walter russell mead peter berger lilia shevtsova adam garfinkle andrew a. michta
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Published on: August 20, 2014
Religion and Modernity
Exporting the American Culture War

America’s cultural left and right have globalized the battle over questions of sexuality.

The phrase “culture wars,” or its singular “culture war,” is now commonly used to refer to the conflict between conservatives and progressives in contemporary America. (I rather prefer the singular—because, while there are many battlefields, there is also an overall clash between worldviews.) The phrase has been made popular in a 1992 book by the sociologist James Davison Hunter, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America. (I also like the singular form of the phrase because it alludes to an earlier conflict, the Kulturkampf in the 19th century between Bismarck’s militantly Protestant state and the Roman Catholic Church—first in Prussia, then in newly reunited Germany as a whole. At the end of that day, the Church won.) Except in the minds of theorists, worldviews are not logically consistent entities, nor are the cultures in which worldviews are embedded. The ideas that make up a worldview are often contradictory, haphazardly put together. And the groups propagating them are typically alliances between different interests. Nevertheless, there are more or less distinct conservative and progressive subcultures in America; if you are familiar with the country, you will know in which of the two you happen to find yourself. Furthermore, the two major political parties have come to be associated with one or the other of the two subcultures—cultural conservatives are an important constituency for the Republican Party, cultural progressives for the Democratic Party. Issues south of the navel are important (though not exclusive) battlefields in the culture war—gender, sexual ethics, homosexuality, abortion, and (to a lesser degree) contraception. For the past fifty years or so much of domestic politics has revolved around the culture war. But America is not just any country. While it may no longer be politically or economically hegemonic, both its popular and its “high” culture are enormously influential throughout the world. Not surprisingly, both subcultures have become export commodities. Put differently, the American culture war has become globalized.

As is my (possibly obsessive) habit, I will juxtapose two recent news items. On August 9, 2014, the Economist carried a story about extramarital sex in Iran. The publication (in my opinion the best international news magazine) was founded in 1843 in London, where its headquarters is still located. Ever since, it has stood for free markets and free trade. The title story of this issue is “The Sex Business,” approvingly reporting how information technology is making it possible for prostitutes to become independent entrepreneurs—yet another instance of an emerging free market. I don’t know to what extent adulterers and prostitutes in the Islamic Republic of Iran have become technologically sophisticated, but the notion of sexual freedom that legitimates their behavior is of unmistakably American provenance (on this, regretfully, I must agree with the ruling Shi‘i clerics—on empirical grounds, even though I do not share their moral judgments). On August 1, 2014, the New York Times reported that the Constitutional Court of Uganda declared the recently passed draconic anti-homosexual law to be invalid. I don’t know to what degree the international outcry against this law influenced the Court, but its decision was on purely technical grounds—the law was passed by parliament when a quorum was not present. The government said that it would appeal further, so that this is not necessarily the end of the story. In this case, one need not speculate about American influences: The law was proposed in parliament as a result of an intensive campaign by American Evangelicals.

The Iran story: Iran’s parliamentary research department published an 82-page report on sexual behavior in the country. Some of the results must have deeply disturbed the theocratic elite. Thus, among other findings, 80 percent of unmarried females are supposed to be sexually active and 17 percent of students to be homosexuals. Of course both behaviors are strictly illegal in the Islamic Republic. Did some of the respondents lie? I don’t know the methodology of this study. Nor do I know whether the issuing of this document was part of a political agenda by either side of the dispute between moderates and hardliners in the regime; both may have an interest in unmasking the reality behind what the Economist story calls an “unspoken accord”: Do what you want, as long as it is done behind closed doors. Be this as it may, this report confirms anecdotal accounts of a sexual underworld existing under the radar of the official morals police. This dichotomy seems to span the Shi‘a/Sunni divide currently inflaming the Middle East: Both in Iran and in Saudi Arabia sophisticated individuals manage to circumvent the officially imposed moral rectitude—that is, individuals who understand English, can access American media, and even perhaps have studied at American universities. It is worth noting that the libertine influence from the Great Satan comes from both sides of the aisle—from the popular culture that is happily consumed by Tea Party activists who also bemoan American decadence—and from emissaries of the progressive ideology of sexual liberation (see the excellent article by Martha Bayles, “American Misguided Gender Missionaries,” in the March-April, 2014, issue of The American Interest).

