Sunday, July 31, 2011

What is Cultural Conservatism?

"What is Cultural Conservatism?" is the title of an article by William S. Lind published in 1986 in Essays in Our Times. That's about all I can say about the article because I can't find another trace of the magazine. In answer to the generic question, though, there is this perceptive comment from a sympathizer, William F. Campbell, in a Heritage Foundation speech reviewing a subsequent pamphlet, Cultural Conservatism: Toward A New National Agenda by Lind and William Marshner:
But as first and second generation conservatives have always known, and had to live with as an unpleasant skeleton in the family closet, there is sharp tension, if not contradiction, between the traditionalist and the libertarian wings of the conservative movement. They have been held together primarily because of their common enemies, modern egalitarianism and totalitarian collectivism, which they both abhor.

To sum up, unity on the right requires defining (or inventing) a common enemy/scapegoat. That was easy when the Soviet Union still existed. With the demise of the East Bloc and the end of the Cold War, the culture war against "political correctness" presented itself as common ground.

It would be facile to take the word "war" too metaphorically. Lind, after all, is a theorist -- perhaps the leading theorist -- of "fourth generation warfare" or 4WG, as he calls it. This "theory" has been severely criticized as faulty in both its logic and it historical assumptions by Antulio Echevarria of the U.S. Army's Institute for Strategic Studies but it evidently appealed to the Oslo "culture warrior," Anders Breivik. Breivik pasted a 1,000 word Wikipedia summary of Lind's 4GW concept into his manifesto, adding a few parenthetical references to his own pet projects.

Anyone who desires to peek under the rock of cultural conservatism and fourth generation warfare is welcome to do their own Google searches. But there is one concept that incongruously links the two strands of Lind's thought: what Lind calls the legitimacy crisis of the state.
Here we must remind ourselves that the root and origin of Fourth Generation war is a crisis of legitimacy of the state. One of the functions the state is now expected to perform, in free market as well as socialist countries, is to ensure that the economy functions as well. A world-wide financial panic followed by a world recession or depression would mean the state was failing in one of its core functions. That in turn would further diminish the legitimacy of the state.
If Lind's legitimacy crisis of the state sounds suspiciously like J├╝rgen Habermas's legitimation crisis, that's because it is a transparent appropriation of the term. I have not been able to find any acknowledgement or attribution by Lind of his source. Lind is clearly "a scavenger, who picks up ill-digested ideas and uses them for his own purposes." But, of course, Lind is also a staunch critic of the ideas of the Frankfurt School and cultural Marxism. Habermas was a former student of Frankfurt School critical theorists, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, who in 1964 took over Horkheimer's former chair at the Institute for Social Research and eventually became director.

Perhaps "critic" is too mild a term. Lind demonized the Frankfurt School as little more than a cynical conspiracy to undermine Western Civilization. Intellectual consistency would have required Lind to view Habermas's legitimation crisis not as a diagnosis but as a diabolical scheme to de-legitimize state by undermining the culture. Instead, Lind simply replicates a disjointed morsel of Habermas's analysis. In other words, Lind is not above scavenging and plagiarizing from schools of thought that elsewhere he disparages and demonizes.

So what IS cultural conservatism? It is bottom-feeding propaganda that aims to capitalize on the persecution of scapegoats to achieve unity of the inherently contradictory right.


D. Ghirlandaio said...

"So what IS cultural conservatism?"

"Mailer was a Left Conservative. So he had his own point of view. To himself he would suggest that he tried to think in the style of Marx in order to attain certain values suggested by Edmund Burke."

It's pretty simple really. All literature, all theater, is Burkean. Euripides is Burkean, Plato is reactionary. Philosophers prefer Plato of course, but philosophers are all assholes.

Mike Ballard said...

Kind of wraps up the conservative mindset, no? They're unanimous in condemning equal political power between all men and women. Instead, they desire to maintain unequal political power i.e political power of some OVER the vast majority of the people. Conservatives believe themselves to be superior to the rest of us and therefore have the right to dictate to the rest of us. Conservatives are like Bill Buckley and Martin Heidegger, gas bags and lickspittals of class rule, dictatorship and repression.

Chipster said...

Keep up the good work, it is excellent.

CZHA said...

"They have been held together primarily because of their common enemies, modern egalitarianism and totalitarian collectivism, which they both abhor."

"Modern egalitarianism" is the enemy? Fascinatingly blunt, but a predictably undemocratic position.

On the other hand, "totalitarian collectivism" could serve as the trade motto for the conservative movement in the U.S. Easy evidence: the disciplined Republican congressional obedience to the Grover Norquist anti-tax pledge.