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  An American Manifesto
Wednesday October 22, 2014 
by Christopher Chantrill Follow chrischantrill on Twitter

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ROAD TO THE

MIDDLE CLASS

Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Bibliography

Chapter 10:
Explaining the Culture War

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Briefly, what I am proposing is that the psychology of the mature human being is an unfolding, emergent oscillating spiraling process marked by progressive subordination of older, lower-order behavior systems to newer, higher-order systems as man’s existential problems change. —Clare Graves

THE PREVIOUS five chapters have described the world that ordinary people created for themselves in the city before the advent of the welfare state.  It shows how they built institutions to deal with life in the city, and how they used enthusiastic Christianity as a way to transform their lives from country ways to city ways.  Opposed to their noble and largely successful struggles we have shown the elites, traditional and progressive, in a less flattering light, as power-obsessed and self-obsessed. 

It is these two elites that are opposed in the modern culture wars observed by James Davison Hunter in Culture Wars.  He describes the war as a conflict between two world views, an orthodox side that believes in “an external, definable, and transcendent authority” and a progressive side that believes in “resymboliz[ing] historic faiths according to the prevailing assumptions of contemporary life.” (Hunter 1991 p44) But this definition seems hardly sufficient.  The orthodox side in the culture wars also supports Burke’s gradualism and his defense of “prejudice” and “prescription” that is relativistic and this-worldly while the progressive side smuggles in an absolutist faith in equality, peace, and justice à outrance that is as absolutist as any Bible-believing Christianity.  The orthodox side claims to represent the “nation” and the progressive side claims to represent the “people.”  In other words, both sides resort to absolutism and to relativism in constructing their world views and in their attempts to marginalize and delegimitize the world view of the other side.  The conflict is not mere academic hair-splitting for each side claims, by virtue of its saving truth, the right to control and regulate the traffic on the road to the middle class. 

How can we make sense of all this?  How can we better understand the participants in the modern struggle, the struggle of the ordinary people to adapt to the new world of the industrial and post-industrial city, and the struggle of the elites to gain the right to represent them.  Is one side right, or does each side grasp merely a portion of the truth?  The great conflicts of the twentieth century have pointed up the urgency of this question.  Just who are we and what do we want?

A popular explanation was made by David Riesman at the middle of the twentieth century in The Lonely Crowd.  A law clerk to Louis Brandeis, and then a deputy assistant district attorney, he became a professor of social science at the University of Chicago and swam in New York Jewish intellectual circles.  It was pretty clear to him that the final end of western civilization was the upper middle class that was then emerging in the larger cities of the United States.  Composed of people who were “literate, educated, and provided with the necessities of life by an ever more efficient machine industry and agriculture,” it looked to its contemporaries rather than the elders for the source of direction for life; in particular it absorbed inspiration through the media.

Back in the old days, people were “tradition-directed.”  That was in the days of high population growth potential when birth rates and death rates were high.  People couldn’t conceive of anything other than the traditional ways of the ancestors.  Socialization centered on security behavioral conformity.  But with the industrial revolution and the “transitional growth” period, death rates went down—although birth rates remained high—and people started to become “inner-directed.”  The direction of a person was “implanted early in life by the elders and directed towards generalized... goals.”  Behavioral conformity would no longer suffice for social welfare, because it was impossible to foresee all the novel situations that a person might encounter.  Thus the problem of conformity was “solved by channeling choice through a rigid though highly individualized character.”  Each person would be programmed to respond to novel situations in the right way by an internal gyroscope “set by the parents and other authorities.”  This became the world of the bourgeoisie and the Protestant ethic.

Of course, by the 1950s, the world had grown much too complicated for simple gyroscopes set by parents.  And the world had entered an era of “incipient decline of population.”  In the modern urban centers like New York, people were becoming “other-directed,” accepting direction not primarily from the elders or from authority figures but from their contemporaries and from the media.  They were flexible, adaptable, progressive in politics and forward-looking; they had people skills, unlike the rigid, gyroscope-driven “inner-directed” people.

Riesman’s theory rather neatly told the “story-so-far” that urban intellectuals of the mid twentieth century wanted to hear.  It showed how they were the inevitable and culmination of history, and that sophisticated, literate people who read Partisan Review were the result of nature’s plan: the appropriate social response to an age of an “incipient decline of population.”  It started with the status quo of the agricultural age, showed how the Protestant ethic was appropriate to the transition from the conservatism of the agricultural age to the modern age, and also showed how the cramped and limited “inner-directed” mind was giving way to the “other-directed” person.  But his theory was sequential, rather than layered.  What happens to people who still experience life in the “tradition-directed” way?  Riesman doesn’t say.  And what about people satisfied by an “inner-directed” life?  Riesman doesn’t quite answer, but implies that they are in danger of being left behind and had better climb on the “other-directed” train before it leaves the station.  Most readers would get the point: inner-direction is obsolescent, and ought to be abandoned, especially in the era of incipient population decline.  High birth rates just do not fit in the modern world.

Twenty years later, Riesman’s theory was already out of joint.  The highest and best thing to be was no longer a disputatious New York intellectual but a free spirit participating in unstructured and creative community.  Ken Kesey’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest taught a generation that the world was a contest between uptight, repressed authoritarians, who wanted to regiment everyone according to rigid rules about right and wrong, and the creative artists who celebrated personal expression, spontaneity, and creative intuition.  In The Greening of America, Charles A. Reich, a teacher at Yale, updated Riesman’s theory to provide a myth to reassure the creative Sixties generation that they were the final end, the eidos of history.  His Consciousness I saw the world as a jungle with every man for himself.  In the industrial revolution this began to be replaced by a Consciousness II seeing the world as a meritocracy, leading to the corporate state and gigantic hierarchies.  But now came Consciousness III in which the individual self was recognized as the only true reality.  It was a crime to be alienated from oneself, to be divided, trapped in Consciousness II and willing to defer meaning to the future.  The new individualism of Consciousness III would lead to a new world as community.


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Click for Chapter 11: A Likely Story

 

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 TAGS


Faith & Purpose

“When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of ages—they seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.”
Finke, Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990


Mutual Aid

In 1911... at least nine million of the 12 million covered by national insurance were already members of voluntary sick pay schemes. A similar proportion were also eligible for medical care.
Green, Reinventing Civil Society


Education

“We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.”
E. G. West, Education and the State


Living Under Law

Law being too tenuous to rely upon in [Ulster and the Scottish borderlands], people developed patterns of settling differences by personal fighting and family feuds.
Thomas Sowell, Conquests and Cultures


German Philosophy

The primary thing to keep in mind about German and Russian thought since 1800 is that it takes for granted that the Cartesian, Lockean or Humean scientific and philosophical conception of man and nature... has been shown by indisputable evidence to be inadequate. 
F.S.C. Northrop, The Meeting of East and West


Knowledge

Inquiry does not start unless there is a problem... It is the problem and its characteristics revealed by analysis which guides one first to the relevant facts and then, once the relevant facts are known, to the relevant hypotheses.
F.S.C. Northrop, The Logic of the Sciences and the Humanities


Chappies

“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison


Democratic Capitalism

I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all. In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism


Action

The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness... But to make a man act [he must have] the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action


Churches

[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm


 

©2007 Christopher Chantrill