The aforementioned Iranian document goes beyond the alleged fact-finding to make a recommendation which allows a compromise (at least for heterosexuals) between raging hormones and the Shi‘a version of Islamic law: the curious institution of sighey/“temporary marriage.” This can last for a long time or for minutes. The offending couple goes through a ceremony that unites the two partners in a perfectly legal “marriage,” but this union can be dissolved at any time without the cumbersome requirements of a regular divorce. An unmarried or even adulterous couple can enjoy the benefits of such an arrangement for months or even years. But it is also very convenient for men visiting a prostitute: The customer can be “married” at the entrance of a house of ill repute and be “divorced” at the exit an hour or so later. According to rumor, this practice is favored by theology students in the holy city of Qom. (Are scholars in the Saudi Kingdom pondering whether Sunni law might allow a similar practice?)

The Uganda story: Most African countries, regardless of whether they have a Christian or Muslim majority, have laws criminalizing homosexuality. (As far as I know, no one has suggested homophobia as a basis for interfaith amity.) But Uganda gets first prize. American Evangelicals can claim credit for this. In 2009 a very public “workshop” on homosexuality was conducted in Kampala, the national capital. The organizers and main speakers were prominent American Evangelicals. There was a broad “gay agenda,” dealing with the alleged sinfulness and perversity of homosexuality, its harm to individuals, the family and the general society. One of the topics was the availability of “Christian therapies” to cure the condition. As far as I know there were no specific recommendations for legislation, though it was clear that homosexuality was deemed to be a serious peril that needs intervention by the state. The message was widely appreciated. In 2013 parliament passed a law prohibiting any form of homosexual behavior or advocacy, with harsh penalties for each category. In the original bill the death penalty was to be imposed for “aggravated homosexuality”; in the final version this was changed to life imprisonment, presumably in response to an international outcry and a threat of sanctions by Western democracies. (The Ugandan law resembles the one recently passed by the Russian Duma. I don’t know whether there were consultations by the two legislatures. I am sure that President Putin, or for that matter the Moscow Patriarch, did not threaten Uganda with sanctions.) The law was signed by President Museveni, who is widely admired in the West as a statesman and supported in his campaign against Joseph Kony’s terrorist insurrection called The Lord’s Resistance Army. Kony has concocted an ideology meshing a vague charismatic Christianity with African magic, and his troops have a record of barbaric atrocities that rivals that of ISIS or Boko Haram. (I am not suggesting that American Evangelicals have had anything to do with this bunch. I just mention it to round out the picture of what may be a Ugandan propensity for religious craziness.)

Back to the American culture war: The conflict covers a broad spectrum of topics, from behavior in the bedroom to the use of military force. Logically, many of these topics have nothing to do with each other but came to be linked because of the requirements of political alliances. For example, during the Cold War many individuals with hawkish views on confronting Communism suddenly emerged espousing strong opposition to abortion because they were politically aligned with people holding strongly pro-life convictions. Nothing new in this: Politics has always made for strange bedfellows. (Personal disclosure: I have all along been unable to enlist wholeheartedly under either a conservative or progressive banner. I incline toward a conservative worldview both for temperamental and intellectual reasons: My Viennese origins make for deep-seated pessimism and sociology suggests skepticism about radical efforts to change the world. But many of my views are progressive, certainly on issues south of the navel. In this blog I have not hidden my own beliefs, but neither have I advocated them. I have tried to comment objectively on the religious scene, but I have felt free to be irreverent about some of its absurdities.)

