Conservatives and Culture
Carol Iannone has a piece up today at Phi Beta Cons that is so good I'm posting it here...
The removal of the cross from the chapel at Wlliam and Mary and the consternation this has aroused among right-wingers is emblematic of the problem conservatives have with articulating American identity. The America-hating Left of course loves when such traditional cultural and religious symbols are torn down, but the America-loving Right seems incapable of seeing how its own contradictory understanding of America leads to the same result.This is one of the philosophical underpinnings of this blog in a nutshell. What happens if we lose the unique core of what it means to be "American?" What is that core, and on what foundations does it rest? Are the 'ideas' enough to transmit this unique essence forward in time or do we require that "practical execution" in history that Carol writes of?
On the one hand, conservatives want to present American identity as based solely on ideas (as Giuliani rehearsed in his CPAC speech, also taking care to discount our having any religious identity whatsoever, whether Christian or Jewish — or, he rather needlessly added, Muslim). Then on the other hand, conservatives will be dismayed to see something like the removal of the cross from the Wren Chapel. They do not seem to realize that the one leads inexorably to the other. In promulgating the notion that our ideas are absolute and universal, applicable to everyone everywhere right now, requiring no cultural underpinnings whatsoever, and defining our democracy as purely procedural, having no substantive content at all, consisting of nothing but freedom, pluralism, tolerance, and the rule of law, conservatives indirectly support the attitude that any culturally specific expression must be some kind of totally gratuitous form of discrimination or exclusion or favoritism that in all fairness must be eliminated from public view.
The difference is that conservatives do have a feel for the tradition, and are properly and viscerally hurt and offended to see it attacked and eliminated. They have no real defenses against this, however, except to have recourse to some form of proceduralism, as Jack Kemp does in his response to Candace's post, where he invokes the "double standard," that is, a procedural lack of fairness, because, presumably, if it were a crescent and star at stake in a campus mosque, no one would dare call for its removal.
Conservatives need to reacquaint themselves with the fact that our ideals are made practical by our cultural particularity, built on the (Western) Enlightenment and the Judeo-Christian tradition. Human beings form and are formed by culture. If the cultural specificity disappears, so will the ideas, except as ideas. Their practical execution in history will be lost.
This is what I believe Peter Brimelow is getting at when he writes of the "National Question."
How much change can a nation sustain and still be that nation? At what rate?
We don't know the answers to these questions so why take that risk?
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