conservative culture--a self-confidence about the worth of traditional values. There are signs that this is happening (i.e., the conservative political climate of the last fifteen years, President Clinton's move to the "vital center"). But the courage to resist Gomorrah is ultimately "the optimism of the will." This first requisite is knowing what is happening to us (the stated purpose of this book). The second step is resistance to radical individualism and radical egalitarianism in every area of American culture. Resist radical individualism? America has always been headed to hell in a handbasket. (See calls for censoring Elvis.) Radical egalitarianism? A simple look at economic outcomes would suggest that, particularly in the decade of the eighties, wealth and income have become more disparate. While the diagnosis may be correct, the cure may be unacceptable and unattainable. Mr. Bork appears to assume that America holds to a commonly-agreed upon moral core. Such moral consensus is difficult to find today. It remains doubtful that America will be willing to swallow the medication that Mr. Bork has prescribed for a return to normalcy and health. After all, "popular culture" is "popular" for a reason. And, most of us would agree, the courts are not to blame for that.
Kirkus Reviews
A former judge's stinging indictment of the havoc postmodern liberalism has wrought on the state of the American union.

An eloquent, often elegant, advocate, Bork (whose ultimately aborted nomination to the US Supreme Court unleashed an ideological firestorm in mid-1987) defines latter-day liberalism as an ad hoc coalition of cultural elites (academics, ecclesiastics, entertainers, filmmakers, foundation professionals, journalists, jurists, public-interest groups, et al.) committed to a radical egalitarianism and unfettered individualism. In sorrow as well as anger, he assesses the demonstrably corrosive impact these no-fault credos have had on a host of activities and institutions. Cases in point range from the violently misogynistic lyrics of rap music through permissive sexual attitudes that have escalated teen pregnancy rates, the debasement of university curricula with trivial or spurious courses of study, insistence on equality of outcomes as well as opportunity, and the emergence of moral relativism as an acceptable alternative to traditional values. Citing an increasing incidence of self-segregation by ethnic minorities, a discernible rise in anti-intellectualism, antipathy toward mainstream religions, the left's intolerance of dissent, and a half-hearted approach to crime and punishment, Bork (The Tempting of America, 1989, etc.) decries liberalism's capacity for divisiveness. He also condemns "killing for convenience" (abortion, assisted suicide) and activist judges who usurp the power of the people with decisions that owe more to political correctness than statutory or constitutional authority. The author is by no means sanguine on the score of whether the US can reverse its long-term slide. To do so, he concludes, the populace will have to regain control over increasingly coercive government bureaucracies and court systems that have been setting an agenda decidedly at odds with majority wishes.

A thoughtful conservative's devastating judgment on intemperate liberalism, one that seems sure to reopen the bitter national debate over individual rights and responsibilities.

From Barnes & Noble
In this prophetic view of a society in moral decline and on the brink of losing its very foundation, one of the nation's most distinguished conservative scholars traces the roots of liberalism & its pervasiveness in America.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060573119
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 12/16/2003
  • Edition description: Revised Paperback Edition
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 260,171
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.97 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert H. Bork has served as Solicitor General and Acting Attorney General of the United States, and as a United States Court of Appeals judge. A former professor of law at Yale Law School, he is currently a professor at Ave Maria School of Law, a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and the Tad and Dianne Taube Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution. Also the author of the bestselling The Tempting of America, he lives with his wife in McLean, Virginia.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One



"The Vertical Invasion of the Barbarians"



It is important to understand what the Sixties turmoil was about, for the youth culture that became manifest then is the modern liberal culture of today. Where that culture will take us next may be impossible to say, but it is also impossible even to make an informed guess without understanding the forces let loose by the decade that changed America.

Many people attribute the student frenzy, civil disobedience, and violence of the Sixties to the war in Vietnam. That is a comforting thought, for, if true, it would mean that the Sixties pivoted on a single ephemeral issue rather than representing a major, and perhaps permanent, upheaval across all of American culture. Unfortunately, the evidence seems clear that Vietnam was more an occasion for the outbreaks than their cause. The war at most intensified into hatred a contempt for American civilization that was already in place.

During the same period, other countries that had no involvement in the Vietnamese war, notably France, Italy, and Germany, saw serious student rebellions. In France the students came closer to toppling the government than the radicals ever did in the United States. The turmoil seems to have had more to do with attitudes that reached their culmination in a particular generation in Western democracies than with the war.

