Thursday, March 15, 2007

Culture Is the Explanation

The centrality of culture doesn’t mean that other elements – economics, war, natural disasters, plague – don’t play a role in the evolution of human societies. My thesis is that a healthy culture is robust; it can deal with unforeseen challenges.

Most historians focus on events. Implicit in this analysis is a rejection of identity: it isn’t the character of a nation, the culture or dominant philosophy, but event-causality that explains history. Germany, we are told, resorted to the fascistic Nazi form of government because of the unfair Treaty of Versailles even though Italy became fascist a decade before and was on the winning side. The susceptibility of continental Europe and Latin America to dictatorship in the 20th century has to do with cultural flaws. The Anglo-Sphere remained close to the liberal model during that same period.

Today, Islamic societies are susceptible to dictatorship and barbarity. I talk about it here.


Blogger Allen Weingarten said...

I concur with the title “Culture Is the Explanation” for it is central to the unfolding of nations, and key to analyzing that process. Yet how can we deal with so broad a topic, where there are tomes of sophisticated studies, many of which differ with one another as to the description of culture as well as how it operates? I submit that we take advantage of the method of science and engineering, to get a handle on the subject. This begins with defining our terms, and focusing on the essentials. It confines the analysis to fundamentals, while avoiding the complexities which prevent determining what is evident. (As an aside, our science and engineering principles derive from the Greeks & Romans, and I will write below why I mention this.)

I shall define “Civilization” as the organization of society around an ideal, so as to uplift man while restraining barbarism. Here “Culture” builds the aspirations for man’s perfection, while “Government” restrains aggression. We note then that culture is primary, for it contains the purpose of perfecting man, while government is secondary, as it protects the individuals so that they may enhance their culture.

What then are the principles for characterizing a culture? The first thing to note is that it is a voluntary process, deriving from individuals, in contrast with government which is a coercive process for protecting the collective. This contrast between freedom and coercion is central, for culture and government must be kept apart, as each is undermined by the other. To fuse them is akin to cooperation between Church and State, which corrupts conscience, and impedes the operation of governmental processes. Consequently, that culture is good which maximizes the freedom of the individuals, while that government is good which protects its citizens from aggression. (As to the discussion of Islam, it does the very opposite, by curbing the freedom of the individual, while unleashing the passions of barbarism, which is why I view it as an anti-civilization.)

We may note that at present, our social-democracy continually fuses culture and government. The components of our culture (economic, educational, political, etc.) are hampered by government intervention, while our governmental functions are infused with what should be cultural (morality, values, etc.) Schools for example are involuntary, and engage in indoctrination, while actions of government are hampered by political correctness, rather than meeting their objectives.

Finally, I mentioned that our science & engineering derived from the Greeks and Romans, where here, even when Jews and Christians excelled, this derived not from their mythology, but from the systematic approaches of these other cultures. This contrasts sharply from the issue of universal morality, where:
The Bible existed in its present form (centuries before Taoism which in turn provided universal morality) centuries before Cicero, nor was it rewritten after him;
The Bible spoke about morality for all men, prior to the existence of the first Hebrew Abraham, and gave universal laws for morality for all. (As an aside, Moses is said to have been guided by his non-Hebrew father-in-law, in coding his laws.)
Nowhere in the Bible is there any claim to differences in morality, depending upon the peoples considered (but only differences in what they were expected to contribute);
Americans swore on that Bible, from before the Revolution to the present, and not on any books by a Greek or Roman.
The fact that other cultures gave us natural law, does not contradict the fact that there were also transcendental laws, attributed to the Creator of all of mankind.

3/15/07, 4:48 PM  
Blogger Jason Pappas said...

I agree with the first four paragraphs. I disagree that the Jewish religion was intended to be a religion for all people and not just the Jews. There is the notion that all children of Noah should follow a subset of laws. But I've only come across one person who considered themself a Noahide -- people who follow the subset of laws that both Jews and non-Jews should follow. I have no problem with Jews and Christianity absorbing the Greco-Roman heritage.

