Could the Right be right? Part One Cultural Crisis and the Unraveling of the American Social Fabric copyright 1996 Pierce Brown III
Blogger’s note: As you can see I originally wrote this in 1996–at the beginning of Bill Clinton’s second term, and at arguably the zenith of Newt Gingrich’s power. This period also marks the beginning of the rightward shift of the center of gravity for the Republican Party, heralding the forceful emergence of what should be called the New Right. Below I have referenced the “Right” and the “Far Right” The reader should be advised that I am speaking of a Republican Party that still contained what were at the time referred to as Liberal, Moderate, and Conservative Republicans, mirroring the diverse viewpoints of their Democratic colleagues in a way that is no longer true today. This is a LONG piece. I have sub-divided it and will post those segments separately for easier consumption. I have also resisted the urge to update it. That I will leave for a future piece, “Multi-Culturalism Revisited: The Idea of America vs Contemporary American Nativism.”
Much is being said about the state of American Culture, much of it being of limited usefulness. The Far Right is prepared to go to war over Culture, and the Far Left, presumably, is prepared to engage them. And the rest of us will be drawn in, whether we wish it or not, because the Culture they will be fighting over is about each and every one of us. Before becoming too engaged and invested in one side or the other, it is critically important to have a clearer idea of what we will be fighting about–and why–than we will get from either extreme. As far as the Far Right is concerned the concept of multiculturalism is a plague on the land with no place and less legitimacy in “their” America. There is an essential truth in the Right’s assessment of multiculturalism. However, it is effectively masked by a strident extremism which handicaps the Right’s efforts at making a palatable case to non-believers, while simultaneously blinding the Right to the essential legitimacy in the arguments of their adversaries. Both multiculturalism and its as yet unnamed philosophical antithesis (presumably some form of “Americanism”) represent a voguish tribalism whose allure and power can be traced to the fact that they tap into vital fundamentals of the human psyche–beliefs about identity, feelings of belonging, and notions of safety. These fundamentals are also, significantly, in intimate proximity to real and imagined ideas about power and hegemony, ideas which are currently making the rounds on both the Right and Left under the more contemporary euphemisms ethnicity, race, and culture. The capacity of the beliefs erected around these notions to influence the thinking, feeling, and acting of people is profound. The passions unleashed when people’s allegiance to these notions is invoked are notorious for their proclivity at making successful end runs around reason, and are astonishingly skillful at co-opting intellect. They are also, by virtue of their exclusive nature, divisive. This aspect of tribalism is perhaps the most critical where the U.S. is concerned, comprised as it is of virtually every tribe on the planet. Consequently, any manipulation of people via ethnicity, race, and culture is a powerful and potentially dangerous exercise. Dangerous in the extreme.
Next: Original Intent and the American Dilemma–Who Belongs and on What Terms
Coming: From the ‘Great American Melting Pot’ to the Tower of Babel