It's the Culture, Stupid: Facing the Long Road Ahead

If we can turn away from the elections for a moment, and the future of the Republican Party, a more fundamental problem exists. It is nothing less than the nature of the American culture. By the term "culture," I am not referring to the social issues that usually come up when one talks about culture wars; i.e., abortion, gay rights, religion, etc. Rather, I am talking about the perception and outlook that stand beneath the way our American public define the very nature of civic life in our democratic capitalist society.

That is why I regularly borrow from the Left, as some astute observers of my previous column noted in some comments, the works of the Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci, and particularly his theory of cultural hegemony. As I wrote in my concluding paragraph, we have to “wage a war of position on the cultural front and to do all possible to challenge the ascension of a failed intellectual liberal ideology, whether it is in the form of Progressivism, liberalism or socialism.” I’m referring to the kind of work Fred Siegel carries out in a new book he has just finished writing, and which I had the pleasure of reading in manuscript form, on the nature of American liberalism. When it is eventually published, I believe it can have the kind of impact that great works of history like Richard Hofstadter’s books had in the 1940s and '50s.

Siegel shows that from its very inception, liberalism was a flawed ideology whose adherents substituted its would-be virtues as a way of distancing themselves from most Americans and their workaday lives; an ideology based on a view whose believers saw themselves as superior to most Americans, including those who were merchants, workers, or regular folk, who could not be counted on to comprehend the backwardness of their beliefs.

Continuing on through the post-war decades, Siegel deals with liberalism’s failure to accurately confront the issue of race; its love affair with the New Left and its moral collapse in the face of its anarchism and nihilism; the effects of McGovernism on the political collapse of the Democratic Party, and the resulting politics of “rights-based interest groups” and the new power of public sector unionism, a far different breed than that of the old labor movement of Walter Reuther and George Meany. If we want a different kind of social polity than the one we have now -- based on catering to the power of competing interest groups that compose the core strength of the Democratic party -- we have to address first the essential question of the kind of social order that liberalism has built.

I’m also referring to the work the intellectuals who edit National Affairs and those who edit The Claremont Review of Books -- solid theoretical and analytical work on social policy, education, and law, all of which challenges the intellectual foundations of contemporary liberalism.

If you doubt that this intellectual work is necessary, you might ponder the question of why college-educated Americans are overwhelmingly liberal Democrats or among those even much further to the political Left. An answer appears in this article by Richard Vedder, which appears today in Minding the Campus. Vedder shows that the majority of professors who teach our young people in the humanities are primarily on the Left, as he writes, “62.7 percent of faculty said that they were either ‘far left’ or ‘liberal,’ while only 11.9 percent said they were ‘far right’or ‘conservative.’ The notion that universities are hot beds for left-wing politics has a solid basis in fact. Moreover, the left-right imbalance is growing -- a lot. The proportion of those on the left is rising, on the right declining.” The latest research reveals that there are 5.7 professors on the left for each one on the right!

The irony is that this occurs only in the academy, since studies also show that more and more Americans define themselves as basically conservative rather than liberal. So it should come as no surprise that the suburban middle-class and university-educated Americans, having learned their liberalism and leftism at college, vote the way that they do. One study shows that 41 percent of Americans call themselves conservative while only 21 percent call themselves liberal. Thus, as Vedder says, the university faculties are truly “out of sync” with the country at large.

Why is it, he asks, that the faculty are so leftist? He answers:

Regarding politics, while some devise esoteric theories how the inquisitive mind leads to non-mainstream political views, historically intellectuals have sometimes been largely oriented to what today would be called "conservative" views. I think today's leftish-faculty orientation is easily explained: the academy, even at so-called private schools, is heavily dependent on public funds, and liberals tend to be more disposed to larger government. Liberals like big government, and big government means a better, more secure life for more faculty.

Since the gateway to the professoriate is through professors themselves, right-leaning prospective faculty are sometimes turned off by the usually correctly perceived need to suppress their views in order to get an appointment and tenure. Those who do not share the affinity for big government are often shunned, leading conservative/libertarian groups such as the Charles Koch Foundation to fund little campus enclaves where right-minded professors can teach and do research without harassment. Attempts to form those enclaves are often bitterly fought by the faculty. Promoting "diversity" in higher education means supporting relatively trivial variations in physical attributes of humans (such as skin color or gender differences), not the far more important differences of the mind manifested in verbal and written expression.

Another realm of mis-education is that of the popular media. This week, I have written about this in an article published in The Weekly Standard, which fortunately the editors have not put behind their firewall. It is titled “A Story Told Before: Oliver Stone’s recycled leftist history of the United States.” Stone’s TV weekly series premiers Nov.12th on the CBS-owned network Showtime, and will eventually be used by leftist professors in their own history courses on our campuses. It is, I show, nothing less than a rehash of old Communist propaganda from the 1950s offered up as both something new and as the true hidden history of our country’s past.