Iannone on conservatives’ ambivalent defense of our culture

Concerning the controversy over the removal of the cross from the altar table in the historic Wren Chapel at the College of William and Mary (here’s a short article on it, here is a longer and much more informative article), a reader alerts me to this piece of traditionalist insight from Carol Iannone at the Phi Beta Cons blog:

In promulgating the notion that our ideas are absolute and universal, applicable to everyone everywhere right now, requiring no cultural underpinnings whatsoever, and defining our democracy as purely procedural, having no substantive content at all, consisting of nothing but freedom, pluralism, tolerance, and the rule of law, conservatives indirectly support the attitude that any culturally specific expression must be some kind of totally gratuitous form of discrimination or exclusion or favoritism that in all fairness must be eliminated from public view.

Real the whole entry, with its criticisms of conservatives’ inadequate (read liberal) defenses of American and Christian particularity. Then read Candace de Russy’s reply, in which she and a conservative correspondent whom Iannone had criticized admit Iannone’s point.

UPDATE: Here’s the latest development. The College has announced that it is going to restore the cross to the chapel, but under glass, as though it were a museum piece. Iannone comments.

- end of initial entry -

Bruce B. writes:

Iannone said: “Conservatives need to reacquaint themselves with the fact that our ideals are made practical by our cultural particularity, built on the (Western) Enlightenment and the Judeo-Christian tradition.”

Pretty traditionalist piece by NRO standards but I’ll bet she can’t bring herself to write “white race.” I’m not saying that this would have been appropriate in the context of the entry, but this is my litmus test for a true conservative. Obviously few pass.

Maybe I just want too much.

LA replies:

Obviously a reference to race was not needed or appropriate here, but I agree that her description of our cultural particularity could have been stronger than “Enlightenment and the Judeo-Christian tradition.” “Judeo-Christian” is especially off-key here, as the issue was a Christian cross in a Christian chapel in a college founded over 300 years ago as a Christian college. The thing is, people are not comfortable saying just “Christian.” They need to say “Judeo-Christian,” to show they’re not excludiing Jews. I feel that need too. For years I have handled it this way. I say that we have a Christian society with a Judeo-Christian moral code. That way I get to assert the substantive Christian character of our culture, while also not being exclusive of the Jews, while also being truthful. Our culture/civilization is not historically “Judeo-Christian”; it is Christian. Yet the distinctive Hebraic-Jewish sense of morality is a formative element of our culture.

N. writes:

Today I coin a new term, “to museumize,” or “museumization.” This is the act of taking an existing cultural artifact (physical or otherwise) and reducing it to an exhibit in a museum, thereby robbing it of any real authority or meaning. Thus the artifact is gently, but surely, removed from the culture & in time becomes of no significance, power or authority.

William & Mary have museumized the Wren chapel. In this the leaders of that institution are following a European path, where Christian churches and cathedrals have slowly but surely been changed from religious and cultural objects of significance to “art under glass” museum displays.

Museumization can be applied to cultural traditions as well.

You can see museumization at work in the Boston area every spring, when the first acts of the American Revolution in Lexington and Concord are recreated for tourists to gawk at by dedicated individuals, dressed and equipped as Redcoats or Minutemen of the day. But gun ownership, even of muzzle-loading flintlocks, is incredibly regulated in Mass.

Thus the spectacle of armed Americans is allowed as form of living history, but the reality is stamped upon as hard as possible; in Massachusetts, the right to keep and bear arms has been museumized.

It appears to be slowly dying out, as older hunters & other gun owners are not replaced with younger ones. That, I submit, is not an accident, it is an outcome of museumization.

One of the dangers for traditionalists is accepting museumization as some sort of “compromise”; in the case of Wm. & Mary, keeping the cross under glass is accepted by conservatives because, well, at least it’s still in the Wren Chapel and therefore they kinda sorta won.

But the reality is sad: by putting that cross under glass, it is museumized, and thus reduced from a symbol from the past to be carried forward into the future, to just another exhibit to be gawked at for a time, and then otherwise forgotten … robbed of its real meaning. In a generation or two at the most, it becomes just another knick-knack to be dusted & noted by caretakers.

Bruce B. writes:

Yes, someone pointed out to me that it’s often OK in mainstream, polite society to acknowledge God in an Old Testament context but very un-PC to acknowledge the Gospels and NT. For example, the various OT movie-cartoons like “Prince of Egypt” and “Joseph” but no Gospel equivalent. And apparently, a popular, Biblical children’s cartoon which airs on broadcast TV initially only had OT stories (I’ve been told that’s changed somewhat). I’m not saying this tendency is absolute, but it’s there. I don’t think it’s just about non-exclusion of the Jews. I think it’s obviously about subversion of the traditionally dominant culture/religion as required by liberalism.

I also remember the Sci-Fi movie “Independence Day” where some of the actors sit down and group-pray with Jeff Goldblum’s Jewish father and one fellow says “but I’m not Jewish” and the Jewish father retorts “nobody’s perfect.” I thought it was kinda funny but I can’t imagine seeing that scene with the roles reversed.

Yes, Jewish morality is part of the core not only of the West but of American identity. Many early Americans saw themselves very akin to the OT Jews. Heck, look at the popularity of even relatively obscure OT names back then.

Sage McLaughlin writes:

Your latest entry on this issue is interesting. “N.” is certainly on to something. Rather than “museumization,” I sometimes refer to “cultural prophylaxis.” By putting a cross behind glass, the administration is consciously distancing itself from the object itself, and deliberately placing a protective barrier between the viewer and the symbol. Their desperation to ensure that the cross is seen as an artifact of the past, and of no contemporary meaning or utility, is striking. Their insistence that the cross become unapproachable and sequestered is barely better than simply removing it. In many ways, it is worse. It allows them to indulge in institutional cowardice; but it also is a deliberate affront—an in-your-face demonstration of their fear and contempt for what the cross represents.

I don’t see how this is a “compromise” at all.

Emilie B. writes:

Bruce wrote: “Many early Americans saw themselves very akin to the OT Jews…”

Any American who has done geneology has discovered this to be true.

Anyways, this reminds me of an instance of this being reciprocated, sort of:

My Great-great-great Grandpa, Moses, born in the mid-1800’s was Jewish and he and his wife converted to Christianity. He became a preacher and what did they name one of his daughters?

Alpha Omega.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at March 07, 2007 11:30 AM | Send

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