Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Enemy at Home

I just finished listening to Dinesh D'Souza's The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and its Responsibility for 9/11. I downloaded it from Audible after my friend Jon, a self-described conservative whose opinions and fairness I trust, spoke highly of D'souza.

To put it mildly, I was underwhelmed by Mr. D'souza. Before I can even engage in most of the issues he raised in this work, I feel like I have to decode a number of rhetorical tricks he's trying to play, and even square basic definitional problems.

I take the task of being fair and balanced very seriously. While I intend on devoting at least one more post to Mr. D'souza's arguments, I am worried about coming off as overtly liberal in my criticisms. For my conservative friends, please be aware that I have also listened to Howard Zinn's History of the United States, and found it equally lacking. If you take issue with this series of book reviews, please know that I’m not attacking you. If I get riled up, it is because I thought I was engaging a respectful, careful theorist, and instead got half-baked talking points.

The most damning criticism I could give of this book would be to point out Mr. D'souza's failed attempt to define "cultural left." Although he gives numerous examples of ideas he takes issue with, as well as politically liberal politicians who champion those ideas, the essential root of cultural liberalism is what religious conservatives call "sin." Although the thesis of the book can be analyzed further by merely replacing all uses of the world "left" with "sin," the intent of the book evaporates if you do so. This book is not a universal call to religious and cultural repentance, it is an attempt to blame a political movement for the collective "sins" of the entire nation. Although he admits the glaring fact that political party is neither a cause, nor a predictor of sins like divorce--self-described liberals and self-described conservatives have similarly high rates--he attempts to blame the sins of conservatives on the cultural influence of liberals and their Godlessness. Since liberals are to blame for changing social gender roles, and since they continue to fight for a further decline in cultural patriarchy, THEY are to blame when conservatives cannot or will not live their own religions well.

Here's a dialogue between a conservative and God, as imagined by D'souza:
"You don't understand, God, I WOULD have kept the commandments, but my neighbors were always talking about how fun sinning was"
"You know, you're right! Even though you committed just as much sin as they did, you always talked a lot about how righteous you were, and how righteous all people SHOULD be. There has to be bonus points for drawing near to me with your lips, right? Come on, son, let’s go torture Hillary Clinton."

If you’re offended, I’m sorry to parody the final judgement like that. Given the wild illogicality of the idea I am critiquing, however, satire was the only tool strong enough to do the trick. Has anybody read this book? Am I being unfair? If any of you want to defend D’souza, we can probably find a way for you to log on to my audible account and listen to the book—not that I can recommend it.

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