That, according to (individualistic cosmopolitan?) David Brooks, is the new fault line in the culture war. Education, he argues, turns us into individualistic cosmopolitans (except, I guess, for when it doesn’t). Here’s the core of his argument:
Liberal members of the educated class celebrated the cultural individualism of the 1960s. Conservative members celebrated the economic individualism of the 1980s. But they all celebrated individualism. They all valued diversity and embraced a sense of national identity that rested on openness and global integration.
This cultural offensive created a silent backlash among people who were not so enamored of rampant individualism, and who were worried that all this diversity would destroy the ancient ties of community and social solidarity. Members of this class came to feel that America’s identity and culture were under threat from people who didn’t understand what made America united and distinct.
He implies that "people...not so enamored of rampant individualism" are, on the whole, not as well educated as their cosmopolitan opponents, who define "the cultural mainstream" (except, of course, where they don’t). As a sheer descriptive matter, he may be right about the differences in level of education, but one can obviously worry about the excesses of individualism and have a concern for national identity and solidarity without being marginalized by one’s lack of educashun. And one can reasonably wonder whether an education that simply "liberates" from moral, communal, and national concerns (and, it goes without saying, the ways in which religion ties into these) is serving the nation’s good or, indeed, really deserves to be called an education. To the degree that the late Richard Rorty is the spokesman for the educated cosmopolitans (as Brooks anoints him), we see the end, not only of community and nation (replaced by ironic quasi-participation in contingent solidarity), but also of serious engagement with our traditions or with the great questions to which they provided answers. This isn’t education, but rather its death.
Of course, Brooks isn’t just reflecting on this new front in the cultural conflict in an abstract way, he’s framing our consideration of the immigration debate, telling those who disagree with him that the current deal is "the best compromise they will get." So says the representative of "the cultural mainstream" about a bill that, he concedes, is supported by roughly 1/3 of the country.