Entry from September 30, 2009

Odd, isn’t it, how the progressive side in the culture war is forever telling those of us on the conservative side how silly we are for fighting at all? I think it must come, like so much else in the progressive program, from the legacy of Karl Marx. Whatever else they do or don’t accept in Marxist teaching, they have completely bought into the bit about the iron laws of history. True, it may not be the dictatorship of the proletariat which they envisage as the fulfilment of those laws but some more green and non-violent utopia. All the same, it is just as inevitable as Marx’s. That’s why, too, progressives more and more favor the Marxist usage “reactionary” to characterize their opposition over “conservative.” We conservatives are merely reacting, you see, by trying vainly to put the brakes on history’s juggernaut, rather than conserving anything. All the old stuff has got to go anyway. Inevitably.

In the media, it has even got to the point where anyone, particularly any politician, who timidly offers battle in the culture war is treated as scandalous. Thus, today’s Daily Telegraph of London headlines the revelation by kiss-and-tell Bush speechwriter Matt Latimer that J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter novels for children, was denied a Presidential Medal of Freedom under the Bush administration because “White House officials objected to the author’s perceived promotion of sorcery in the series.” Thus, claims Mr Latimer (according to the Telegraph), the award was “politicised.” Apparently, President Bush didn’t get the memo from reactionary central that our side had already surrendered on the Harry Potter front — at least as of last July when the Vatican, through L”Osservatore Romano recanted its earlier objections to the books’ promotion of witchcraft by praising the movie of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince “for its ‘clear’ depiction of the eternal battle between good and evil represented by the struggle between Harry and his nemesis, the evil sorcerer Lord Voldemort.”

I wonder what would have happened if the Harry Potter books had been C.S. Lewis-like Christian allegories, or if they had otherwise treated the Christian mythography as if it were true and if, further, President Bush had given their author the award. Wouldn’t that, equally, have been treated as a scandal and an attempt to “politicise” religion? Certainly many of the protestors would claim, like Philip Pullman, that the books were tendentious fantasy, propaganda on behalf of a repugnant (to them) worldview. I guess it is only patently untrue fantasies like Miss Rowling’s whose failure to be awarded the Medal of Freedom counts as scandal. President Bush may have done some bad things, but you’re not going to persuade me that one of them his his refusal to put the imprimatur of the official culture, such as it still may be, on the childish fantasy with which we are awash.

The latest technique of the progressives seems to be to attack their own side — for even going so far in the direction of fighting the culture war as to tell our side we are silly for fighting it. That, at least, seems to be the view of Mr Brendan O’Neill who wrote yesterday in spiked online that “various political prejudices and unresolved battles are being projected on to l’Affaire Polanski, robbing it of its specific legal complexities and turning it into the site of a proxy Culture War in which clapped-out conservatives and disoriented liberals are hurling intellectual (and not-so-intellectual) hand grenades at one another. And I find both sides pretty revolting.”

L’Affaire Polanski has become a Culture War that dare not speak its name, a pale and dishonest imitation of the debates about values and morality that have emerged at various times over the past 50 years. As a result we are none the wiser about the legal usefulness of 30-year-old arrest warrants or contemporary extradition laws, as desperate political observers have instead turned Polanski into either a ventriloquist’s dummy or a voodoo doll for the purposes of letting off some cheap moral steam.

See there? Why can’t we clapped-out and disoriented culture warriors all just go away! We should be ashamed of ourselves.

A variation on this technique popped up in the same day’s New York Times where David Brooks wrote of “The Next Culture War” — that is, a new and improved culture war over economic and financial probity and restraint, from which he sees the old culture war as a mere distraction. As we have lost our economic bearings, he claims, “the country’s cultural monitors were busy with other things. They were off fighting a culture war about prayer in schools, “Piss Christ” and the theory of evolution. They were arguing about sex and the separation of church and state, oblivious to the large erosion of economic values happening under their feet.”

Our current cultural politics are organized by the obsolete culture war, which has put secular liberals on one side and religious conservatives on the other. But the slide in economic morality afflicted Red and Blue America equally. If there is to be a movement to restore economic values, it will have to cut across the current taxonomies.

Well, it’s a point of view. But what if thrift and prudence and restraint and honesty in financial dealings — all once thought of as being as much the legitimate business of morality as sex, religion and culture — have some connection with these other things? What if “liberation” from one set of restraints has a knock-on effect in loosening others? Maybe there ought to be a cultural equivalent of the “broken windows” hypothesis to tell us that what looks like a relatively harmless insouciance about sexual libertinism, either in art or in real life, has the effect of encouraging financial libertinism? Even those who are otherwise so ready to run up the white flag in the culture wars might be given pause by that reflection.


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