Of course reasonably intelligent people will not subscribe to every item in a catechism of political correctness. All the same, two distinct ideological orthodoxies have emerged from the American culture war, and in certain environments they can be repressive. I have always been struck by the particular grimness of both conservatives and progressives when it comes to questions of sexuality. Evangelical girls who belong to virginity clubs will resent levity as much as members of women’s health collectives who meet to examine each other’s genitalia. (Old joke: How many feminists does it take to change a light bulb?—That’s not funny!) Of course there are all sorts of serious issues about human sexuality. But one of the most important things to understand is that sexuality is profoundly funny (I use the adverb “profoundly” with deliberation). That is a humanizing perception, tending to undermine the Puritan grimness.

My readers will be interested to know that yet another scroll has been accidentally discovered in yet another cave near the Dead Sea. It contains a fragment from the third chapter of the Book of Genesis. It comes after the story of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit, the act for which they were expelled from the Garden of Eden. The canonical text reads: “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.” The Dead Sea scroll adds a further sentence: “They looked and looked at each other. Then they could not stop laughing for a long time.”

show comments
  • theresanursemom

    Safe to say that Muslim hearts and minds won’t be won by any of this…

    • Corlyss

      Well, you would have to acknowledge that 2 & 3rd gen Muslims in America behave just like other American kids – they do all those things that shock the consciences of older generations.

  • ShadrachSmith

    If only Oscar Wilde were alive today.

  • Duperray

    If America has only this kind of “exciting” matter to provide the World, it is abysmally poor, organic and animalistic. USA should be ashamed of themselves to have only this to offer as a contribution to Mankind Philosophy.
    US is enormously influencial? Yes, not due to deepness of its philosphers (alike Europe was during 18th century), but due to the King $ and the tricky Wall Street system which legally drags all the wealth produced by the billions of underpaid workers in the World, inclusive of US themselves…

    • JoeMcIntyre

      You must be joking about philosophy. US universities are the leading institutes for the advancement of analytic philosophy. Even in the intellectually shaky postmodern philosophies, you can find Americans leading in their respective fields (think Judith Butler).
      Europe in the 18th century was not influential due to its philosophers. It was influential because it brutally colonized and exploited a good portion of the world’s population, and cities like London and Rotterdam served as the New York City of their age.

      • Daniel

        Hmm. I can’t say Europe controlled that big a portion of the world’s population in the 18th century, certainly nowhere near as many as in the 19th. At the same time, I wouldn’t say it was all that influential. The places that were influenced by it – Russia, Turkey, to much smaller extent Persia, India and some areas of Africa – were influenced by a) technology and b) philosophy in that order; wealth and exploitation did not enter into it much if at all.

        • Duperray

          Dan, you forgot the main one: America, from Baffin’s Bay to Horn Cape…
          We know that “America has discovered everything in every matter”,
          Excepts America !!

        • JoeMcIntyre

          That’s somewhat fair, if you restrict it to the 18th century. I was speaking more to colonization as the continuum that existed from the sixteenth to the mid twentieth century, it was my mistake that I even assumed the premise and argued from there.

          The apogee of European influence was probably 1914 give or take thirty years; it certainly had to do with wealth and political control by that point.

