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Civil nihilists and rude trads?

The relation between civilization and cultural revisionism is paradoxical. On the one hand, revisionism visibly contributes to a decline in civilizational standards — rising crime, declining standards of culture, and increasing crudity and violence in daily life. On the other hand, the most educated, cultured and prosperous places are the most revisionist. The moderately pro-family and pro-faith views of the Bush administration ally it at international conferences with the Muslim world and sometimes no one else — certainly not the Europeans or even American elites.

So if you embrace cultural liberalism you’re on the way to becoming a barbarian, but if you don’t you’re probably one already. What can that mean? One possibility is that since cultural revisionism destroys social order only the civilized imagine they can afford it. Probably a more important possibility is that the specific points at issue in the culture wars are not ultimate. They are fragments or concrete expressions of something larger. For example, good relations between men and women are impossible unless all understand that the sexes are different and sexuality has a specific place and function that must be respected. That doesn’t mean that good relations can be assured by treating women differently and expressing dislike of homosexuality. The abstractly necessary is not the same as the sufficient.

What’s needed then is not so much victory in the culture wars, whatever that would be, as reappropriation of the whole truth, the loss of which has led to those wars. The truth, however, cannot be the spoils of war. The real battle, then, is not with the liberals — important though that battle may be — but with ourselves.

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