Traditions and tribes; the genealogy of civilizations

A few weeks ago the socially conservative sociologist who blogs under the name “Inductivist” had an intriguing post up, Social conservatives and Muslims:

Social conservatives typically align themselves with the West against the Islamic world in the “clash of civilizations,” but it needs to be recognized that in some respects we have more in common with Muslims than Europeans and many secular Americans. Our fight with liberal degenerates is not limited to the U.S. If Europe had any cultural conservatives, I’d happily team up with them, but I think they’ve gone the way of the dodo.

The overwhelming majority of Muslims, by contrast, are traditional. We need to work with them to fight against liberal cultural imperialism in their countries. I wouldn’t wish the humiliation of gay marriage on my worst enemy.

This is not an exotic or shocking observation. The fact that Muslim Creationists in Turkey co-opt and borrow American evangelical talking points in toto witnesses to some common affinities. That there are commonalities of substance between American social conservatives and Muslims (the median Muslim is more “conservative” on social issues than the conservative American Christian, so I think it is redundant to refer to conservative Muslims). On many social issues I’m sure that the Inductivist would find much more fellow feeling with Muslims than someone like me; I support abortion rights and am not opposed to gay marriage (though unlike secular cultural Leftists I can understand and respect the pro-life and anti-gay marriage perspective).

But who would Inductivist rather have over for Christmas or Thanksgiving? Myself or Mahmud? Unlike many colored children of immigrants I have no objection to the idea that this nation’s core identity derives from the white Anglo-Saxons who settled these United States, and rather embrace it. If I wanted my children to be proud Bengalis, it would probably be best to raise them in the Bengali nation. As it is, the likelihood, and my general sympathy, is that they assimilate to the norms and identities of the American nation. Despite the rhetoric of multiculturalism, as an empirical matter the identity of the United States is still Anglo-Protestant. Or consider my co-bloggers, John Derbyshire, Heather Mac Donald and Walter Olson. Are these aliens when set next to Mahmud?

Of course we are atypical. “A Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” with a secular Leftist would be less amicable. Argument and debate would ensue, accusations would fly. Mahmud would no doubt cause less commotion. But would Mahumd eat? Is the Inductivist’s Thanksgiving table bereft of pork products? Does Mahmud keep halal? There are even a minority of Muslims who might balk at eating at the table of a kuffar.

My point is that even a Western secular Leftist engages with a Western social conservative, because both are Western. They are products of a particular historical tradition, a cultural stream which operates with a common currency. After 9/11 the similarities were stark. Leftists admitted the value of patriotism, of pride in what we were. Conservatives admitted that there was some value to what we had become (equal rights for women, homosexuals who did not live in fear for their lives).

Some of this goes back to Jerry Muller’s distinction between orthodoxy and conservatism:

The orthodox theoretician defends existing institutions and practices because they are metaphysically true: the truth proclaimed may be based on particular revelation or on natural laws purportedly accessible to all rational men. The conservative theoretician defends existing institutions above all because they are thought to have worked rather well and been conducive to human happiness. For the conservative, the historical survival of an institution or practice —be it marriage, monarchy, or the market—creates a prima facie case that it has served some human need. For conservatives, the very existence of institutions and traditions creates a presumption that they have served some useful function. In addition, conservatives tend to be acutely sensitive to the costs of radical change. Elimination or radical reconstruction of existing institutions may lead to harmful, unintended consequences, conservatives argue, because social practices are interlinked, such that eliminating one will have unanticipated negative effects on others….

On issues such as abortion and the marriage of homosexuals the orthodox will part ways with the conservative. The orthodox Westerner may see in the Muslim a closer adherent to the true tradition. This is one reason why the Traditionalist philosopher Rene Guenon converted to Islam. But, I believe that the orthodox underestimate the implicit cultural commonalities which are unspoken and unelucidated, and which bind societies and civilizations together even more than adherence to a metaphysic. “My Country, Right or Wrong” is at once a profoundly unintellectual idea, but at the same time so is the assumption that one would sacrifice one’s own life for one’s child. Instincts have their limits, but at some point human flourishing is contingent upon admitted that life depends on implicit instincts for proper functioning, and that reflection is an exceptional avocation, islands in a sea of reflex.

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