      • Duperray

        Joe, you are very funny too ! Perhaps your “philosophy” makes some noise in US domestics (I dont think at all, free opinions are still authorized..) but abroad, certainly not.
        Because the World no longer listens or thinks about Philosophy, brains are soaked with modern philosophy (with perhaps exception of hermetic muslim world): Everybody strives to survive, eats, remains not too bad health, enjoys distractions and whenever possible, makes as much money and power as possible.
        Concerning “colonization” let me remind you History: USA have colonized Philippines Islands from 1898 (sized from spaniards) to about 1945. And to prevent being at odds with Japan, USA made following 1908 Treaty with Japan: Japan would not challenge US possession of Philippines at condition USA let Japan keep its Korean Peninsula military conquest. As a consequence, Korea (now split in NK and SK) has been under drastic military “colonization/occupation” up to 1945; Let just remind the WWII korean “Compfort Girls”…. USA are morally responsible of this rude 37-years long situation, for not having stop by then weak military Japan. Perhaps Pacific War might have been avoided.
        I would not insult USA by suggesting that US occupation was as bad as Japanese one, US are civilized states. But in turn you shall not fall into marxist’s propaganda against european “colonizators”, a propaganda greatly supported by post-1945 US democrats. Like in Philippines, “before” there was nothing else in these regions than feudal society/slaves plagued by permanent tribe wars. “After” departure: Peace, large wild areas turned to farming, oil fields in production, railways, roads, hospitals, schools, harbors, airports were left to them. British and dutch were even more clever, they did’nt try to educate populations, they just trade local resources with Europe, fighting riots when necessary. And among resources were Black skin Populations, kidnapped by muslim “razzias” from remote Africa areas, sold to european/US mass transport boats and guess to “whom” re-sold ? USA.
        To day there is no official territorial colonization but how should we label mass production of consumer goods in many third world states (much wider than any ex-colonized regions) with manpower wages maintained super low to economic benefit of West into which US is the largest chunk, Europe the second? It is “economic colonization” with many collateral effects worse than 19th century colonizations.

        • JoeMcIntyre

          Nope, Judith Butler’s gender theories have been credited with influencing the way Swedish children are taught about gender at school. Furthermore, analytic philosophy is the only good part of what’s left of Western philosophy. I would, however, agree that philosophy seems to be declining, ironically because of the adoption of societal ethics that created broad middle classes disinterested in élite pursuits. Philosophy seems to have killed itself, for now.

          I never denied that the US colonized, in fact it started out as a colony. You did forget Puerto Rico and Liberia though (Liberia was an indirect colony). It also basically controlled Latin America from the late nineteenth century through the Cold War.

          But now you’re changing the subject, and accusing me of falling for propaganda when the evidence is quite clear that millions died in the decolonization process alone, not to mention during the occupations. Whether or not the “benefits” of extractive infrastructure and governance will lift the benighted natives from miserable poverty remains to be seen, but it doesn’t look promising.

          • Duperray

            1-Gender taught theory: I am adamant: It is by far the most extremely pernicious attempt to destroy young children personality. Theorists may object that it might help a very small fraction of population (1%?), yap, but destroys the 99%; Anyhow definitive destruction results will be visible within a decade…..
            2- “Millions die in decolonization”: Another hoax (true propaganda result. Within 10 years propagandists will increase this amount to “hunderds of millions”..).
            UK: India commercial harbors dealt well. Only the 1857 Cipaye Riots kills britons and local terrorists: It cannot be “by millions” because heavy weaponry was not yet existing ! British drafted indians for WW1 & 2 but global british white and indian soldiers deaths were below a cumulative million during these 2 wars. 1906 Boers War, was between white people.
            French: Algiers fell in 1830, ironically at the request of USA threatening Europe to stop trading in the Mediterranean shall this hornet’s nest be left alive! Algier’s raiders were spilling blood and picking many white people (to make them slaves, then resold) for centuries, rather than farm to feed population… Extension to north Africa took 10 years war against tribes still with obsolete weaponry: It cannot be “by millions”, rather by 10-20,000 although I dont have any figure. Similarily, in Vietnam 1880 a couiple of harsh but limited battles rages (Fou Cheou pass,..) killed less thana few thousand, then peace. From 1948 up to 1954, vietnamese troops armed by retreating japanese forces waged a hard war, killing about 76,000 french troops (exact figure) and about 500,000 local soldiers and civilians: But most of battling was during its second phase, as a clear ColdWar backed up by China and Russia, mirroring the US Vietnam War 10 years later.
            By the way this US Vietnam was cost US 60,000 deaths and probably far more than half million local deaths, but was it a decolonization war? One can doubts.
            Algeria War started in 1954 and cost the french 20,000 deaths. Here also “by millions” is insane figure.
            Dutch: I dont have any figure, does’nt look high
            Germans: Unsignificant
            Conclusion: “by the millions” is obviously a big leftist propaganda hoax, that reality kills. Either you have been twisted by propaganda or, perhaps you propagate this propaganda????
            Concerning infrastructure: You are astonishingly “denier” of their benefits: Had it been useless, native would have quickly destroyed them, returning to huts, bows, arrows and magician medicines….. If you were sincere, you would claim that America shall return to the economy in place before Christofer Columbus landed there… ha, ha!
            Another aspect of REALITY: You can find on Internet that post-decolonization wars between africans only killed about 9 millions persons there….in only 50 years!
            So, whether one can like it of not, european presence provided a solid inter-african war reduction, that they quickly restart after our departure. And it is not finished at all with recent Ruanda slaugther and islamic campaign now under progress.

