On Culture and Politics

In a 2009 essay in memory of Australian anti-feminist journalist Pamela Bone, titled In Name of Honour, Clive James dilates extensively on the prevalence of honor killings in Muslim culture. While castigating most Islamic nations for their backwardness and barbarousness, he is impressed to a limited degree with the efforts of Jordanian law to change the tribal mindset -- Jordan is the only Muslim country attempting to deal with the issue -- but wonders “if an enlightened ruling elite, and even a reformed justice system, really has much chance against the ingrained prejudices of the culture…These advocates of elementary justice,” he reiterates, “are people of influence, but they count for little against the collective dementia of the culture.” There is no doubt that, in this case as in many others, culture will frequently take precedence over political initiatives that struggle to change or modify the collection of values, usages, assumptions and beliefs that determine how a culture responds to the world. Old habits die hard, we’re told; but more often than not, and much to our chagrin, old habits live large.

Nevertheless, there are occasions when the influence of a political decision on an unsuspecting and unprepared cultural lifeworld may be perniciously decisive. In various op-eds for FreedomPress Online, Ricardo Duchesne, author of The Uniqueness of Western Civilization, has shown how Canada’s most charismatic prime minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, succeeded in imposing by political and administrative fiat the values of multiculturalism and mass immigration on the country, “shaping the cultural and ethnic character of Canada in recent decades.” As Duchesne points out, before multiculturalism took root, Canada was not an immigrant nation, as the cliché has it, but a European nation built by settlers and pioneers. As I see it, there is a critical difference here: pioneers create, immigrants contribute. Multiculturalism, however, which radically changed the identity of the country, was neither a creation nor a contribution; it “was an experiment imposed from above…whether Canadians wanted it or not.” Despite tensions that inevitably arose between Canada’s European majority on the one hand and the multi-ethnic brew on the other, particularly Islam, the culture eventually acquiesced in Trudeau’s vision, “captivated by an ideological experiment as radical as the communist experiments in the former Soviet Union and Communist China.” The power of politics to influence and manipulate the sensibility of a culture is, in some cases, undeniable.

Consequently, it makes some sense to say that the relation between culture and politics is both ambiguous and reciprocal, and depends to a great degree on the depth of historical memory, the longevity of social practices, the constant incubation of particular beliefs about how to organize the religious, economic and domestic life of a people, and the customary esteem or disesteem in which the political establishment is held. From the standpoint of societal ruin, what is most alarming is the calamitous ideological conjunction that occurs when a corrupt and declining culture and a totalitarian-oriented politics coincide and begin to collaborate affectively and intellectually. Such an alignment is very difficult to resist or transform since the one reinforces the other so intimately and seamlessly that what emerges is a unified entity, an impregnable imaginarium or what we might call a politiculture. This is precisely what appears to be happening in America today, where government, the academy, the legacy media, the entertainment industry and a ubiquitous left-liberal constituency -- that is, the political apparatus and the major cultural institutions -- have come together to form a monolithic bloc overshadowing and, in effect, controlling the life of a nation.

But the culture itself, or at any rate a significant portion of it, was already primed for indoctrination and surrender. The Gramscian march through the institutions has been enormously successful, dating from the revolutionary 1960s and culminating in a society that has put the unrealizable and delusory utopian project of equality before the democratic goods of liberty and individuality. Mitt Romney’s 47% remark may have been a political gaffe, but it was nonetheless a mathematical truth. When nearly half the nation is prepared to live via entitlements, food stamps, tax exemptions and subsidies garnished from the other productive half, it is plain that the culture has succumbed to the spirit of indolence, rapacity and outright theft, also known as “redistribution,” and is ripe for the political picking. Rather than assert its inherent dignity and demand meaningful change in social and economic policy from its elected representatives to improve their lot, such a culture will rivet the status quo of abject dependency into place as an institution in its own right and march in lockstep with its presumably compassionate leaders -- who are, of course, part of the extortion racket too.