One of the few things that the left and right agree on in America is the culture war. However, few people understand what is at stake beyond political power because we tend to use culture and civilization interchangeably. Culture and civilization are not the same thing but they are connected; you can’t have civilization without culture. The stakes of the culture war are simple: whoever wins gets to steer American civilization on all levels such as law, urban development, the economy, science, medicine, and education. Our current strife extends far beyond debates about safe spaces, political correctness, and resistance. We are fighting over who we want to be as one of the most consequential civilizations in human history.
What kind of civilization is the United States? This question matters because it lingers in the national discourse and is passed down like a birthright. It is a foundational question that is often overlooked by the popular culture until it gets thrust back into the intellectual space — which is what Steve King just did. On March 12, the Representative from Iowa tweeted “Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” His comments enticed the usual condemnations from the left as an example of White racism and even from members of the Republican Party. But where is the pushback against King’s claim that the United States is an extension of Western Civilization? Why has the left allowed White nationalists to perpetuate the lie that the United States is the exclusive product of Western Europe or Western Civilization? Why is the left missing the goal of all of this resurgent White Nationalism?
Broadly speaking, the left has no particular stance on what the nature of American civilization is with the exception of criticisms about pervasive sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and racism. These criticisms are correct but they are not answers to the foundational questions of a civilization. The first truth of any culture clash is that the foundational questions matter. The second truth is that whoever answers this question wins. No one is above the foundational questions because they deal with meaning and being. The collective answers to “who are we” and “who do we want to be” steer the direction of a country far more than any policy coming out of the government because these questions are what frame the national reality and what is built. The right gets this which is why they invoke the language of civilization so often. The broader left has all but abandoned this in favor of the harsh and necessary realities of identity politics. I do not dismiss identity politics in favor of focusing on the questions of national character necessary for the direction of the civilization project. The lesson for the left is that a cultural movement must have fidelity to the recognition of the social inequities that plague America and to a vision of the national character centered on anti-racism, feminism, inclusion, and social justice in order to create the civilization they wish to leave to their children as a legacy. The left must begin to think in terms of civilization.
The left, when it does attempt to provide an answer to the civilizational question, declares multiculturalism. This is a factual statement but what are those multiple cultures doing? Are they assimilating or existing as balkanized communities that only ally for mutual political benefit? The United States is largely a nation of immigrants and the descendants of immigrants. This is a matter of fact but this does not answer the big question of what kind of civilization is the United States. The western civilization claim conjures a history and responsibility. Multiculturalism, at best, is an observation. It is also not what the left and progressives advocate for when they talk about civilization and culture. The left has a cultural project that is rooted in history, culture, tradition, and current reality: The Creole civilization. The left should declare this worldview boldly because it is true.
The word Creole conjures images of New Orleans in the 1800s and lighter skinned Blacks with French names. As a process creolization is what happens when cultures come together in a location, blend, and create a new culture; the Creole culture is what emerges. For the purity oriented, the Creole is subversive and iconoclast in its rejection of what came before in favor of its own understandings; this is the national character of the United States. Americans are a Creole people and the United States of America is a creole country. The United States is much like the rest of the western hemisphere in this regard. This is factual and observable. It’s legal, political, artistic, religious, linguistic, and biological foundations are inextricably attached to the intermingling of European, Native American, African, and Asian spheres that all came together to form “American” culture and civilization. American creole culture and civilization is the dominant culture and civilization on the planet because it is a mixture of the planet. For some people this is not something to be celebrated but rather the Creole civilization is something to be feared and fought against. It can be argued that the history of American race relations is an attempt to perpetuate a lie about cultural and biological purity and this lie has been successful in creating and maintaining oppression.
Can America accept itself as a Creole people or will it continue to embrace a lie of purity? This question will be answered in the near future. The current arguments about who Americans are as a people is as old as the Republic itself. The choice is between embracing the long-standing lie that America is this pure extension of western Europe alone and the truth that America is the intersection of the Earth which gave rise to a new reality, centuries ago. This is what the culture war is being fought over.
According to the Brookings Institute, in 2044 the United States will cease to be a majority White country and will shift demographically to being a majority-minority state. The culture war is a war of ideas over the vision of the country. King is correct when he argues that demographics are destiny but he is wrong that this will mark the end of American Civilization. America has been a Creole country since its founding and the demographics are starting to catch up to the culture. If progressives and the broader left wants to win, it must counter the western civilization falsehood with the truth of the Creole civilization and claim the right to define who we are as a people and create a better world than what has come before; this is the prize for the victor of the culture war.
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