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  An American Manifesto
Saturday September 20, 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


Responsible Self

[The Axial Age] highlights the conception of a responsible self... [that] promise[s] man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
Robert N Bellah, "Religious Evolution", American Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 3.


Taking Responsibility

[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier. — Gen. Hans von Seeckt
MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050


Civil Society

“Civil Society”—a complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churches—builds, in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations.
Francis Fukuyama, Trust


What Liberals Think About Conservatives

[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. “Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists,” she offered, smiling but meaning it.
Harry Stein, I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican


Liberal Coercion

[T]he Liberal, and still more the subspecies Radical... more than any other in these latter days seems under the impression that so long as he has a good end in view he is warranted in exercising over men all the coercion he is able[.]
Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State


Moral Imperatives of Modern Culture

These emerge out of long-standing moral notions of freedom, benevolence, and the affirmation of ordinary life... I have been sketching a schematic map... [of] the moral sources [of these notions]... the original theistic grounding for these standards... a naturalism of disengaged reason, which in our day takes scientistic forms, and a third family of views which finds its sources in Romantic expressivism, or in one of the modernist successor visions.
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self


US Life in 1842

Families helped each other putting up homes and barns. Together, they built churches, schools, and common civic buildings. They collaborated to build roads and bridges. They took pride in being free persons, independent, and self-reliant; but the texture of their lives was cooperative and fraternal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism


Society and State

For [the left] there is only the state and the individual, nothing in between. No family to rely on, no friend to depend on, no community to call on. No neighbourhood to grow in, no faith to share in, no charities to work in. No-one but the Minister, nowhere but Whitehall, no such thing as society - just them, and their laws, and their rules, and their arrogance.
David Cameron, Conference Speech 2008


Faith and Politics

As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable... [1.] protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death; [2.] recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family... [3.] the protection of the right of parents to educate their children.
Pope Benedict XVI, Speech to European Peoples Party, 2006


Never Trust Experts

No lesson seems to be so deeply inculcated by the experience of life as that you should never trust experts. If you believe doctors, nothing is wholesome: if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent: if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe. They all require their strong wine diluted by a very large admixture of insipid common sense.
Lord Salisbury, “Letter to Lord Lytton”


 

©2007 Christopher Chantrill