Have the “culture wars” taken a violent turn?

Eyal Press, writing for The Nation, worries that a horrific version of this confrontation is emerging now that the Bush juggernaut has collapsed. He has good reason to worry, I would say. The signs of a reactionary backlash started to appear as soon as Barack Hussein Obama became a viable contender for the Presidency. Indeed, it was little over a year back that Hillary Clinton, currently Obama's Secretary of State, publicly mentioned that she would contest the remaining Democratic primaries even though she was unlikely to win the nomination because someone might assassinate Obama! The McCain-Palin ticket became infamous for taking the lower road.

Naturally the Tiller assassination that has recently marred the news provided Press with the occasion for his ruminations. The danger as he and others see it originates in something besides the atavistic beliefs typically held by America's reactionaries; the source of this danger must include the hopelessness some of America's reactionaries may now feel as they watch while their time in the national spotlight passes into oblivion. Their despair may be compounded by the features of their authoritarian temperament, a disposition which compels them to overestimate the power and thus the importance of political leaders like George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. As it turns out, and much to the reactionaries' chagrin, the United States was and remains a far more moderate country on cultural and social issues than they. As a matter of fact, a strong majority of Americans prefer that abortion remains legal. Moreover, America's institutions are notoriously resistant to radical reform. For the reactionaries and their programs, and this includes their antiabortion project, neither fact augers well for the future. Thus their turn towards violent action, to terrorism and murder, to insurrection and succession, to an antipolitics that removes the space needed for compromises to emerge. A turn to violent action is a turn to the political dark side, one that would imitate the bloodshed seen during Clinton's terms in office if it comes to pass.

Why violence? Briefly put, America's reactionaries these days necessarily confront a world they cannot master or accept. Destruction of the other, of the despised, a hatred for the 'enemy' — these are just one way available to the defeated to compensate for the powerlessness they are now rediscovering. It goes without saying that a politics of this kind has little to do with democracy and reasonable deliberation save for the potential it has for destroying America's minimally democratic institutions. It is, rather, another instance when nihilism appears on the horizon as an active possibility, for, as Nietzsche points out (p. 35):

Extreme positions are not succeeded by moderate ones but by extreme positions of the opposite kind. Thus the belief in the absolute immorality of nature, in aim- and meaningless, is the psychologically necessary affect once the belief in God and an essentially moral order becomes untenable. Nihilism appears at that point, not that the displeasure at existence has become greater than before but because one has come to mistrust any "meaning" in suffering, indeed in existence. One interpretation has collapsed; but because it was considered the interpretation it now seems as if there were no meaning at all in existence, as if everything were in vain.

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