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The Culture of Cynicism is the most wide-ranging and thought-provoking book yet written on American morality. It traces the intellectual history of American morality from its European origins in the Middle Ages to the 1990s. American culture, Professor Stivers argues, is a culture of cynicism. The pursuit of the mystical values of success, survival, happiness, and health has produced a corrosive and pervasive morality which is actually an "anti-morality". The result is a world in which there are norms without meaning, and everyday life is reduced to an empty struggle for power and satisfaction. This leads to boredom, unhappiness, anxiety, depression, addiction, susceptibility to religious cults, bizarre psychotherapies, widespread divorce, and damaged personal relationships. The Culture of Cynicism not only lays bare the internal contradictions of American morality, but also charts the new forms it has assumed. It demonstrates compellingly that neither liberal nor conservative commentators on America's moral decline have grasped what is really the case: that American morality itself is the source of this decline.
What we need is not a "return" to higher moral standards, but a complete revision of America's foundational ethics.
Richard Stivers is Professor of Sociology at Illinois State University.