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Culture war for the White house

The ever cogent and civilised Oliver Kamm was a witness on BBC Radio Four’s Moral Maze last night, when the topic for discussion was whether we needed to change our society’s values in the light of the financial meltdown. On his blog, Oliver writes with characteristic generosity about my interrogation of him on that show. This follows his remarks in a previous post about my article in the Daily Mail last Monday on the US presidential election, and the question of whether Oliver is on my side over McCain v Obama or stands on the other with Christopher Hitchens.

Both of these posts are in fact intimately connected by a single theme. Discussing my fears about an Obama presidency, Oliver writes that his preference would have been McCain as being sounder on foreign policy, but he has been put off by McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin which, along with Christopher Hitchens, he thinks was a ‘bloody disgrace’.

On the Maze he said the financial crisis was not about morality but about incompetence and stupid decisions, and he did not agree with me that at root what lay behind it was, in the words of his fellow witness the Abbot of Worth, ‘militant atheism’. In direct contrast to Oliver I cannot understand how, along with every other form of human interaction, the administration of capitalism cannot have a moral dimension. It is surely important that bankers behave ethically, that politicians behave responsibly and that ordinary people behave prudently.

I see this financial breakdown, moreover, as being not merely a moral crisis but the monetary expression of the broader degradation of our values – the erosion of duty and responsibility to others in favour of instant gratification, unlimited demands repackaged as ‘rights’ and the loss of self-discipline. And the root cause of that erosion is ‘militant atheism’ which, in junking religion, has destroyed our sense of anything beyond our material selves and the here and now and, through such hyper-individualism, paved the way for the onslaught on bedrock moral values expressed through such things as family breakdown and mass fatherlessness, educational collapse, widespread incivility, unprecedented levels of near psychopathic violent crime, epidemic drunkenness and drug abuse, the repudiation of all authority, the moral inversion of victim culture, the destruction of truth and objectivity and a corresponding rise in credulousness in the face of lies and propaganda -- and intimidation and bullying to drive this agenda into public policy.

The financial crisis was brought about essentially by a public which threw away all notions of prudence and committed itself to spending today what it could never afford to pay back tomorrow, and a banking, regulatory and political sector which ruthlessly and cynically exploited and encouraged such catastrophic irresponsibility with a criminal disregard of the ruinous consequences for the poor. The financial crisis and our social meltdown are thus combining to form a perfect cultural storm.

The link between all that and the US presidential election is – as Oliver himself acknowledges – the figure of Sarah Palin. It seems to me that the reason she has sparked such an unprecedented campaign of lies, smears, abuse and dangerously unhinged hatred (if you think that’s an exaggeration, just look at the readers’ posts on this very site)  is because, as I wrote in the Mail on Monday, she stands against the tide of secular nihilism in the culture wars. Oliver and I dare say Hitchens (although I have not discussed this with him) may be shoulder to shoulder with me on foreign policy but they stand on the other side from me in the culture wars – what I see as nihilism, I suspect they view as progressive -- and it is no coincidence that they both stand also for militant (or in Oliver’s case, rather less militant) atheism which they assume (falsely, in my view) is synonymous with rationality.  Palin’s evangelical Christianity, and the moral and social positions that flow from that faith, would therefore strike them as beyond appalling. That’s why Oliver sees her as embodying anti-intellectualism, insularity, social intolerance and anti-rationalism.

For me, by contrast, although the nature of her faith and the churches with which she has been associated certainly make me uneasy, they do not alarm me. That’s because I regard evangelicals as allies in the fight to defend authentic liberal, and thus moral, values which I believe are rooted in Judeo-Christian thinking. I’m sure that, had I been around during the Victorian era, I would not have cared either for the evangelicals then trying to convert everyone to Christianity – but the fact remains that it was through their faith that they campaigned against slavery and for just about every social reform that we now think of as enlightened and progressive. For me, ‘anti-intellectualism, insularity, social intolerance and anti-rationalism’ have indeed been unleashed upon our society – not by Christian evangelicals but by the forces of secular fundamentalism and bigotry through such phenomena as scientism, political correctness and post-modernism.

I don’t much care whether Palin believes in a hundred ridiculous things before breakfast -- because what she stands for is a defence of bedrock western moral values against the nihilistic onslaught. Although like many others I do not like the way she has used her family on public platforms, the fact remains that the reason the image of her cradling her Down’s Syndrome baby Trig was so electrifying was that she was making the most explicit statement possible that, in a society which has so lost its respect for human life that it believes it is actually a progressive act to destroy unborn lives 'on demand' (and Obama actually opposed anti-infanticide legislation in the Illinois state senate) she stands for a culture of life against our culture of death, which sees no innate value in human life and will destroy it with increasing abandon if  it is not deemed to be ‘useful’ enough.

The moral relativists -- most viciously embedded on the left but represented in conservative circles too under the ambiguous banner of libertarianism which prevents such circles from grasping the threat being posed to real liberty -- understand very well indeed that, as the first culture warrior from the opposing camp to stand on the threshold of power, Palin poses a threat to the established amoral order which must be resisted with all the ferocity they can summon. That is why she has been the target of this astonishing campaign of lies and smears -- most of which have been uncritically accepted by large numbers of people who play no role in the culture wars at all, but believe that if the media say something is so with one voice, then it must indeed be so.

I do not by any means defend or support everything Palin stands for or has ever done. But I do know a witch-hunt when I see one – and when people scream that legitimate and indeed urgent questions about Obama’s extensive radical profile are ‘deranged’ and ‘racist’ smears, while they themselves describe Palin herself as ‘a cancer’ and even spread the calumny that she is not the mother of her own son, you can be sure that profoundly irrational forces are at work.

It is a matter of considerable regret to me that someone like Oliver, whose acumen I much respect and who would never descend to such levels, cannot see this and the fact that Obama, despite his professed Christianity, is the candidate of this cultural Marxist onslaught against western values. So much so, indeed, that in junking McCain because of his choice of vice-president, Oliver appears to overlook Obama’s choice of the appalling Joe Biden, whose career has been defined by serial grovelling to and appeasement of Iran with all the disastrous consequences that have flowed from that. Not to mention the fact that Biden also revealed during his TV debate that he thinks the US president during the 1929 Wall Street crash was Franklin D Roosevelt, rather than Herbert Hoover who actually was, and that FDR talked to the public about it on TV, which was not yet possible at that time. How can such an idiot be elected to serve ‘a heartbeat away from the presidency’? Yet that question is asked of Palin alone – and in disgusting terms which have absolutely zero connection to rational debate.

The reason, I would suggest, is that behind this political battle lies the culture war. That is why the stakes are so high, and passions so enraged.

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Melanie Phillips is both right and wrong. Her analysis of the factors that have degraded society is spot on. However, her support of Sarah Palin is misguided. I see a ferociously ambitious utra-right-wing bigot whose grasp of world affairs has rightly made her a laughing stock. Palin is manifestly unfit for the role of Vice President and potentially, President of the United States.

Posted on 2008-10-24 03:26:14 GMT

Melanie cites examples of the benevolence of rligiously inspired people. There are , unfortunately just as many examples of the most appalling acts also inspired by religion. The persecution of the Jews is one example.

Posted by Clive berger on 2008-10-23 22:59:03 GMT