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.
Imagine how many television viewers, many of whom know virtually nothing about how we got to where we are, will learn from this expertly edited documentary how and why the United States is basically an evil nation, on the wrong course, and supported the wrong side in all foreign policy crises throughout its modern history. We cannot disregard the effect this kind of miseducation has on the knowledge of our fellow citizens. Do you wonder why the polls show that most Americans think Barack Obama’s foreign policy the past four years was successful? It is because they are a generation educated from “historians” like the late Howard Zinn, political theorists like the linguist Noam Chomsky, and now from filmmaker Stone and his historian co-author, Peter Kuznick.
Finally, I have a recommendation. For your left-leaning friends and associates, I highly recommend a new e-book written by my friend, the eminent historian Martin J. Sklar. It is called Letters on Obama (from the Left):The Global Revolution and the Obama Counter-Revolution. Sklar is sui generis. He calls himself a Marxist historian and a socialist. Yet the positions he takes -- which he argues are those in defense of liberty -- are positions regularly associated with conservatives and Republicans. You might consider this naiveté or an oxymoron. But any serious reader should take into consideration the insights he presents and the intellectual case that he musters.
One reviewer on Amazon’s site, Norton Wheeler, describes Sklar’s thesis in this way:
On the basis of decades of historical research and publication, as well as political practice, Sklar concludes that the market economy in a modern society plays an increasingly prominent role in providing social welfare. He further concludes that the wing of the Democratic Party that has been ascendant since, roughly, the beginning of the 21st century has become a fetter on the forces of production, adopting state-centric, low-growth policies ("capitolism") that inhibit both general prosperity and vibrant democracy. Relatedly, he argues that the same tendency has constrained the historical role of the United States as promoter of free societies on a global scale. On the basis of these critiques of current domestic and foreign policies - and with the premise that the United States has historically been a left-tending nation, in thought and practice - Sklar concludes that the last three Republican presidential candidates have been to the left of the last two Democratic candidates.
In Sklar’s view, the Republican have advocated policies that are pro-growth, pro-democratic, and within the American tradition, while the policies of the Democrats have been regressive, reactionary, and, in Marxist terms, counter-revolutionary. I urge readers to purchase his book -- which costs only $4.95 -- and engage his argument.
All of these works I have mentioned are examples of the task that faces us today. To win in the political realm four year from now and in the future, it is not only finding new candidates that count. We must also change the culture.
Related at PJ Lifestyle, more post-election cultural reflections:
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