  • Corlyss

    “They looked and looked at each other. Then they could not stop laughing for a long time.”

    I wonder if that isn’t from the infamous Mae West appearance on the Charlie McCarthy Edgar Bergen show, the one that got her banned from radio for 10 years . . . /g/

  • U Nderwater Glockenspiel

    Indeed Austro-Hungarians are pessimists and realists. However the blues are nothing an afternoon whiled away drinking fine coffee and scarfing down some nice royal and imperial pastries can’t cure.

  • Alan

    On the Iranian “sexual underworld” and temporary marriage, etc, I recommend “City of Lies” by Ramita Navai. My impression is that American influence is quite minor. The average Teherani lives a much more complicated sexual-political life than folks in the US or other western societies could imagine.

  • Daniel

    “The Ugandan law resembles the one recently passed by the Russian Duma.”

    Are you quite sure about this? Because if you mean the propaganda law, then much though I may dislike it, it is not even a little bit like that. Actual homosexuality is not criminalised in Russia; anything that may be taken for propaganda of such aimed at minors is.

  • FriendlyGoat

    The main story of the recent “culture wars” in America is that many church people got on the wrong side of economic issues because they did not know that corporations are the root of the sexual liberalization they dislike. What other possible answer explains “Jersey Shore” being on television instead of Andy, Barney and Aunt Bea?

    Oh, it must be the Government and taxes putting us on the slippery slope to hedonism!

    No, it is not the Government and not the taxes. It is the profit motive of the private sector which constantly pushes the envelope.

    So, what to do? Vote for corporations to rule society, of course. What else have church people done in politics for the past 30 years?

    • Kepha Hor

      Sorry, Friendly, but, much as I mistrust the big corporations and understand their role in the sexual revolution, I also see a huge problem with the media-legal-academic complex as well. Socialists have been large supporters of the post-moral society, too.

  • Kepha Hor

    Actually, I have a lot of sympathy for Uganda’s (and others’) anti-sodomy laws.

    Back in the 1880’s, forty-odd teenaged boys and young men were ordered burned to death by the Mbaka of Buganda because, after becoming Christians, they would not submit to being sodomized. Apparently, among the pre-Christian Baganda, the powerful folks could do what they wished with their inferiors (a little like the pre-Christian Greeks and Romans, it seems). The Roman Catholic Church went on to beatify the twenty-odd who were Roman Catholic rather than Anglican.

    I foresee that the West’s “normalization” of homosexuality will turn orphans around the world into commodities for well-healed Western homosexuals who wish to find either children to help them prove their “normalcy” (odd, considering how homosexuality has long been noted as a free-swinging lifestyle) or find vulnerable young to groom as sexual partners. Hence, while I trust Putin as far as I could throw my house, maybe he had a very sound instinct about signing a law banning adoption of Russian children by homosexual couples (after all, as chief Kageybeynik, he knew a bit about entrapping Western diplomats and other useful persons with kinky sex, and, presumably, what such things might do to vulnerable persons). Further, could it be that progressive politicians in the West would like to see Africa turned into the new playground for their perverted friends and donors now that certain countries in southern Asia are wising up to what sex tourism really does?

