Shattered Consensus: The Rise and Decline of America’s Postwar Political Order
By James Piereson
(Encounter, 389 pages, $27.99)
Authors of history books often design them with a unifying theme, a so-called theory of history. Henry Steele Commager, one of the most ardent promoters of liberal politics in the 20th century, once explained his partisanship by saying, “History is a jangle of accidents, blunders, surprises and absurdities, and so is our knowledge of it, but if we are to report it at all we must impose some order upon it.”
Arnold Toynbee, whose prodigious A Study of History won worldwide acclaim in the 1950s, built his structure around the theory that a common religious belief has driven the rise of civilizations. His fellow Englishman Paul Johnson, whose Modern Times won popularity in the 1980s, followed a similar theme in citing “moral relativity” with its absence of firm values and standards as the acid that dissolves civilizations.