The Wall Street Journal‘s Jason Willick interviews sociologist James Davison Hunter, coiner of the term “culture wars,” about where we are today. The article is behind the Journal‘s paywall, but I’ll excerpt parts here.

This paragraph is as good a definition as any of what I mean by “small-o orthodox Christianity”:

On one side is a traditionalist vision that holds truth to be “rooted in an authority outside of the self,” Mr. Hunter says, be it Nature or “the Bible, the Magisteria [he meant “Magisterium,” the teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church — RD], the Torah.” Thus this view’s emphasis on maintaining “continuities with the truths of the past.” On the other side is a “post-Enlightenment” vision that rejects “transcendent and authoritative traditions.” In the progressive view, “freedom is predominant”—especially freedom for groups seen as oppressed by tradition.

Hunter says what inspired his 1991 book exploring the culture wars was noticing that the dividing lines around key issues did not fall between churches and religions, but within them. This is why, for example, orthodox Catholics and conservative Evangelicals found themselves on the same side so often in the public square. More:

Many of the cultural skirmishes Mr. Hunter started writing about in the 1990s remain at the center of politics, including abortion, campus speech codes, multiculturalism, and religion’s place in public life. And as he warned they might, the disputes have grown more vituperative—“through Clinton hatred, through Bush hatred, through Obama hatred” and through “every Supreme Court opening.”

That’s because culture is not a marginal concern, as many educated people profess to believe—even as they often espouse their own dogmatic cultural positions. Rather, culture is “about systems of meaning that help make sense of the world,” Mr. Hunter says, “why things are good, true and beautiful, or why things are not. Why things are right and wrong.” Culture “provides the moral foundation of a political order.”

Amen to that. When people complain about the culture wars as a phony conflict ginned up by their opponents, it almost always means that they wish their opponents would just shut up and agree with them. Liberal Thomas Frank’s book What’s The Matter With Kansas? wondered why it was that ordinary Kansans voted for Republicans and against their perceived economic interest. His thesis was that they were being baited by fake culture war issues. This is only true if you believe that economics ought to matter more than culture, and/or if you believe that there are no good-faith reasons to hold conservative views on culture war issues. Frankly, whether they are on the left or the right, I admire someone whose cultural values matter more to them than material advantage.

In this interview, Hunter says that conservatives may have a culture war advantage in government, but have badly lost elsewhere. To use a Marxist term, liberals control the major means of cultural production (the news and entertainment industries, the academy, etc.).

Because liberals control “the credentialing institutions of our society,” he says, those who want to get to a middle or upper middle class life are going to have to kowtow to liberal culture — a culture that likes to think of itself as open, but which is as closed as any other. Hunter: “So the Harvard Law School prides itself on its diversity, but it’s a diversity in which basically everyone views the world the exact same way.”

Here’s the key insight: Hunter believes that the total dominance progressives have in the culture-making institutions of our society means that their vision is going to win in the long run. One last bit from the Journal piece:

Yet he doubts that reason and science are any better suited than fundamentalist religion to provide a stable basis for morality, even if the West continues to secularize. One challenge of the Enlightenment he says, is that “reason gave us the power to doubt and to question everything, including reason itself.” That “throws us back upon our own subjectivity. . . . You have your truth, I have mine.”

This is important for a couple of reasons.

First, the victory of progressives in the culture war will not bring peace, because it cannot bring peace. Religious and moral conservatives may well be sidelined in defeat, but that only means that the culture war will rage on other fronts. As Hunter avers, there is no way to settle these issues absent a shared source of cultural authority. Don’t forget Ross Douthat’s warning: if you don’t like the Religious Right, wait until you see the Post-Religious Right.

Second, it’s important that conservatives understand that because politics is downstream from culture, we are going to lose in politics, eventually. You only have to look at the polls on what Millennials believe — and don’t believe — to see that. And if orthodox Christian beliefs are a barrier to full participation in the middle and upper middle class, then a lot of people are going to cast them aside.

We conservative Christians ought to be preparing ourselves and our children for this eventuality. When being a Christian costs us something in terms of social access, professional success, and economic prosperity, then we are going to see far fewer Christians. If there are far fewer Christians, the plausibility of the Christian faith is going to be much less. This is going to have a substantial impact on the ability of Christian parents to pass the faith along to their children. Whether we consciously retreat from the public square or not, we are going to be moved out. 