Contrast the reaction of American youth to the wars in Korea and in Vietnam. Both were wars in Asia, both exacted high prices in Americans killed or disabled, both had only the rationale ofcontaining communism, both soon became unpopular. Yet American youth went willingly, if not gladly, to Korea, while they demonstrated against Vietnam, marched on the Pentagon, threw blood on draft records, fled to Canada and Sweden, and denounced "Amerika." Something in our culture, or at least the culture of our youth, had changed between the two wars. Vietnam was a convenient and powerful metaphor for what was in reality the belief that America's culture, society, economy, and polity were corrupt.

One must not, of course, discount the great reservoir of self-interest that underlay much of the rhetoric of morality. The generation that fought in Korea had not grown up with affluence. Many had served in World War II or grew up during the war. The middle-class youths who were asked to fight in Vietnam were of a pampered generation, one that prized personal convenience above almost all else. The prospect that their comfortable lives might be disrupted, or even endangered, by having to serve their country in Vietnam was for many intolerable. Thus, the student protests wound down when the draft ended.

Yet to this day, many contend that the radicals' protests against the war were honorable. Professor James Miller of the New School for Social Research, for example, argues that there were substantial benefits from the riots at the 1968 Democratic Convention because of the "dissent, confrontation, the passionate expression of moral outrage at a war that was, after all, morally reprehensible and unjust in its brutality, as well as strategically mistaken." Those who speak in this fashion, and there are many, realize that something is still at stake in the argument over Vietnam. Indeed there is. The debate about that war is a contest between two opposed ways of viewing the world, whose current form is the war in the culture. That makes Vietnam worth a word or two.

It may be doubted, to begin with, that a difference of opinion about strategy brought the radicals into the streets. SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) did not arrive at its position on the war through a close study of Clausewitz and Jomini. Nor has anyone persuasively explained why the war was morally reprehensible or unjust in its brutality. It was a time of very worrisome communist expansion by force around the world. The United States had succeeded in saving South Korea by force of arms but had seen China and Cuba fall and was facing an aggressive and heavily armed Soviet Union. Attempting to contain communist dictatorships was hardly an immoral project. It was known at the time that Ho Chi Minh's triumph in the North had resulted in the killing of about 100,000 people, and it was certainly reasonable to anticipate a larger slaughter in the South if we lost the war.

The subsequent fate of the South Vietnamese people ought to convince anyone that the war should have been fought and won. We know of the tortures and murders in the re-education camps, and of the "postwar terror which destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, and which produced over a million refugees." To anyone with the slightest knowledge of communist takeovers in other countries, these things were entirely foreseeable. The almost complete indifference of American antiwar radicals to the terrible fate of the South Vietnamese after the Communists' victory demonstrates that the protests were not motivated by concern for the people of Vietnam. The protests were primarily about the moral superiority of the protesters and their rage against their own country.

What was morally reprehensible were the New Lefts attempts to ensure the American and South Vietnamese defeat. North Vietnam's resolve was greatly increased by the demonstrations against the war in the United States. Bui Tin, a former colonel on the general staff of the North Vietnamese army who left after the war because he became disillusioned with his country's communism, said in an interview that Hanoi intended to defeat the United States by fighting a long war to break America's will. The American antiwar movement was "essential to our strategy. Support for the war from our rear was completely secure while the American rear was vulnerable. Every day our leadership would listen to world news over the radio at 9 a.m. to follow the growth of the American antiwar movement. Visits to Hanoi by people like Jane Fonda, former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, and various clergy gave us...