    Our desire to seem “progressive” and “up-to-date” by legitimizing homosexuality (to the point where the reprehensible Harvey Milk, who used to prey on runaway teens in SF, is now made a hero and role model for our high schoolers) is going to get a lot of our young and the rest of the world’s young unnecessarily hurt. And it is a national disgrace that the Obama administration puts the international prestige of the USA on the line to bully Uganda over its anti-sodomy laws (and no similar bullying of Saudi Arabia or Obama’s Muslim Brotherhood friends over even harsher ones).

  • Gary Novak

    While it is true that America exports both sides of the culture war, I think Dinesh D’Souza (“The Enemy at Home,” 2007) is correct in arguing that it is the cultural left that provoked 9/11. Militant Islam is not upset about American support for anti-homosexual laws in Uganda but about the undermining of traditional culture by American feminists, abortionists, and gays. D’Souza argues that conservatives are wrong to embrace the “clash of civilizations” thesis, which obscures the fact that American conservatives have more in common with moderate Islam than with the cultural left, which does not believe that “they hate us because of our freedom” (but because of our imperialism). When Michael Moore suggested that bin Laden made a mistake by targeting blue-state New York, he was acknowledging that the issue is not freedom but left/right domestic politics. Americans of all stripes oppose the prohibition of education for girls, but the cultural left is more concerned with the illusory “war on women” at home than the real war on women abroad.

    The left believes that, since American foreign policy is a matter of imperialism, colonialism, and militarism, the best foreign policy is none– play golf instead. The inactions of the Obama administration only strengthen and update D’Souza’s argument. Send a drone, a bottle of water, and “concern” to the Middle East, but anything more than a “pinprick” would make Obama the “policeman of the world” and ruin his legacy. Obama hopes to make the world a better place by making America a better place– more leftist. The world will love us when it sees that we support universal polyamorous love. Al-Qaeda must be dead now that Hollywood has moved into the White House. But, of course, his leftism only pours gasoline on the flames of Jihad. D’Souza’s point is not that we should pay blackmail to radical Islamists by adopting an American theocracy they would find less offensive. His point is that American conservatives should recognize that, by attacking leftist cultural decadence at home and defending conservative values, they would also be taking the wind out of radical Islamists’ sails: moderate Muslims would see that some Americans are just as opposed to decadence as they are.

    Do you remember those arguments about whether Obama is really a Christian or a secret Muslim? How could anyone think that he is either? He’s a leftist; his god is government. Here I think Berger’s use of the concept of Abrahamic religions– all of which recognize a transcendent God– lends support to D’Souza’s belief that conservative Americans and moderate Muslims have something important in common– a dislike of ungodly decadence! Extremists east and west may seek to form an alliance on the platform of homosexual executions, but, to revive a term, moral majorities everywhere would have a winning program in uniting around morality.

    • Wayne Lusvardi

      With all due respect to the cultural decadence and Islamic resurgence argument, there are many layers of knowledge and perception about the issue of culture war and terror wars. My proposition is that 9/11 was not a cultural attack on America but what I would call “provocative terrorism.” Provocative terrorism is an attempt to strike and terrorize an ally to provoke them into getting involved in fighting the war of the provoking ally (see Machiavelli’s Discourses on the issue of indirect war).

      When American soldiers have been stationed in Saudi Arabia in the past the Saudis made it clear that the U.S. was their mercenary army, expressing their own cultural superiority (“we aren’t decadent like you, so go fight our war for us”).

      We know that the Saudis and the Pakis were complicit in 9/11 with terrorists and intelligence and transfer of monies in confidential diplomatic pouches.

      We know that the U.S. would not and probably could not retaliate against the Saudis lest we ignite a war against all Islamic states and cut off our supply line of oil at that time, wreck the dollar, and ruin stock markets.

