Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Iran and the Hopelessness of Social Conservatism

Why secularization and cultural liberalism are inevitable

While writing my essay on the triumph of Fukuyama, I considered including something about recent protests in Iran but ultimately decided against it. The relevance of the ongoing disturbances in that country was addressed in a response to my piece by Ross Douthat, and later in an article by Fukuyama himself, as further discrediting any supposed authoritarian challenge to the West.

Iran is, however, worth addressing separately from China and Russia, as it tells us not only something about the relative merits of democracy and dictatorship, but about social conservatism and whether it can win in a modern society. If you listen to American conservatives, liberals command the minds of the youth and set the political agenda because they control academia and journalism. This is “the cathedral” in Yarvin’s formulation, or what Sailer memorably refers to as “the megaphone.” If there’s one thing that distinguishes what Tyler calls “the New Right” from mainstream conservatism, it is a belief in the need to get serious about liberal domination of the most important institutions in the marketplace of ideas. Those associated with the movement therefore tend to prioritize issues like school curriculum and stopping social media censorship. The thinking seems to be that since liberals made everyone believe in LGBT and globalism by just seizing power and repeating the same messages over and over again, conservatives can either take control of institutions or build their own to brainwash people into accepting different views.

In other words, what they want is a milder version of the project undertaken by the Islamic Republic in 1979. To push its socially conservative philosophy, the new Iranian state did everything one could have reasonably expected. It outlawed blasphemy and pornography and made religious instruction central to its education system. Despite Ayatollah Khamenei being a poster himself, Twitter and Facebook are banned.

Still, the regime is extremely unpopular, at least with the urban elite that forms the economic and cultural base of any modern society and whose buy-in is required for social peace. As The New York Times points out, every so often the regime has to go out and slaughter its citizens in order to stay in power.


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