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Culture War: Fighting On

“Transcend yourself and join in the universal struggle

to bring about the self-transcendence of all men!”

—Karl Marx

Culture, as the term is used in America in our times, covers a vast territory with ill-defined frontiers.  There is primitive culture (flint spearheads, animal and human sacrifice).  There is high culture (Shakespeare, Michelangelo).  There is, or used to be, folk culture (“country music” before its commodification).  There is a lowbrow culture (rap music, fraternity hazing, George W. Bush’s oratory), and a middlebrow culture (Disney movies, the writings of William F. Buckley, Jr.).  There is even a faux primitive culture surrounding the production and consumption of rock music.  As always, it does us well to look at the origin of words.  In this case, the origin is Latin, and, in early usage, the word was associated with cult, i.e., religion, and agriculture—religion and agriculture being the deeply intertwined and indispensable bases of civilization.

Nevertheless, in general public discourse, we know what we mean when we speak of “culture” without specificity.  We mean the sum of material, social, instrumental, linguistic, and spiritual ideas, assumptions, customs,...

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