Slouching Towards Gomorrah. Copyright © by Robert H. Bork. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
A Word About Structure
Introduction 1
1 "The Vertical Invasion of the Barbarians" 17
2 What They Did and Where They Went 34
3 "We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident": The Rage for Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness 56
4 "We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident": The Passion for Equality 66
5 "Intellectuals" and Modern Liberalism 83
6 The Supreme Court as an Agent of Modern Liberalism 96
7 The Collapse of Popular Culture 123
8 The Case for Censorship 140
9 The Rise of Crime, Illegitimacy, and Welfare 154
10 Killing for Convenience: Abortion, Assisted Suicide, and Euthanasia 172
11 The Politics of Sex: Radical Feminism's Assault on American Culture 193
12 The Dilemmas of Race 226
13 The Decline of Intellect 250
14 The Trouble in Religion 272
15 The Wistful Hope for Fraternity 296
16 Can Democratic Government Survive? 317
17 Can America Avoid Gomorrah? 331
Afterword 345
Endnotes 379
Index 403
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First Chapter

Slouching Towards Gomorrah
Modern Liberalism and American Decline
Introduction

One morning on my way to teach a class at the Yale law school, I found on the sidewalk outside the building heaps of smoldering books that had been burned in the law library. They were a small symbol of what was happening on campuses across the nation: violence, destruction of property, mindless hatred of law, authority, and tradition. I stood there, uncomprehending, as a photograph in the next day's New York Times clearly showed. What did they want, these students? What conceivable goals led them to this and to the general havoc they were wreaking on the university? Living in the Sixties, my faculty colleagues and I had no understanding of what it was about, where it came from, or how long the misery would last. It was only much later that a degree of understanding came.

To understand our current plight, we must look back to the tumults of those years, which brought to a crescendo developments in the Fifties and before that most of us had overlooked or misunderstood. We noticed (who could help but notice?) Elvis Presley, rock music, James Dean, the radical sociologist C. Wright Mills, Jack Kerouac and the Beats. We did not understand, however, that far from being isolated curiosities, these were harbingers of a new culture that would shortly burst upon us and sweep us into a different country.

The Fifties were the years of Eisenhower's presidency. Our domestic world seemed normal and, for the most part, almost placid. The signs were misleading. Politics is a lagging indicator.

Culture eventually makes politics. The cultural seepages of the Fifties strengthened and became a torrent that swept through the nation in the Sixties, only to seem to die away in the Seventies. The election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and the defeat of several of the most liberal senators seemed a reaffirmation of traditional values and proof that the Sixties were dead. They were not. The spirit of the Sixties revived in the Eighties and brought us at last to Bill and Hillary Clinton, the very personifications of the Sixties generation arrived at early middle age with its ideological baggage intact.

This is a book about American decline. Since American culture is a variant of the cultures of all Western industrialized democracies, it may even, inadvertently, be a book about Western decline. In the United States, at least, that decline and the mounting resistance to it have produced what we now call a culture war. It is impossible to say what the outcome will be, but for the moment our trajectory continues downward. This is not to deny that much in our culture remains healthy, that many families are intact and continue to raise children with strong moral values. American culture is complex and resilient. But it is also not to be denied that there are aspects of almost every branch of our culture that are worse than ever before and that the rot is spreading.

"Culture," as used here, refers to all human behavior and institutions, including popular entertainment, art, religion, education, scholarship, economic activity, science, technology, law, and morality. Of that list, only science, technology, and the economy may be said to be healthy today, and it is problematical how long that will last. Improbable as it may seem, science and technology themselves are increasingly under attack, and it seems highly unlikely that a vigorous economy can be sustained in an enfeebled, hedonistic culture, particularly when that culture distorts incentives by increasingly rejecting personal achievement as the criterion for the distribution of rewards.

With each new evidence of deterioration, we lament for a moment, and then become accustomed to it. We hear one day of the latest rap song calling for killing policemen or the sexual mutilation of women; the next, of coercive left-wing political indoctrination at a prestigious university; then of the latest homicide figures for New York City, Los Angeles, or the Districtof Columbia; of the collapse of the criminal justice system,which displays an inability to punish adequately and, often enough, an inability even to convict the clearly guilty; of the rising rate of illegitimate births; the uninhibited display of sexuality and the popularization of violence in our entertainment; worsening racial tensions; the angry activists of feminism, homosexuality, environmentalism, animal rights--the list could be extended almost indefinitely.

So unrelenting is the assault on our sensibilities that many of us grow numb, finding resignation to be the rational, adaptive response to an environment that is increasingly polluted and apparently beyond our control. That is what Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan calls "defining deviancy down."Moynihan cites the "Durkheim constant."Emile Durkheim, a founder of sociology, posited that there is a limit to the amount of deviant behavior any community can "afford to recognize."As behavior worsens, the community adjusts its standards so that conduct once thought reprehensible is no longer deemed so. As behavior improves, the deviancy boundary moves up to encompass conduct previously thought normal. Thus, a community of saints and a community of felons would display very different behavior but about the same amount of recognized deviancy.

