The Death of Character is a broad historical, sociological, and cultural inquiry into the moral life and moral education of young Americans based upon a huge empirical study of the children themselves. The children's thoughts and concerns-expressed here in their own words-shed a whole new light on what we can expect from moral education. Targeting new theories of education and the prominence of psychology over moral instruction, Hunter analyzes the making of a new cultural narcissism.
For sociologist James Davison Hunter, the defining problem of contemporary society is moral education and character formation--or, rather, the lack
of meaningful moral education and real character development. In Hunter's view, the titular death of character is a result of the disappearance of the conditions that make moral education possible in the first place. It is a consequence of overwhelming historical forces that defy individual moral agency; multinational capitalism, pluralism, social mobility, contemporary media, and popular culture all play a role.
Hunter understands the roots of moral education and character to be essentially social--involving the complex weave of social, familial, and institutional relationships that are the fabric of culture--and embedded in historical understanding, in shared traditions, and in collective memories. He is skeptical of current agents for moral education who come in the guise of developmental psychologists, neoclassical advocates (traditionalists), and communitarians. Arguing that contemporary American society is unwilling to pay the price associated with meaningful character renewal, he writes, "To have a renewal of character is to have a renewal of a creedal order that constrains, limits, binds, obligates, and compels.... We want character but without unyielding conviction.... We want virtue but without particular moral justifications that invariably offend.... We want decency without the authority to insist upon it." --Eric de Place