Where the Culture War Really Started

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Where the Culture War Really Started

By Tim­o­thy Imholt

In order to under­stand a prob­lem, as a sci­en­tist I like to look at fun­da­men­tals, or ori­gins, of the prob­lem we are faced with. These days this ‘Cul­ture War’ that the far reaches of the polit­i­cal spec­trum seem to be fan­ning the flames of (to the point of a bon­fire now) is a real issue. So where did this cul­ture war start?

My first mem­ory of the use of the cul­ture war term and anal­ogy was in Pat Buchanan’s speech at the 1992 Repub­li­can con­ven­tion. I then traced some of his ideas to James Davi­son Hunter’s 1991 book “Cul­ture Wars: The Strug­gle to Define Amer­ica.” Hunter was a Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia soci­ol­o­gist who viewed pol­i­tics as an increas­ingly uncivil arena split into two sides that share lit­tle but mutual antipa­thy. The book made use of a lot of war descrip­tions and metaphors and leaves a dis­tinct idea that Amer­i­can pol­i­tics was in a steep decline.

But while I was check­ing these ref­er­ences, I found a more seri­ous con­nec­tion with a darker past.

Part of the path leads through Her­bert Bax­ter Adams (18501891). He taught poly sci and his­tory at Johns Hop­kins, and is some­times referred to as ‘America’s first pro­fes­sional his­to­rian’. He was the first active aca­d­e­mic to gain a PhD in his­tory, and he earned it at Hei­del­berg, Ger­many in 1876. This meant that he was in Ger­many dur­ing their cul­ture war. What fol­lows is a sort of review of the book this led me to read.

Bohm’s Der Kul­turkampf: 18711873

Wil­helm Bohm pub­lished his “Rise of Bis­marck” in 18871889. This book is vol­ume 6 of that 8 vol­ume set and gives a detailed look at the events of the three or four years after the Franco-​Prussian war of 1870. This vol­ume is enti­tled “Fȕrst Bis­mark als Red­ner… der Kul­turekamph…” (Cul­ture Strug­gle) and it expounds on the actions taken to cre­ate the mod­ern state of Ger­many. Pars­ing the text and the multi part com­pound nouns make it a slow read (or reveal my barely ade­quate Ger­man). Some of the twists and changes in polit­i­cal align­ment are also hard to fol­low. But com­par­ing the time with our mod­ern cul­ture war is cer­tainly informative.

Bis­marck was manip­u­lat­ing and forc­ing change on people’s fun­da­men­tal ideas, and he largely suc­ceeded. There are cer­tainly actions we would view as alarm­ing: peo­ple and clergy were impris­oned, prop­erty was seized or destroyed, and Bis­marck cer­tainly earned his nick­name of ‘the iron chan­cel­lor’, but with con­sid­er­a­tion he comes off pretty well as the good guy. While he did cre­ate Ger­many as a coun­try, he also had a good num­ber of unin­tended consequences.

Before Bis­marck Ger­many (the area) actu­ally con­tained a num­ber of coun­tries, and the views of a Ham­burger, Pruss­ian, Bavar­ian, Palati­nate (I skipped a fair num­ber) were dif­fer­ent. After him they were melded into one Reich. We would see his actions as harsh and abrupt, but his chal­lenges were also very great. He was com­ing out of 250 or so years where those lit­tle nations had been walked over, or fought in, looted and burned by their neigh­bors. They had been hit by the French, the Spaniards, the Nether­lan­ders, the Eng­lish, Aus­tri­ans, Ital­ians, Poles, Swedes, and Rus­sians among oth­ers. After Bis­marck, Ger­many was a world power, although they would start col­o­niza­tion about 100 to 150 years later than the majors had moved around the globe.

As a obiter-​dicta (by the way com­ment); these wars gained some expe­ri­ence for the Ger­mans but reduced them to such rel­a­tive poverty that the only viable ‘export’ for some of the rulers in these coun­tries was to lease out their own con­scripts as mer­ce­nar­ies… the ‘Hes­sians’ in the Amer­i­can Revolution.

