cover image Laying the Ladder Down: The Emergence of Cultural Holism

Laying the Ladder Down: The Emergence of Cultural Holism

Betty Jean Craige. University of Massachusetts Press, $32.5 (176pp) ISBN 978-0-87023-805-5

This provocative but incomplete study takes off from Darwin's theory of evolution to show how notions of inherent natural social hierarchies are giving way to a ``holistic'' theory of equal and interdependent cultural and social groupings. These competing claims are at play, according to Craige, in such current controversies as those about racial equality, multiculturalism and the work of Robert Mapplethorpe. Craige ( Reconnection: Dualism to Holism in Literary Study ) is on sure ground when addressing the past, showing how Matthew Arnold's hierarchical concept of culture reinforced the political status quo or how the approaches of Virginia Woolf to sexism and Martin Luther King to racism reject ``the concept of social order as naturally vertical.'' When contemplating the present, however, Craige becomes fuzzy, failing to fully address, for instance, why radical feminists and black nationalists reject their liberal forebears. She criticizes Allan Bloom and William Bennett for upholding the traditional curriculum of Western classics, suggesting that cultural holists should ``educate for the appreciation of cultural diversity.'' But she fails to consider how Western Enlightenment ideas might inspire non-Western cultures. (Oct.)