Friday, March 23, 2007

remember dinesh d'souza? he's back

Back in the nineties, when I was in college, Dinesh D'Souza became something of a literary star--at least among policy wonks--with his book Illiberal Education, one of the big cultural documents in the era of obsession with political correctness. I fortunately managed to avoid reading it, but all the crap I read about it may have been worse. Now it looks like history may be set to repeat itself, if The New Republic's Andrew Sullivan is right. Shudder.

Here's an excerpt from Sullivan's review:

What is that path? At its core is a deepening rejection of cultural and philosophical modernity. D'Souza believes that the defining new distinction in American politics is no longer between the economic right and the economic left. The size of government and its role as a guardian of the public welfare are increasingly dead issues, or issues where no vital energy crackles. D'Souza rightly holds that the real divide in the new century is between authority and autonomy, between faith-based politics and individual freedom. And in this struggle at the level of first principles, D'Souza chooses his own side. He is at war with the modern West. If forced to choose between a theocratic order that upheld traditional morality and a secular order that saw such morality marginalized, D'Souza is with the former. He puts it more graphically himself: "Yes, I would rather go to a baseball game or have a drink with Michael Moore than with the grand mufti of Egypt. But when it comes to core beliefs, I'd have to confess that I'm closer to the dignified fellow in the long robe and prayer beads than to the slovenly fellow with the baseball cap."
The Enemy at Home is essentially an unpacking of that extraordinary confession. D'Souza argues that there are only two choices for a human being to make in the twenty-first century with respect to "core beliefs": "traditional morality" and what he calls "liberal morality." Traditional morality, in D'Souza's view, "is based on the notion that there is a moral order in the universe, which establishes an enduring standard of right and wrong. All the major religions of the world agree on the existence of this moral order. There is also a surprising degree of unanimity about the content of this moral order." Liberal morality, by contrast, consists first of all in the right of the individual to choose for him- or herself what morality is. It is about "autonomy, individuality, and self-fulfillment as moral ideals." Its essence is the notion that "each person must decide for himself or herself what is right in a particular situation." D'Souza argues that the shift in America over the past few decades from traditional morality to liberal morality is "the most important fact of the past half-century."

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