An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America
By Joseph Bottum
Image, 2014, 320 pp.
The mainline Protestant churches were historically the center of gravity of the U.S. political, cultural, and intellectual establishment. Their collapse in the past five decades is one of the most important changes the United States has undergone in the contemporary era, but there has been little serious thought about its meaning. An Anxious Age is a dazzling tour de force, in which Bottum offers the richest and most interesting analysis yet of this cultural shift. Whereas most conventional analyses of the decline of the Protestant establishment emphasize the rise of Catholics and Jews after World War II, Bottum argues that the Protestant establishment collapsed because of internal shifts rather than external pressure. The heirs of the mainline Protestants, Bottum argues, still set the tone for American social and cultural life, but they no longer do so in an overtly religious context. Not all of Bottum’s observations ring equally true, but any reader interested in American politics or culture needs to grapple with the insights of this fascinating book.