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Resisting the Brave New Culture

The culture wars are often depicted in the press as attacks launched by conservatives who are resistant to cultural change. The Guardian, for example, depicts culture wars as “wedge issues” that are “conjured up” by conservatives in a futile attempt to dictate opinions to voters but which only end up “turning young voters to the left in western countries.” In 2004, an interdisciplinary conference in Virginia gathered to discuss the theme “Countering Kulturkampf Politics Through Critique and Justice Pedagogy,” a theme that reflects the idea that people who oppose progressive politics are simply trying to turn everything into a culture war for some inexplicable reason.

Liberals often say that they have no idea why conservatives want to fight culture wars. They claim to be bewildered. A 2021 report on culture wars in the United Kingdom claimed that very few people are interested in “the UK’s supposed culture war” and that it is a war waged only “in the media and social media, not real life.”

In “Kulturkampf!,” Murray Rothbard, writing in 1992, is undaunted by such claims that the culture war is much ado about nothing. Rothbard argues that “the culture war has to be fought, tooth and nail, inch by inch, yard by yard. We have got to Take the Culture Back, and that’s what the new kulturkampf is all about.”

Rothbard highlights an important point—that the culture war is not an attempt by conservatives to defend the old culture, whose defeat is ceremonially observed through measures such as taking down statues, renaming buildings and streets, and even renaming cities. In Canada, new names are sought for entire provinces in order to divest the country of its colonial heritage.

The culture wars of which liberals now complain are not wars to resist the march of time, nor are they even defensive wars to prevent Western culture from being destroyed; they are an attempt by conservatives to fight back against the new culture. Rothbard’s reference to taking the culture back signifies a rebellion against those who have already succeeded in destroying the old culture and who now expect everyone to fall in with the new culture that they have introduced. Rothbard explains:

After having ridden through and captured our culture, after twenty-odd years (at least!) of their cultural conquest of America proceeding almost unopposed, after completing their successful Gramscian (note: much revered Italian Stalinist of the 1920s) “long march through our institutions,” liberals were just about ready to sit down and treat us as their conquered province. When suddenly, some of us beleaguered provincials began to fight back.

Those who argue that “both sides” should seek ways to end the culture wars and find common purpose have failed to appreciate that the revolution is over. It was already all but over when Rothbard wrote about fighting back in 1992. While it is true in an abstract sense that “the catalyst of a culture war is the pressure exerted by one group on another to adopt its ways of thinking and acting”—or, as the New York Times depicts it, a “battle for dominance over conflicting values”—it is important to note that this is a not a war between two sides each trying to attain cultural dominance for their values. Rather, it is a rebellion by people whose culture has been erased and who are aiming to reassert their right to live according to their own values.

The culture wars are everywhere in the West and extend everywhere Western culture is to be found, including South Africa. By 2020, when Canadians canceled one of their own founding fathers, Sir John A. Macdonald, Bruce Pardy observed that “the revolution is now complete” and that those who fight back against the cultural revolution are in fact attacking the new culture not defending the old:

Those who wish to preserve Macdonald’s name and legacy may believe they can defend Canadian tradition and values, but they may be too late. Rome cannot be protected from the Visigoths once the Visigoths run the place. The non-woke are no longer shielding the old culture but attacking the new one. At the law school, I am the barbarian, not the other way around. After all, I was one of only three people to vote against the Macdonald motion.

Ending the culture war would not mean returning to common ground based on constitutional values, as many who support “both sides” suppose. It would mean accepting the current status quo enforced by those who hate everything about Western culture. When liberals now refer to “our shared values,” they do not have the Constitution or civil liberties in mind. Our so-called shared values are now the values of diversity, equity, and inclusiveness (DEI). Those who fail to comply with this brave new DEI culture are considered, as Pardy writes, the barbarians.

Rothbard also highlights the role that was played by the state in defeating the old culture and enforcing this brave new culture. The culture wars have never been simply a contest between old and new cultures but rather the destruction by statists of the old culture. Statists who feel they have a better culture, an ideal culture, have sought to impose their vision on everyone else. As Rothbard says, “The liberals have used government massively to take over our culture.” This takeover was not about organic cultural evolution and change, as the “decolonizers” try to persuade us, nor was it about “including” marginalized people as the DEI commissars insist, but rather it involved wielding state power to capture and destroy Western culture.

Rothbard gives several examples to substantiate his argument, of which his comments about victimology are worth highlighting: “Government has been used to create a phony set of ‘rights’ for every designated victim group under the sun, to be used to dominate and exploit the rest of us for the special gain of these cosseted groups.” Victimology is fueled by the civil rights apparatus. In recent months, the civil rights framework has been used to confer rights on new victim groups, including the right of transgender athletes to compete in women’s sports and the right of Jews to be protected under the Antisemitism Awareness Act. There is no logical limit to the increasing scope of victimology.

So Rothbard is right to urge us not to settle for this new status quo but instead to rebel against the brave new culture: “Yes, yes, you rotten hypocritical liberals, it’s a culture war! And high time, too!”

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