Polarization may be pushing democracy to the breaking point. But few have explored the larger, interconnected forces that have set the stage for this crisis: namely, a rise in styles of thought, across a range of fields, that literary scholar Gary Saul Morson and economist Morton Schapiro call “fundamentalist.” In Minds Wide Shut, Morson and Schapiro examine how rigid adherence to ideological thinking has altered politics, economics, religion, and literature in ways that are mutually reinforcing and antithetical to the open-mindedness and readiness to compromise that animate democracy. In response, they propose alternatives that would again make serious dialogue possible.
Fundamentalist thinking, Morson and Schapiro argue, is not limited to any one camp. It flourishes across the political spectrum, giving rise to dueling monologues of shouting and abuse between those who are certain that they can’t be wrong, that truth and justice are all on their side, and that there is nothing to learn from their opponents, who must be evil or deluded. But things don’t have to be this way. Drawing on thinkers and writers from across the humanities and social sciences, Morson and Schapiro show how we might begin to return to meaningful dialogue through case-based reasoning, objective analyses, lessons drawn from literature, and more.
The result is a powerful invitation to leave behind simplification, rigidity, and extremism—and to move toward a future of greater open-mindedness, moderation, and, perhaps, even wisdom.
"A sweeping study of the rise of rigid certainty in politics, economics and literature, and the threat it presents to democracy, which requires open-mindedness and compromise."—Bill Clinton, The Guardian
"“Morson and Schapiro are surely right to point out that in recent years we have… seen new fundamentalisms generate solidarity through distrust, disinformation and angry resentment. Their book reminds us that we need to aspire to create communities open to learning, to conversation and to recognizing one's own errors. That's what we want, after all, from our campuses and from our democracy.” —Michael Roth, Wall Street Journal"
"Their argument on the whole is compelling, and one can only hope society listens to it."—Nat Brown, National Review
"Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro are professors at Northwestern University in such disparate fields as Slavic languages and literatures and Economics. The book is a seamless fusion of their learning, observation, analysis, and wisdom. They are experienced collaborators and we are their beneficiaries. ... Defending politics and democracy is difficult although preferable to the alternatives. The same applies to other fields vulnerable to fundamentalism. Moderation is not easy, and thinking is strenuous. However, minds wide shut hurt more. ... Minds Wide Shut ... is solemnly and enthusiastically recommended."—Linda Quest, International Social Science Review
"Minds Wide Shut issues a devastating indictment of the ideological extremism so characteristic of fundamentalism."—Chronicles
“In this crucial and timely book, Morson and Schapiro contrast the tradition of practical reason, going back to Greek philosophy, and a fundamentalism common not only in religion, but in politics and economics as well. They persuasively show an alternative to such dogmatism by examining works of literature, especially socially realistic novels, whose characters learn over time and through dialogue.”—Judith Shapiro, president emerita of Barnard College
"Minds Wide Shut is an antidote to the current epidemic of certainty in politics, scholarship, and culture. At a time when many are just yelling louder, Morson and Schapiro show that real discussion, while difficult, is the only way to achieve peace and stability in a pluralistic society.”—Samuel Goldman, executive director of the Loeb Institute for Religious Freedom, George Washington University
"A plea for moderation and the recognition of complexity in the face of cultural, political, and academic trends that tend toward radicalism and simplification, Minds Wide Shut presents the distilled wisdom of two distinguished scholars, one a professor of literature, the other of economics. The pithy and witty formulations make this a pleasurable read, as well as a profound one."—Jerry Z. Muller, author of The Tyranny of Metrics
“Engaging, thought-provoking, and incisive, Minds Wide Shut makes its convincing analyses and arguments with unfailing good humor, a willingness to consider the truth in opposing positions, and dazzling references to literature, philosophy, and intellectual history. The writing is unfailingly jargon-free, clear, and elegant, and the style of the book exemplifies the values it advances—consideration, dialogue, empathy, and modesty.”—William Mills Todd, III, Harvard University
"Dogmatic economic theories and theological rigidities have led to a fundamentalist refusal to understand those who disagree. But dismissing all knowledge as merely situational is just as harmful. In this wonderful and inspiring book, Morson and Schapiro provide hope that tolerance can be restored."—Daniel Chirot, author of You Say You Want a Revolution? Radical Idealism and Its Tragic Consequences