Traditionalist world view (American)

Traditionalist world view (American)

rewrite=May 2008
OR=May 2008
POV=May 2008
synthesis=May 2008
essay=June 2008
unencyclopedic=June 2008

The American traditionalist world view is a concept referring to the socially conservative set of beliefs, particular to United States culture.Or|date=June 2008

The traditionalist world view is an ideological concept related to other forms of cultural conservativism like Traditionalist Conservatism, neoconservativism, and modern American political conservativism.

Hunter and the anxiety of modernity

In 1991 James Davison Hunter published "Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America." The author identified a growing polarization between two dominant world views: progressivism and orthodoxy (traditionalism).Syn|date=June 2008 Hunter argues divisions based on rigid religious, ethnic, or class boundaries of the past are superseded or "replaced by the overriding differences taking form out of orthodox and progressive moral commitments." [(Hunter, James Davison. "Culture Wars : The Struggle to Define America. New York, N.Y. : BasicBooks, 1991. pp.47)] Arlene Stein (see below) summarizes Hunter’s understanding of these competing moral arguments in American culture:

“According to sociologist James Davison Hunter, a ‘culture war’ pits traditionalists, who understand the truth in terms of an external, definable, and transcendent authority, usually defined in terms of religious beliefs, against progressives, who see truth as inherent in human beings and the natural order, and constantly in flux. A good number of American Protestants feel themselves to be socially and demographically distant from modern life, a fact that, in Hunter’s words, allows them to ‘avoid sustained confrontation with modernity’s most threatening attributes” [Hunter, James Davison. "Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America". New York: Basic Books, 1991, pp.4; as quoted in Stein pp.5 (see below)]

Lakoff and the "Strict Father" model

In his book "Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think", George Lakoff suggests that both liberal and conservative world views “use the same moral principles but give them opposing priorities.” [Lakoff, George. "Moral Politics : How Liberals and Conservatives Think". Chicago, IL : University of Chicago Press, 2002. pp.34-35]

Lakoff outlines two models for how each side of the political spectrum assigns these priorities: the Nurturant Parent (liberalism) and the Strict Father (conservativism). The Strict Father model proposes an allegorical narrative of the “traditional” patriarchal, nuclear family structure, in which children build character by obeying and respecting parental authority, enabling them to fend for themselves. On a wider social stage, the Strict Father model represents a traditionalist world view’s emphasis on cultivating self-discipline and self-reliance, as opposed to relying on the sympathetic interference of others, to attain personal success. [Lakoff, George. "Moral Politics : How Liberals and Conservatives Think". Chicago, IL : University of Chicago Press, 2002. pp.35]

tein and victimhood

Sociologist Arlene Stein documents several rhetorical methods traditionalists utilized in the debate over homosexual rights in a small town in Oregon. Echoing Hunter’s suggestion that traditionalist activism emerges out of a fear of the complexities of modernity, Stein notes that the clashes between opposing sides of the debate came along at a time of declining local economic stability. “In this vacuum,” she notes, “emerged a campaign to re-embed a community identity and assert the primacy of the heterosexual family, which symbolized continuity and tradition.” [Stein, Arlene. "The Stranger Next Door : The Story of a Small Community's Battle over Sex, Faith, and Civil Rights. Boston : Beacon Press, 2001. pp.220.]

In the larger part of her analysis, Stein shows how conservative activists framed the debate around the injustice of giving “special rights” to specific minority populations, thus disturbing the status quo, and unfairly manipulating what opponents considered to be a "level playing-field." Conservative activists tended to adopt a rhetorical “victimhood,” arguing that traditional values, and the people who support them, are the real victims of injustice: “ [Traditionalist] activists began to downplay talk of morality, of sin, family values, and the like, positioning minority civil rights strategies instead as signs of weakness, dependence, and femininity.” [Stein, Arlene. "The Stranger Next Door : The Story of a Small Community's Battle over Sex, Faith, and Civil Rights. Boston : Beacon Press, 2001. pp.112-113.] Stein argues most prominently that these rhetorical strategies are thus configured in terms of race, gender/sexuality, and class, in effect marginalizing and stigmatizing the very arguments progressive activists proposed. Rhetoric arguing against marginalization, previously the primary tool of progressive activists arguing for increased political and social rights for minority populations, is then re-positioned in favor of an actual or symbolic victimhood for white, heterosexual, “hard-working” males. In the end, Stein suggests that in “culture wars” like the one she studied in Oregon, traditionalist activists attempt to re-engage “traditional” values as a method of re-affirming, primarily symbolically, the primacy of white, heterosexual male authority.Or|date=June 2008