But the Durkheim constant is now behaving in a very odd way. While defining deviancy down with respect to crime, illegitimacy, drug use, and the like, our cultural elites are growing intensely moralistic and disapproving about what had always been thought normal behavior, thus accomplishing what columnist Charles Krauthammer terms "defining deviancy up."It is at least an apparent paradox that we are accomplishing both forms of redefining, both down and up, simultaneously. One would suppose that as once normal behavior became viewed as deviant, that would mean that there was less really bad conduct in the society. But that is hardly our case. Instead, we have redefined what we mean by such things as child abuse, rape, and racial or sexual discrimination so that behavior until recently thought quite normal, unremarkable, even benign, is now identified as blameworthy or even criminal. Middle-class life is portrayed as oppressive and shot through with pathologies. "As part of the vast social project of moral leveling," Krauthammer wrote, "it is not enough for the deviant to be normalized. The normal must be found to be deviant."This situation is thoroughly perverse. Underclass values become increasingly acceptable to the middle class, especially their young, and middle-class values become increasingly contemptible to the cultural elites.

That is why there is currently a widespread sense that the distinctive virtues of American life, indeed the distinctive features of Western civilization, are in peril in ways not previously seen. This time the threat is not military--the Soviets and the Nazis are defunct. Nor is it external--the Tartar armies receded from Europe centuries ago. If we slide into a modern, high-tech version of the Dark Ages, we will have done it to ourselves without the assistance of the Germanic tribes that destroyed Roman civilization. This time we face, and seem to be succumbing to, an attack mounted by a force not only within Western civilization but one that is perhaps its legitimate child.

The enemy within is modern liberalism, a corrosive agent carrying a very different mood and agenda than that of classical or traditional liberalism. That the modern variety is intellectually bankrupt diminishes neither its vitality nor the danger it poses. A bankrupt philosophy can reign for centuries and, when its bankruptcy becomes apparent, may well be succeeded by an even less coherent outlook. That is what is happening to us now. Modernity, the child of the Enlightenment, failed when it became apparent that the good society cannot be achieved by unaided reason. The response of liberalism was not to turn to religion, which modernity had seemingly made irrelevant, but to abandon reason. Hence, there have appeared philosophies claiming that words can carry no definite meaning or that there is no reality other than one that is "socially constructed." A reality so constructed, it is thought, can be decisively altered by social or cultural edict, which is a prescription for coercion.

"Modern liberalism" may not be quite the correct name for what I have in mind. I use the phrase merely to mean the latest stage of the liberalism that has been growing in the West for at least two and a half centuries, and probably longer. Nor does this suggest that I think liberalism was always a bad idea. So long as it was tempered by opposing authorities and traditions, it was a splendid idea. It is the collapse of those tempering forces that has brought us to a triumphant modern liberalism with all the cultural and social degradation that follows in its wake. If you do not think "modern liberalism" an appropriate name, substitute "radical liberalism" or "sentimental liberalism" or even, save us, "post-modern liberalism." Whatever name is used, most readers will recognize the species. Slouching Towards Gomorrah
Modern Liberalism and American Decline
. Copyright © by Robert H. Bork. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Sort by: Showing all of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 13, 2002