      Likewise the U.S. couldn’t directly attack the terrorist state Iran on behalf of its threatened neighbors so it picked the low hanging fruit of Iraq. Again, if the U.S. is going to be provoked into a war in the Mideast it would be wise to only retaliate against the neighboring country to Iran. And that was Iraq. And that is what the U.S. did.

      The Iraq War was not a War of Occupation or Democratization or about WMD’s or even merely a War Against All Terrorism but an indirect War of Containment to keep the fundamentalist Iranian Islamic Revolution from spilling over into Saudi, Paki, Turkey, etc. (i.e. Domino Theory). But the war could not be legitimized back home as a War of Containment so secondary legitimizations came to the fore but were rightly perceived as weak and lies (WMD’s) which eroded the justifications for the war especially to the stilted perception of the cultural Left.

      We know the Saudis and others sponsor terrorist organizations under false flags. I believe ISIS is sponsored by the Saudis and that is why they are so organized as well.

      Where culture enters the picture under my proposition is that cultural decadence is used for projecting legitimization to other Muslims to attack with strong religiosity the U.S. (“the decadent America”).

      The Leftist-Libertarian naivete is that we should not be “entangled” in foreign affairs of others and can just pull out and let the Middle East have its own intra-religious wars. Remember when Pres. Obama and VP Biden took great credit for pulling out of Iraq even if it was Prime Minister Maliki’s call for us to withdraw? Leftists and many liberals think that it was those Neo-Cons (really Neo-Liberals) who got us into the Mideast wars and if we just didn’t intervene at least the U.S. would avoid losing its soldiers and its wealth in fighting the wars of others and would be better able to sustain its welfare state. But reality and realpolitik don’t work out that way.

      So we have two cultural ideologies clashing: one the Saudi sponsored fundamentalist Islamic attack on American Culture as decadent; and two the American Leftist cultural delusion that the U.S. is imperialistic but that under a Leftist administration it can withdraw from wars and there will be no consequence other than to watch others fight their religious wars while we secularists sit comfortably in our welfare states.

      How does that saying go? “You might have no interest in war, but war has a way of being interested in you.” And that is what the adolescent-like President of the U.S. and his Nomenklatura is only beginning to realize.

      Look at the cultural image being trotted out daily in the media by ISIS? Beheadings, genocide, enslavement, kidnappings. All of this, in my humble opinion, is a set of public spectacles meant to provoke us back into Iraq. As Peter Berger has aptly noted, Americans don’t like to fight Wars of Realpolitik; they want to have moralistic reasons for fighting wars.

      For the Left, who are in power, the moral reason they see in fighting wars is to eliminate political regimes on the Right or regimes theologized by fundamentalism. They don’t perceive justification for fighting wars against fellow Leftists as you call them. So the terrorist horror show will go on in the Mideast until we re-intervene, or as ISIS has asserted, it will afflict another terror attack on the U.S.

      Cultural perception, informed by ideologies of the political Left at home and informed by fundamentalist theologies sponsored by our Islamic Leftist allies, are involved in the ongoing Mideast conflict, but not in ways we have been led to believe.

      For a more formal expansion of this discussion see by book review at of Leslie Gelb’s book Power Rules.

      • Gary Novak


        If I understand your argument, it is that 9/11 was not an Islamic response to decadent Western cultural imperialism but was a (successful) Saudi attempt to provoke the U. S. into fighting a war to contain the Iranian Islamic Revolution. The Saudis weren’t worried about Playboy on the newsstands in Riyadh but about Iranian hegemony. But that leaves open the question of the extent to which the Iranian Revolution was itself a response to Western cultural imperialism. D’Souza is not primarily interested in the details of realpolitik but in the motivations of traditional Muslims. It has often been noted that supposedly moderate Muslims are reticent when it comes to denouncing Islamic terrorism. Is that, perhaps, because Islam is inherently fanatical and there are no moderate Muslims? D’Souza thinks the Iranian hatred of the Great Satan is fundamentally cultural and not entirely irrational. There are about 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. If they are all crazy, we have a big problem.