Views on childhood and family

The family

As an allegorical model, George Lakoff theorizes on familial organization and dynamics as a structure determining the construction of a world view. The literal body of the family, however, referring to the archetypal “traditional” nuclear family consisting of a married male and female couple and their children, is a potent symbolic and actual standard in the traditional world view.Fact|date=June 2008

According to a study by Gallagher and Smith, traditionalists view the male patriarch as ultimately responsible for the social and spiritual stewardship, as well as material happiness, of the family, and in the "ideal" family model it is for this reason he holds an accepted claim of authority over his wife and children. [Gallagher, Sally, and Christian Smith. “Symbolic Traditionalism and Pragmatic Egalitarianism: Contemporary Evangelicals, Families, and Gender. Gender and Society. Vol. 13, No. 2 (Apr. 1999), pp. 211-233.]

Motherhood and pregnancy

Anthropologist Faye Ginsburg interviewed activists representing both sides of the heated debate over abortion in a Midwestern American city as a means to understanding the ways her subjects framed arguments for and against the issue. In her analysis of the narratives she recorded, Ginsburg suggests that in addition to more technical arguments about the definition of life and fetal rights, the “signification attached to abortion thus provides each position with opposed but interrelated paradigms that reconstitute and claim a possible vision of being female.” [Ginsburg, Faye D. "Contested Lives : The Abortion Debate in an American Community". Berkeley : University of California Press, 1998 [orig. published 1989] . pp.197)] She argues that individuals from each side of the debate define their activist positions based on interpretations of their life circumstances (a specific pregnancy, or the difficulty of motherhood, for example). In doing so, the traditionalist world view puts forth an interpretation of womanhood that stresses essential gender roles, earned and achieved (rather than naturalized) nurturant motherhood, and a critique of materialism (based on the fact that motherhood is an unpaid, and therefore unappreciated, role in society). These themes are in line with a focus on individual, as opposed to wider social, responsibility.

Childhood and children

Arlene Stein posits that in the traditionalist worldview, childhood is a time when individuals are particularly susceptible to the “battle of innocence against guilt or corruption.” [Stein, Arlene. "The Stranger Next Door : The Story of a Small Community's Battle over Sex, Faith, and Civil Rights. Boston : Beacon Press, 2001. pp.105.] That innocence is under constant threat, and children must be protected from the rampant immorality wider society might promote. Stein’s argument is derived from a more literal reading of George Lakoff’s Strict Father model, although she demonstrates this model in action when she recounts a Head Start parent meeting’s debates over books used in the federally funded program's classroom which present a positive view of homosexuality. One parent, who is not specifically relevant here, opposed the inclusion of the childhood book argued against this type of diversity training by invoking the innocence model of childhood:

“Head Start’s anti-bias curriculum places a federally funded, government stamp of approval on homosexuality […teaching children to] reject their father’s traditions in the span of one picture book […] This is social engineering for change at its most sinister, aimed directly at our most vulnerable members—young children.” [Stein, Arlene. "The Stranger Next Door : The Story of a Small Community's Battle over Sex, Faith, and Civil Rights. Boston : Beacon Press, 2001. pp.131.]