It is inter­est­ing to think about Bismarck’s results com­pared with our cul­ture war espe­cially that set of unex­pected con­se­quences. His ideas of gov­ern­ment were more demo­c­ra­tic and open than the state that resulted in the Kaiser’s Ger­many of WWI or Hitler’s Reich in WWII. He also wound up with ‘Sec­u­lar­ism’ as a sort of reli­gion, and this seems to be an inten­tional tar­get of our Col­lec­tivist activists. Over­all I found the book worth while, although most would pre­fer a more mod­ern translation.

Back to Adams

We never hear this any­where, but I will look into Her­bert Bax­ter Adams fur­ther in a later post. He fig­ures in sev­eral trends that con­tributed to our mod­ern soci­ety: the spe­cial­iza­tion and frag­men­ta­tion of edu­ca­tion (he was the first PhD); defin­ing his­tory and soci­ol­ogy as a domain belong­ing to trained spe­cial­ists, and had lots of his ideas printed and dis­trib­uted by the U.S. gov­ern­ment. Thus he affected both high-​school and col­lege teach­ing of his­tory. This blog is already too long, so for now just look him up in http://​en​.wikipedia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​H​e​r​b​e​r​t​_​B​a​x​t​e​r​_​Adams.

Defin­ing Some Terms

In order for any two peo­ple to actu­ally agree on some­thing (or even dis­cuss it) the words or phrases that they use must mean the same (or at least very sim­i­lar) things to each of them. This can get to be very slip­pery for two rea­sons: 1) def­i­n­i­tions change over time, or 2) the def­i­n­i­tion is the same but the con­text changed. For exam­ple, “all men are cre­ated equal” once allowed some men to still hold oth­ers as slaves. Like­wise, the under­stand­ing of the mean­ing of ‘Lib­eral’ and ‘Con­ser­v­a­tive’ has changed from the times of our founders.

Another con­cern occurs when we use terms like ‘lib­erty’ and ‘equal­ity’, par­tic­u­larly in a polit­i­cal con­text. The con­cern is that so many related con­cepts and ideas are lumped in with the idea that a short def­i­n­i­tion is not actu­ally clear. A fre­quent notion when com­pli­cated or involved agree­ments are needed is to use an attor­ney. But I’ve rejected that idea ever since see­ing Bill Clin­ton twist on “It depends on what the mean­ing of the word ‘is’ is”; a mas­ter per­for­mance by a trained lawyer.

Since these blogs are about agree­ment and ideas, we’ve got to be clear on terms. I do not ask that every­one agree with these def­i­n­i­tions (although it sure would be nice), but do ask that you con­sider them, and remem­ber that they apply across these blogs.

Lib­erty Defined

Lin­coln once remarked that “The world has never had a good def­i­n­i­tion of the word lib­erty, and the Amer­i­can peo­ple, just now, are much in want of one.” In the 145 years since then, we haven’t got one yet. But since this pur­ports to be a col­lec­tion of my thoughts about lib­erty, I decided early on that I needed a clear idea of what lib­erty was. I always try to keep the fol­low­ing def­i­n­i­tion in mind:

Lib­erty is a con­di­tion enjoyed by the mem­bers of a soci­ety in which every per­son has the absolute right to think, speak, and act with no lim­its other than those needed to secure the same right to every other person.

Hav­ing evolved and strug­gled with that def­i­n­i­tion, I was very pleased when late in my work I found sup­port from Jefferson:

Of lib­erty I would say that, in the whole plen­i­tude of its extent, it is unob­structed action accord­ing to our will. But right­ful lib­erty is unob­structed action accord­ing to our will within lim­its drawn around us by the equal rights of oth­ers. I do not add ‘within the lim­its of the law,’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it vio­lates the right of an individual.”

Lib­eral and Conservative

If at all pos­si­ble I intend to avoid using these terms. Gen­er­ally in pol­i­tics and other fields a ‘Con­ser­v­a­tive’ is some­one who sup­ports the status-​quo or a return to the recent past, while a ‘Lib­eral’ is one who wants to change things to match some vision they believe is bet­ter. The prob­lem is that this always defines a shift­ing tar­get. A Con­ser­v­a­tive in 1780 wanted to return to the king­dom, while a Lib­eral wanted the Arti­cles of Confederation.

