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The opinions and interests of a husband, analyst and Iraq war veteran.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Who started the so-called "Culture Wars"?

To me? The answer is obvious. But I'll get to why it's obvious to me in a moment.

First off, any reader not already familiar with the phrase "culture war" see this Wiki entry first. It's not perfect, but it's a decent overview:

The culture war (or culture wars) in American usage is a political conflict based on different idealized cultural values. The culture war began in the 1960s and has taken various forms since then.


[Author James Davison Hunter, in 1991] ... argued that on an increasing number of "hot-button" defining issues — abortion, gun politics, separation of church and state, privacy, homosexuality, censorship issues — there had come to be two definable polarities. Furthermore, it was not just that there were a number of divisive issues, but that society had divided along essentially the same lines on each of these issues, so as to constitute two warring groups, defined primarily not by nominal religion, ethnicity, social class, or even political affiliation, but rather by ideological world views.

[Emphases mine]

The Wiki author then goes on to paint Pat Buchanan as the spear-head leader of the "culture war" movement, which, while not entirely inaccurate, kinda misses the underlying point (I'm big on underlying points these days, and, again, regular readers will remember that I consider Pat to be a ... oh? what's the word? *cluck* ... oh yeah! moron.)

No. To get to the root causes of the so-called "culture war" one can't do any better than John Fonte's excellent essay reproduced at the Hoover Institution:

Why There is a Culture War
Gramsci and Tocqueville in America


Far from being content with a mere uprising, therefore, Gramsci believed that it was necessary first to delegitimize the dominant belief systems of the predominant groups and to create a "counter-hegemony" (i.e., a new system of values for the subordinate groups) before the marginalized could be empowered. Moreover, because hegemonic values permeate all spheres of civil society -- schools, churches, the media, voluntary associations -- civil society itself, he argued, is the great battleground in the struggle for hegemony, the "war of position." From this point, too, followed a corollary for which Gramsci should be known (and which is echoed in the feminist slogan) — that all life is "political." Thus, private life, the work place, religion, philosophy, art, and literature, and civil society, in general, are contested battlegrounds in the struggle to achieve societal transformation.


The Tocquevillian counterattack

The primary resistance to the advance of Gramscian ideas comes from an opposing quarter that I will call contemporary Tocquevillianism. Its representatives take Alexis de Tocqueville’s essentially empirical description of American exceptionalism and celebrate the traits of this exceptionalism as normative values to be embraced. As Tocqueville noted in the 1830s (and as the World Values Survey, a scholarly comparative assessment, reaffirmed in the 1990s), Americans are different from Europeans in several crucial respects. Two recent books — Seymour Martin Lipset’s American Exceptionalism (1997) and Michael Ledeen’s Tocqueville on American Character (2000) — have made much the same point: that Americans today, just as in Tocqueville’s time, are much more individualistic, religious, and patriotic than the people of any other comparably advanced nation.

What was particularly exceptional for Tocqueville (and contemporary Tocquevillians) is the singular American path to modernity. Unlike other modernists, Americans combined strong religious and patriotic beliefs with dynamic, restless entrepreneurial energy that emphasized equality of individual opportunity and eschewed hierarchical and ascriptive group affiliations. The trinity of American exceptionalism could be described as (1) dynamism (support for equality of individual opportunity, entrepreneurship, and economic progress); (2) religiosity (emphasis on character development, mores, and voluntary cultural associations) that works to contain the excessive individual egoism that dynamism sometimes fosters; and (3) patriotism (love of country, self-government, and support for constitutional limits).

[Italics original; bold text is mine]

Why is it obvious to me who started the culure wars? Simple. Which group self-identifies as the "revolutionaries"?

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