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Posts Tagged ‘Culture’

PC: The New Religion

Jim Kalb is probably one of the greatest observers of all that is wrong about liberalism.  His latest piece on PC notes how it ultimately destroys culture and human life by taking away our ability to live in a truly human way, specifically by destroying our scale of values which involves ranking choices, “styles” of life, and all the rest. The entire article is worth reading, but I rather like this passage:

Basic issues matter. People have to believe that the world at bottom makes sense, and that it’s ordered in a way that doesn’t thwart human life. In other words, they have to have something that amounts to a religion.

That’s almost a logical requirement. To understand their own actions people have to understand how they fit together to advance something worth advancing. Otherwise action seems pointless, at least in the long run. We can’t look at our own lives that way. To get literary, we can’t–and don’t–live in the world described by Samuel Beckett. We have to believe that what we do is part of a comprehensible structure of how things are.

That makes radical secularism a problem. If you try to get rid of religion, you aren’t going to get rid of religion. Instead, you’ll get some scheme of attitude and belief that functions like a religion but pretends to be something else and will probably go off in strange directions because nobody’s allowed to think about what it really is. In short, you’ll get something rather like the Antichrist.

Officially, at least, the modern West has given up on the idea of an intrinsic moral structure of things. That’s part of what’s understood as the scientific outlook. The world is just atoms and the void, and it has no purpose other than whatever purpose we give it.

That view may be useful for some kinds of analysis, but it creates problems when applied directly to human life. One is that purposes differ, so saying the purpose of the world is the purpose we give it tells us nothing. Another is that it seems odd for a purpose we invent to be a rationally compelling reason for doing something. Rightness is the guide and justification of decision. How can it be created by decision? How can something become the right thing to do just because somebody decides to do it?

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I recently completed Diversity: Invention of a Concept, by Peter Wood. This is the first of several book reviews I’ll be writing of books generously sent to me by my readers.

Diversity has become one of the defining ideals of our age, surpassing in certain respects our earlier commitments to formal equality, liberty, the rule of law, and merit. The diversity concept, unlike more exotic ideas such as multiculturalism, is important because it has spread outside the academy into the world of business and politics. Every mainstream institution from Hollywood and the art world to the education establishment and business trumpets its commitment to diversity. Yet diversity has undergone little criticism. Unlike affirmative action, which was earlier justified as a form of reparations for white injustice to blacks, diversity is a “feel good” idea that purports to benefit everyone, even members of the majority. Minorities advantaged by affirmative action obviously benefit by receiving positions and admissions they would otherwise not receive. But privileged groups also benefit according to diversity’s partisans because they are now exposed beneficially to different perspectives, ideas, and cultures.

Earlier works such as Dinesh D’Souza’s End of Racism (1995) and Alan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind (1987) dealt with narrower issues: the continuing social problems facing black Americans and the decline of standards in the academy respectively. Both of these works were authored in an age when diversity was less accepted as an aspirational ideal than it is at present. Wood’s contribution is unique. . . .

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David Bernstein asks this question at the Volokh website.  He raises a number of good points, including probably insoluble ones about whether we can generalize about the ethnic character of any ideology held only by certain members of a group.  After all, most American Jews are not neoconservatives, either explicitly or otherwise. 

But his and others’ virulent opposition to such a characterization has an air of insecurity.  After all, most neoconservatives are Jewish, and they famously support Israel in all of its endeavors (other than displays of weakness or compromise).  Some explicitly defended the Iraq adventure on the grounds that it was good for Israel.

In the contentious discussion, no one acknowledged or defended the problematic application of dual standards by neoconservatives themselves.  Neoconservatives routinely criticize Muslims and Arabs as evil, speaking with forked tongues, and as disloyal to the Western World and its values. They similarly criticize Christians, most viciously in their attacks on Mel Gibson’s Passion.  Why is generalization about the ethnic and religious character of these groups appropriate, while none whatsoever is appropriate about neoconservatives themselvess, especially when such a characterization finds numerous facts in support.  After all, the neoconservatives’ flagship magazine is a publication of the “American Jewish Committee,”  and it is pretty easy to connect the dots between interests and policy in this case, particularly on the issues of immigration and Israel.

More important, if neoconservatives and neoconservatism aren’t Jewish in character, then why is it anti-Semitic to say that neocons are wrongheaded, stupid, unusually entranced by the interests of a nation with whom we have no defense treaty, and totally indifferent to America’s historic ethnic composition? I mean, can’t we just say these things on the merits without constantly being called anti-Semitic?  Since a great deal of ink is spent by neoconservatives on the Jewish Character of Jewish Thinkers, it seems fair that the Jewish character of neoconservatives and other thinkers can be looked at in less hagiographic ways.  It’s simply a debater’s trick for ethnicity and religion to be a one-way ratchet, whereby ethnicity is invoked to bestow praise and dignitas, but also used as a canard when that same identity is brought up in negative ways.

On this matter, I’ve always enjoyed this excellent and very honest contribution by Leon Wieseltier in The New Republic:

It is not true that the moral life is lived only individually, even if acts of good or evil are the work of individuals acting together or alone. Individuals belong to groups, and it is a cost or a benefit of their belonging that they are morally implicated by their groups, which are moral agents, too. One can oppose the misdeeds of one’s group, but one cannot secede from it, I mean not neatly after the fact.

For this reason, I am not hurt when I am interrogated about the misdeeds of Jews or the misdeeds of Americans, because I have chosen to be known as a Jew and as an American. I understand why they are coming to me with their questions, even with their slanders. I accept that I have some explaining (or refuting or apologizing) to do. To be sure, I am not just a member of my groups, I am also an individual whom they cannot entirely reach or entirely rule; but I cannot hide behind the fact of my individuation, behind the doctrine of individual responsibility, when the going gets rough.

So, what’s my point? It is a fairly mundane one.  Neoconservatives themselves tell us that their ideology is partly a Jewish movement that asks the old question of any policy:  “Is It Good For the Jews?” Neoconservatism is also a type of “liberalism with guts” that contains strong and influential views on foreign policy. But this variant of liberalism has especially great appeal among a group whose interests and historical way of life matched liberalism’s handmaiden, modernism itself—individualistic, mobile, unrooted to time or place. This viewpoint demands a universalist foreign policy for the nascent universalist nation, which will be made more “pure” in time with mass immigration. 

In this new “nation” that is not creedal accidentally, but is by design united in nothing else, no minority will stand out, and no minority group at home or abroad will have to go undefended. This principle of a universal obligation to protect the universal values of democratic capitalism applies most especially to the Jewish nation surrounded as it is by illiberal Arab wolves in the Middle East.  The historic American nation and people will be obliterated.  But their sins—racism, the delayed entry into WWII, the 1924 Immigration Act—will be atoned for once and for all by this new universalist entity fighting for democratic capitalist values the world over.  We’ll even have a non-American military to boot if Max Boot has his way. 

Neoconservatism is an imposter with little relationship to authentic conservatism, which is rooted in the actual and the historical.  Neoconservatism’s differences start with its fundamental liberalism.  Like any liberalism, neoconservatism  is hostile to the historical American nation and attractive to many Jews, because the historical American nation–the nation of WASP Presidents, the English language, Ivy league quotas, discriminatory private clubs, nepotism, and blue laws–is one in which Jews would always be, at least in part, outsiders and a minority. 

One can defend this ideology on its own terms.  Certainly some of its contributions are quite valuable.  But the sinusoidal embrace and rejection of the Jewish character of neoconservatism is insulting to the intelligence of ordinary people.

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