To fur­ther con­fuse things, var­i­ous writ­ers add adjec­tives and phrases, such as ‘Clas­si­cal Lib­eral’, ‘Neo-​con’, or ‘Com­pas­sion­ate Conservative’.

Left and Right

These terms are also used to describe polit­i­cal posi­tions. I per­son­ally have three prob­lems with them. First, I refuse to be classed based on the seat­ing arrange­ment in the assem­bly of the 1848 French rev­o­lu­tion­ary gov­ern­ment. Sec­ond, they are fre­quently used as an image of the two wings of an air­plane. But if you don’t like the plane’s direc­tion, which side you sit on is irrelevant.

Lastly, they also give rise to other terms, like ‘Mid­dle of the Road’. A Texas humorist defined the prob­lem here best by his book title: “There’s noth­ing in the mid­dle of the road but yel­low stripes and dead armadillos”.

Democ­racy and Republic

These terms describe forms of gov­ern­ment. Many activists today seek to restore us to a ‘Repub­lic’, but that doesn’t clar­ify the mean­ing. The mean­ing and def­i­n­i­tion is so involved that it will serve as the sub­ject of sev­eral later blog entries. How­ever, at con­sid­er­able risk of dis­agree­ment, the short def­i­n­i­tions used through­out this work are:

A repub­lic is a gov­ern­ment where each per­son, as an indi­vid­ual, is sovereign.

A democ­racy is a gov­ern­ment where the peo­ple as a whole or a major­ity are sovereign.

Notes

What fol­lows would be foot­notes if this were a book, so if you’d skip them there, go ahead and skip them here. (If any­body knows a bet­ter way to do this, I’d love to hear from you).

Bill Clinton’s com­ment is in his video tes­ti­mony of August 17, 1988 and was deliv­ered to the grand jury in the Lewin­sky affair.

Lincoln’s quote was part of a speech deliv­ered in Bal­ti­more in April of 1864; I took it from page 121 of vol­ume 7 of “The Writ­ings of Abra­ham Lin­coln” pub­lished in 1906.

Jefferson’s quote showed up late because it wasn’t in any of the stan­dard col­lec­tions, such as Ford’s Cen­ten­nial Col­lec­tion of Jefferson’s Works in 12 vol­umes. It came from a let­ter to an Isaac Hall Tiffany, Esq. writ­ten on April 4, 1819. You can get a look at it of the Library of Con­gress web­site under The Jef­fer­son Papers, Series 1, and gen­eral cor­re­spon­dence. Grey scale image is at

http://​mem​ory​.loc​.gov/​m​a​s​t​e​r​/​m​s​s​/​m​t​j​/​m​t​j​1​/​051​/​0400​/​0462.jpg

The funny book title can be found in a num­ber of places. It was by Jim High­tower, pub­lished by Harper Collins in 1979, enti­tled “There’s noth­ing in the mid­dle of the road but yel­low stripes and dead armadil­los”, (ISBN 0060187663). P.S. If your mind is a strange as mine you might find the book worth­while for a plane ride.

Out­side the Box – Time to Change?

This set of obser­va­tions doesn’t seem to match any­body else’s think­ing. While change hap­pens every day, we seem to undergo a major shift at very broad inter­vals. The inter­val, in terms of our Fed­eral gov­ern­ment seems to be every 72 years. This is just long enough that almost all direct mem­ory of the pre­vi­ous shift has gone to the grave. What I pro­pose here is to briefly out­line these shifts as noted by pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, then describe the result­ing governments.

Seventy-​two years is also 14 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. For us this means 1788 Wash­ing­ton, 1860 Lin­coln, 1932 (Franklin Roo­sevelt), then 2008 (Obama). The last one seems four years late, which I attribute to the unset­tling effect of the 911 ter­ror­ist attack.

