Why Culture? What Is Culture?

at the coreI am constantly saying that an understanding of culture is critical to understanding our world. This has always been the case, and remains true today, though with the unraveling of culture, we are left to ponder where the center has gone. The following quotation speaks beautifully to this dramatic shift.

This is a short excerpt from the philosopher Roger Scruton printed this week in the Wall Street Journal. The larger article appears in aeonmagazine.com, Dec. 17, 2012 and is well worth reading in its entirety.

Notice the comment that culture “endures only if it is underpinned by a sense of tradition.” If we take seriously the notion that we live in a post-Christian society, as I do, it is this loss of the Christian tradition that leaves us scratching our heads. In Scruton’s terms, it turns us into fakes.

“A high culture is the self-consciousness of a society. It contains the works of art, literature, scholarship and philosophy that establish a shared frame of reference among educated people. High culture is a precarious achievement, and endures only if it is underpinned by a sense of tradition, and by a broad endorsement of the surrounding social norms. When those things evaporate, as inevitably happens, high culture is superseded by a culture of fakes.

Faking depends on a measure of complicity between the perpetrator and the victim, who together conspire to believe what they don’t believe and to feel what they are incapable of feeling. There are fake beliefs, fake opinions, fake kinds of expertise. There is also fake emotion, which comes about when people debase the forms and the language in which true feeling can take root, so that they are no longer fully aware of the difference between the true and the false.”

A version of this article appeared January 2, 2013, on page A17 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Notable & Quotable.