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Symposium on Transcending Ideological Conformity


The respondents to the following symposium don’t fit the conventional ideological categories of “Left” or “Right.” Nor are they merely “moderates.” They are usually regarded as being generally to the “Left” in terms of politics, economics, and/or foreign affairs, while to the “Right” in terms of sexual morality, cultural issues, and/or theology.

Five queries were offered to guide their responses: (1) How did you come to adopt your unusual stance? (2) Are you often misunderstood or mistrusted? How difficult is it for you to maintain your stance? (3) How do you connect your “leftist” views with your “rightist” views n a way that you find consistent? (4) Why is it that so many people fall into rigid left-wing or right-wing ideologies, such that if you know their position on one issue you can usually predict their position on virtually any other issue? Why are so many people prone to be “politically correct,” whether Left or Right? (5) What are the prospects for getting more people to transcend ideological conformity?

Respondents were given the option of answering the queries in a more or less point-by-point fashion, or addressing themselves generally to the issue at hand.

Robert Coles:

For my wife, Jane, and me, American politics continues to be a constant seesaw. We side with so-called liberals and the Democratic Party in their strong concern for this country’s vulnerable or excluded people. But we believe in the centrality of family life, and worry hard and long about the intrusive (and often, plainly arrogant) power of bureaucrats, however laudable in name their purposes. We worry, too, about what remains these days for all of us to hold dear, never mind holy and sacred. Prayers are no longer spoken in our public schools. The flag, for many urbane and influential people, means very little. Stories and novels are constantly “deconstructed” — their larger and shared moral significance ground analytically into the dust of academic abstraction. What remains is a pervasive skepticism, even cynicism, and no small amount of smug secularism, insistent consumerism — the divine “self” and the body as something to obsess us to the very end. All of this was described in the 19th century by Kierkegaard — his wonderful diatribes against the Copenhagen burghers whom he observed closely — so the issue may not be American life in the last days of the 20th century but the apparent eternity of Kierkegaard’s “present age”: that is, the gripping tug of self-absorption on all of us who live in the comfort of the modern industrial world. Kierkegaard’s psychology precedes and matches Freud’s, and Kierkegaard’s social and economic analysis surpasses that of Marx or Weber.

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