Nature of the Shifts

Before look­ing at each shift, I want to point out that each shift also resulted in a change in ter­mi­nol­ogy. We went from a Fed­er­a­tion to a Repub­lic, to a Democ­racy, then to the Pro­gres­sives. Strangely enough each referred to itself as an exam­ple of the ear­lier stage and gov­erned under prin­ci­pals of the next,

17881860 was the Fed­eral Era. Peo­ple spoke of a fed­er­a­tion, and referred to ‘these states are’. But dur­ing much of the period we were evolv­ing from a fed­er­a­tion to a national republic.

18601932 might be spo­ken of as the Repub­li­can Era. But once again we sent most of the era evolv­ing from a national repub­lic into a democ­racy. By the time of FDR the tran­si­tion was completed.

19322008 is usu­ally spo­ken of as the Demo­c­ra­tic Era, but we spent much of it evolv­ing from a Democ­racy into the ‘Nanny State’ of the progressives.

2008-​? So far is called the pro­gres­sive era, at least by many con­gress crit­ters. We don’t know yet how it will turn out, but most fea­tures so far seem to be com­mu­nis­tic. What this really means is sub­ject mat­ter for many more discussions….

By Tim­o­thy Imholt


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[olimome­ter id=5]

It’s Tues­day and with 7 days left to the month I start the day $856 shy of the mortgage.

That means DaTip­Jar has to gen­er­ate 122 a day for seven days to pay the bills in full.

We can do it but only you help. If there was ever a time for you to kick in if you were think­ing of it, it’s now.

So I’m ask­ing you to hit DaTip­Jar below if you pos­si­bly can.

With 61 more $20 a month sub­scribers this site will be able to cover its bills for a full year.

I would ask that you do sub­scribe by hit­ting the but­ton below. If your finances allow it, con­sider choos­ing Hat level or bet­ter. A sub­scrip­tion comes not only with exclu­sive com­men­tary, but on a weekly basis you will have the oppor­tu­nity to get direct access to me by phone to pro­vide feed­back or sug­ges­tions to make sure this site is wor­thy of your finan­cial sup­port and patronage.


By Timothy Imholt

In order to understand a problem, as a scientist I like to look at fundamentals, or origins, of the problem we are faced with.  These days this ‘Culture War’ that the far reaches of the political spectrum seem to be fanning the flames of (to the point of a bonfire now) is a real issue.  So where did this culture war start?

My first memory of the use of the culture war term and analogy was in Pat Buchanan’s speech at the 1992 Republican convention. I then traced some of his ideas to James Davison Hunter’s 1991 book “Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America.” Hunter was a University of Virginia sociologist who viewed politics as an increasingly uncivil arena split into two sides that share little but mutual antipathy. The book made use of a lot of war descriptions and metaphors and leaves a distinct idea that American politics was in a steep decline.

But while I was checking these references, I found a more serious connection with a darker past.

Part of the path leads through Herbert Baxter Adams (1850-1891). He taught poly sci and history at Johns Hopkins, and is sometimes referred to as ‘America’s first professional historian’. He was the first active academic to gain a PhD in history, and he earned it at Heidelberg, Germany in 1876. This meant that he was in Germany during their culture war. What follows is a sort of review of the book this led me to read.

Bohm’s Der Kulturkampf: 1871-1873

Wilhelm Bohm published his “Rise of Bismarck” in 1887-1889. This book is volume 6 of that 8 volume set and gives a detailed look at the events of the three or four years after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. This volume is entitled “Fȕrst Bismark als Redner… der Kulturekamph…” (Culture Struggle) and it expounds on the actions taken to create the modern state of Germany. Parsing the text and the multi part compound nouns make it a slow read (or reveal my barely adequate German). Some of the twists and changes in political alignment are also hard to follow. But comparing the time with our modern culture war is certainly informative.

Bismarck was manipulating and forcing change on people’s fundamental ideas, and he largely succeeded. There are certainly actions we would view as alarming: people and clergy were imprisoned, property was seized or destroyed, and Bismarck certainly earned his nickname of ‘the iron chancellor’, but with consideration he comes off pretty well as the good guy. While he did create Germany as a country, he also had a good number of unintended consequences.