Race, ethnicity, and the traditionalist world view

Melting Pot ideology

In his book The Disuniting of America, historian Arthur Schlesinger notes that the Melting Pot and its related brands of Americanization were questioned early-on as to whether or not "Americanization" was in reality merely a method of unfairly subsuming pluralistic non-white cultural identities under an obviously homogenized Anglocentric identity, implicitly excluding other ethnicities from the mix. [Schlesinger, Arthur Meier (Jr.). "The Disuniting of America". New York : Norton, 1992. pp.35] Nevertheless, he argues that “One cannot erase history,” and we must accept that “dead white European males have played so large a role in shaping our culture.” [Schlesinger, Arthur Meier (Jr.). "The Disuniting of America". New York : Norton, 1992. pp.122.] Further, he proposes that “cults of ethnicity,” such as Afrocentrism,

“ [reverse] the movement of American history, producing a nation of minorities […] less interested in joining with the majority in common endeavor than in declaring their alienation from an oppressive, white, patriarchal, racist, sexist, classist society.” [Schlesinger, Arthur Meier (Jr.). "The Disuniting of America". New York : Norton, 1992. pp.112.]

For American society to continue its trajectory toward progress and cohesion as a nation, Schlesinger posits, American culture must "renew our allegiance to the unifying ideals of Melting Pot ideology." [Schlesinger, Arthur Meier (Jr.). "The Disuniting of America". New York : Norton, 1992. pp.135.]

Views on mass and popular culture

Traditionalist world view activists are often highly critical of mass and popular culture for its positive, or at least normalized, representations of behaviors and opinions they have deemed immoral, proposing censorship of questionable materials.Or|date=June 2008 For example, while J.D. Salinger’s "The Catcher in the Rye" has long been the target of conservative critics, ["The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000." 2008. American Library Association. Accessed 5 May 2008. .] tensions were magnified when the success of the "Harry Potter" series led conservative critics to denounce the book as an affront to Christianity because it promoted witchcraft. [Sink, Mindy. "Religion Journal; The Split Verdict on Harry Potter." The New York Times. 8 Mar. 2003: pp.1. Accessed 6 May 2008. .]

Culture wars

James Davison Hunter’s landmark book "Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America" (1991) identified tensions rising between the opposing world views of progressivism and orthodoxy.Or|date=June 2008 The traditionalist orthodoxy, he argues, was embroiled in a “Kulturkampf” (“culture war”) over the uses and meanings of controversial social issues, educational practices, and popular culture images, with debates coming to a head in the public sphere. Led, and perhaps driven solely, by highly publicized figureheads, the traditionalist orthodoxy argued for the exclusion of “immoral” material from the public sphere, as part of a wider debate about, as Pat Buchanan states, “Who decides what is right and wrong, moral and immoral, beautiful and ugly, healthy and sick? Whose beliefs shall form the basis of law?” [Buchanan, Pat. "The Culture War for the Soul of America." Patrick J. Buchanan – Official Website. Editor: Linda Muller (?). From a speech 14 Sep. 1994. Accessed 5 May 2008. .]

During an interview on "60 Minutes" in 1999, religious right activist Paul Weyrich acknowledged that progressives had won the culture war, affirming the marginal status of the traditional world view, by proposing that “there is no longer—if there ever was—a moral majority.” [As quoted in: (Stein 222)] . However, prominent traditionalist media commentator Bill O’Reilly declares in his 2006 New York Times best-seller "Culture Warrior" that there is an ongoing battle between “traditionalists” and “secular-progressives.” In the wake of recent comments about the Christmas controversy on his Fox News Channel television show, O’Reilly commented on the enduring status of the culture wars:

”The importance the Christmas controversy is that it has become the centerpiece [of] the culture war between traditional Americans and secular progressives. Outside of the war on terror, this culture war is the most important thing happening in the country today. At stake, whether the USA will turn into a secular country that mirrors Western Europe, or maintain its emphasis on Judeo-Christian values.” [ O’Reilly, Bill. "What Christmas Controversy?" Published 7 Dec. 2005. Imaginova Corp. Accessed 5 May 2008 .]


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