Understanding the Culture War

Today I came across an essay from sociologist James Davison Hunter called The Culture Wars Reflect the Polarization of American Society. This is an amazingly accurate paragraph:

The question of the tactics of power politics imposing its vision on all others is not an idle one–for the simple reason that cultural conflict is inherently antidemocratic. It is antidemocratic first because the weapons of such warfare are reality definitions that presuppose from the outset the illegitimacy of the opposition and its claims. Sometimes the antidemocratic impulse is conscious and deliberate; this is seen when claims are posited as fundamental rights that transcend democratic process. More often than not, though, the antidemocratic impulse in cultural conflict is implicit in the way in which activists frame their positions on issues…a position so “obviously superior,” so “obviously correct,” and its opposite is so “obviously out of bounds” that they are beyond serious discussion and debate. Indeed, to hold the “wrong” opinion, one must be either mentally imbalanced (phobic–as in homophobic–irrational, codependent, or similarly afflicted) or, more likely, evil. Needless to say, in a culture war, one finds different and opposing understandings of the politically correct few of the world.

What is your analysis of cultural disconnects? Where do they come from? Why are they so intense? How can we fix them, if we even can?

Much love.


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  • Andy

    Have you read Hunter’s “To Change the World”? An amazing book, even
    if one disagrees with him. I reviewed awhile back. You can find here… http://www.herenowkingdom.com/revisiting-change-world-james-davison-hunter/

    In any case, while I’m not by nature of an apocalyptic bent, for the most part, I’m of the opinion things will probably turn out much like the scenario MacIntyre describes at the end of “After Virtue”…

    “It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those
    which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman empire declined into the Dark Ages.

    None the less certain parallels there are.

    A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium.

    What they set themselves to achieve instead – often not recognising fully what they were doing – was the construction of new forms of community within which
    the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness.

    If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us.

    And if the tradition of the virtues was able to use the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another – doubtless very different – St Benedict.”

    • Andy – I have read his To Change the World. I think the dude is absolutely brilliant, and I try to read everything he writes. I was glad today, to come across the essay I quoted. I just clicked on the TEDx talk you linked…seems very interesting. Can’t wait to watch it in full.

      And thanks for that quote of St. Benedict. I fully agree that it is difficult to parallel different time periods, which is why I’m such a strong proponent of principles. One can assess the historic transcultural, transgenerational structure of certain systems and principles and see their direct applicability to contemporary times; and that way there is always room for contemporary differences and adaptations that occur between time periods.