Noah Smith says the culture war is over, and liberals — his side — have won decisively. He says that if liberals are smart, they won’t try to impose humiliation on conservatives, à la the Versailles Treaty, but will rather find areas of common concern. Excerpt:
We also need to reach out to conservatives on the issue of work. Many conservatives—like Kevin Williamson, Michael Strain, James Pethokoukis, and Ron Unz—have woken up to the fact that in a purely laissez-faire economy, lots of people get left behind in ways that are ultimately unhealthy to the nation. Whereas liberals tend to care more about income levels, conservatives worry that unemployment and low wages are eroding American values of industriousness and hard work. In order to reach out to conservatives and unite to help the working class, we liberals shouldn’t worry too much about our differing goals; we should focus on achieving our common ends. That means looking into policies like wage subsidies that boost incomes while rewarding hard work. It also means framing the minimum wage in terms of rewarding work, rather than simply fighting poverty.
Finally, we need to refrain from demonizing Christianity, and religion in general. Yes, conservatives have done negative things—discriminating against gays and women, suppressing the teaching of science—in the name of Christianity. But Christianity has also been a force for good in American society; it provided the moral force behind much of the Progressive movement a century ago, fighting for immigrants’ rights and humane treatment of prisoners. In the same way, Christianity can be a positive force in America today. It can fight for the rights of immigrants, for environmental protection, and for other liberal causes. And religion can be used to promote stable families, engaged communities, and work ethic—things conservatives value that are also good for the poor—while dropping any emphasis on traditional gender roles or anti-gay discrimination.
I can agree with this, not because it gives me any particular pleasure, but because I prefer to live in the world as it is rather than to pretend it’s always 1980. I am not a libertarian, but I’ve come to believe that the only realistic way for traditionalists like me to create a space within which to live out our religious and moral vision is within a broadly libertarian social and political framework. Besides, it’s silly and self-defeating for us to avoid working with liberals on issues that concern us both.
I do doubt that the Bomb-The-Rubble Left will satisfy itself with being anything less than a culture-war sore winner. I would be happy to be proven wrong. The default mode among the loudest and most effective corners of American politics today, on both the left and the right, are those who think their opponents are not just wrong, but Evil. So it’s going to be hard.
And it may be impossible. “Anonymous,” a tech industry person, writes at First Things about the kill-the-witch, inquisitorial qualities of the gay marriage movement with regard to Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich. Excerpt:
The remedies demanded (public recantation, propitiatory sacrifice) are of the sort necessitated by ritual defilement, rather than the giving of offense. It is also clear that Thomas does not merely wish Eich to say that he has changed his views, he truly, sincerely, desperately hopes that Eich be transformed. The key realization is that the howling mob which Thomas has ginned up is only partially an instrument of chastisement. It is also intended to educate. Thomas is in this to save souls.
Whether or not Eich keeps his position, this episode is instructive for those who hold out hope for a détente in the culture wars. The flawed analogy between the movement to end discrimination against African-Americans and the movement to allow gays and lesbians to marry is sincerely believed by many. But it is not merely a convenient piece of rhetoric or a skillful legal strategy. The moral force of the civil rights movement did not permit any sort of accommodation or compromise with bigots, and contemporary social conservatives who believe that they can negotiate more favorable terms of surrender have fallen prey to wishful thinking.
So where does that leave us? I’m telling you that the liberals will be telling us from here to kingdom come that they won’t turn on social and religious conservatives, but it’s a lie. There will be many more Brendan Eichs, who will be driven from their jobs and public positions anywhere they can be, not because they behave badly towards gays and lesbians, but because they prefer their own religion to the religion of the new zealots. I would like to think that the Noah Smiths will dictate the settlement, but I don’t believe they have the power rein in the culture-war berserkers, for whom it is not enough that they win; the enemy has to be crushed.