Using the term "tribalism" is a great way to incur the wrath of The Enlightened Ones. But is "tribalism" one good way to re-unite the population of the US? Ellwanger attempts to square a circle.
...there is great irony in the claim that “tribalism” is the cause of our fractious culture, if only because the classic feature of a tribe in premodern societies was its remarkable unity in terms of culture. While many tribes were intolerant of extreme expressions of individual difference that ran counter to the shared values of the tribe, it was this resistance to “cultural diversity” that formed the strong bonds that united the tribe. From the perspective of its members, the tribe is defined by a rich communal life, strong family ties, and an enduring dedication to shared values, traditions, and the collective mythos. Together, these things embody the network of meaning (linguistic, cultural, and spiritual meaning) that allows individuals to feel a social sense of belonging.
Compare the attitudes of American elites and their institutions to these essential features of the tribe, and you will learn why modern ideology views tribalism as a great threat to the social order. As noted by the political theorist Patrick Deneen, and many other thinkers, the central commitment of contemporary liberalism is the autonomy of the individual. This means that the existing liberal order sees the rich communal life exhibited within tribes as a problem: part of what individual autonomy means is independence from the reciprocal relationships of dependency that tribal life depends on. The secular liberal idea of autonomy is affirmed through the self-chosenness of all aspects of one’s life. Thus, traditional values and social expectations are a threat in that they impose a coercive force that constrains individual choice....
One can also look at Aristotle, who taught that only governments serving a relatively small and tight-knit community (polis) will survive in the long run. Pat Buchanan often wrote about the need for a shared culture vis-a-vis immigration matters; he wasn't wrong at the time, but it earned him the scorn and ridicule of the Bush/Rockefeller Tribe. No little irony there, eh?
...For similar reasons, secular liberalism works to undermine the strong family ties that bind tribal societies. No-fault divorce, widespread premarital parenthood and cohabitation, abortion on demand, an expansive welfare state, the growing normalization of alternative family structures, parental surrogacy, and “reproductive autonomy” in general have a secondary (but intended) effect of weakening families and dissolving the complex networks of authority that obtain within them. Any communally-shared standard for family formation necessarily imposes limitations on the choices available to the individual within the family. Why, after all, should one be obligated to raise an unwanted child? Why should one remain bound to the other parent of one’s child if one no longer feels romantic love for that person? Why should grown children be obligated to provide for older family members as they near the end of life? All of these obligations restrict the autonomous right of the individual to pursue a life free of obligation to others. The rigid family structures that characterize most tribal societies are anathema to liberal democracy....
Justice Kennedy's ridiculous opinion is the epitome of this radical individualism--and Kennedy was regarded as a 'conservative' judge. So much for the discernment of Ronald Reagan, eh?
So the essay asks the counter-factual question:
...But one might pause here: what if the sacred status of diversity, pluralism, and individual difference themselves constitute the “shared values” that enable a bond among the various groups within the nation-state? This idea—that sharing a high valuation of difference and pluralism is enough to unify otherwise diverse groups of people—is a major component of the American experiment. As Francis Fukuyama explains in his most recent book, this is commonly called “creedal identity” in America. The wager of multiculturalism was implicit at the Founding: that a shared commitment to the belief that a limited government that imposed no ethnic, religious, or cultural limitations on who could lay claim to the national identity would be enough to create one people out of many....
That's the most optimistic view, and one which flat-out ignores the Tribalism of the Founders--virtually all of whom were Anglo-Christian admirers of Plato, Aristotle, and Thomas Aquinas' thinking. It also implies (but does not require) the globalism which is--frankly--a worn-out and dangerously-idealistic concept.
Is "Tribalism" the answer? Yes, it is--but not in the terms Ellwanger proposes in that last quoted graf.
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