Liberals and Tradition

I wanted to point out this compelling post at What’s Wrong with the World: Liberals: Guardians of Tradition? Jeff Culbreath writes:

As the father of five very musical children, I find myself in the company of classical musicians and teachers with some regularity. One would be hard pressed to find a more reflexively liberal demographic than that of classical musicians. Their brand of liberalism, though fairly radical, is genteel and seldom confrontational. In a superficial way, I actually enjoy the company of these people and can usually find enough common ground to have an interesting conversation. Indeed I am more socially “comfortable” around them than I am around most people in the great middle class. Yes, this does seem to be a class phenomenon. We have similar levels of education. We think about the same kinds of things – they on one side, me on the other. They read books. They have decent manners. They don’t mind putting on a coat and tie, or a long skirt.

And they are liberals. Let me clear: these are people who adhere to an evil, destructive ideology that is responsible for plunging our civilization into barbarism. On the other hand – and this is what confuses me – they seem to be the only people interested in preserving the treasures of western civilization, apart from a few cranky Catholics and other traditionalist malcontents of negligible influence. America’s “conservatives” – at least our middle class conservatives – couldn’t care less about classical music, literature, philosophy, or the arts. Make no mistake: if we turned culture completely over to them, we would lose the best of our cultural patrimony. I don’t like admitting this, but reality is what it is.

I used to chalk this up to the desecrating impulse of liberalism. For example, anyone paying attention to America’s big cities is familiar with the phenomenon of sodomite hordes buying and restoring beautiful Victorian homes in the oldest neighborhoods, as if to defy and defeat the values of those who built them. Similarly, modernist desecrators proudly possess all the grandest old churches – buildings designed specifically and exclusively for traditional liturgy and piety. Local historical societies are most often dominated by liberals: that way they can dispense local history to local citizens through their own ideological interpretations.

I have to say that this strikes me as exactly correct. Outside of a few pockets of resistance such as New St. Andrews in Moscow, Idaho and various Catholic groups, most Christians do not care one whit about our cultural heritage, other than to play it lip service. “Conservative” in America is generally as enslaved to the prevailing wasteland of modern culture as is liberalism in America [me included]. And most folks I know who are into preserving our history ARE liberals, for whatever odd reason. I believe this points out the flawed assumptions that lie beneath much of our thinking. These assumptions are not examined much at the popular level and will probably not change.

3 thoughts on “Liberals and Tradition”

  1. I stumbled onto your site and found the article quite interesting. There is something paradoxical about the names ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative.’ Take for example the number of homosexual Republicans there are. I have often wondered how they reconcile their beliefs with their acts.

    Is Rush Limbaugh ‘conservative’? Well he is if you take it to mean what people calling themselves ‘conservative’ WANT IT TO MEAN. But I can still remember when conservative meant ‘old fashioned.’

    I think it all comes down to convenient labels. ‘Conservatives’ generally are people who want to pay less taxes, have less government control in their lives but want to be perceived to do so out of ‘principles’ rather than avarice and selfishness. ‘Liberals’ are generally over educated people who like to be perceived as sophisticated, ‘in the know’ etc.

    Anyway it is strange how it manifests itself in the arts and our culture generally. Great stuff!

  2. That was really interesting, Joel. It goes along with how anti-intellectualism is almost a badge of honor on the mainstream right, and has certainly advanced the careers of George W. Bush and Sarah Palin. John Derbyshire wrote something related to this topic, talking about how liberals tend to do middlebrow stuff (like NPR) really well, while modern conservative talk radio has mastered lowbrow: http://www.amconmag.com/article/2009/feb/23/00006/.

    When you were discussing Stanley Fish’s comparison between liberal and Christian approaches to knowledge, you wrote that Christian scholarship and reasoning has to be top-notch when we make arguments. I imagine that greater value placed on intellectual and cultural heritage — to riff on Doug Wilson’s question about conservatism, what conservatives ought to be conserving — would help Christians do this.

  3. Stephan, I agree with your characterization of what the labels tend to mean today. They are often unhelpful, but we seem to be stuck with them. At some point, going back to an order that I would favor becomes more radical than conservative, given how far away from sanity we are now.

    Scott, I think you are right – what are we conserving is the question. I don’t think it enters most conservative folks minds, those in the trenches anyhow. How many self-identified conservatives would even like William F. Buckley, or read Burke, or anything of that sort? It’s more of an elite slice of the movement. Nothing wrong with that, but it does seem to conflict with the country music, bomb the world masses. I guess it essentially breaks down to: more government vs. less government, sexual revolution vs. sexual restraint. That’s about it. And I think the GOP suffers because for all of its talk, it fails to deliver on either proposition.

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