Explaining the odd

The rock-ribbed Episcopal diocese of New Hampshire is likely to elect the first openly homosexual bishop in the Anglican communion, a man who left his wife and children to move in with the male lover with whom he would presumably share the bishop’s residence.

A lot could be said about the situation. I’ll stand back from the particular facts, though, and consider it in connection with the general problem of theorizing about politics and society. There’s always a question how much theories apply to reality. I might, for example, present a nifty little theory about how liberals are turning America into a totalitarian state. Others might shrug it off on the grounds that things I don’t mention, even things no one notices, are likely to turn out more decisive in the end.

The issue is decidable only in retrospect. Still, it seems that pure theory is more important now than in the past. Globalization, multiculturalism, mass trans-continental immigration and all the rest of it abolish the relevance of particular peoples, histories and relationships. As the world, or a part of it, approaches the condition of a loose human aggregate ordered by rationalized bureaucratic and market institutions, general abstract theories should become more useful in explaining it. What good does knowledge of French history and culture do, after all, if half the French are Muslim Arabs, the other half reject their own traditions, and the place is ruled by bureaucrats in Brussels anyway?

One test of the value of general abstract theory is whether similar things are happening in places with very different peoples and histories. It seems that is so. Another is whether the things that are happening seem bizarre when measured by history, tradition, and accepted common sense, but are easily explicable by abstractions. The news from New Hampshire, along with much else, shows that is so as well in much of the developed world. However you spin it, the impending election of Canon Robinson has nothing much to do with historical New Hampshire and Anglicanism, which have mostly disappeared, and everything to do with abstract universal ideology. And it is by reference to such ideology, and not to history or traditional understandings and commitments, that trends not only in Anglicanism but in Western life generally are now to be explained.

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