And we are going to be moved out because a lot of the younger generation of Christians is going to be doing the pushing. As Daniel Cox pointed out:

Nearly half (48 percent) of white evangelical Protestants under 30 say that their church should adjust traditional beliefs and practices or adopt modern beliefs and practices.

As for young Catholics, huge numbers of them are leaving the church entirely, and those who remain disagree with their church strongly on issues where church teaching conflicts with the Sexual Revolution.

This is the world we are in now, and the world shortly to come, as I argue in The Benedict Option. A lot of Christians living inside Christian bubbles don’t want to see it. Here’s an extreme, but popular, example. Recently I became aware of the “Trump prophecy,” something that a Florida firefighter said God told him in 2011. There’s a feature film about it coming out this fall, produced in part with Liberty University. Below is the alleged prophecy:

Full Text of Mark Taylor’s April 28, 2011 Trump Prophecy:

“The Spirit of God says I’ve chosen this man Donald Trump for such a time as this. For as Benjamin Netanyahu is to Israel, so shall this man be to the United States of America, for I will use this man to bring honor, respect and restoration to America. America will be respected once again as the most powerful, prosperous nation on Earth other than Israel. The dollar will be the strongest it has ever been in the history of the United States and will once again be the currency by which all others are judged. The Spirit of God says the enemy will quake and shake, and fear this man I have anointed. They will even quake and shake when he announces he is running for President. It will be like the shot heard across the world. Then you will say what shall we do now? This man knows all our tricks and schemes. We’ve been robbing America for decades. What should we do to stop this? The Spirit says, ha, no one shall stop this that I have started, for the enemy has stolen from America for decades and it stops now. For I will use this man to reap the harvest that the United States has sown for and plunder from the enemy what he has stolen, and return it back sevenfold to the United States. The enemy will say, ‘Israel, Israel, what about Israel?’ Israel will be protected by America once again. The Spirit says yes, America will once again stand hand in hand with Israel and the two shall be as one, for the ties between Israel and America will be stronger than ever and Israel will flourish like never before. The Spirit of God says I will protect America and Israel, for this next President will be a man of his word. When he speaks the world will listen and know that there is something greater in him than all the others before him. This man’s word is his bond and the world and America will know this, and the enemy will fear this, for this man will be fearless. The Spirit says when the financial harvest begins so shall the parallel in the spiritual for America. The Spirit of God says in this next election they will spend billions to keep this president out. It will be like money down the toilet. Let them waste their money, for where it comes from is being used by evil forces at work, but they will not succeed. This next election will be a clean sweep for the man that I have chosen. They will say things about this man, the enemy, but it will not affect him and they will say it rolls off of him like a duck. For even as the feathers of a duck protect it, so shall my feathers protect this next president. Even mainstream news media will be captivated by this man and the abilities that I gift to him and they will even begin to agree with him, says the Spirit.”

The self-deceiving triumphalist fantasy here — Donald Trump as secular savior and sower of the seeds of Christian revival — is gobsmacking. That so many Christians are eager to believe this is a sign of how desperate our position has become. According to this prophecy, having voted for Trump, America will be great again, rich again, powerful again, and will experience a spiritual revival.

It is easier for a lot of Christians to believe this Big Rock Candy #MAGA nonsense, this dream of restoration, than it is to prepare themselves and their children for the realities of life in exile.

James Davison Hunter published a book back in 2010, To Change The World, in which he considers how Christians can live faithfully in a post-Christian world. The book was quite good in its diagnosis of the problem, but failed to provide any clear prescription. This is understandable; it’s very hard to figure out how to do this. The point is, though, that we had better get serious, real fast, about trying.

UPDATE: Reader Michael GC:

I came across this quote from James Davison Hunter the other day in an article discussing the ramifications of the pending Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court decision, and found it so notable that I saved it:

“The capacity of a social group or movement to make its particular preferences and practices seem natural is the key to its control; these particularities become standard throughout society while shrouded in a cloak of neutrality.”

The key to its control. The standard of marriage is now such that two men wanting a wedding cake is so natural that why would anyone in their right mind even pause to think twice about it? Just make the cake and shut up! What’s wrong with you anyway?

For us donkeys on this Animal Farm who are stubborn about relinquishing their memories to fall for the favored lie of the moment, time for decision will be upon us. Do we say what we know and lose status or play along for our livelihood and our children’s well-being? There is another option, the Benedict one. It has to be; otherwise, even when we win, we’ll lose. Consider the Boy Scouts of America (now just Scouts, BSA). They won their case legally but surrendered to the culture, regardless.

