VIEWSrnTo Hell With Culturernby John Lukacsrn^^ I he corruption of man,” Emerson wrote, “is followed byrnX the corruption of language.” The reverse is true, and arncentury later Georges Bernanos had it right: “The worst, thernmost corrupting lies are problems wrongly stated.” How pertinentrnthis is about so many matters present, including the usernof the word culture. My conservative friends now say thatrnwith the monstrous perils of communism gone, the main problemsrnof this country are cultural. They mean multiculturalismrnand other allied matters, too: the counterculture, rap culture,rnpop culture, media culture, the cultural elite, the culture ofrnviolence, etc., etc. They mean well (at least some of them do),rnbut their language is wrong and, consequently, so is theirrnthinking. When people speak of “multiculturalism,” whatrnthey really mean is multicivilization, whose proponents wantrnthe coexistence of altogether different civilizations within thernsame country. Only: What kind of coexistence? The samerngoes for the other terms, which are even more meaningless.rnThink, for instance, of that current cliche: “the culture ofrnviolence.” It is not violence that threatens us; it is the prevalencernof savagery. It is not the state of culture that we shouldrnlament; it is the breakdown of civilization. This is not a semanticrnargument. Can one speak of a civilization of violencern(or of sa’agery)? No, because the opposite of civilization is bar-rnJohn Lukacs is a historian and author, most recently, ofrnDestinations Past: Traveling through History with JohnrnLukacs (University of Missouri Press).rnbarism, whereas the opposite of culture i s . . . well, nature.rnThe notion that culture is of a higher order than civilizationrnis relatively recent. The ancients had no word for culture. Theyrnhad other words: civic and civility, which (like polis andrn”politic,” from which many of our words such as “city,” “citizen”rn—or the Roman “urbane,” “urbanity”—derive) were thernantitheses of barbarity and barbarism. “Culture,” in English (asrnalso in other European languages), meant cultivation. For arnlong time it was inseparable from agriculture; it was appliedrnmetaphorically to the cultivation of minds. “Civilize,” in English,rnappears Hrst in 1601: “to make civil; to bring out of a staternof barbarism; to instruct in the arts of life; to enlighten and refine.”rnFor the present idea of “culture” we may thank the Germans.rnThey developed the idea that Kultur was higher thanrnZivilisation. German heavy thinkers such as Spengler hammeredrnaway at this: civilization is mechanical (and artificial);rnculture is spiritual (and organic). He worked on his Declinern(more precisely: Sinking, Dntergang) of the V^est during the FirstrnWorld War, when many Germans were convincing themselvesrnthat they were a Kulturvolk, a people of culture, superior to arnnation of shopkeepers, the English, who were only civilized.rnWhere this idea got the Germans we know, or ought to know.rnWhere this notion has got us at the end of the 20th century—rnand especially in America—we ought to think about.rnA hundred years ago, intellectuals (a distinct group of peoplernbeginning to form then) were inclined to accept the superiorityrnof culture over civilization, for more reasons than we dorn16/CHRONlCLESrnrnrn