Thursday, August 23, 2007

Conservative Multiculturalism?

Thomas Krannawitter rightly takes not only Ward Churchill to task in Monday's IBD, but arch-conservative David Horowitz to boot. Churchill is the easy target, and hardly bears mention. Horowitz, however, has adopted the language of "diversity" in defense of arguments that more conservative faculty should be hired on college campuses, in effect to "represent" the views of a currently under-represented minority. As a political tactic it is brilliant, adopting the tactics of one's opponents (in this case, the language of victimhood and aggrieved exclusion) for one's ends. As a political argument, it merely transforms the claims of conservatives into just another opinion, as I have noted here. The logic of this view is to have universities modeled on "Crossfire." This may be comforting to some true believers, but the ultimate winners will be those who work in the hard sciences, who will rightly claim that they are creating knowledge, and not pursuing an "agenda" (they are, but they won't mind if no-one is around to point that out). The ultimate losers will be the humanities and disciplines like political theory, which should be largely devoted to preserving and transmitting knowledge of the past to younger generations.

That said, and largely agreeing with much of Krannawitter's critique, we need also note that conservatism cannot be reduced to a simple opposition to multiculturalism if we understand that to be the true variety of cultures (which differs from the faux, barely veiled anti-Americanism of the multicultural set which Krannawitter ably describes). The conservatism that Krannawitter contrasts to multiculturalism - a familiar conservatism that holds that America is defensible because of its universalist creed as articulated in the Declaration of Independence - ultimately morphs into nothing other than a kind of universalist ideology. It misses the extent to which a proper conservatism recognizes and embraces the reality of culture and the variety of human ways of life. Thus, conservatism in the Burkean, Oakeshottian, Scrutonian and Berryian (?) mode must defend the existence of culture, and what's more, such conservatism makes sense only if one's own culture has elements that are worthy of defense and transmission - that is, conservation. We can do this not only because it is ours - and rightful prejudice has a place of pride in conservatism - but also because it can be defended on grounds that go beyond culture, and thus point to the universal. It is not standardless, like Ward Churchill's multiculturalism, because ultimately to be defensible a culture must take its bearings from nature. Culture and the art of cultivating are thus closely related.

Surely what is complicated in the American story is the blend of our cultural particularlism and our philosophical universalism, an admixture that has been well described by Peter Lawler, and earlier, by John Courtney Murray and Orestes Brownson, among others. It is a tension that has produced a wondrous, flawed but admirable nation deserving our loyalty and patriotism, and it is a tension worth preserving. In my view - and the only real defensible reason for this "blog" - this tension has been increasingly dissolved in favor of an idea of America that is abstract and ideological, a globalizing agent in the service of corporations and the immediate gratification of mobile and placeless elites. Such an ideology is ultimately not even fundamentally American, but a defense of an idea that can be transferred anywhere at anytime, a defense of a globalized nowhere that J.P. Zmirak ably describes here. I believe that active and conscious efforts must be made to restore the pride of place and culture and to restore the creative tension that lies at the heart of America's success, and its future viability.

To strengthen this tension, we need the resources of memory, limits, particularity, history, stories, and religion - that is, culture. This last - religion - can be an important variant that offers us another window into how to live with this kind of tension. It is a tension that is not unfamiliar to Catholics (for instance), who worship in particular churches in particular parishes named for particular saints within a universal Church. Chesterton, among others, noted the similarity of the American nation and the Catholic religion in observing that America was the nation with the soul of a Church. We should be careful to note that churches - even if universal - have a history that is lovingly cataloged and recalled, accumulate practices and traditions over long periods of time that cannot and should not be reducible to efficiency, are comprised of particular people in particular places, remember the dead and celebrate the yet unborn, and transmit and preserve their way of life to future generations.

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