One more on culture war

What is culture war?

I don’t do research, so everything is just my well-intentioned guess.

The term culture war appears to have its origin in German Ideology: the concern with kulturkampf comes after the worldhistorical (self-reflective) realization that culture, or national spirit, matters more than purportedly universal Enlightenment abstractions or ideals, since those ideals are considered to be the products of particular national grounds (England, for example). In his Ideology, Hegel initially emphasized a rationality to world history as a whole that would take the form of a dramatic revolutionary sublation (the French Revolution at the time of the writing of the Phenomenology). Later, in the Philosophy of Right, he chose to emphasize the particularity of nations, suggesting that each would have a unique coming into self-consciousness that would constitute its essence and should be reflected in its laws. He expected, however, that each self-conscious or self-realized nation-state would join in a completed general consciousness (something like “Civilization”) and that the forms of government (constitutional monarchy) and the sympathies of the laws (respect for individual autonomy, ie. human rights) would be in agreement across these states.

German Romanticism in philosophy contended that the particularity of each People meant that there would be no emergence into a world consciousness of shared ideals (the Enlightenment dream), but rather that each People would experience its national spirit in (an often violent or passionate) opposition to the spirit of other nations. What this meant in practical terms: German artists and thinkers became very self-conscious about their German-ness, but were confused because they owed so much to France, England and Italy. Part of the cult of celebration around Goethe was due to the fact that he was viewed as the first “authentically” German voice, or, more extremely, as a discovery of The Voice of the German national spirit. Another “authentic” voice was Wagner, who sought to amplify his role as cultural godhead by addressing German-ness through an ancient or mythical history.

Nietschze’s take on this recent intellectual and artistic history is to vent against German Nationalism (or political Romanticism) as a great lie against the motley nature of German and European identity (in “Us Germans” and “Us Europeans” in BG&E) and as a form of thoughtless herd-behavior. Nietschze points instead to “ecologies” of “values” that combine (in somewhat mix-and-match fashion) in “hybrid monsters” like himself.

But Nietschze himself was one of the first great cultural warriors, in that he didn’t argue from universal principles, “norms”, or historical forces, but from values, which are something like the real actors in history. Values, in Nietschze’s hints at an account, are strands of personalities (Moses, Jesus, Paul, Plato, Descartes, etc. ) that twist through history, shaping cultures and conditioning souls. In his polemics, Nietschze constantly attacks these personalities in their “masked” modern instantiations (for instance, in the Communism of Marx he sees an extreme derivation of a flavor of Christianity, as he does in secular humanist liberalism). Critics of Nietschze complain that he intentionally misreads the authors he so brutalizes with apparently ad hominen arguments. I would argue that this is the defining characteristic of a cultural warrior: that he argues primarily in order to undermine the values position of his opponents, which often looks like an attack on their very essence.

Nietschze pursues this kind of impolitic, aggressive discourse because he believes it to be more honest than the passively coercive speech of what he terms “herd morality”; because he sees will-to-power as a fundamental principle of existence, he makes no apologies for seeking the blood of his spiritual enemies. It should be noted, though, that there are deep ironies in Nietschze: in Ecce Homo, Nietschze claims that he only attacks positions of strength, which suggests to me that held a concept of conservation with respect to ecologies of values. This is important, because cultural warfare is as in need of restraint as actual warfare, since the link between antagonistic rhetoric that seeks to negate the values of a large segment of society and actual, annihilating violence is fairly straightforward.

The effect and the danger of extreme kulturkampf can be measured in part in the differences between WWI German imperialism and the horrors of the German NAZI regime. The German ideology of “blood and iron” was nothing new in the world, even if it was a uniquely German take on the virtue of might.

It’s a mystery what precisely Allan Bloom was bitching about in that section of Closing of the American Mind (remember, “Mack the Knife”, “lifestyles”?)

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