Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Both Sides In The Culture War Are Serving The Interests Of Elites

The American Conservative is ironically now the most left-wing print publication out there with a relatively mainstream orientation. My own studies of the “culture wars” leads me to the conclusion that it mostly represents a class conflict between the traditional WASP elite and the rising upper middle class that is more cosmopolitan and multicultural. Both sides fan the culture wars by reaching out to the fringes in order to bolster the ranks of their respective constituents. Most people are neither PC lunatics or right-wing reactionaries.

By Noah Millman

The American Conservative

A number of people sent me the David Atkins piece that Rod Dreher linked to, but I think Dreher takes the discussion in a not-very-fruitful direction. Basically, he suggests that if the Left really cares about economics, they should let the Right have its way on cultural issues, and if the Right really cares about social issues, they should let the Left have its way on economics.

Which – sure, if that were the true preferences of true entities battling for supremacy. But there is no Left and no Right. Those are abstractions according to which we choose to divide individuals.

Here’s how I would describe things:

– Economic elites really care about preserving their privileges.
– Elected officials really care about reducing the risk of losing office.
– The culture war – for both nominal Left and Right, is an extremely effective way of serving the interests of both economic elites and elected officials.

Why? Because the culture war turns politics into a question of identity, of tribalism, and hence narrows the effective choice in elections. We no longer vote for the person who better represents our interests, but for the person who talks our talk, sees the world the way we do, is one of us. That contest is a cheap and easy one for politicians of any stripe to enter – and, usually, an easy one to win. It sorts the overwhelming majority of the population into easy-to-count-on camps who will not demand that politicians do anything for them, because they’re too afraid the hated “other team” might get into power.


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