Jim Miller
November 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Imperial Middle: Why Americans Can't Think Straight About Class

Current Status
In Season
Benjamin Demott

We gave it a B

Class has a strange status in American life: Though its effects are everywhere evident, hardly anyone wants to admit to its importance. As President Bush put it recently, it’s an alien idea, a concept ”for European democracies or something else — it isn’t for the United States of America. We are not going to be divided by class.”

So there. But as Benjamin DeMott shows in The Imperial Middle: Why Americans Can’t Think Straight About Class, social divisions can’t be abolished by fiat, and the myth of American classlessness that Bush wishes to uphold ultimately perpetuates the very divisions whose existence it denies.

DeMott, a professor of humanities at Amherst College, is an elegant and wide-ranging cultural critic. Here he dissects a great many things in American life, from The Cosby Show to the rhetoric of The New York Times, to expose the workings of class. Many of his observations ring true, but DeMott’s remedies are disappointingly vague, calling as he does for social justice and a reform of conscience. Still, this is a welcome, even a brave book. B

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