Before Bismarck Germany (the area) actually contained a number of countries, and the views of a Hamburger, Prussian, Bavarian, Palatinate (I skipped a fair number) were different. After him they were melded into one Reich. We would see his actions as harsh and abrupt, but his challenges were also very great. He was coming out of 250 or so years where those little nations had been walked over, or fought in, looted and burned by their neighbors. They had been hit by the French, the Spaniards, the Netherlanders, the English, Austrians, Italians, Poles, Swedes, and Russians among others. After Bismarck, Germany was a world power, although they would start colonization about 100 to 150 years later than the majors had moved around the globe.

As a obiter-dicta (by the way comment); these wars gained some experience for the Germans but reduced them to such relative poverty that the only viable ‘export’ for some of the rulers in these countries was to lease out their own conscripts as mercenaries… the ‘Hessians’ in the American Revolution.

It is interesting to think about Bismarck’s results compared with our culture war especially that set of unexpected consequences. His ideas of government were more democratic and open than the state that resulted in the Kaiser’s Germany of WWI or Hitler’s Reich in WWII. He also wound up with ‘Secularism’ as a sort of religion, and this seems to be an intentional target of our Collectivist activists. Overall I found the book worth while, although most would prefer a more modern translation.

Back to Adams

We never hear this anywhere, but I will look into Herbert Baxter Adams further in a later post. He figures in several trends that contributed to our modern society: the specialization and fragmentation of education (he was the first PhD); defining history and sociology as a domain belonging to trained specialists, and had lots of his ideas printed and distributed by the U.S. government. Thus he affected both high-school and college teaching of history. This blog is already too long, so for now just look him up in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbert_Baxter_Adams.

Defining Some Terms

In order for any two people to actually agree on something (or even discuss it) the words or phrases that they use must mean the same (or at least very similar) things to each of them. This can get to be very slippery for two reasons: 1) definitions change over time, or 2) the definition is the same but the context changed. For example, “all men are created equal” once allowed some men to still hold others as slaves. Likewise, the understanding of the meaning of ‘Liberal’ and ‘Conservative’ has changed from the times of our founders.

Another concern occurs when we use terms like ‘liberty’ and ‘equality’, particularly in a political context. The concern is that so many related concepts and ideas are lumped in with the idea that a short definition is not actually clear. A frequent notion when complicated or involved agreements are needed is to use an attorney. But I’ve rejected that idea ever since seeing Bill Clinton twist on “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is”; a master performance by a trained lawyer.

Since these blogs are about agreement and ideas, we’ve got to be clear on terms. I do not ask that everyone agree with these definitions (although it sure would be nice), but do ask that you consider them, and remember that they apply across these blogs.

Liberty Defined

Lincoln once remarked that “The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one.” In the 145 years since then, we haven’t got one yet. But since this purports to be a collection of my thoughts about liberty, I decided early on that I needed a clear idea of what liberty was. I always try to keep the following definition in mind:

Liberty is a condition enjoyed by the members of a society in which every person has the absolute right to think, speak, and act with no limits other than those needed to secure the same right to every other person.

Having evolved and struggled with that definition, I was very pleased when late in my work I found support from Jefferson:

“Of liberty I would say that, in the whole plenitude of its extent, it is unobstructed action according to our will. But rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law,’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the right of an individual.”

Liberal and Conservative

If at all possible I intend to avoid using these terms. Generally in politics and other fields a ‘Conservative’ is someone who supports the status-quo or a return to the recent past, while a ‘Liberal’ is one who wants to change things to match some vision they believe is better. The problem is that this always defines a shifting target. A Conservative in 1780 wanted to return to the kingdom, while a Liberal wanted the Articles of Confederation.

To further confuse things, various writers add adjectives and phrases, such as ‘Classical Liberal’, ‘Neo-con’, or ‘Compassionate Conservative’.

Left and Right

These terms are also used to describe political positions. I personally have three problems with them. First, I refuse to be classed based on the seating arrangement in the assembly of the 1848 French revolutionary government. Second, they are frequently used as an image of the two wings of an airplane. But if you don’t like the plane’s direction, which side you sit on is irrelevant.

