The American Spectrum

There is no conflict, M.E. Bradford insists, "between preserving the language and securing a civil polity," a credo which, embedded in "What We Can Know For Certain: Frank Owsley and the Recovery of Southern History," provides the subtext for the work as a whole. Not only does a relationship between language and polity exist, it is an essential for whose absence there is no satisfactory substitute. "[T]he fundamental shortcoming of American conservatives," Bradford believes, "[is] our indifference to the art of rhetoric, our inability to deal with the ostensibly benevolent simplicities of the adversary, who hopes to win with language what he lost at the polls." An important caveat follows, however: "Our first priority . . . is intellectual, not topical. The analysis of assumptions in social, political and cultural theory is our primary task, now as before: analysis and then commentary with reference to the world around us. And to perform it we must leave only so much of our schedule for narrowly political considerations." The Reactionary Imperative may be read as a record of Professor Bradford's determined attempt over the past two decades at following his own prescription. Though himself a veteran of what Lionel Trilling called "the bloody crossroads where literature and politics meet," he has never dis played any confusion between those roads, always reading the signs...

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