“In Indecent Liberties, Robert Schmuhl wisely suggests that we remember the value of moderation. But, happily, he is immoderate when it comes to offering us intelligence, sharp insight, and independence of mind. At a time when so much commentary lives on polarization and exaggeration, Schmuhl is a national treasure. This book is a trove of some of his best thinking and writing.” —E. J. Dionne, Jr., Syndicated Columnist, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and author of Why Americans Hate Politics and They Only Look Dead: Why Progressives Will Dominate the Next Political Era
This series of eight provocative essays examines why Americans have a penchant for going to extremes in their arts, popular culture, politics, social movements, and other aspects of life. Robert Schmuhl considers historical examples (the hunting of the buffalo in the West, Prohibition, business ventures in the Gilded Age) but concentrates on contemporary subjects, including the emphasis on what shocks the audience as entertainment today, tensions among specific groups, the decline of private life, and the excesses of news media coverage in the O.J. Simpson and Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky stories.
Indecent Liberties explores the dangers and consequences of carrying fundamental American freedoms too far. In this environment, achieving a public good can get lost in a frenzy of private gain or a worthwhile idea can be pushed to unrecognizable boundaries, producing the opposite of its intended effect. When an attitude of “anything goes” takes hold, a sense of limits gets lost, and it is different to achieve harmony or a center that holds.
Especially as we face a new century with talk of “hyperdemocracy” and “hypercommunications” common in intellectual circles, Indecent Liberties argues that seeking equilibrium should be a central objective for all Americans. To go to wretched excess can lead to “indecent liberties” and wretched results that throw the country off balance and endanger the future. This book asks questions about today and yesterday that require answers for tomorrow.
“Schmuhl’s appeal for reason and moderation is a salutary one, and_ Indecent Liberties_ provides a quietly refreshing respite in the midst of the confusion and cacophony of contemporary American life.” — The Chicago Tribune