Thursday, September 3, 2009

Lippmann, Arnold, and Culturism

Walter Lippmann and Matthew Arnold were culturist opponents who agreed on a lot. Living as the industrial revolution was tearing up the remnants of 19th century society, both decried the decay. Mathew Arnold vented in his beautiful book, “Culture and Anarchy.” Walter Lippmann’s masterpiece is “Mastery and Drift.” Both of these beautiful writers sought to reign in anarchy and drift, the same sort of decadence and decay, that western society faces today.

Lippmann hoped that we would find social coherence and direction by embracing the terms and conditions of the emerging scientific age. We could find adventure in applying the scientific spirit in confronting emerging social problems. New choices in unprecedented situations had to substitute for the moribund pieties and traditions that used to suffice. Rather than look to the past for a guide, he asked us to look to science and the future.

Arnold sought to anchor our fragmentation by tying us to our past; by living up to the best that has been thought and said. Famously, he argued that we must unite Jerusalem and Athens; that is our answers will come via looking both to traditional religious and secular western truths. While facing the future, Arnold looked to western tradition as a guide. As many conservatives, he had a predilection to want to return to a simpler time, to turn back the clock.

As we face the flotsam and wreckage that is the American culture, out of control debt and an uncertain future, which philosopher should we emphasize? This culturist says both! Scientific inquiry need not be corrosive of western culture or democracy. Science becomes corrosive when it belittles the past as a time of unscientific ignorance. Science becomes corrosive when it only recognizes the existence fleeting empiricist sensations. The scientific worldview of a hedonistic shopper without a history cannot sustain a viable society. In fact, it cannot even sustain science.

Our scientific adventure has to happen within a Roman / Christian sense of moral responsibility to history. Science comes about via a dedication to deferred gratification. This is best nurtured by a two-parent home. It requires a sustainable economy. On what basis can we regain a sense of duty? We can do so by recognizing that our heritage is unique. China and Islam show that not all roads lead to science or democracy. We must once again recognize that the West is a product of thousands of years of effort towards a particular humanistic view of man, rather than an automatic unfolding of universal scientific truths.

Multiculturalism’s obscuring of differences between cultures corrodes our appreciation of the unique nature of the West. Multiculturalism’s veneration of the past in the form of traditional societies undermines our sense of progress. Culturism takes diversity and progress seriously. Culturism does not buy into the idea that science makes all particular cultural stories relics of a pre-scientific age. Particular divergent cultures still persist and are in competition. If we do not look out, one of our competitors will come to dominate us. To have Lippmann’s consciously guided sustainable future we must remember Arnold’s sense of duty to western history. We must replace beliefs in scientific universalism and multiculturalism with a sense of our western culturism.

To have a futuristic society we must remember our stoic Roman sense of duty to the collective. To have a futuristic society, we need to respect the Protestant moral distinction between irresponsible license and responsible liberty. We must ask with Arnold “What would George Washington do?” or “What would Jesus do?” We must ask what which choices and values will lead to the furtherance the West and its vision of rational self-governance. The West cannot get to Lippmann’s science friendly future without the sense of dedication to Western culture that Arnold advocated.


Empedocles said...

Hey John, there's a new post on my blog I think you would find interesting.

Ducky's here said...

You quite correctly state that we must return to a sustainable economy and then put your hopes in a western culture that has been able to do little but use technology to accelerate resource extraction in order to beat the Malthusian curve.

We need something new. Not this tired old capitalist hell. I'd look to draw on whatever might contribute to that very sound goal of generating a sustainable economy. Western capitalism has failed along with your other bogey men.

Culturist John said...


I am not as glum about the production of western culture as you. We are, after all, typing on computers. But, I am all for our creating a sustainable economy.

What do you suggest economically? I believe that some form of protectionism can often help. Korea, for example, protected its auto industry domestically until it got off the ground. They also, have a very strong "buy Korean" sentiment among the populace generally.

However it happens, we need a manufacturing base. Our stimulus packages now just stimulate China. I think much of Obama's auto program was Cash to Japan for clunkers. What thinks you?

But my point herein is how does a nation without a value system find one? Business interests have no interest in promoting anything but consumerism. I am not of the "lets go back to fundamental Christianity" mold. I think that we need a new value system based, as I wrote, on a combination of tradition, a recognition of international competition, and responsibility to our future.

EMPEDOCLES! I'll check out your post.

Thanks, John

Bloviating Zeppelin said...

I would have to lean towards Arnold. We have and will continue to technologically outstrip our moral ability to handle and apply said technology. Tech is no answer absent a human priority.


Culturist John said...


Culturism relies heavily on history, so I would tend to share your enthusiasm for Arnold. And, as a pragmatist, I always consider the situation. Multiculturalism means that we now completely devalue our western heritage. So our schools now, more than ever, need to emphasize the Arnold related reasons for virtue. I agree!

prashant said...

culture that has been able to do little but use technology to accelerate resource extraction in order to beat the Malthusian curve.

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