Laying the Ladder Down

The Emergence of Cultural Holism


This timely and provocative book examines a fundamental shift in contemporary Western thought: the replacement of the traditional dualistic and hierarchical model of reality by a holistic one. Betty Jean Craige traces the emergence of this new paradigm to Charles Darwin, whose evolutionary theory exploded the idea of a fixed natural hierarchy and opened the way for a more egalitarian vision of human society as an evolving system of interdependent individuals and cultures.

Since Darwin's time, Craige argues, there has been an ongoing struggle in the West between these two conceptions of order, a clash that in recent years has manifested itself in volatile debates over sexual and racial equality, censorship, multiculturalism, "political correctness," the undergraduate curriculum, and the environment.

Craige analyzes each of these controversies and shows how they are at root reflective of the intellectual revolution that began more than a century ago. In one chapter she discusses the fundamentalist assault on Salman Rushdie; in another, the quarrel involving Robert Mapplethorpe and the National Endowment for the Arts. In still another she explores the powerful conservative backlash against the perceived threat to Western values, comparing it to the creationist attack on Darwin in the late nineteenth century.

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