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100 Responses to Culture Wars: Where Are We Now?

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  1. bmj says:

    @bayesian: The first century church was a rounding error to the Empire, and Christians still participated in the life of their communities in various ways. It was certainly noticed, but it wasn’t until closer to the third century that Rome took any sort of unified action against Christians. Yes, there were small persecutions here and there, but nothing organized by the empire.

    For more information, check out Robert Louis Wilken’s The First One Thousand Years

  2. connecticut farmer says:

    @JonF

    “Obviously that includes a right to exist– but not a right to impose itself imperialistically on others, nor brutalize its own population.”

    Totally agree but–try selling that to the US Congress–“Israeli occupied territory” in the words of Pat Buchanan. The Congress is bought and paid for by AIPAC.

  3. connecticut farmer says:

    @Siralys Jenkins

    “The problem is, I can’t really do well on Democratic rule either.”

    Then would you agree with me that the two-party system is archaic and in need of a truly viable third-party? Surely what we have at present is a total farce!

  4. James Keye says:

    My views are broadly conservative and narrowly progressive (liberal), utterly devoid of any notion of the God-myth and yet deeply moral — combining values from several religious systems, not only on pragmatic terms, but as an adaptation to the biophysical reality in which we live and to which we must absolutely comport over the term of the species.

    My concern is that my religious values have no currency in the arguments presented here; that the understanding of religion itself is so confused and empty of the evolutionary origins of this primary human behavior that there might never be more than an ‘angels on pin head’ quality to these discussions.

  5. Anne says:

    Alasdair MacIntire is one of those who thinks bad economics is driving the cultural malaise, not anti-religion per se. Nurture your own faith and that of your children as carefully and successfully as possible, and society at large is still going to face unemployment, isolation, family breakdown and more because of problems only politics can begin to fix. And there’s no way that bigger society isn’t going to affect you and yours in the end.

  6. Michael Sheridan says:

    The college class that had the biggest impact on my future life was Ethics. I don’t think it made me a better person, but it did give me tools that helped me refine my thinking about right and wrong. My class concentrated on only a few of the most common ethical philosophies. After a couple of weeks, each student was expected to pick one of these philosophies (from a relatively restricted list) to speak from and defend for the rest of the class. From this list that, IIRC, consisted of Divine Command Theory, Ethical Egoism, Kantianism, and Act and Rule Utilitarianism, I chose Kantianism. It wasn’t a perfect fit, but it was the closest. The largest group in this very large class (filled a small lecture hall) were Ethical Egoists, followed by the two types of Utilitarians. The last two groups were much smaller. I think the Divine Commanders had just a few members more than the Kantians and there were only ten of us. The teacher commented that it was the largest contingent of Kantians he’d seen in years.

    This is relevant because of part of the excerpted Jordan Hunter piece you have above:

    Yet he doubts that reason and science are any better suited than fundamentalist religion to provide a stable basis for morality, even if the West continues to secularize. One challenge of the Enlightenment he says, is that “reason gave us the power to doubt and to question everything, including reason itself.” That “throws us back upon our own subjectivity. . . . You have your truth, I have mine.”

    One of the things I noticed in that class rather quickly was that although I very much objected to the argument from authority that underlay Divine Command theory, it at least had a basis the other theories lacked. In my opinion, Kantian ethics work well enough in practice, but only if you presuppose the desire to be ethical in the first place. That desire isn’t covered by the theory itself. Ethical Egoism and Act Utilitarianism are utterly horrifying in their rejection of the very idea of good and evil and Rules Utilitarianism is only very slightly better (as an ethical theory it is nonsensical, but it is close to what we use in practice to make public policy because we cannot all agree on anything better).

    To this day, I struggle with the fact that a fundamental part of me deeply believes that some actions are wrong by any standard, that evil exists (and therefore good). My struggle is because I have no logical basis for this belief and have no faith in faith. I am familiar with the concept of “Natural Law,” but see this as simply begging the question. So although it is not infrequent that I disagree with people who appear to accept Divine Command Theory, I also sometimes envy them. They may be wrong (indeed, some must be, as they do not agree amongst themselves), but at least they have a basis for their beliefs. I am standing on air.

  7. Michael Sheridan says:

    In my preceding comment, I should have said:

    To this day, I struggle with the fact that a fundamental part of me deeply believes that some actions are wrong by any standard I could accept.