        This might be the place to address the viability of the idea of a “moral majority,” which I rashly attempted to revive in my post. Berger’s anecdote about the Iranian men who get married on entering a brothel and divorced on leaving raises a question about how big our umbrella must be to encompass a moral majority. Aren’t moral majorities hypocritical majorities? There’s no shortage of Elmer Gantrys in the West. But D’Souza is aware of the mullahs who tell dirty jokes in private. He acknowledges what the sociology texts describe as the difference between “ideal culture” and “real culture.” The question is whether it is important to believe in the importance of morality even if we’re ethically-challenged. Should we worry about immorality or recognize that conscience is just a superego that unnecessarily inhibits the happiness of copulating animals? “Moral Majority” as I use the term does not presuppose the achievement of moral purity or the embrace of a specific moral code. It is comprised of those who do not believe that morality is a pre-Darwinian, pre-Freudian concept which, today, can only be endorsed by hypocrites. (Nor am I thinking of morality primarily in terms of sexual virtue. One can embrace Berger’s liberalism on issues south of the navel and still recognize that marriage doesn’t have to be a sacrament for infidelity to cause great human suffering.)

        I agree with your critique of leftist/libertarian isolationism, but I am puzzled by your reference to “Leftist Radical Islamist Theology.” What’s leftist about radical Islamist theology? (The “Arab socialism” of Saddam Hussein and Nasser was not theological.)

        Like D’Souza, I think that our justified belief in the superiority of American liberal democracy to pre-modern regimes should not blind us to the legitimacy of the Muslim belief that we have not always used our freedom wisely.

        • Wayne Lusvardi

          The Iraqi Sunnis were not Muslim but their resurgence in Iraq is using Islamic symbols and rhetoric? I’m asking.

          A revival of a “Moral Majority” might elicit the question of whether morality is at the core or the periphery of religion. Berger makes the case that at its core religion is about something cosmic and religion has more implications and burdens are those so critical as to fight Wars of Anti-Decadence?

          As far as moderate Muslims not denouncing radical Islam, I think this gets back to what sociologist called different cultural personality types. According to sociologist Sarah Farris in her book Max Weber’s Theory of Personality, Weber saw Asian Personality as a non-personality that was unable to express individuation (Note: for those interested in Farris’ book don’t buy the hardback for $100 but the paperback for $25). See my review of Farris’ book at

          • Gary Novak


            I do think the Sunni resurgence is Islamic, but I don’t think it is leftist. (Leftists oppose Western imperialism, and so do Muslims, but that does not make Muslims leftist.) I described my usage of “Moral Majority” as rash, because it might suggest moral legalism and even mob psychology. But I think C. S. Lewis is right in pointing to “right and wrong as a clue to the meaning of the universe.” Berger has argued that moral perception does not presuppose religious commitment, but moral perception can lead to religious insight. And there does seem to be an intrinsic connection between love of God and love of neighbor.

            So a society which defers to cultural elites (including evolutionary psychologists) for its understanding of morality, religion, beauty, and so on will be inhospitable to both morality and religion. But that is the culture of the left. It is the “enlightened” immoral majority (another herd mentality). Religion is a memetic virus. Music is a useless side effect of cerebral adaptations designed for something useful– language. And morality is based on nothing but altruistic genes. It is one thing to say that we don’t want our lives constrained by the neuroses of repressed spinsters in a moral majority. It is another to allow the cultural left to undermine the perennial wisdom in the name of “the best available science.”

            As you know, Berger’s approach to religion is “inductive.” But he has often expressed some admiration for the deductivists, who at least have the good sense not to become reductivists just because they are too busy bringing in the hay to best the reductivists in debate. My (probably ill-advised) use of the term Moral Majority is a nod to them. I promise I won’t spend $100 for Farris’ book!

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