Saturday, May 15, 2010

Where the Culture War Started

I'm sorry for the delay in this entry, but the route here was a good bit longer than expected. Maybe it would be better to not check some facts in blog entries. What I learned by doing this forced me to read a couple of books, and one was a real slog. What I'm left with is a few comments and a book review.

My first memory of the use of the culture war term and analogy was in Pat Buchanan's speech at the 1992 Republican convention. I then traced some of his ideas to James Davison Hunter's 1991 book "Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America." Hunter was a University of Virginia sociologist who viewed politics as an increasingly uncivil arena split into two sides that share little but mutual antipathy. The book made use of a lot of war descriptions and metaphors and leaves a distinct idea that American politics was in a steep decline.

But while I was checking these references, I found a more serious connection with a darker past.

Part of the path leads through Herbert Baxter Adams (1850-1891). He taught poly sci and history at Johns Hopkins, and is sometimes referred to as 'America's first professional historian'. He was the first active academic to gain a PhD in history, and he earned it at Heidelberg, Germany in 1876. This meant that he was in Germany during their culture war. What follows is a sort of review of the book this led me to read.

Bohm’s Der Kulturkampf: 1871-1873

Wilhelm Bohm published his “Rise of Bismarck” in 1887-1889. This book is volume 6 of that 8 volume set and gives a detailed look at the events of the three or four years after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. This volume is entitled “FÈ•rst Bismark als Redner… der Kulturekamph…” (Culture Struggle) and it expounds on the actions taken to create the modern state of Germany. Parsing the text and the multi part compound nouns make it a slow read (or reveal my barely adequate German). Some of the twists and changes in political alignment are also hard to follow. But comparing the time with our modern culture war is certainly informative.

Bismarck was manipulating and forcing change on people’s fundamental ideas, and he largely succeeded. There are certainly actions we would view as alarming: people and clergy were imprisoned, property was seized or destroyed, and Bismarck certainly earned his nickname of ‘the iron chancellor’, but with consideration he comes off pretty well as the good guy. While he did create Germany as a country, he also had a good number of unintended consequences.

Before Bismarck Germany (the area) actually contained a number of countries, and the views of a Hamburger, Prussian, Bavarian, Palatinate (I skipped a fair number) were different. After him they were melded into one Reich. We would see his actions as harsh and abrupt, but his challenges were also very great. He was coming out of 250 or so years where those little nations had been walked over, or fought in, looted and burned by their neighbors. They had been hit by the French, the Spaniards, the Netherlanders, the English, Austrians, Italians, Poles, Swedes, and Russians among others. After Bismarck, Germany was a world power, although they would start colonization about 100 to 150 years later than the majors had moved around the globe.

As a obiter-dicta (by the way comment); these wars gained some experience for the Germans but reduced them to such relative poverty that the only viable 'export' for some of the rulers in these countries was to lease out their own conscripts as mercenaries... the 'Hessians' in the American Revolution.

It is interesting to think about Bismarck's results compared with our culture war especially that set of unexpected consequences. His ideas of government were more democratic and open than the state that resulted in the Kaiser’s Germany of WWI or Hitler’s Reich in WWII. He also wound up with ‘Secularism’ as a sort of religion, and this seems to be an intentional target of our Collectivist activists. Overall I found the book worth while, although most would prefer a more modern translation.

Back to Adams

We never hear this anywhere, but I will look into Herbert Baxter Adams further in a later post. He figures in several trends that contributed to our modern society: the specialization and fragmentation of education (he was the first PhD); defining histry and sociology as a domain belonging to trained specialists, and had lots of his ideas printed and distributed by the U.S. government. Thus he affected both high-school and college teaching of history. This blog is already too long, so for now just look him up in

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