Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Culture Supernova

As one felt earlier, the culture wars may have begun. The terrible actions of September 11 have polarized American culture, liberal thought and world opinion. The election did not provide a catharsis, rather further delineated existing dividing lines in society. Good people question whether it is necessary to take on a righteous anger against the forces of a mediaeval persuasion. Other good people wonder how far we ourselves would be affected by such actions.


Michael Moore's non-verbal litany of dead US soldiers in Iraq is the first culture-crit, but barely the beginning - of course the human dead are partisanless and haunt the memories of the alleyways of would-have-beens. Who speaks out for the forgotten dead?
poof Kerry

The fear felt in a section of the populace and reactions such as the one cited above by Michael Moore, are inspired in part by memories of an intellectual response that was found wanting in Europe in the 1930s, although the parallels do not hold up in this context.

Behind the military pageant and public festival that made up the official image of the new regimes[fascist] in Italy and Germany was to be found the decomposition of nineteenth-century liberalism. The "new orders" established a different set of values and purposes. Ideologically, the state, not the individual, counted. Politically, dictatorship from above, not consent from below, was imposed. Institutionally, repression of the rights of the citizen, not respect for them, was practiced.
Public attitudes were affected by the seemingly oppressive problem of personal responsibility and individual freedom in a world of economic insecurity. The Enlightenment ideal of the self-sufficient man, capable of determining his own destiny, now seemed fraudulent, at complete variance with contemporary social and economic conditions.

Democracy has been called the Tyranny Of The Majority, famously be Alexis de Tocqueville & John Stuart Mill.

A proceeding is becoming more and more general in the United States which will, in the end, do away with the guarantees of representative government: it frequently happens that the voters, in electing a delegate, point out a certain line of conduct to him and impose upon him certain positive obligations that he is pledged to fulfill. With the exception of the tumult, this comes to the same thing as if the majority itself held its deliberations in the market-place.

In effect, the representative fulfils the manifold agendas of the electorate. Unfortunately though, the silent minority is underrepresented and possibly unreasonably, afraid. The evolution of multi-party parliamentary democracy in other democratic states is a response to this problem.

For example, in India, apart from the political changes at the National level, in various states, the underrepresented minorities have found a voice, and thereby representation, through the convenience of being part of a pluralistic coalition that enables perhaps nothing more than a Common Minimum Programme, where the checks and balances of the plural agendas serve as a watchguard against the agenda of the majority, as it were.

This is not to say that the same answer applies elsewhere. Humankind is capricious, and societies have different motivations & historical drivers. The question is moot, though, how is a liberal society to resist the tyranny of the majority? The validity of streams of thought, of writing, of music and of film cannot be dictated without losing the liberal flavor that defines and separates us from them.

Art Green raises the hope that this election can be a powerful opportunity to accomplish great things. Unfortunately though, the adminstration's record belies this hope. Yet, it is not an unreasonable hope. President Bush is a good person, and having broken old curses, may be able to step away from old policies and embrace the needed changes that can transform the world, and make this 21st century not feel like a bad rerun of the past.

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Time traveler, world traveler, book reader