IRRECONCILABLE DIFFERENCES

by: S.R. Shearer

Most Americans are used to thinking that almost any issue can be worked out if people will only sit down and talk. Unfortunately, that is not always the case, and that may be particularly true with regard to the Culture War now being played out in America. Even a liberal like Ronald Dworkin believes that with regard to issues like abortion and homosexuality, there may be no middle ground - and Americans are only kidding themselves in thinking that there is one.[1] 

Alan Wolfe, professor of sociology and political science at Boston University concurs, he writes, "... abortion (and homosexuality) are matters of ‘high’ politics, involving fundamental questions about the definition of public and private, liberty and authority, and the meaning and purpose of life ... At this principled elevation, abortion (and homosexuality) present a tragic conflict, like the Civil War (and the question of slavery). Each side to the debate understands itself, and is understood by its antagonists, as standing for a worldview that cannot be compromised."[2]  Under these circumstances, our national discussions on questions of morality, religion and culture have become a "language game that has the form of meaningful communication, but is in fact merely another form of aggression" against those with whom we disagree.[3]  Wolfe explains: "The problem begins with intellectuals, who routinely violate fundamental democratic principles in the way they balance the competing interests at stake. Both a liberal such as Laurence Tribe of the Harvard Law School and a conservative such as R.C. Sproul, an evangelical theologian, are incapable of recognizing the legitimacy of their opponent’s position ... Tribe is explicitly anti-democratic. To him, the whole purpose of a constitution and a Supreme Court is to act as a check on popular positions. Sproul, by contrast, sees government as having no other purpose than to embody God’s will - not exactly a formula for pluralism or religious liberty."[4] 

James Davison Hunter, one of the few American writers who is trying to understand the Culture Wars rather than fight them, agrees with both Dworkin and Wolfe; he believes that new fault lines are emerging in U.S. society which inevitably will set citizen against citizen over questions of identity, sexuality, and private behavior - questions which do not lend themselves easily to discussion and compromise. In this regard, Hunter believes that a fundamental change has occurred within the larger conservative religious community in America; they are no longer the fractured community they once were - a fact which had enabled liberals to run roughshod over them for so many years; they have united. Protestants have joined forces with other Protestants, and Protestants with Catholics in an effort to confront the forces of "secularism," "globalism," and "modernism" which they believe threaten to inundate and render irrelevant their larger Christian community. Under such circumstances, their own "inter-family differences" have been set aside in order to confront what is perceived to be a larger threat: the destruction of their community by forces which they see as inimical to their continued existence as a meaningful and viable community.

Hunter apparently agrees with Dr. Samuel Huntington, Eaton Professor of the Science of Government and Director of the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University. Huntington says that "... world politics are entering a new phase ...(in which) the great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural ... The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics ..."[5] 

The clash, however, has not limited itself merely to a clash between different civilizations, but it is also a struggle to "purify" or "cleanse" each respective civilization of "foreign elements" and the emasculating effect of secularism and the new multi-culturalism and globalism - and this is true not only with regard to Western Civilization, but other civilizations, for example, the Slavic, the Islamic, the Confucian, the Hindu, etc.

In all of these civilization increasing numbers of scholars see a new movement away from the globalism and secularism of the last forty years; they believe that this is what the new "fundamentalism" in all the major civilizations is all about. It is this precise struggle that Dworkin, Wolfe and Hunter are attempting to describe when they talk about such questions as abortion and homosexuality. Both these questions involve the clash of different world views, specifically, Christianity and globalism or the new multi-culturalism. It is in this new and ominous context that these scholars believe the questions of abortion, homosexuality, family, single motherhood, feminism, etc. must be viewed. Seen from this perspective, there can be no middle ground. Each side is pushing for total victory.

  1. Please see "The Coming Face of the Culture War" in The Wilson Quarterly, Spring 1994, pg. 74
  2. Ibid., pg. 74; also see Before the Shooting Begins: Searching for Democracy in America’s Culture War by James Davison Hunter, Free Press, 320 pgs.
  3. Wolfe on Hunter in "The Coming Face of the Culture War," The Wilson Quarterly, Spring 1994, pg. 74.
  4. Ibid.., pg. 74.
  5. Samuel p. Huntington, "The Clash of Civilizations," Foreign Affairs, Summer, 1993, pg. 22-25.

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