Postmodernism, Multiculturalism, and the Death of Tolerance: The Transformation of American Society

By Raeder, Linda C. | Humanitas, Spring-Fall 2017 | Go to article overview

Postmodernism, Multiculturalism, and the Death of Tolerance: The Transformation of American Society


Raeder, Linda C., Humanitas


Over the past several decades American society has been engaged in what is popularly described as a "culture war," pitting secular "liberal" progressives against "conservative" traditionalists. The conflict is generally thought to involve various contested social issues, such as abortion, homosexuality and sexual expression more generally, education, the family, media, environment, and others. The focus on issue politics, however, tends to obscure the more fundamental and deeper divide in contemporary American society. Every culture is a product of the religious views held by members of that society. The contemporary battle over the direction of culture in the United States is ultimately a battle not over discrete issues but rather conflicting religious worldviews. Modern liberal progressivism (the Left) generally embodies the novel secular or human-centered faith that arose in competition to traditional biblical faith, generally defended by contemporary conservatism (the Right). The division between the two camps could not be starker. Their respective views conflict at the most fundamental level, the level of religion, encompassing as they do conflicting views regarding the very nature of human beings and purpose of human existence. Nor could the stakes involved in the culture war be more significant. What is ultimately at stake is not the substance of particular public policy but rather preservation or destruction of the characteristically American way of life, dependent as it is upon certain inherited religious values (culture) implicit in both its institutional structure and customary practices.

The contemporary culture war is a particularly American manifestation of the modern revolt against God and displacement of Christianity by one variant or other of a secular or innerworldly political religion. Contemporary cultural and political conflict in the United States did not begin with recent elections but is rather an outcome of trends and movements developed over several centuries. The nineteenth century witnessed the construction of various forms of intramundane social or political religion intended to supplant traditional Christianity. The political Left is the chief carrier of the novel secular religiosity in the American context, beginning with such movements as the Social Gospel and Progressivism, the proximate forebear of modern liberalism. (1) Traditional religious values and institutions are typically defended by the Right, the conservatives whose general aim, as the term indicates, is the conservation of traditional American values and institutions in the face of modern challenges.

For well over a century the Left in both Europe and North America has led an assault on biblical religion and its civilizational manifestations. Such efforts have achieved substantial success; contemporary Western culture, including American culture, is saturated with the secular progressive worldview. The rising generation in the United States has been reared in a cultural environment profoundly shaped by nontheistic and even antitheistic assumptions, a society implicitly and explicitly informed by a post-Christian, post-theological, or postmodern worldview. Many members of American society are ignorant of the nature and history of Western civilization in general and American society in particular and increasingly unfamiliar with the religious worldview that impelled their development. The deracination of significant portions of the American populace, especially its younger members, may be well-intended but is not accidental. It is rather the result of conscious efforts to transform American society, efforts typically spearheaded by secular or progressive elites. Advocates of such transformation, from Karl Marx through Antonio Gramsci to Saul Alinsky, have long understood that the success of their efforts depends upon transformation not only of particular political, economic, and legal institutions but culture more generally. …

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