‘I’hat public libraries were established as educational institutionsrnmeant to elevate public taste above both Henry Millerrnand Pat Boone is almost never mentioned.rnI had several discussions with Christians who did not wantrnSex in the librarv. (It is hard not to repeat Tiny Tim’s retort tornJohnn’ Carson, that he wanted to get sex out of the moviesrnand put it back where it belonged—in the home.) When Irnasked each of them about their other attempts to influence librar’rnpolic’, thev told me of previous controversies over questionablernbooks. Had any of them actually asked the library tornbuv a book? Did their churches request books? Rockford is arnhea’ilv Lutheran and Catholic town. Were the works ofrnLuther and Melanchthon available in German (and Latin) orrneven in translation? What about standard editions of thernChurch Fathers? St. Thomas? Did the library own a completernset of the Loeb classics (bilingual editions of Greek and Latinrnauthors) or Trollope’s novels or the recently published completernedition of Rcjbinson Jcffers? Could one find standardrneditions of Hume and Locke? Could a freshman at a decentrncollege do a credible term paper on any topic bv using the lil5rar’rns resources?rnThe answer to all of the above is no. American Christians inrnthis age of the world do not care for such things, neither thernlait’ nor the preachers. The are too busy with stewardship, financialrnplanning, and bingo. So long as the librarv does notrnpositielv offend them, the’ are content to let their taxes bernsquandered on best-selling novels and books, on rose gardeningrnor travel. Libraries have long since ceased to fulfill theirrnoriginal function of providing good books. The are now mediarnresource centers that are used to facilitate lifestyles. Onerndav a librarian caught m ten-ear-old daughter reading arnbook. The kind lad- took her by the arm, led her over to arncomputer terminal, and taught her to pla a video game.rnIdo not begrudge anyone her rose garden or erotic fantasies.rnWhat I do not understand is wh libraries should receive taxrnfunds to assist people with their foibles and hobbies. We dornnot subsidize movie theaters, bowling allies, or exotic dancers.rnIf one were to make a moral distinction between the modernrnlibrarv and “Giris! Cids! Giris!” it would be in favor of thernstrip joint, where vice is not packaged as culture or ciic dutyrnbut as a commodit bought on the open market. If peoplernwant to read Danielle Steel, the’ can bin’ lier “books” for a fev-rnbucks at the checkout line in the supermarket, and if theyrnha’e enough money to flv to Paris, they can spend 15 or 20rndollars on a guidebook.rnI agree with the limited objectives of the book-burning fundamentalistsrnwho want to purge the libraries of selected filth,rnbut these campaigns are based on the false assumption thatrnthere really is a “moral majority” in the United States. Therernis not. On the contrary, we have only minorities as defined b-rnrace, sex, religion, and lifestyle, and each of these minoritiesrnlias a claim on our cultural institutions. Books in the librarv,rnthe school curriculum, music on the radio are viewed as sornmany weapons in a civil war, and in the fighting, whateverrnsense of common culture we once had is torn to tatters b’rnleftists, racists, decenev activists, and civil libertarians. Shakespearernand Soplioclcs? Both racists, sexists, and classists.rnHemingway and Fitzgerald? Anti-Semitic pagan pornographers.rnPaulkner is a bigot, but James Baldwin is homosexual.rnWho is left, in the end: Phyllis Wheatlcy? She is black, female.rnChristian, and moral. Too bad my ten-year-old daughterrnwrites better.rnNo good can come of a political struggle over who can readrnwhat and where. If each church congregation in Rockfordrnwere to request the librarv- to order great literary classics, twornthings would be accomplished; a large selection of importantrnbooks would be available for the first time in the city’s history,rnand the library would be unable to waste the people’srnmoncv on the trivia and filth that are purchased automatieallvrnfrom wholesalers who make decisions for the illiteraternacquisition librarians who order but do not read books. If thernlibrary refused 100 requests for Goethe or Bishop Berkeley,rnthen it would be time to accuse the library of censorship. Butrnthe churches will not do anvthing like this, because thev arernnot part of any culture that binds them either to the past or tornthe other minority groups within this society. Instead of workingrnto improve the common culture, they are content to railrnagainst the immorality of the “secular humanists.” Afterrndecades of efforts to ban nasty books, rate movies, and putrnwarning labels on records, the Tipper Gores of America haverncontributed nothing, literally nothing positive to our culture. Ifrnonly we could take all the money wasted on “decency” (includingrnthe moncv sent to TV evangelists) and spend it onrngood books bv living authors. We could dominate the bestsellerrnlists and enable decent writers to earn an honest livingrnoutside universities. We would have the beginnings of a culturalrncounterrevolution that could bypass the corrupt politicalrnprocess and go straight to the hearts and minds of the Americanrnnatives.rnOn the left, it was Antonio Gramsei and, to a lesser extent,rnTrotsky who understood the importance of culture and wonrnthe undying affection of New York intellectuals who thinkrnthat writing book reviews constitutes a serious political act.rnIn the case of Trotsky, at least, concern with culture was on arnplane only slightly higher than for the vulgar Marxists (e.g.,rnMike Gold) who judged literature and art according to simplernideological rules. Fiction, according to this interpretation,rnwas propaganda with a storv line. The so-called conservativesrnwho have taken to railing against the culture have followedrnthe Trotskyist line, cannot conceive of a good film directed byrna Communist, and page rapidly through popular novels, lookingrnfor the “family values” that are conspicuously absent inrntheir lives.rnThis word “culture,” as potent a talisman as it is in politics,rnderives some of its power from the multiple senses inrnwhich it is used. We speak of the “Hopi culture,” of peoplernwho have or have not got culture, and even of bacteria culture.rnIs there a thread that runs through all these usages or is culturernsimply one of those words with several unrelated meanings,rnlike “gimlet” (a cobbler’s tool, a drink vv/ith gin and lime) orrn”leaves”(departs, more than one leaf)?rnThe first thing an English speaker thinks of when he hearsrnthe world culture is the sense in which Matthew Arnold usedrnthe word to mean something like the liberal arts, “the acquaintingrnourselves with the best that has been known andrnsaid in the wodd.” In popular usage, Goethe and Bellini representrnculture or, at least, “high culture” as sometimes distinguishedrnfrom “pop culture.”rnAnthropologists, however, have appropriated the term tornmean nothing less than tlie object of their inquiry. If sociologvrncould be defined as the study of “society,” then anthropologists,rnin marking the boundaries of their discipline, devisedrnAPRIL 1993/13rnrnrn