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.
We see this process of cultural intransigence writ large in the signature instance of racial disharmony, most recently observed in the divisive fallout from the Zimmerman trial. The black population for the most part rejects the jury’s not-guilty verdict and threatens racial violence, ignoring the fact that credible statistics reveal, as PJ Media’s David Goldman brings to our attention, that “94% of black murder victims are murdered by blacks,” while the real problems afflicting the black community -- the degradation of the family, rampant narcotization, endemic poverty, lack of education, intra-racial violence -- are dismissed as nonexistent.
The performance of 19-year-old star witness Rachel Jeantel, not only during the trial but in her CNN interview with Piers Morgan, amply demonstrates by extrapolation the pitiable inability of a preponderance of black youth to read properly, think clearly, speak articulately and share in the history of Western civilization -- a failure of social intelligence for which the culture itself is at least equally responsible, as the applause which greeted Jeantel’s garbled utterances confirms. The melancholy spectacle of her incoherence, which resembles a species of unintentional self-parody, should serve as a salutary warning of what portends. Ordinary white youth are not appreciably better off in today’s depressing educational conditions, but they do not on the whole suffer from the same level of dysfunction. As historian Bruce Thornton argues, backed by a blizzard of statistics, “These dysfunctions are cultural, in the main a consequence of the breakdown in morality, religious faith, and restraint that was institutionalized in the 60s.” And this breakdown has spawned a veritable industry of power-mongering, spurious theatrics and populist sycophancy passing itself off as a quest for “social justice” -- another vivid example of cultural deterioration.
American culture, patently, does not operate on its own steam. It is abetted and led by a political administration that seems intent on subverting the nation, rendering it both weak and increasingly unmanageable. With obvious presidential approval, the DOJ is pursuing a policy of fomenting racial discord, partnering with the NAACP, race hustlers like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, and an apparent majority of the black community. In fact, the DOJ, as of this writing, is planning to assemble a civil rights case against George Zimmerman, which puts Attorney General Eric Holder in the same tier as Sharpton and Jackson as a race provocateur. Rock musician and staunch conservative Ted Nugent is not far off the mark when he claims that “no one can possibly dispute the recent surge in black racism increasing throughout Barack Obama’s presidency.”
The rot doesn’t stop there. The sowing of distrust and enmity between the diverse echelons of American society -- for example, the championing of the 99% against the 1%, to which latter category the administration itself belongs; the pitting of radical environmentalism and the global warming charade against genuine science and profitable industry, igniting a conflict that has no basis in reality; setting the clients of the welfare state against the social classes that actually support them; the urging of Latinos to “punish our enemies”; the egregious slandering of the Tea Party with sexual innuendo -- has been an effective strategy, leading to the president’s re-election at the expense of national cohesiveness. It is as if Obama had lifted a bit of dog Latin out of John Barth’s novel Giles Goat-Boy, and rewritten the motto of the United States as e unibus pluram, dividing the nation but leaving a sufficient aliquant to ensure his purposes. After all, despite the deliberate fragmentation of the country into clamorous grievance and interest groups and the real possibility of massive electoral fraud, Obama had a substantial segment of the electorate behind him, partly through natural affinity, partly owing to political manipulation.
No less disruptive is the political rehabilitation of Islam in America, renaming gross acts of terrorism to suggest comparatively innocuous events (“man-made disaster,” “workplace violence”), purging FBI training manuals of all references deemed offensive to Muslims, hosting Iftar dinners at the White House, and so on. The record is openly available. Frank Gaffney, who heads the American Center for Security Policy, and Clare Lopez, a former officer with the CIA, have shown the mind-boggling extent to which the Obama administration is thoroughly riddled with Muslim Brotherhood operatives, with the evident consent and even manifest complicity of the president himself. As Howard Rotberg, author of TOLERism: the Ideology Revealed, has asked: “what do we do…when members of one’s own elected government are the ones giving aid and protection to the enemy?” American foreign policy, he continues, “has been built on nothing less than empowering the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the Middle East and submitting to it domestically.” And much of America seems to have no problem with this abomination.
Of course, one can reasonably contend that politics is an expression of the culture in general. But one can also plausibly argue that the political hierarchy, while sharing aspects of the environing culture, may often constitute a differential culture of its own, enjoying a kind of diocesan authority over and a monopoly on both parietal and common life. When the two coalesce in a politiculture, the prospects for propitious change grow distressingly remote. What Diana West in her recent blockbuster, American Betrayal, says of the Western political and cultural world -- that it not only “fails to appreciate itself anymore” but that “it isn’t itself anymore” -- is a bitter truth from which the United States is no longer exempt (italics in text). The politiculture has undermined its own “foundational pillars”; we might plausibly suggest that these foundational pillars have morphed into the fake Greek columns that framed Obama’s speech to the 2008 Democratic National Convention. The roof that shields the nation from stormy weather must inevitably collapse.
The upshot is that culture and politics working in tandem, especially in a poisoned atmosphere, can lead to near-irreversible results of the most deplorable nature. It then becomes a Herculean task to “take back the culture,” in the ringing phrase of Andrew Breitbart. Perhaps, as Breitbart wrote in Righteous Indignation, certain events, like the exposing of the ACORN scandal, may serve as a “rallying point of a resurgent conservatism” and act as “a wake-up call to millions of American patriots.” Perhaps “an empowered, media-savvy, Internet army” can turn the tide of battle, reverse the long march through the institutions, pry the culture away from its political masters, and ultimately reform the politics as well. Perhaps. The Internet has become the new Samizdat, but with much wider circulation and impact, so it is tempting to think that Breitbart may have been on to something.
Still, if taking back the culture qualifies as a Herculean task, repairing the political machine may well be a Sisyphean one. Were it conceivable, this would be hope and change indeed. But when culture and politics become one, the likelihood is that nothing short of a major cataclysm can decouple one part of the destructive amalgam from the other. This is what the Romans called a felix culpa, a blessed fall. Black, white, Hispanic, Muslim, welfare recipients, special interest groups, entrepreneurs, unions -- all would then find their world immeasurably altered, just possibly and in the long run for the better. Assuming it survives.