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New Hope for Education Sufferers To Be or to Do

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Power Still Matters

by Christopher Chantrill
May 08, 2004 at 8:00 pm


THE DEFINING event of our generation was 9/11.  It divided America into those who thought it was our fault, and those who thought it was their fault.  Lefties like Susan Sontag immediately wrote what millions of liberal hearts felt, that we brought it on ourselves by our arrogance and our imperialism.  Conservatives wrote about a new Pearl Harbor, and President Bush announced a War on Terror.

But the liberal hearts that wanted to enjoy political power in America could not really afford to confess their feelings.  The result, after the convulsions of the Democratic presidential primaries, is John Kerry, who is both for and against the war, for he must navigate his campaign between an angry Democratic base that hates American power and a patriotic majority that is believes in it.

And he is facing also the lesson of 9/11 that power still counts in the world.  While liberals have flopped around parsing the president’s speeches for “lies,” conservatives have reminded themselves that the power of the west is founded upon its power. 

It goes all the way back to the democratic tradition of the Greek hoplites, according to Victor Davis Hanson.  Ever since, the Europeans have presented a tradition of heavy infantry and shock tactics that has proved unbeatable in ruthlessness. 

It goes all the way back to the Spartans, according to Lee Harris.  The Spartans transformed the teenage boys’ gang into the cooperative team, and chopped the extended family down to size.  The new cooperative team was organized not by bravado and charisma, us against the world, but by rules.

Powered by the corporation, the Protestant church, the nation state, and the modern army, the western Europeans jumped the boundary of consanguinity and the rigid world of extended family, clan, and tribe.  They woke up one day to find themselves the first true world civilization, unequalled in its power.

But liberals are past all that.  They are ashamed of the power of their fathers, and enraged by their rules.  They believe in the transformative power of creativity and the sanctity of world community.  You can see this attitude in their attacks on President Bush and in their eagerness to discover setbacks in the War on Terror and in numerous popular books published in the last few years.  For Richard Florida, in The Rise of the Creative Class, the key to understanding the present is the emergence of creative “ideopolises,” urban fermentations full of creative artists and gays, 38 million Americans willing to break the mold and imagine something new.  For Paul H. Ray and Sherry Ann Johnson in The Cultural Creatives the future is a merging of the social justice movement with the Sixties consciousness movement, 50 million people worldwide who are building a new culture of resistance to oppression and a spiritual revolution that combines eastern meditation with shamanistic “wisdom traditions.”

The great American conservative movement, we know, arose to shout “Stop!” to the progressive hordes sweeping across the world determined to replace the bourgeois ethos of self-government and contract with their secular heaven on earth of creativity and community.  It knew, as Edmund Burke knew in the first twinkling dawn of the French Revolution, that any culture that rejected the Anglosphere’s constitutional culture of cooperation under contract and the limitation of political power would lurch inevitably into the slaughter of millions by deliberate, cold-blooded genocide.  But it is flummoxed by the culture of creativity and universal community.  What is wrong with the rule of law and the movement from status to contract, it complains?

The answer to the conservative complaint is a growing movement that, in Hegelian fashion, resolves the contradiction between the culture of the cooperative team and its antithesis in the cult of creativity and the vision of universal community.  You can see its threads everywhere, from the rough-hewn ideas of the autodidact John Boyd, the man whose revolution in military strategy won Gulf War I, to Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker whose Blank Slate is an attack on the idea that humans are noble savages that have been helplessly corrupted by civilization.  Poet Frederick Turner’s Shakespeare’s Twenty-first Century Economics lyrically shows how four hundred years ago that the transactions of merchants were nothing if not softened by the gentle rain of mercy.  Ken Wilber’s “Integral” philosophy experiences human consciousness as an ascending spiral from power to rules to creativity to community in which each step upwards “transcends and includes” what has gone before.

What all these thinkers reject is the fatal flaw of the left when it declares war on the culture of rules championed in the last millennium by the rising bourgeoisie, these new thinkers want merely to transcend it and include it.  As Hegel said two hundred years ago: “The whole is an overcoming that preserves what it overcomes.”  And that is all that conservatives ever wanted.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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presented by Christopher Chantrill

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