Culture Wars

Daniel Oliver writing in The Federalist has a question for us. Where has all the culture gone? Where indeed. Let’s see what he’s on about, shall we?

From the New York island to the Redwood forest, Western Civilization continues to collapse, gradually now, but soon, maybe, suddenly. For now, only a relatively small band of traditionalists are manning the gates against the cultural nihilists. And, of course, manning is the right word. Once upon a time, hand-to-hand combat was not thought to be women’s work: if the women were killed in battle, who would take care of the children?

Assuming there are any children. About 800,000 babies are aborted each year in the US. Given that about 39 percent of those babies are black but that blacks are only 12 percent of the population, why isn’t abortion seen as racist? Whatever happened to disparate impact?

How can Democrats, who are the primary advocates for abortion, say with a straight face that their pro-abortion stance isn’t a dog whistle for racists? Can Democrats say they know no one who favors abortion who has not also at least once said, or perhaps “opined,” that a complementary effect of abortion is that it helps keep down the poor black population?

If Ralph (not his real name) were to beat a black man to death in the forest while yelling racial insults, but The New York Times didn’t cover the attack, would it be a racist act?

Just recently the governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, indicated that he would not oppose an “abortion” even after a baby was born. Most people were scandalized by his remarks, but the only remarkable aspect of them was that he said them out loud, not that had thought them. That he, and thousands of others, had thought them is really unremarkable, because of Burnham’s Second law: “Who says A must say B.” (James Burnham was a philosopher and a founding editor of National Review; he wrote many books, including his seminal work, The Managerial Revolution.)

Burnham’s Second Law makes the point that taking one position can require taking a subsequent position. If you murder Duncan, you must also kill Banquo.

A baby in the womb either is or is not a person. The abortionists say “it” is not (they have to say that because it is still not quite acceptable to kill “people” — unless perhaps they are really old or sick and, you know, like, really not enjoying life), but the abortionists refuse to say when “it” does become a person. In theory they might say “when it is born,” but that is now transparently only terminological.

Even a fool can tell that there’s no substantive difference between the personhood of a “baby” in the womb on December 24 and that same baby born on December 25. But where are the fools when we need them?

Yeah, he’s right, without question, and you should read the rest. But the culture ain’t just abortion, and the question is a lot broader. Where’s popular music that is music? That died about 1980, maybe earlier. Now we simply have noise, and not because I’m an old fogey, I thought so in the 80s, and quit listening. Now, I listen to a 60s station from London on the internet, mostly, because even the classical stations have caught the infection.

Think that irrelevant? It’s not, culture pervades and includes all facets of life. If you listen to Handel and Bach (or even Elvis and the early Beatles, let alone Pet Clark and Frank Sinatra, it’s not something that wants to make you go kill babies. Now, I wonder.

What do you think when you see a US Soldier on the street? For me, and many of us, they are the heirs of the Continental Army, both sides in the Civil War, and the men that fought off Hitler’s and Tojo’s minions, thus saving the world. If you see anything else, well the culture is declining and quickly.

So many things like that, and it all goes into the death of our culture. If we don’t resuscitate if soon, it, and we, will die.

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Slouching Towards Gomorrah”

John Lennon is seen at a news conference on May 13, 1968, at the Americana Hotel in New York. (AP Photo)

Roger Kimball has a tour d’ force essay up at PJ Media. It is quite long, but if you wish to understand the currents flowing through our society today, I think you need to read it. A few highlights:

Even now it is difficult to gauge the extent of that transformation. Looking back over his long and distinguished career in an essay called “A Life of Learning,” the philosopher Paul Oskar Kristeller sounded a melancholy note. “We have witnessed,” he wrote, “what amounts to a cultural revolution, comparable to the one in China if not worse, and whereas the Chinese have to some extent overcome their cultural revolution, I see many signs that ours is getting worse all the time, and no indication that it will be overcome in the foreseeable future.”

In democratic societies, where free elections are guaranteed, political revolution is almost unthinkable in practical terms. Consequently, utopian efforts to transform society have been channeled into cultural and moral life. In America and Western Europe, scattered if much-publicized episodes of violence have wrought far less damage than the moral and intellectual assaults that do not destroy buildings but corrupt sensibilities and blight souls. Consequently, the success of the cultural revolution of the 1960s can be measured not in toppled governments but in shattered values. If we often forget what great changes this revolution brought in its wake, that, too, is a sign of its success: having changed ourselves, we no longer perceive the extent of our transformation.

In his reflections on the life of learning, Kristeller was concerned primarily with the degradation of intellectual standards that this cultural revolution brought about. “One sign of our situation,” he noted, “is the low level of our public and even of our academic discussion. The frequent disregard for facts or evidence, or rational discourse and arguments, and even of consistency, is appalling.” Who can disagree?

As Kristeller suggests, however, the intellectual wreckage visited upon our educational institutions and traditions of scholarship is only part of the story. There are also social, political, and moral dimensions to the cultural revolution of the Sixties — or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the spiritual deformations we have witnessed are global, and affect every aspect of life. Writing in The Totalitarian Temptation, Jean-François Revel noted that “a revolution is not simply a new political orientation. It works through the depths of society. It writes the play in which political leaders will act much later.”

The movement for sexual “liberation” (not to say outright debauchery) occupies a prominent place in the etiology of this revolution, as does the mainstreaming of the drug culture and its attendant pathologies. Indeed, the two are related. Both are expressions of the narcissistic hedonism that was an important ingredient of the counterculture from its development in the 1950s. The Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse was not joking when, in Eros and Civilization — one of many inspirational tracts for the movement — he extolled the salvational properties of “primary narcissism” as an effective protest against the “repressive order of procreative sexuality.”  “The images of Orpheus and Narcissus reconcile Eros and Thanatos,” Marcuse wrote. “They recall the experience of a world that is not to be mastered and controlled but to be liberated: … the redemption of pleasure, the halt of time, the absorption of death; silence, sleep, night, paradise — the Nirvana principle not as death but as life.”


It is both ironical and dispiriting to realize that the counterculture may have won its most insidious victories not among its natural sympathizers on the Left but, on the contrary, among those putatively conservative opponents who can no longer distinguish between material affluence and the moral good. In other words, it may be that what the Sixties have wrought above all is widespread spiritual anesthesia. To a degree frightening to contemplate, we have lost that sixth sense that allows us to discriminate firmly between civilization and its discontents. That this loss goes largely unlamented and even unnoticed is a measure of how successful the long march of the cultural revolution has been.

That’s from close to the beginning and the end. If you want to understand the forces shaping society today, both here and in Western Europe (perhaps even more strongly there), you really do need to read and understand what he has written.

The Long March: Reckoning With 1968’s ‘Cultural Revolution,’ 50  Years On

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