    You can't get more clear than this

    This book is proof that the best writing is the most clear writing. This book is so eye-opening that is is not only politically helpful but also helpful in the area of self-realization. Bork, for example, traces the root of many liberal policies from FDR's "New Deal" and Harry Truman's "Fair Deal" to envy. It really takes the covers from our eyes and makes anyone, even conservatives like me, ask why we sometimes support policies that do nothing more than harm others with no benefit to ourselves. Why is support in America for taxing the rich so high? Someone being rich does not make someone else poor. This is just one example of Robert Bork showing how our poltical system is plagued by the extremities of modern liberal thoughts such as envy. In this landmark book he highlights many negative cultural trends like illegitamacy, the erosion of respect for human life, crime. He does not do this, however, with the attitude of "this all came about with modern liberalism." He admits that many liberal trends were in place well before the twentieth century but that they were fully manifested and broke loose in the 1960's with the counterculture movement. The agents in this unleashing of the formerly minor sentiments were big government, government dependency through welfare programs, and the Supreme Court. His arguments in many chapters are so eloquently and logically put together, (not surprising for a lawyer) that an honest and inquiring mind can not help but agree with him. As a young conservative this book was one that had a profound impact on me because it showed me the importance that, in many cases, logic and clarity has over feel-good emotion that is clearly destructive. ie: how compassionate do liberals make it sound when they are" protecing Social Security" while those evil republicans want to do that horrible, uncompassionate thing: privatize. Borks refuation of modern liberalism on every major issue from race, abortion, and moral relativism is excellent. What this book can help the political novice realize is that just because someting euphimistically may sound compassionate as in "Great Society" or "letting a woman decide what to do with her own body" it does not follow that it is truly compassionate or helpful. How many people have ever questioned their view of being "pro-choice" while ever asking if the person being killed had a choice in the matter? - Bork asks for example. Bork's only flaw is his chapter on censorhip. While correct that liberal decay and permisivesness has contriubuted to social decay, Bork must accept what his conservative contemporary Dinesh D'Souza has recently written: that it is not practical to censor something that the vast majority of Americans do not want to censor. Bork ends with the hope that we may not end up in Gomorrah and can work ourselves our of the moral sewer. He says that schoolboard by schoolboard, chuch by church we will have to do away with the twin trends that he says underlie the modern liberal mind: radical individualism- which says that want I want to do is fine and as long as I am happy it doesn't matter how the rest of society views it and radical egalitariasm which emphaisizes equality of outcome rather than oppurtunity. The source of this change he says must come from a new passionate conservatism that tries to reverse these trends. Bork makes no claim either that Americans as a whole are morally depraved and says he is just noting 'trends' and does make reference to the many Americans who live good lives and have just accepted modern liberalism as law and have gone into a state of self-silencing out of fear of being labeled uncompassionate or racist. He says that many of these people have found a voice for their feelings in talk radio. Read this book, absorb it, but read it honestly and with an open mind and consider yourself lucky.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2014

    This book is just a reflection of a truth that has been taught u

    This book is just a reflection of a truth that has been taught us for over 2,000 years: Isaiah 32:5 " The vile person will no longer be called liberal." Russ

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  • Posted July 30, 2010

    Slouching Towards Conservitive

    Well written,and insightfull on the mentality of a conservitive. That being said; it is a completly one-sided conservitive manifesto trying to convice the reader that a liberal arts college pollutes the mind with immorality and that all liberals are evil. Makes for a good laugh to anyone with common sence. Recomend all liberals read to see what they are up against(I.E.nothing).

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2008

    Provocative and Brilliant

    Justice Bork is truly one the greatest minds of our time. Providing 1000 pounds of substance and unparralled genius in discussing the social ill's that plague america. Justice Bork offers valuble insight on what we must do to combat those who wish to change the fabric of America and cause it irreparable damage. This book is a must read to the true conservative mind and all who wish to save America.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2005

    A great book !

    Recommended reading. This is a great book if you want to know about the things that your 'evening news' program won't tell you about the state of our culture today. This well-written book documents the 'for better or worse' changes that have developed in the politcal/cultural USA. It discusses factors occuring in the U.S. before the 1960s, and details the counter-culture that emerged on our college campuses during the second half of the 20th century. 'Gomorrah' gave me a much broader and insightful understanding of the socio-historic context of the 60s, the people who were involved in it, and of the resulting crisis that our educational system is going through right now. It affects us all.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2004

    Excellent book, but bring your dictionary

    I really enjoyed this book. It is a good book on explaining conservative ideals and how harmful absolute freedom (liberalism) can be and how it can lead to more restrictions on freedom. The only problem I had was that the author rather enjoyed using large words I had never heard of before. I had to look up 40 words in chapters 3 and 4 alone. (Yet another sign of failing educational systems).

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2003

    For the most part a good book

    The first section of this book did little to impress me. It was shallow, with little or no persausiveness to it. The next two sections however, were magnificent. Bork clearly elucidates on the moral ineptitude of liberalism. He makes a strong case for abadoning liberalism for the moral highground.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2003

    Say what?

