Its Not Too Late

It is not too late to prevent a socio-cultural civil war

Preventing an oncoming socio- cultural civil war

It is not too late to prevent a socio-cultural civil war. Since the November elections, the liberal and conservative socio-political camps are literally at war with each other. The Other has become the devil incarnate. The surface issues are the competencies or incompetencies of the Trump administration and its political agenda. But the real cause of the polarity is that both the liberal and conservative political camps are based on very specific social philosophies that they feel, after the November elections, have suddenly become direly threatened by the Other.

If the two political camps do not learn how to listen and respect (which is very different from agreeing with, or advocating) the social philosophy of the Other, America will become virtually ungovernable, and the Jewish community will lose all sense of unity or common purpose.

I write these words out of much personal hurt. As will be related in the second part of this blog, for the first half of my life I actively subscribed to a liberal social philosophy. Over the last half of my life, I have come to believe in a conservative social philosophy. For a long time I was to feel comfortable and intimate with almost all of my very close relatives and college friends who have remained very staunch liberals. However, over the last eight years, and particularly since November 2016, it has become increasingly difficult to maintain a sincere sense of shared companionship and intimacy. This is because,  lurking behind almost all social conversation, there  is the shadow of ‘the elephant in the living room’, of heightened, tense socio-cultural polarities. I feel I am quickly becoming the victim of this oncoming civil war

The civil need to grant political legitimacy to a political agenda with which you strongly disagree

The only chance of American, and American Jewish, civil society remaining in a sustainable, working order is for both the liberal and conservative social camps to take upon themselves the very self sacrificing, self disciplined task of practicing a form of political discourse in which one ‘does a two step dance’: 1) one step is  to  continue to strongly advocate  one’s  specific political agenda and philosophy, and the second step is to  2) simultaneously  grant political legitimacy and respect to the ‘virtues and vices’ of the political philosophy and agenda that you continue to actively oppose.  Such a  two step dance requires internalizing the understanding that not all ‘social truths’ are contained in your own, personal political agenda. It requires that one acknowledges that one’s own political agenda also contains substantial weaknesses and disadvantages (while continuing to advocate that political agenda because he fervently believes its advantages outweigh its disadvantages.)  It requires  creating a political discourse in which the responsible leaders of both liberal and conservative camps  stop ‘cold turkey’ the use of meaningless, pejorative terms such as fascist, racist, sexist, war monger, homophobe, chauvinist, socialist  or communist. Such derogatory terms are the ‘last resource’ of  lazy political commentators who simple want to rally one’s own troops, but do not one want to labor to do the  honest intellectual homework of analyzing the social political virtues and vices of both one’s own, and one’s  opponent’s,  political agenda. The threat of an oncoming socio-cultural civil war is the result such dishonest, intellectual laziness.

For example, the need for a balanced analysis of the issue of immigration.

The topic of legal and illegal immigration illustrates the need to avoid name calling and to cultivate a culture of political discourse that acknowledges the political legitimacy of one’s opponents’ agenda.

Conservative social philosophy opposes wide spread, non regulated-illegal immigration into one’s native country. It supports highly selected immigration that is a means of supplying specific manpower deficiencies in one’s country. The political act of accepting immigrants primarily on the basis of humanitarian needs should be implemented only in special, historical circumstances. A nation has the political, and even ‘moral ‘right, to give priority to promoting a specific, parochial, ancestral-ethnic socio-political culture. A nation should help to alleviating suffering in other countries and cultures, but does not have to commit socio-cultural suicide in the process. I term the conservative approach to the issue of immigration to be one based on the political principles of ‘patriotic, ancestral nationalism’.

In order to advance the more balanced political discourse described above, conservative political commentators should acknowledge that in a world of global mercantilism and cross cultural-academic fertilization, a very parochial understanding of nationalism must be reevaluated. Also, they should acknowledge that the moral obligation of a wealthy country to participate in the alleviation of international suffering is more than that of a less economically affluent country.

Liberal social philosophy actively supports a liberal, but regulated, approach to immigration from deprived third world countries to more affluent Western countries. They base their approach on the political insights of theories of multiculturalism, anti-colonialism, and universal humanism. Because of a past, rapacious, colonial history, liberal argue that Western countries have a moral obligation to help oppressed ,third world populations. Multi-cultural, academic analysis has shown particular ancestral, ethnic socio cultures to be parochial artifacts, containing many elements that oppress women and racial minorities. In a post modern world of international, social networking and a global economy, it is unrealistic, and probably illegitimate, for a national entity to isolate itself behind walls of socio-cultural homogeneity.

In order to advance the more balanced political discourse described above, liberal political commentators should acknowledge (but not necessarily agree with) the legitimacy of two conservative political arguments: one, that the post modern moral relativism implied by multi cultural theory is very problematic. The lack of  clear, obligating moral guidelines leaves the average citizen stranded,  isolated , and anxious about how best to focus and develop his life. Two, the erosion of a particular, historical, inspiring ethnic-national heritage greatly endangers  a nation’s collective, sense of solidarity. Every nation must have a significant, inspiring sense of national solidarity if it is to demand sacrifices from its citizens, sacrifices that range from the payment of taxes, welfare-citizenship activities, and military service. Liberal political commentators should ‘look in the mirror’ and question whether their reliance on a multi-cultural, universal humanism does not have too high a quotient of radical utopianism.

My personal story: the price of a polarizing, socio-cultural political combat.

I grew up in an assimilated, middle class, very liberal family in the 50s. I was active in liberal and anti-Vietnam war activities during my Cornell University years. My liberal search for a social culture that would be an alternative to that of my middle class parents brought me to forgo a legal career, and begin a three year study to become a Reform Rabbi. I did not find Reform Judaism spiritually satisfying, and became religiously Orthodox, and moved to Israel with my family. In Israel I practiced and taught social work in the multicultural settings of the university and health system. In the beginning of my stay in Israel ,I remained primarily liberal in my political outlook. However, the tension between religious Orthodoxy and post modern cultural values, and the experience of over 30 years raising a family in Judea and Samaria brought me to develop a much more conservative political-social philosophy.

Until eight years ago, my differing life style and social values did not create serious tension with my closest friends and family members, who all remained staunchly liberal in their social outlook. But over the last eight years something has changed. Opposing liberal and conservative social outlooks have each become more rigid and emotionally laden. It has become increasingly difficult to mutually discuss religion, Israel and politics in an empathetic manner. Cultural barriers that previously did not exist have arisen. And I find myself paying a very painful personal price of a loss of certain intimacy and comradeship with many of my closest relationships.

I hope we can all, both liberals and conservatives,  make a determined effort to stop this train of a polarized, mutual delegitimizing political discourse before it goes off the cliff.

About the Author
Chaim Charles Cohen was born in the USA in 1947 into a liberal, middle class secular family. He attended Cornell University in political science, studied three years to become a Reform pulpit rabbi, then gradually became Orthodox, made aliya with his family in 1978, practiced social worker, and settled in Psagot in 1982.
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