10.17.2008

For those who have eyes to see

Neuhaus today:
What in the last several decades came to be called the “culture wars” runs very deep, and there is no end in sight. Nobody who cares about this constitutional order can be happy with our present circumstance. Politics is supposed to be about persuasion, deliberation, and decision-making through the process of representative democracy. It is not supposed to be warfare conducted by other means. And yet it is hard to suppress the impression that we are two nations in conflict. The alignments are not always clear-cut and there are overlappings on some issues, but the general picture is evident to all who have eyes to see.

We are two nations: one concentrated on rights and laws, the other on rights and wrongs; one radically individualistic and dedicated to the actualized self, the other communal and invoking the common good; one viewing law as the instrument of the will to power and license, the other affirming an objective moral order reflected in a Constitution to which we are obliged; one given to private satisfaction, the other to familial responsibility; one typically secular, the other typically religious; one elitist, the other populist. These strokes are admittedly broad, but the reality is all too evident in the increasingly ugly rancor that dominates and debases our public life. And, of course, for many Americans the conflicts in the culture wars run through their own hearts.

No other question cuts so close to the heart of the culture wars as the question of abortion. The abortion debate is about more than abortion. It is about the nature of human life and community. It is about whether rights are the product of human assertion or the gift of “Nature and Nature’s God.” It is about euthanasia, eugenic engineering, and the protection of the radically handicapped. But the abortion debate is most inescapably about abortion. In that debate, the Supreme Court has again and again, beginning with the Roe and Doe decisions of 1973, gambled its authority, and with it our constitutional order, by coming down on one side.
Notice how Neuhaus does not paint a picture of the culture wars within a liberal/conservative or Republican/Democrat binary framework. I point this out because no serious thinker on the right has ever said that all Republicans are good and all Democrats are bad, contrary to the opinions of some.

3 comments:

Phil said...

I'm one of the many for whom the conflicts in culture wars runs through the heart. We are a country of laws, so count me on the side of rights and laws on that one. I'll suffer through a flood of pornography on the internet if I don't have to live in egypt. I'm all about family, culture and community, but again, if i had to pick, i'd go with individualism. I'm generally on the "right" side when it comes to the constitution and religion. I don't buy the personal satisfaction v. familial responsibility split. I couldn't tell you if I was a populist or an elitist, but probably a healthy dose of both.

Phil said...

my brother said he is laws, individualistic, moral order, familial resposibility, secular and elitist.

Zach said...

You're right, it's not a perfect or neat divide. I guess he admits he is painting with broad strokes.

I think when he uses the word individualistic he uses it in the Tocquevillian sense of being detached from any responsibility to the community, isolated so long as no bodily harm is done to anyone else.

I think when he is talking about rights he is talking about rights language that is devoid of a moral foundation - rights against others or a rights to do as one pleases.

And lastly I think the personal satisfaction vs. family is meant to convey a distinction between persons with different priorities. It's not perfect, but I think it does express some part of our reality.

But who knows.