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Everybody Knows

Cynicism in America

2001
Author:

William Chaloupka

Everybody Knows

A witty take on what’s wrong--and right--with cynicism today, now in paperback!

In this biting and controversial analysis-now available in paperback-William Chaloupka scrutinizes the cynicism that is our common condition, examining both its uses in the politics of backlash and resentment and its surprisingly positive aspects.

“A provocative study of political cynicism and pessimism.” New York Review of Books

As William Chaloupka points out in his thoughtful new book, Everybody Knows, it has become common knowledge that America is saddled with cynicism. Chaloupka is not content simply to encourage more faith and hope for cynical Americans because he recognizes that cynicism is, and always has been, complicated. What can be done about cynicism in American society, particularly in our political culture? Chaloupka advances smart solutions, including campaign finance reform and more pointedly intelligent criticism of the news media. He concludes Everybody Knows with the suggestion that the overarching solution to cynicism is ‘lively, contentious, serious, honest, smart public struggle over issues that matter—in short, more, but better, politics.

San Francisco Chronicle

We are now living in the midst of the most cynical era in American history. Disaffection from government institutions is at an all-time high. Ordinary citizens perceive political leaders to be more manipulative and jaded than ever. Skepticism pervades our cultural and social attitudes and interactions, and is prominently featured in the films we see, the books we read, and the media we experience. In this biting and controversial analysis, William Chaloupka scrutinizes the cynicism that is our common condition, examining both its uses in the politics of backlash and resentment and its surprisingly positive aspects.

Everybody Knows traces cynicism from its classical origins but emphasizes its recent emergence in American culture and politics, following a trajectory from H. L. Mencken to Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton to Fargo. Cutting neatly across ideological divisions, Chaloupka discusses the ways in which cynicism is rooted in all democratic politics and analyzes the role of the media-in particular, television news, political ads and speeches, and books such as E. J. Dionne’s Why Americans Hate Politics and William Bennett’s The Book of Virtues-in dissecting and encouraging cynicism.

Chaloupka describes mass cynicism, which permeates popular culture; outsider cynicism, capable of cranky, even violent disruption; and the cynicism of those in power. He argues that those who issue broad pleas for civility or a renewal of community spirit usually misunderstand the cynicism they wish to treat. He also discusses the value of a cheeky, subversive “kynicism” to evoke the lively democratic practice American society must foster.

Early reviews call Everybody Knows “original and compelling,” “pithy, engaging, and funny,” and “the best book on American politics in quite a while.” Sure to be widely read and debated, this entertaining book will inspire readers to take a new look at the cynicism prevalent in contemporary American society.

Everybody Knows

William Chaloupka is professor of environmental studies at the University of Montana. His books include Knowing Nukes, also published by the University of Minnesota Press.

Everybody Knows

As William Chaloupka points out in his thoughtful new book, Everybody Knows, it has become common knowledge that America is saddled with cynicism. Chaloupka is not content simply to encourage more faith and hope for cynical Americans because he recognizes that cynicism is, and always has been, complicated. What can be done about cynicism in American society, particularly in our political culture? Chaloupka advances smart solutions, including campaign finance reform and more pointedly intelligent criticism of the news media. He concludes Everybody Knows with the suggestion that the overarching solution to cynicism is ‘lively, contentious, serious, honest, smart public struggle over issues that matter—in short, more, but better, politics.

San Francisco Chronicle

A provocative study of political cynicism and pessimism.

New York Review of Books

“Chaloupka, in his careful scrutiny of the cynicism that he sees as normatively American, examines its uses both in the politics of resentment and in its more indubitable aspects. . . . Cynicism is a superior tool for instrumenting social change, which Chaloupka believes can and should be wielded with greater discretion by those producing our cultural goods.” New Art Examiner

“Lively. . . How, William Chaloupka asks, can we recover from the collective insult that their [Nixon, Clinton, Gingrich] patently cynical behavior has forced on us?” Washington Post

“In Everybody Knows, University of Montana political scientist William Chaloupka argues that cynicism rules American politics and culture. In response to the cynicism of the elites and their self-serving calls for more ‘civility’ in public life, Chaloupka champions a tradition of ‘activist cynics.’” Lingua Franca

“‘Cynicism is a way of life against belief or after its exhaustion,’ Chaloupka observes in this maddening treat of a book, adding that good reasons for cynicism go far beyond individual incidents (such as Watergate or Whitewater) to structural and systemic causes.” Publishers Weekly

“As Chaloupka argues in his book, Everybody Knows, the American system of government practically requires a degree of cynicism to function. Congress could not operate, could not broker deals, if our representatives didn’t shade the truth, didn’t abandon bills dear to their constituents to finagle some advantage on another bill. What is noteworthy about Everybody Knows is

For the believers in various shining futures, this book will help you to understand those who don’t believe.

Future Survey

A very timely book. In addition to probing and disentangling the meanings of cynicism, the author has explored some of its roots in American political philosophy. The points that Chaloupka makes are thought-provoking. Chaloupka’s text is instructive and well worth reading.

Canadian Public Administration

Everybody Knows

CONTENT

Acknowledgments
Introduction

Part I:Cynicism

1. Socrates—Gone Mad:Diogenes and the Cynical Tradition
2. The Values Remedy:Community, Civility, and Belief
3. Cynics-in-Power:Manipulations, Lies, and Empty Gestures
4. Wig Cynics:American Antipolitics and Its Uses

Part II:Cultural Crisis

5. A BriefHistory ofAmerican Cynicism
6. Federalists and Liberals:Setting the Stage for Cynicism
7. Why Americans Hate Politics:The Cynicism Trap
8. Medium,Media,Mediate:Television and Cynicism
9. Bush,Burned:The Patterns of Televised Politics
10. The Uses ofBacklash:Applied Cynicism 101
11. The Age ofResentment:Advanced Applied Cynicism

Part III:Alternatives

12. Marge the Stoic:The Coens’ Fargoand Civic Solutions
13. “So What?”:Another Side of Cynicism
14. Teachings ofthe Demonstration:Representation in the Streets
15. Politics after Cynicism
16. Solutions and Conclusions

Notes
Index