  8. connecticut farmer says:

    “Yet he doubts that reason and science are any better suited than fundamentalist religion to provide a stable basis for morality, even if the West continues to secularize. One challenge of the Enlightenment he says, is that ‘reason gave us the power to doubt and to question everything, including reason itself.’ That ‘throws us back upon our own subjectivity. . . . You have your truth, I have mine.’ ”

    True enough. The conclusion seems to suggest a solipsistic environment consisting of individuals making up their own “reality” as it were. Fertile ground for what amounts to anarchy. Anarchy is the antithesis of the very “reason” at whose feet the progs worship.

    Expressed this way, so-called Progressives can never “win”, containing within the seeds of its own destruction.

  9. Some Wag says:

    The heathen worship of Trump is so distant from anything that could be called “Christianity” that there’s no reason to expect Trumpites would be in any way marginalized by the ever-imagined but never-realized progressive culture war victory.

  10. Lesley says:

    I’ve seen a lot of conservative intellectuals lately beating on the dead horse that is “postmodernism,” explicitly or implicitly. But what I think these guys fail to understand is that postmodernism is yesterday’s news. Yes, the current philosophies on the left were *enabled* by postmodernism, but they are not themselves postmodernist because their proponents firmly believe they are peddling capital T truth and postmodernism inherently rejects capital T truth.

    What postmodernism allowed them to do was poke holes in the accepted “metanarrative” that had dominated Western civilization for the last 300 years: that is liberalism. However, once that metanarrative was discredited, they did not move on to what postmodernism would suggest, which is that everybody establishes their own truth. Instead they pushed to insert a new “meta-narrative” equally as rigid as liberalism, which is based on quantifying how much one is owed based on their place in an elaborate coercive hierarchy (the lower down, the more you are owed) & to defining categorical (racial, sexual, gendered) essentialism which is the chief tool used to define where you fall on that hierarchy.

    This is not a culture war between progressive & regressive aspects of our society. This is an extra-societal conflict. It is not about which direction society will orient towards. It is about how society will be constructed from the ground up. It is not a war between “relativism” and some particular rigid philosophy. It is a war between two equally rigid “meta-narratives.”

    Explained better than I could:

    https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/03/the-death-of-moral-relativism/475221/

  11. TR says:

    Russ–I wasn’t trying with “anecdotes” to overwhelm your data about Ivy league liberalism. I was being more cynical. To wit: Despite all the alleged “brainwashing” by liberal profs there seem to be innumerable conservative/reactionary politicians glad to say they graduated from an Ivy league school.

    If I have a point to make it is that “indoctrination” doesn’t really work that well. Which is why every conservative in my neck of the words is proud as hell (and not worried at all) when one of his offspring gets accepted by Princeton or Yale or Harvard.

  12. paradoctor says:

    RD to grumpy realist:
    “Science does not give us moral instruction. You know that.”

    Nonsense. Science is a human activity, done by a human community; that community needs moral norms, which it enforces on its members, and would like to see more widely adopted.

    These moral norms include honesty, self-honesty, rigor, originality, open-mindedness, respect for reason, and disrespect for dogma.

    Some of those norms at times conflict (rigor vs originality); others conflict with the norms of the wider society. (Disrespect for dogma.) As usual, these conflicts are resolved by politics.

    So science _does_ give us moral instruction.

  13. Raskolnik says:

    Which is why every conservative in my neck of the words is proud as hell (and not worried at all) when one of his offspring gets accepted by Princeton or Yale or Harvard.

    “Conservatives” have conserved nothing, and this attitude is precisely the reason why.

    That said, I very much doubt that someone on the actual Right wing would even allow their child to apply to Yale.

    In other words, your little anecdote here makes pretty much the opposite of the point that you think you’re making.

  14. Michael Sheridan says:

    “Conservatives” have conserved nothing, and this attitude is precisely the reason why.

    That said, I very much doubt that someone on the actual Right wing would even allow their child to apply to Yale.

    I’m almost with you on the first thing, as I don’t see many political “conservatives” as actually politically conservative. Although a sizable minority do count as social conservatives, perhaps.

    However, regarding the second sentence above, I guess I’d have to ask what the “actual” Right Wing consists of. In your eyes, that is. What does actuality consist of in this instance?