But the way, Judaism, as I understand it, continued to evolve during the Hellenistic rule and Roman centuries. I don't remember the details. It certainly evolved after Maimonides reconciled Judaism with Aristotle. Jewish scholars were major commentators on Averroes (while there were few Islamic commentators.) I have great respect for the ability of Jews and Western Christians to evolved and come to grips with Greco-Roman thought and Enlightenment ideas. Isn't that enough?

3/15/07, 5:10 PM  
Blogger Allen Weingarten said...

Jason thinks he disagrees that Judaism was intended to be a religion for all people, but I never suggested that. It is true that Judaism was meant for, and remains, solely for the Jews. However, *I stated that it advocated a universal morality* in contrast with a morality that differs for different people.

I also agree that “Jews and Christianity absorb[ed] the Greco-Roman heritage” However, my point is that they continued to accept the Biblical view of morality. Similarly, it is true that Judaism evolved, but we were discussing whether Judaism (and I would add Taoism) had a universal morality, prior to Cicero.

3/15/07, 10:06 PM  
Blogger beakerkin said...

A religion that is based upon submission readilly lends itself to abuse by people with bad intent.

Beamish in 08

3/16/07, 4:55 AM  
Blogger Jason Pappas said...

How can it be a “universal morality” and not be for “all people?”

3/16/07, 12:11 PM  
Blogger Allen Weingarten said...

Jason asks ‘How can it be a “universal morality” and not be for “all people?”’. There is a subtle difference between the religion of a people and their view of morality. A religion can be universal, but it need not be, whereas morality is necessarily universal. As one aspect, Jews tend to be visionaries, who revere study; as another, their priests had special functions not shared by non-priests. *These are not moral considerations, but operational aids.* They are more akin to the French having an excellent tradition in mathematics, Buddhists gravitating toward meditation, or Chinese being slant-eyed. Similarly, Jews, Christians, Hindus, etc. have different holidays, without any moral requirement for others to engage in them. Judaism is bifurcated, as a religion for the Jewish people, as well as a theology that applies to all of mankind. It may not appear sensible, but Judaism believes that religions have different purposes, and for example considers it the role of Christianity to bring the world to monotheism, while the role of Judaism is to be a beacon to mankind. At any rate, it is simply a fact that the Jew’s belief as to what is moral applies equally for all people. It is not the case that it is right for a Jew to steal, but wrong for a non-Jew to do so.

However, I fear that this discussion has moved us away from what is central. It began when I concurred with Jason’s profound insight about the centrality of culture, and sought to addend these points:
Civilization is comprised of (the dichotomy) culture/government, where culture is primary and must be voluntary, while government is secondary and based on force; the two must not be fused, for that undermines the function of each.

Perhaps I should have ended at that point, rather than address the divisive issue of the comparative role of Biblical and Greco-Roman influences. However, I digressed because I believe that to defend America from Islam, she must be weaned from being a sacrificial nation, to one that will fight for her civilization. This requires dealing with America as she is. Whereas her serious thinkers recognize the contribution of our Greco-Roman heritage (including natural law, science, engineering, etc.) the primary aspirations of most Americans derive from the Bible. Knowing this, permits taking advantage of what is helpful (such as not initiating force) as well as refuting what is sacrificial (such as loving our enemies).

Now aside from our different interpretation as to the aspirations of most Americans, I presume that Jason and I differ tactically. Both of us would speak to Americans on a secular basis, advocating NIF. However, when they would counter by reference to their religious heritage, Jason would challenge that heritage as superstitious, whereas I would draw on it regarding its moral decency.

3/16/07, 2:49 PM  
Blogger Jason Pappas said...

I was agreeing with what you wrote until the last sentence. I have no problem with people expressing their moral righteousness in religious terms. I love the Battle Hymn of the Republic as much as the next guy.

3/16/07, 4:08 PM  
Blogger Allen Weingarten said...

Jason, I claimed that when people err [*counter*] by drawing on their religious errors, you "would challenge that heritage as superstitious, whereas I would draw on it regarding its moral decency."

You responded "I have no problem with people expressing their moral righteousness in religious terms."

Please note that I was addressing when people do wrong as a consequence of their religion (such as when they choose pacifism) while you were addressing when they do right (such as when fighting for freedom).

Still, I very much appreciate your position.

3/16/07, 6:08 PM  
Blogger Jason Pappas said...


3/16/07, 11:10 PM  

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