In Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign he used the phrase, “It’s the economy, stupid.” That economics is important is true, but it is far from the whole picture. In the ideological and political realm, economics is just one part of how social change takes place.
In many ways the real issue is the culture. Simply put, if you can change the culture, you can more easily change politics, laws, and most other things. Thus those who are involved in the culture wars must know that to affect real change, lasting change, you have to do more than just tinker at the edges of legislation or political campaigns.
You have to focus on the culture. Sadly the other side knows this. Thus we speak of cultural Marxism. Even the Marxists realised long ago that trying to change a nation from without with tanks and bullets was not working. So they learned that it was better and easier to destroy a nation by subverting it from within.
Thus the Italian Marxist Gramsci spoke of the “long march through the institutions”. He taught that capturing a culture by taking over key institutions of power and influence was the way to go. So the cultural Marxists deliberately targeted schools, courts, the media, the arts, politics and even churches.
They knew that aiming at changing the culture would be the best way to implement their goals. They chose evolutionary change over revolutionary change. And they have done exceedingly well at all this. All throughout the West the secular left basically owns our institutions.
They are running things and calling the shots: the media, academia, law and politics are all pretty much under their control. They knew the value of targeting the culture and they have therefore been hugely successful in promoting their agenda items.
And the obverse has largely been true from our side. We have not engaged the culture. If anything, most conservatives and Christians have pulled out of the culture. They have abandoned politics and the other institutions of influence. They have adopted a siege mentality, which has basically handed the other side the culture on a silver platter.
By disengaging from all these fronts, the other side has won by default. And now we wonder why we keep losing in so many areas. Be it the culture of death, or the sleaze culture, or the war on marriage and family, the other side keeps winning because they are fully engaged, and we keep losing because we are asleep at the wheel.
Thus we have a very minimalist approach to the culture wars. Many people on our side think that if they sign a petition to protect marriage, or send in a $10 donation to some pro-family group, they have done their bit to save Western civilisation. They think they can go back to sleep for another year or two, and then maybe sign another petition.
Um, that is not how we are going to win. That in fact is exactly how we will lose – and keep on losing. Our commitment to what matters is almost non-existent. We certainly do not think in terms of the long term and the big picture. I have written before about why this is so very important: billmuehlenberg.com/2016/04/18/big-picture-long-term/
So the other side keeps on winning because they do see the bigger picture and they are in it for the long haul. Some on our side have seen the importance of getting fully into the wars, and not just a quick visit to a few of the skirmishes. This can be seen from a spiritual/theological point of view, or a cultural/political point of view.
The former I have discussed elsewhere, as in the above link, and in pieces like this: billmuehlenberg.com/2015/04/16/eschatology-and-fatalism-doing-right-fighting-evil-and-the-end-times/
But let me look a bit more at the latter. As mentioned, some folks know the value of reaching the culture and not just fiddling with the occasional bit of legislation. Back in 1996 Robert Bork wrote a very important volume called Slouching Towards Gomorrah.
It is a first-class analysis of the mess we are in – at least in America – and how things might be turned around. Let me offer just one brief section of the book. In his final chapter, “Can Democratic Government Survive?,” he writes these words:
Elections are important not only because of the policies adopted and laws enacted but as symbolic victories for one set of values or the other. But it is well to remember the limits of politics. The political nation is not the same as the cultural nation; the two have different leaders and very different views of the world. Even when conservative political leaders have the votes, liberal cultural leaders operate and exercise influence where votes do not count. However many political victories conservatives may produce, they cannot attack modern liberalism in its fortresses. If conservatives come to control the White House and both Houses of Congress, there will be very little change in Hollywood, the network evening news, universities, church bureaucracies, the New York Times, or the Washington Post. Institutions that are overwhelmingly left-liberal (89 percent of journalists voted for Bill Clinton in 1992) will continue to misinform the public and distort public discourse. The obscenities of popular entertainment will often be protected by the courts. The tyrannies of political correctness and multiculturalism will not be ejected from the universities by any number of conservative victories at the polls. Modern liberals captured the government and its bureaucracies because they captured the culture. Conservative political victories will always be tenuous and fragile unless conservatives recapture the culture…. This is at bottom a moral and spiritual struggle.
Or as Chuck Colson put it in a much more simplified version: “Politics is downstream from culture.” Unless we seek to change the culture, a few changes to laws, or a few Parliamentary victories just will not get us very far. Yes, we must be engaged in the political and legislative battles, but the real battleground is the culture.
Let me look at just one more thinker on all this. David French speaks about the death of our culture, especially in the area of education, and how the only resort for many may be things like home-schooling. He too sees the bigger picture, and realises that one key component of culture is education, and when the educational system is hostile to our very values and beliefs, we will likely get nowhere fast.
The stakes are now clear: We must fix our education system or slowly but surely lose our culture. Indeed, virtually every other conservative endeavor — whether it’s winning elections, transforming media, or infiltrating pop culture — will fail if the entire edifice of public education is arrayed against us. The system, however, can’t be reformed from within: It’s stacked top-to-bottom with progressive activists even in red states. We must fix our education system or slowly but surely lose our culture. So that means creating a new model. States should consider rejecting federal education funding entirely (Texas is considering doing just that). At the very least, charter schools should be completely disentangled — and not just from public employees’ unions but also from federal funds (in order to insulate them from federal influence); voucher systems should be dramatically expanded — giving every family the option to spend their share of tax dollars at the school of their choice; and private institutions and philanthropists should step up to provide needed funding. Indeed, private citizens don’t have to wait for government reform. Scholarship funds can expand the ranks of tuition-paying private-school students immediately, and coalitions of churches can provide substantial support for their communities’ best private schools.
Many more folks have said similar things, and a whole book could be produced along these lines. But the point is, the other side is a lot more cluey than most of us are when it comes to capturing the culture. They have been successful at it while we have for the most part failed.
Of course questions remain. Is education redeemable or is it too far gone? Is home-schooling the only viable option for the near future? What about independent schools and Christian schools. Is culture itself too far gone, or with God’s grace can we win back at least some of it?
There are plenty of such questions that we have to deal with here. There are no easy answers or solutions, and conservatives and Christians will differ on what is the best approach to take in some of these areas. But at the very least we need to be thinking about such matters.
But I think it can be safely said that we keep losing because we have not taken our biblical duties seriously, including the command of Jesus for us to be salt and light. By running away from culture, instead of engaging with it, we have not been true to our calling to extend the Lordship of Christ into all areas of life. Instead, we have just handed it all to our opponents.
No wonder we keep losing.