- Postmodernism and Cultural Identities: Conflicts and Coexistence by Virgil Nemoianu
Few, if any, feel completely comfortable in the contemporary world: that is, we occupy what is commonly referred to as the postmodern condition, living in a time characterized by the intersection of widely differing, often contradictory, ideologies. In the culture wars that have emerged out of this chaotic situation, there are two general positions. One, usually leftist in orientation, embraces the inclusiveness of the new age, seeing the end of hegemonic power by a white male elite as liberating and emphasizing the play of postmodernism; the other, generally rightist, is appalled at the superficiality of aesthetic forms and the welter of artistic practices and retreats to or nostalgically recalls an earlier time (usually before the ’60s), lamenting the death of Western “high” culture. In Postmodernism and Cultural Identities, Virgil Nemoianu strangely takes neither view but tries to establish islands of stability and order in the turbulent seas of contemporary culture through the promotion of the religious and the beautiful. Paradoxically, Nemoianu suggests conservatism forwards and contributes in a flexible and adaptive way to the multiplicity and multiculturalism that postmodernism represents. This is an odd argument, positing the political and religious right as a promoter of cultural progress and diversity. But Nemoianu is a formidable voice and powerful intellect who almost pulls it off.
Postmodernism and Cultural Identities is divided into three broad sections. The first provides theoretical ways in which the philosophical, political, and religious respond to the postmodern condition. Nemoianu grounds his argument that conservatism is a branch of liberalism by drawing on English and German romantic writers and thinkers like Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey, Hölderlin, Schiller, and the Schlegel brothers. These men were supporters of revolution in their early years, only to later retrench as conservatives. But [End Page 556] perhaps the most important (and personal) is Edmund Burke, who started as a moderate Whig strident in his denunciation of oppression but who later came to endorse gradual change as opposed to revolution, advocating the adoption of what was good in the new while promoting a respect for and preservation of religion, family, and traditional institutions. Then Namoianu turns to contemporary intellectuals to the right and, specifically, the role of the Catholic Church in contemporary society.
It is here that I think Nemoianu loses his audience. I should at this point present my own bias. While I was educated by Dominicans and to this day am grateful for the depth of reading I gained in their rigorous undergraduate program, I basically abandoned the church after my college years, retaining an appreciation for the form and ritual but lacking the faith to continue participating in the religion. Since then I have joined the loose community of what Nemoianu calls, in a felicitous phrase, “honest persons of doubt” (115). I find no reason for God, but I find no absolute reason to discount his presence either. However, while Nemoianu gives a nod to other faiths (Eastern and Western) and the difficulties of the Catholic Church in our age, it is really only a gesture. Any charge against it quickly gets dismissed out of hand, and, instead, those who criticize it are seen as holding a grudge against what Nemoianu claims is the most persecuted institution in Western history. As for the Inquisition, for Nemoianu, it was a mere three thousand victims in Spain after 1492, a figure that he suggests would “hardly deserve a footnote” (81) if it had occurred in the twentieth century. Although that is possibly true, it does not excuse the practice, and he does not mention the culture of terror it promulgated and promoted. As for more recent charges against the church connected with the sex abuse scandal, they are quickly dismissed by Nemoianu. Instead he sees the entire controversy as “the systematic spoliation of the American Catholic Church by profiteers who claimed abuses decades-old and impossible to verify and that pushed a dozen American bishoprics into bankruptcy and misery” (81). He gives not a moment’s...