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The Idea of a Common Culture

- Abstract

READING Robert Alter’s “A Fever of Ethnicity” (p. 68), I was struck by the relative coolness he displays toward the “New Pluralism”-just as I was struck by a comparable reserve in a piece on the same subject by Harold R. Isaacs which appeared in our March issue. (An exchange of letters on this piece can be found on p. 8 below.) Mr. Alter and Mr. Isaacs, of course, are not alone in feeling less than fully enthusiastic about the “rediscovery” of ethnicity. But unlike most critics and opponents of this development, they are both long-time students of and even believers in ethnic particularism. They believe, that is, in the continuing importance of the ethnic factor in modern life, and they believe in its spiritual and cultural value. Yet there is something about the new assertions of ethnicity that bothers each of them; and there is something about this movement that also bothers me, sympathetic though I too (like so many writers and editors associated with COMMENTARY over the years) have always been to ethnic particularism in general and to the recent efforts to establish it as a significant and legitimate force.

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