Posted by: Ascentury | Thursday, 9 October 2008

Co-opting the cultural left

We are in a culture war in the United States today, hanging like a pendulum over the abyss.  We imagine that the pendulum swings between two alternatives–conservatism and modern liberalism.

Contemporary conservatism can ultimately only lose.  It stakes out positions and defends them–consider abortion and gay marriage.  Yet, in each case, one victory by the left takes all the ground away, no matter how many years the conservatives fight it.  No one considers the legality of abortion an open question anymore, really, except for a few evangelicals.

The cultural discourse on gay marriage as an issue of love and equality is a case study in rhetoric.  Peter Brown states, in a wonderful, insightful piece:

Before … gay marriage was allowed [in Scandinavia], the rhetoric was about equal rights, love, and acceptance. After gay marriage was allowed, the cultural left started attacking marriage as an outdated institution, as characterized BY gay marriage.

The problem is that the right only defends, never attacks–and thus never sets the terms of the discourse (all the way back to the Federalists and the Anti-federalists).  By allowing the left to always co-opt the discourse, the right forfeits the capacity to define the new terms used–and this has an enormous impact on reception and ultimate success.  Socialism is patient.  It can wait generations for the acid dissolution of values that it has set in motion to occur.

The government and the media tend to be leftist because they are institutions of the State.  Leftism, Socialism, wishes to remove power from its many scattered repositories in religion and family and concentrate it in the hands of an elite few associated with the State.  This concentration precisely opposes the two values many of us hold highest–family and religion–and attempts to steal them from us through subterfuge.  Who would have thought gay marriage was a Socialist plot?  (Read Peter Brown’s article for more on this.)

My wife and I often discuss whether we’re approaching 1984 or Brave New World more.  Both, I think; they look surprisingly alike in practice.

I do not see the existence of an organized cultural right today.  Too many leaders are controlled by too many special interests–and the religious right (of which I am not a part) and big business make strange bedfellows anyway.  What we most often refer to as the right wing does not stand up for the ideas of classic liberalism as formulated by Adam Smith, John Locke, and others.  Perhaps I myself do not fully embrace the abstractly philosophical view of liberalism, as I feel that it should be heavily guided by a compassion for family and humanity.  I do not, however, believe that this compassion was absent from these men’s formulation.

What would a classic liberal (a la Rousseau or Locke) attack?  The cultural left’s basic attitude that a person is fundamentally incapable of solving his or her problems without intervention by the institutions of the State–the basic indignity of man.

Does anyone still believe in these principles?  Do enough still believe in them to make a difference?  I don’t know.  I only know that by letting things run the way they have, we have created a monster far larger than King George.  Read the Declaration of Independence.  Don’t rely on what you recall, or think you recall.  Read it, and list the number of grievances there that apply today.  Do we still believe?

I am not advocating insurrection, but I do advocate the revolution of a righteous people, that they may release the bonds of servitude.  I am profoundly grateful to live in what is probably the only country that truly practices freedom of speech.  But I am also profoundly disturbed by the gradual erosion of our rights and privacy.  Only a radical reevaluation of our position, and a strong showing, can arrest that process now.

What to do now?  Deeply consider your own beliefs and values, and whether or not what you intend to write on the ballot is aligned with them.  The courage to not compromise on the fundamentally important things is the beginning of a silent revolution.  See through the smoke and lies, and don’t be afraid to rely on yourself, your own human dignity and capacity to solve problems without legislation. Act on what you perceive to be best for the country and the world, without being shaken by the temporary storms that blow over. And do not live by fear.


  1. Do not live by fear is good advice.

  2. […] Co-opting the cultural left. Contemporary conservatism can ultimately only lose. It stakes out positions and defends them. Yet, in each case, one victory by the left takes all the ground away, no matter how many years the conservatives fight it. […]

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