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Non-exhaustive review of the book “One Nation, Two Cultures”, by Gertrude Himmelfarb

The book One nation, two cultures was published by É Realizações this year, by Gertrude Himmelfarb (1922 – 2000). The first English edition is from 1999; a short time later, a second edition came out evaluating the predictions themselves with an afterword written in 2000. It is a conjuncture analysis book focused on the cultural life of the United States. Thus, it would be expected that it would not have relevance in another hemisphere and in another decade.

Nevertheless, the book is relevant to Brazil in the 21st century – and very much so. The theory from which Getrude Himmelfarb starts is that there was a Cultural Revolution in the United States during the decade of . This revolution was victorious because the morality defended by it became hegemonic culture. In any case, his victory did not imply the annihilation of the previous culture: there are then two cultures coexisting in a single nation.

The broad validity of Himmelfarb’s analysis is due to the fact that this Cultural Revolution , officially inaugurated in May of 68 in France, was a phenomenon that occurred throughout the West. Caetano Veloso had no originality in singing “it is forbidden to prohibit”; the counterculture he integrated, which extolled “sexual freedom” (sex without commitment) and “openness of mind” (drugs), was a general phenomenon throughout the West. Where there was a country with a Roman Catholic or Protestant cultural formation, there would be the counterculture fighting the previous culture.

Equal, only change

Pre-existing cultures vary, of course. Gertrude Himmelfarb begins the book by quoting an observation by Adam Smith concerning differences in morality between social classes. Nobles can be debauchees, because they can afford their debauchery. The plebs, on the other hand, have to have more self-restraint in order not to get hurt. Shortly after Smith’s death, however, England’s elite becomes Victorian, and the entire country adopts a chaste and restrained morality. Himmelfarb points out that Smith put a conditional: if there are well-demarcated social classes, there will be two prevailing moralities. England ceased to be a society of marked classes, so this characteristic morality of the plebs took over even the elites. The Wesleyan movement, which emerged within the working class, rose to the elite and gave rise to Victorianism.

The USA, on the other hand, emerged in a climate of equality among citizens. The Wesleyan movement guided the country’s morality far more strongly than any country in the Old World. On the other hand, Brazil was a continuation of the Portuguese Empire and remained so even in Independence, when we took the heir of the Portuguese monarchy for ourselves. Also, the hard work ethic, more associated with Calvinism, is not part of our upbringing. Among us, people worked first for subsistence and then to pay for pleasure.

Even so, no matter how much our people drank cachaça and feasted on samba, it is undeniable that things changed after the Cultural Revolution. Today’s funks lyrics, for all their explicit obscenity, make a rogue like Wilson Batista look prudish in comparison. Wilson Batista, author of “My world is today”, embodied the trickster. He created a public controversy with Noel Rosa, who wanted to make samba a musical genre for good guys, detaching it from trickery. With funk, the opposite happened: funkers with the profile of Claudinho and Bochecha, who had romantic lyrics, disappeared from the map. Funk has established itself as the music of a drug dealer and an empowered woman who slowly sings the verse “Dako é bom”.

In fact, perhaps women serve more as proof of changing customs in Brazil. than men. It is true that the figure of the trickster has always had some charm among us; but it was never nice for a woman to brag about being round and accepting everything. The trickster could live with romanticism; the traffickers’ rotating wife, no. The women even serve to show the change in terms of drugs. If before they regretted that men drank too much, today part sees as a symbol of status the quality of drugs that a man not only uses, but also gives to hookups.

Harmful consequences

According to Himmelfarb, conservatives, at first, thought that the Cultural Revolution would be limited to those who can afford this crazy morals. However, time has proven that his optimism was unwarranted.

One of the interesting things about the book is the wealth of detailed statistics. First, because in Brazil there are very few statistics; second, because when it does, it does a lousy job precisely to draw conclusions identical to those of the USA. And such conclusions are the usual ones: that women are beaten by their partners and children are victims of sexual abuse within their own home. As the US statistics are more complete, we learn that both facts are true, but the story was only half-told: abused children do not usually have their father at home, and battered women do not have a husband. Progressives tout the data as if it were proof that men are more, when it would be more reasonable to conclude that stepfather rotation harms children, and that disruptions in traditional monogamy make men more violent.

Another interesting fact is that the USA, despite everything, remained religious. This is a point that brings him closer to Brazil and distances them both from Europe, where modernization and the Cultural Revolution implied the growth of irreligiosity. In the US, the Cultural Revolution reached the churches, whose pastors became progressives and began to defend relaxed morals. In Brazil, the advance of Liberation Theology coincided with the Cultural Revolution. However, I believe that a comparison between US Protestants and Brazilian Catholics would show that the latter’s adherence to progressivism is late, since Liberation Theology had a more economic focus than behavioral. Today it is easy to argue that drug addicts are drugged because they are poor, but in the beginning it was more about economic redistribution and support for the USSR than about moral relaxation and drug tolerance. The Brazilian Catholic left marched with the Brazilian left as a whole, from the pro-USSR phase to the pro-Democratic Party phase of the USA.

Right and wrong predictions

Himmelfarb took it for granted that the counterculture had become not only hegemonic, but also the majority in the US. But she pointed out that, on the one hand, the Democrats themselves were working to reverse the social ills caused by family breakdown and lenient public safety policy (especially New York’s zero-tolerance policy in mind); and, on the other hand, a “counter-counterculture” was taking hold. She believed that both trends would continue a slow and gradual reversal of the counterculture.

As for the first of the predictions, in 2022 we can say that it failed. Democrats have become very radicalized since then – including in the area of ​​public safety, as shown by the laws of California. As for the other, we can say that it hit the nail on the head. The trends she witnessed were that of valuing traditional religion as a beneficial element for society, as well as the stampede of moderates. The appreciation of traditional morals made orthodox Jews associate with traditionalist Catholics and with black and white Southern Baptist pastors. Such a coalition was due to the fact that conservative religious realized that their religiosity was being expelled from public life. Furthermore, Himmelfarb, a Jew, realized that secularist Jews were putting their children in religious Jewish schools because they did not approve of counterculture morals. Furthermore, the homeschooling movement was ceasing to be a thing of amish and spreading through the middle class.

These trends were confirmed there and have correspondence in Brazil. Here, the “evangelical bench” has it all, has been causing it since at least 2014, and its presidential candidate is Catholic. Homeschooling became the agenda here, too. In the lower classes, the growth of evangelicals can be characterized as a movement against the counterculture.

What I don’t know is whether it can be said that the counterculture is or has been the majority in Brazil a day. Hegemony has arrived; For the most part, I don’t think so. After all, it is enough to compare the issue of abortion and teaching sexuality in schools: in Brazil, it is good manners for candidates to lie that they are very conservative while sweeping the rainbow class under the rug. In the US, it’s all done in the open.

Here I only highlighted a few issues in the book with Brazil in mind. Himmelfarb’s considerations about the changes that community culture underwent with the advent of private entities more powerful than governments, such as the Ford Foundation and the Open Society, are also worthwhile. The book is short and well written.

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