Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Book review: Cultural Dementia

Cultural Dementia: By David Andress

Reviewed by Katrina Gulliver

This book reminded me of Kurt Andersen’s Fantasyland — but where Andersen thinks only Americans have lost their minds, David Andress thinks everyone has. I can’t say I disagree, being a subscriber to the Hourly Outrage, also known as Twitter. Andress refers to Brexit, Donald Trump’s election and Marine Le Pen’s rise in French politics as things that should have been ‘punchlines’, comparing those who voted for them to dementia sufferers. And that’s just in the first couple of pages. So I’m guessing that as a Leave voter, I’m not the intended audience — nor do I, as someone with a PhD in history, fit into Andress’s analysis of uninformed and delusional Brexit voters. Nonetheless, he’s right that things have been shaken up.

He offers a neat sweep of postwar history, and is right about the broader sense in which postwar prosperity — particularly that experienced by the middle classes of Western nations — was itself an aberration. Considering it the norm has been a major problem in politics and economics for the past 20 years. But admitting that lifetime employment and a generous welfare state were perhaps an economic blip and not a reasonable expectation is a tough pill for many to swallow.

One element Andress omits in this analysis is the changing role of women. Increased participation of women (particularly middle-class women) in the workforce since the 1970s actually helped our economy weather the shocks of the oil crisis and deindustrialisation. That the women’s movement essentially bought us another generation of prosperity is part of the equation, although it came at a cost (two incomes are now required to afford a middle-class lifestyle in much of the country). Moreover, Andress’s broad overview could also apply to many post-industrial Western nations. In singling out the US, France and the UK, he is forced to make awkward comparisons... read more: