Tuesday, January 25, 2005
Culture War, Civil War - Metro vs. Retro?
What we witnessed in this election is a continuing deepening of hostilities between "red" and "blue" states—Retros and Metros. Historian Gertrude Himmelfarb described this phenomenon as two cultures existing within one nation. She believes these two can coexist peacefully; I wonder. Americans are engaged in a civil war carried on by other means; as with the first Civil War, fundamental issues divide us.
How did we get into this mess? Some suggest it started when secular forces pressed their views on abortion and gay rights in court. In part, that's so. But I think we must look deeper. We dug the hole that became a cultural Grand Canyon when we abandoned belief in a moral truth that is knowable.
People who reject transcendent authority can no longer persuade one another through rational arguments; everything is reduced to personal opinion. Debates about ideas thus degenerate into power struggles; we're left with no moral standard by which to measure the common good. For that matter, how can there be a "common good" without an objective standard of truth?
The death of moral truth has fractured America into two warring camps, with each side's preferences hardening into an ideology. And ideology is the enemy of revealed truth. It's also the enemy of classical conservatism, which depends, as Russell Kirk wrote, upon tradition and the accumulated wisdom of the past; ideology, on the other hand, is a human scheme for how the world ought to be formed. Whether on the Left or the Right, ideologies are utopian—the dangerous idea that we can construct the perfect society.
A lot of it really does come down to those who believe in "natural law", that there are absolutes of Good that should not be crossed vs. another world view that lends itself to the vision of man as a tool of the state instead of the state as a tool of man, and that the truth of cultural values is truly judged by a majority vote. These two views are bound to clash. The one that most embraces survival value will be the one that wins.
We are definitely living in what the old Chinese curse calls interesting times.