    I'm sorry, but Bork obviously didn't care enough to research what he was criticizing in pop culture....or bother to realize that Canada isn't in Europe. He arrived at a conclusions before he even let an idea form.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2001

    Searching For A Remnant to Repulse the Barbarians

    I once almost had a physical encounter with the author of ¿Slouching Toward Gomorrah¿. One night while walking through Lambert Airport in St. Louis, I turned to find myself face to face with Robert Bork, burdened with two suitcases. At least I knew where I was going. From the look on his face I am not sure that he was as well oriented. In ¿Slouching Toward Gomorrah¿ I had an encounter with the mind of Robert Bork. This is one of those books which gradually builds and then pulls it altogether at the end. When I began the book I was wondering if its thrust would be legal or political. I could not make up my mind until the last section, at which time I determined what type of a book it is. It is a book about culture. It is the voice of an intellectual conservative who knows what is worth saving in American culture and understands the liberal assault being made against it. In the beginning, Bork relates some of his experiences as a conservative in academia. He describes in detail some of the assaults by the left led by those who substitute feelings for thought and who try to rewrite history to conform it to their preconceived conclusions. Bork then goes on to describe the forces assaulting American culture. He dates the start of the assault from the Port Huron Statement of 1962 which became the Charter of the radical leftist movement. He explains that, whereas there was once a common core of beliefs which held American culture together, that core of beliefs has fallen under incessant liberal attack Step by step, Bork goes analyzes the evils arising from the assault on American culture. He makes a case for censorship of vulgarity in order to prevent a descent into a brutalized and chaotic culture. He goes on to explain how the rise of crime and illegitimacy resulted from the decline in American culture. Abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide are shown for what they really are, ¿Killing for Convenience¿. The assault from radical feminists and on racial questions is deftly exposed. Bork then proceeds to delve into the effect the leftist assault has had on the churches before examining the wistful leftist hope to remake human nature. Throughout the analysis of the problems of the modern era, Bork examines how the dominance of the left has come, not from converting the masses, but from converting the traditional conservators of the cultural heritage. He points out that a relatively small proportion of the population, which controls academia, the media and the courts, have used their power to promote the implementation of the leftist agenda. At the end, Bork confronts the crucial questions, of whether democratic government can survive this assault and whether America can avert Gommorah. While recognizing that there is strong justification for pessimism, Bork also sees some reasons for optimism. On the political front, he sees the attack on democratic government in the form of a Supreme Court which has taken adopted the practice of imposing its wishes as constitutional law. In so doing, it effectively removes ever larger segments of public policy from the realm of the democratic process. Shifts in political control have not reversed, or even arrested this trend. The remedy proposed by Judge Bork is a constitutional amendment which would subject the decisions of the Supreme Court to democratic review. On the wider question of whether or not America can avoid Gommorah, Bork seems to feel that the jury is still out. Throughout much of the book, he has been telling us how the Left has succeeded in gaining control of the cultural elite. This power grab has left us with a society in which the shared virtues which made America a unified and successful society have been in headlong retreat for 30 years. Much like the era of the Barbarian invasions, bastions culture and civilization has been swept away by the waves of assault. In an earlier era, the destruction of the Roman culture seemed

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2001

    The second most important book you can read...

    ...after the bible! In no other single spot will you find this much information to help understand our legal/political culture and it's current direction. It's a shame that such a clear thinker is not on the Supreme Court. The negative reviews written by liberal rags, such as Salon and others, should be immediate testimony to the value and truth of this book. Sometimes you can judge the value of a book by who disparrages it and by how much they hate it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 23, 2001

    A Mixed Bag - ultimately disappointing

    Robert Bork presents a not-very-well-written or argued book on many aspects of American culture. His evidence is often unsubstantiated or overstated and he displays a disturbing penchant for sweeping and questionable generalizations. Ultimately, this makes the book a disappointing read especially since he raises many important questions that deserve a much more intelligent and thorough discussion. Instead this almost Supreme Court justice can only offer the tired far-right tirades against, often, an equally extreme sampling of the left.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2000

    A Most Concise Look at American Society Slipping Away

    I lived through the 60's. Now I understand them. Bork writes a message the all should read: This is what is going on--and this is why. It is objective, factual, and eye-opening. Shame on America if we ignore this eloquent warning. Oh that Bork were on the Supreme Court.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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