| “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.” Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan
Anyone that studies politics and history understands that mankind has fought culture wars since the dawn of civilization. Culture wars are fierce contests of ideas. Religion vs. secularism. Socialism vs. capitalism. Democracy vs. tyranny. Judicial activism vs. restraint. There will be no end to the culture wars. And this is how it should be.
In its most basic form, the culture war is a battle between those who seek to protect and retain what came before and those would discard it and force something that is promised to be better. It’s not a battle solely for political power. It is a battle to control the direction of society. Will society be allowed to adapt to new ideas on its own or will ideas be forced onto society for its own good.
Perhaps Emerson described this never ending war best in his 1841 lecture at the Masonic Temple in Boston:
“The two parties which divide the state, the party of Conservatism and that of Innovation, are very old, and have disputed the possession of the world ever since it was made. This quarrel is the subject of civil history. The conservative party established the reverend hierarchies and monarchies of the most ancient world. The battle of patrician and plebeian, of parent state and colony, of old usage and accommodation to new facts, of the rich and the poor, reappears in all countries and times. The war rages not only in battle-fields, in national councils, and ecclesiastical synods, but agitates every man’s bosom with opposing advantages every hour. On rolls the old world meantime, and now one, now the other gets the day, and still the fight renews itself as if for the first time, under new names and hot personalities.”
20th century conservative political philosopher Russell Kirk explained it this way:
“The conservative thinks of political policies as intended to preserve order, justice, and freedom. The ideologue, on the contrary, thinks of politics as a revolutionary instrument for transforming society and even transforming human nature. In his march toward Utopia, the ideologue is merciless.”
So much of liberal ideology espouses ideas that are contrary to human nature. Their economic proposals are based on emotions of envy that deny property rights. They fail to recognize the inherent need for people to defend their own property and lives. They try to silence differing ideas and crush religious freedom in the name of their own religion of secularism.
This battle between conservatives and progressives is healthy and necessary for our society to advance. When one side gets an artificial advantage, and seeks to silence the other, much damage will ensue. Today the forces flanking from the “left” have weapons forged in academia, in bureaucrats’ offices, and in courtrooms that have given them a huge advantage. It’s created a dangerous imbalance.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan said correctly that “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society”, but 21st century politics is crushing the normal adaptive nature of culture. Too many have fallen for demagogues who proclaim that politicians will determine the success of our society.
These are worrisome times in the culture war. It may seem that there is little room for our values. History has taught us that new is not synonymous with better. We can be secure in the knowledge that in the contest of ideas the truth shall be the ultimate victor. That security does not allow us to passively standby. It requires us to commit to the truth and join the contest. Each of us has an important contribution to make in this contest. Vote, Debate, and Participate, until we win!