Culture wars are long wars

Sunday, July 18th, 2021

We are told that conservatives lost the culture war, T. Greer says, but he dissents:

American conservatives never waged a culture war. Conservatives certainly fought, there is no denying that. They fought with every bit of obstruction and scandal their operatives could muster. But this was not a culture war. Rather, America’s conservatives fought a political war over culture. Republicans used cultural issues to gain—or to try to gain—political power. Their brightest minds and greatest efforts went into securing control of judiciary, developing a judicial philosophy for their appointees, securing control of the Capitol, and developing laws that could be implemented in multiple state houses across the nation. No actual attempt to change the culture was attempted.

This was not thought necessary. Conservatives had the people. One decade they were called a “silent” majority; as the culture war heated up, that majority transitioned from “silent” to “moral,” but a majority they remained. In these circumstances it was sufficient to quarantine the cultural dissidents and keep them from using minority maneuvers (“legislating from the bench”) to impose their cultural priorities on the rest of us. Political containment was the name of our game. Republicans played it well. They still play it well, even when the majority of yesterday has melted away.

The left played for different stakes. They fought for American culture as the right fought over it. Their insurgency succeeded as Hemingway’s businessman failed: gradually, then suddenly.

This is the normal pattern of things. The woke campaign to remake American society is only one of a dozen that have reshaped the American republic. The creation of a distinct American national identity between 1750 and 1780, the 2nd Great Awakening’s moral crusade (culminating in widespread anti-slavery sentiment) that transformed the North between 1820 and 1860, the South’s embrace of pro-slavery politics between 1830 and 1860, and the advance of the Progressive Movement between 1880 and 1920 are all examples of this pattern. More recent social and political movements we tend to associate with narrower dates: the ‘neoliberal revolution,’ with the election of Ronald Reagan, the Civil Rights movement with the victories of 1954–1968, and so forth. But here too there was a gradually and a suddenly; behind almost all of these sudden revolutions were a decade or two of less glamorous institution and idea building. We don’t see the Moral Majority of the ‘80s without Oral Roberts tramping about Tulsa in 1947; there is no Ms. without The Second Sex or the Kinsey reports three decades earlier.

Cultures can be changed; movements can be built. But as these examples all suggest, this is not a quick task. Culture wars are long wars. Instilling new ideas and overthrowing existing orthodoxies takes time — usually two to three generations of time. It is a 35–50 year process.


  1. VXXC says:

    When someone mentions culture stop reading them. If they don’t go away pistol whip them. T. Greer wants his grandchildren to retire on the culture war apparently…no.

    POWER, Politics is POWER. And Culture is laughably downstream from POWER. Culture is so downstream from power our entire ‘culture’ is political now to an extent that would have nauseated Stalin and Beria.

  2. Mike in Boston says:

    “T. Greer wants his grandchildren to retire on the culture war”

    Nobody’s grandchildren are going to retire on anything. Not in North America, anyway.

    My son seems to have his mother’s and my head for advanced math. That got me a good engineering job, but when I look at where this country is heading, I feel like I should be teaching him to be a gunsmith, instead.

  3. VXXC says:

    I did say Greer wants to retire and his offspring to retire on this, not that they would…

    On the budding engineer: if you teach him to code, it’s not that hard, he won’t be a gunsmith. He’ll be his own munitions plant, and plant of anything else à la 3D printing.

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