A Discussion on What the Presidential Campaign Is Revealing about the State of the American Soul
Presented by Crossroads Cultural Center
Obviously, nowadays there is no lack of debate about the presidential elections. As should be expected, much of this debate focuses on the most current developments regarding the candidates, their policy proposals, shifts in the electorate, political alliances etc. All these are very interesting topics, of course, and are abundantly covered by the media. We felt, however, that it might be interesting to take a step back and try to ask some more general questions that are less frequently discussed, perhaps because they are harder to bring into focus and because they require more systematic reflection than is allowed by the regular news cycle.
Given that politics is an important form of cultural expression, we would like to ask: what does the 2008 campaign say, if anything, about our culture? What do the candidates reveal, if anything, about our collective self-awareness and the way it is changing? Another way to ask essentially the same question is: what are the ideals that move people in America in 2008? Historically, great political movements have cultural and philosophical roots that go much deeper than politics in a strict sense. For instance, no matter what one thinks of Marxism, it is undeniable that it was not just a political doctrine; it reflected the whole idea of what it means to be human, and of what history is about. Similarly, in the US in the 20th century often politics drew its inspiration from external sources such as, say, the social gospel, the union movement, scientific positivism, Catholic social doctrine and so on and so forth.
Hence, again, the question: What are the belief systems and ideals that are shaping American politics today? We suspect that they are more subtle, and less self-aware than they used to be. Of course, everybody has been talking of the growing ideological polarization between the left and the right, but it seems to us that this is not necessarily a healthy sign about the status of our collective ideals. On the contrary, rhetorical propaganda and ideological Puritanism are often signs of cultural weakness. It is when we are not certain about who we are and what we want that we really need an enemy in order reassure ourselves that we do have an identity, that we do stand for something. But when that happens, it is, of course, just a thin veil to cover our eyes as we slide into nihilism.
About this EventDate: Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Location: Columbia University,
W J Warren Hall
About the SpeakersLorenzo Albacete
Theologian, Author, Columnist Hendrick Hertzberg
Executive editor of the New Yorker, Former President Carter's Chief Speechwriter Marvin Olasky
Professor of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin