Friday, April 15, 2016
How The Cultural Separatism Of Race, Gender, And Ethnicity Weakens The Republic
It never was this way, a country broken into little fractional pieces, each one identified by sub-groupings of race, gender, and ethnicity all of whom demand their own particular rights and liberties. Thomas Jefferson and his colleagues would be appalled to see how their rational, moderate, Enlightenment vision had become so distorted. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, wrote Jefferson, never intending for this to be a sanction for either individualism or sectarian demands. The individual was indeed the center of his vision, granted God-given rights but under a moral obligation to use them wisely and in the service of the commonweal.
The nation was conceived in liberty but founded on the subscription to common values – enterprise, faith, and respect for others. Although America at the time of the Founding Fathers was still very much a homogeneous society of British colonists, and Jefferson could never have imagined how the country would become so heterogeneous and culturally varied. Yet his principles are as valid now as they were in 1776. No nation can survive, he knew, unless it has moral and philosophical principles to which everyone adheres; and the Declaration of independence and the Bill of Rights were the Mosaic tablets of liberal democracy.
For decades – in fact almost two centuries – these principles were universally applied. Although Europeans criticized the new nation as one without culture and the civilizing influences of a long history; and said that America was a country based on procedure rather than substance, Americans knew what they were about. Yes, they had no kings, queens, palaces, and Crusades; but they had enterprise, energy, optimism, and strength. Who could need anything more?
Democracy and free enterprise were indeed procedural. If asked to describe their country, Americans will invariable say it is a ‘land of freedom and opportunity’, where hard work pays dividends, and where one can speak one’s mind without fear of recrimination or oppression. A Frenchman on the other hand might well refer to Chartres, the Bourbon kings, Versailles, Roncesvalles, and Descartes and other substantive aspects of their history and civilization.
So when procedure starts to fail, and when the freedoms envisaged by Jefferson and his colleagues are questioned, disregarded, or rejected, the country is in trouble. If procedure – liberty, enterprise, and individual freedoms – are all we have as a foundation; and that foundation begins to crumble, what are we left with?
Jefferson understood that within any society, no matter how homogeneous or faithful to core principles, there would be differences of opinion, approach, and attitude; and this would be healthy. The new democracy was exactly the place for ideas to be debated, voted upon, adopted as law, and accepted by everyone.
Of course there were breaches in the moral and ethical code. The arrogation of civil authority by the Puritan churches of New England resulted in a drastic abrogation of civil rights and the death of innocents. Slavery caused the most severe dislocation of universal moral codes in the nation’s history. Both North and South claimed more than their share of righteousness and there was little if any tolerance for any opinion but their own.
As Marx predicted there were fights between labor and capital, and the divisions between the newly wealthy captains of industry and those who worked for them became vast.
Throughout all this, however, there has always been a return to the middle. Despite our disagreements, conflicts and battles, we are all Americans, mixed in the same crucible, blessed by the same opportunities, guided by God, and imbued with a nativist patriotism.
America today (2016) would be unrecognizable to Jefferson, Hamilton, and Adams. It is a nation defined more by conflict than resolution; more by the expression of intractable demands than a willingness to compromise for the sake of the common good.
How is it that a nation borne of tolerance, respect, and obligation to others has become so divided? It is bad enough that we are divided into hostile political camps; but we have sub-divided ourselves in so many ways that mutual accommodation is impossible.
Who said that under any and all conditions abortion is a woman’s right? Only a questionable Supreme Court decision confirms that very debatable premise. Why, then, cannot those who favor universal abortion understand the very shaky legal and moral ground on which they stand?
Legitimate arguments against abortion are many. Most recently Pope Francis articulated even more persuasively what John Paul II had decades before. Abortion is wrong not only because it is morally reprehensible but because it is an expedient act; and expedient acts which disrespect the sanctity of human life disrespect the sanctity of all life.
Who said that abortion is not a woman’s right? In a religiously pluralistic but legally secular society, do not civil rights have equal authority to presumptuous interpretations of God’s word?
If heterosexual sex and marriage have been the necessary foundation for human society since our descent from the trees, responsible not only for the survival of the race but providing structure and predictability to society; and if the Bible and other sacred texts insist upon the primal place of the heterosexual family as a reflection of the Trinity and the central place for the expression of God’s love; then why are gay activists so intolerant?
If certain men and women are born gay and therefore because of genetic determination or predisposition have no say in the matter of sexual preference, then why shouldn’t traditional sexuality and sexual unions be reconsidered within the context of a secular, tolerant society?
The issue of race in America is perhaps the most contentious; but it is still discouraging to see how little patience anyone has for opposing view. One side insists that racism in America is endemic and that white people are irremediable when it comes to considering issues which affect the black community. Unless the very foundations of white, privileged America are shaken and begin to tumble, no real progress can be made for people of color.
The other side points to the dysfunction of the black inner city community, the lack of responsibility assumed by both leaders and citizens, a culture of entitlement promoted by venal politicians and liberal activists. Little progress will be made, advocates say, unless reform comes from within, entitlement is eliminated, and the pent-up talent and enterprise in the black community allowed to flourish.
None of this reasonable debate occurs, and lines have only hardened.
An equally disturbing trend is so-called ‘identity politics’ – the appropriation of a self-categorizing group identity (gay, black, Hispanic, disabled, transgender, woman, etc.) and the definition of character, personality, purpose, and ambition entirely according to it.
To make matters worse, identity politics is restrictive and has no room for any other human or social characteristic. A school is ‘diverse’ only if it has the requisite proportion of students of color, varied sexual preference, degrees of physical ability, ethnic origin, and gender. No longer is the university home to the most talented, creative, innovative, and intelligent for admissions criteria downgrade these attributes.
In a less intellectually incarcerated society a man or woman when asked, “Who are you?” might reply as the young son of a friend of mine did - “I’m tall. I’m smart; and I’m fast”. The valuation of traditionally core characteristics, all of which benefit society as well as the individual, has been so skewed, that the centrality of intelligence, enterprise, diligence, and innovation is disappearing.
There are only two outcomes for this cultural separatism. Either the United States (and the rest of the world for that matter) succumbs to it, and is willing to forgo nationhood, definition by citizenship if not patriotism, and universal values; or returns to the secular fundamentalism of the past.
The world is certainly headed in the former direction. Individual ethnic groups, religious sects, and linguistic or cultural groups are increasingly demanding their own legitimacy. They wish to secede, establish their own new homogeneous state, or join another with similar characteristics. Expansionist neo-imperial Russia, ISIS and the Caliphate, and secessionist Catalonia, Scotland, and Quebec are but a few examples.
Yet rollback is possible. Conservative parties are poised to win elections in Europe and the United States; and their policies are far more reformist and revolutionary than ever before. If they win not only will economic, financial, and foreign policy positions radically change; but ‘progressivism’ itself will be challenged.
One can only hope.