Lastly, they also give rise to other terms, like ‘Middle of the Road’. A Texas humorist defined the problem here best by his book title: “There’s nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos”.

Democracy and Republic

These terms describe forms of government. Many activists today seek to restore us to a ‘Republic’, but that doesn’t clarify the meaning. The meaning and definition is so involved that it will serve as the subject of several later blog entries. However, at considerable risk of disagreement, the short definitions used throughout this work are:

A republic is a government where each person, as an individual, is sovereign.

A democracy is a government where the people as a whole or a majority are sovereign.

Notes

What follows would be footnotes if this were a book, so if you’d skip them there, go ahead and skip them here. (If anybody knows a better way to do this, I’d love to hear from you).

Bill Clinton’s comment is in his video testimony of August 17, 1988 and was delivered to the grand jury in the Lewinsky affair.

Lincoln’s quote was part of a speech delivered in Baltimore in April of 1864; I took it from page 121 of volume 7 of “The Writings of Abraham Lincoln” published in 1906.

Jefferson’s quote showed up late because it wasn’t in any of the standard collections, such as Ford’s Centennial Collection of Jefferson’s Works in 12 volumes. It came from a letter to an Isaac Hall Tiffany, Esq. written on April 4, 1819. You can get a look at it of the Library of Congress website under The Jefferson Papers, Series 1, and general correspondence. Grey scale image is at

http://memory.loc.gov/master/mss/mtj/mtj1/051/0400/0462.jpg

The funny book title can be found in a number of places. It was by Jim Hightower, published by Harper Collins in 1979, entitled “There’s nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos”, (ISBN 0060187663). P.S. If your mind is a strange as mine you might find the book worthwhile for a plane ride.

Outside the Box – Time to Change?

This set of observations doesn’t seem to match anybody else’s thinking. While change happens every day, we seem to undergo a major shift at very broad intervals. The interval, in terms of our Federal government seems to be every 72 years. This is just long enough that almost all direct memory of the previous shift has gone to the grave. What I propose here is to briefly outline these shifts as noted by presidential elections, then describe the resulting governments.

Seventy-two years is also 14 presidential elections. For us this means 1788 Washington, 1860 Lincoln, 1932 (Franklin Roosevelt), then 2008 (Obama). The last one seems four years late, which I attribute to the unsettling effect of the 9/11 terrorist attack.

Nature of the Shifts

Before looking at each shift, I want to point out that each shift also resulted in a change in terminology. We went from a Federation to a Republic, to a Democracy, then to the Progressives. Strangely enough each referred to itself as an example of the earlier stage and governed under principals of the next,

1788 -1860 was the Federal Era. People spoke of a federation, and referred to ‘these states are’. But during much of the period we were evolving from a federation to a national republic.

1860-1932 might be spoken of as the Republican Era. But once again we sent most of the era evolving from a national republic into a democracy. By the time of FDR the transition was completed.

1932-2008 is usually spoken of as the Democratic Era, but we spent much of it evolving from a Democracy into the ‘Nanny State’ of the progressives.

2008-? So far is called the progressive era, at least by many congress critters. We don’t know yet how it will turn out, but most features so far seem to be communistic. What this really means is subject matter for many more discussions….

By Timothy Imholt


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Olimometer 2.52

It’s Tuesday and with 7 days left to the month I start the day $856 shy of the mortgage.

That means DaTipJar has to generate 122 a day for seven days to pay the bills in full.

We can do it but only you help. If there was ever a time for you to kick in if you were thinking of it, it’s now.

So I’m asking you to hit DaTipJar below if you possibly can.

 

With 61 more $20 a month subscribers this site will be able to cover its bills for a full year.

I would ask that you do subscribe by hitting the button below. If your finances allow it, consider choosing Hat level or better. A subscription comes not only with exclusive commentary, but on a weekly basis you will have the opportunity to get direct access to me by phone to provide feedback or suggestions to make sure this site is worthy of your financial support and patronage.