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A new bull, or a new matador?

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Is this country headed for an irreconcilable culture war — something which will dwarf the best efforts of this blog to stop?

I mean, despite the soothing remarks by many bloggers, it is harder and harder to ignore the seething rage just beneath the surface of so much that passes for ordinary politics. It has become quite ordinary for simple dialogue to be only barely possible — as Paul Wolfowitz found when he addressed an audience in New York, and was almost heckled off the stage. How does one reconcile such views as people on one side who believe it is self apparent that Paul Wolfowitz and Condoleeza Rice epitomize evil, with people on the other who think “liberals” have declared “war” on “Christianity”?

Is the gap too wide?

Where do libertarians fit in this gulf? I honestly don’t know (and I certainly don’t sleep on the right couches), so I guess that is why I am writing about it.

Libertarians are hated by the socialist, deconstructionist left because they have a definable and articulate anti-socialist moral compass. At the same time, they are hated by moral conservatives because the libertarian moral compass is not grounded in the absolute truth the latter claim can only be found in a particular interpretation of a particular religious text.

Yet I see more and more evidence that libertarians are tiring of their “politically homeless” status, and hence, many of them would gravitate towards the socialist camp so that at least part of their agenda is embraced. Human dignity may depend on such things; John Adams observed that there is no state so intolerable as the state of not being listened to. The present administration is, rightly or wrongly, perceived by many libertarians as antithetical to just about every libertarian principle — as well as unwilling to engage in dialogue. Some Democrats (Howard Dean in particular) are seen as at least partially libertarian, and open to dialogue.

Additionally, there is a sense among libertarians of having been taken for granted by the Republican Party. (“They’ll never vote Democrat!”)

Yet, true libertarians are not in favor of socialism. That guarantees future trouble if they enter Democratic Party politics, because like it or not, the Democratic Party is the party of socialism.

As things stand right now, both parties favor a modern, powerful, ever-centralized American federal state. Because there is agreement that this must remain, neither party can be said to be the party of “small government.” This feeds the Culture War, because each side fears the other side gaining power and using it against its opponents. Human idiosyncrasies such as sexual desire or religious beliefs, and accidents of birth such as race, have been completely politicized, with otherwise innocent individuals made to fear that they will be oppressed if the wrong side gains power. Had the federal government remained small as originally envisioned, there would not be as much fear of power as there is now. A vastly powerful federal government now is accepted as a fact of life.

It is a tragic fact of life that religious fundamentalism fuels moral relativism, and I don’t know what can be done about it. Simple logic would dictate that there is such a thing as truth, but the blind assertion that it is to be found only in one literalistic interpretation of one particular text — when there are other interpretations and other texts — renders truth illusory and arbitrary, and subject to a guessing game of which version of god is right and which book is the one god wrote. This fuels the moral nihilism of Foucault and others because it seems to “prove” their assertion that truth varies according to culture. Asserting that only those who think what is written in your group’s book possess “The Truth” — well, that puts the Koran, the Bible, and the Little Red Book on an equal footing, making all truth relative. Because I do not believe truth is relative, I cannot buy into any philosophy which demands irrational acceptance of an argument by authority. Whether one is religious or not, and whether there is a God or not, the incontrovertible fact is that man is not God, and cannot speak for God. Books, all of which were written and produced by man, do not become the word of God simply because men so assert. Illogic like this (in my view at least) fuels the irrational belief that there is no truth.

There is, of course, the possibility that I am wrong, and that absolute truth may only be found in one of the particular texts — which did in fact come from the God to whom the text is attributed. If that is the case, it means that God amuses himself by making the world’s billions play guessing games and meanwhile slaughter each other in his name. If the hell described in some of the books turns out to be his place for “infidels” who refuse to be bullied into following a particular group, I guess I would just have to go there. Amazing, though, that in the enlightened, modern United States of 2003 that I feel compelled even to discuss this. The fact that I do shows how far these things have gained entry into politics.

Fundamentalism versus Marxism! Which side will drive the modern Leviathan?

Not a very healthy “choice.”

Libertarians, in my view, should choose neither. (Certainly not in the philosophical sense.)

I’m afraid I have raised more questions than I have answered, but now I am afraid I must conclude on a dark and cynical note. For years I studied the Watergate affair, and as I began to shed my emotional outrage over the duplicity and disloyalty displayed at the highest levels of government, I came to realize something which so many people seemed to miss. Regardless of what anyone thinks or thought of Richard Nixon, he was the last president who seemed to possess the ability to control the executive office. (And in the end, he found that he didn’t control it.) As government power grew, the president was reduced to a mere figurehead without much real power. Presidents today cannot control the State Department, and they hold office according to the whims of the CIA and other agencies. It does not matter who the president is. The real power is not located there anymore. Might as well allow the British to elect a new queen.

Is the “Culture War” a largely diversionary tactic?

Is the apparent choice between Fundamentalism and Marxism a red flag being waved by a matador? Where are the “smart bulls?”

For the sake of argument, let us suppose that the American voters found someone (say, in the spirit of a Ventura or a Schwarzenegger) believed to be a smart bull, and managed against all odds to place him on the throne. Would he discover that because real power lies elsewhere, that his office only allowed him to be a figurehead or role model? That his accountability was not to the voters, but to those really capable of shaping and spinning events in a way that maintain the illusion that the voters are in control?

So where does the smart bull go to find these elusive matadors?

NOTE: This essay is simultaneously published at my blog.

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About Eric Scheie

  • raj

    Um, a citation to a book by Joel Mowbray? The man is a nut.