  15. DRK says:

    That said, I very much doubt that someone on the actual Right wing would even allow their child to apply to Yale.

    Who knows what your definition of “someone on the actual Right Wing” is, Raskolnik, but at least half of Trump’s cabinet went to Harvard, Yale, or both.

  16. Rob G says:

    “Nonsense. Science is a human activity, done by a human community; that community needs moral norms, which it enforces on its members, and would like to see more widely adopted.

    These moral norms include honesty, self-honesty, rigor, originality, open-mindedness, respect for reason, and disrespect for dogma.”

    Newsflash: Those norms didn’t, and don’t, come from science.

  17. Mia says:

    “Wow… that ‘prophecy’ is the cringiest thing I’ve read all day.”

    The thing is, if you ever really studied the Biblical prophets or even looked at the incredible number of Marian prophecies that pop up in the high church denominations from time to time, none of them sound anything like this guy. From the Protestant side, didn’t the Old Testament prophets warn of dangers coming if the people of God didn’t change? From the Catholic side, the messages were always warnings of danger and apostasy, not usually cheerleading for the new Cyrus coming to make this or that country’s economy sing. It sounds odd no matter which tradition you look at.

  18. Then would you agree with me that the two-party system is archaic and in need of a truly viable third-party? Surely what we have at present is a total farce!

    Wholeheartedly. I suspect that what we really need is about four parties, maybe five, which could adequately account for the shifting emphasis in popular concerns, and leave the actual laws that get through legislative bodies reasonably reflective of what a good 65-90 percent of us can agree is actually the law’s business.

    We would do better with two working class parties, one socialist but detached from the culture wars, the other along the lines of the American Solidarity Party, and if the latter didn’t satisfy Rod’s style of conservatism, perhaps a less economically focused conservative party, then one that honestly represented the titans of commerce and their bedazzled denizens. Probably room for a fifth one representing none of the above.

  19. connecticut farmer says:

    @paradoctor

    Strictly speaking, science does not provide “moral instruction.” Scientists uncover the secrets of nature and make these secrets known to the general public. They do not necessarily have the final decision as to how these secrets are to be implemented, or by whom, though as human beings they should participate in the decision- making process. Einstein etal. worked like hell to make sure we got The Bomb before Germany. After the Trinity Test, responsibility was handed over to the government. We know what followed. If memory serves, of all the great scientists on both sides who had prior knowledge of the enormous energy contained within the atom, the only one who expressed regret over Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the German nuclear chemist, Otto Hahn. The others–Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg, Oppenheimer, Strassmann etal.–were conspicuous in their silence. So much for “moral instruction.”

  20. He’s half right because you can make a case of this in today’s America. Much less so in the America of the 1970s and 1980s…

    JonF is half right about that. (Insert cheshire cat emoticon here.) The GOP is no less about repealing all that a powerful labor movement did to make America a great place for working families. And the Democrats have indeed abandoned their half-hearted rear-guard action for GOP-lite.

  21. grumpy realist says:

    Connecticut Farmer–if your belief is that Otto Hahn was the only scientist to express regret over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, you haven’t read much actual history of the scientists of that period. Many of them were pleading NOT to drop the bomb on inhabited cities, but to use it on a deserted island instead, while filming it to show the devastation that was caused. Know what General Groves said to their representative? “Get this nut out of my office.”

  22. bayesian says:

    @bmj

    Thanks for the reference to the recent book by Wilken, who, as you probably know, also wrote The Christians as the Romans Saw Them some time ago (1984). Does The First One Thousand Years contain references to what John Turner was talking about, men known to the authorities as Christians being posted to Bithynia-Pontus in the 1st century? Obviously there were Christians there in the very early 2nd CE per Pliny (and even earlier per 1 Peter). But certainly Pliny and Trajan’s response to him make it hard to believe the Empire would have knowingly put a Christian in charge of anything, and generally speaking it’s hard to imagine one of the Flavians being any more tolerant.

    If the Wilken book backs up John Turner’s claim I will definitely have to grab a copy (I might anyway).

    I agree about Christianity being not much on the radar in the 1st CE, and being something of a rounding error to the bureaucracy of the Principate. Tacitus in the early 2nd CE understood Christians to be separate from Jews, but e.g. Domitian apparently did not, although I have yet to find a primary cite earlier than Eusebius to Domitian’s calling Christianity superstitio Iudaica, plausible as Eusebius is on that topic.

  23. Sam Ford says:

    When it comes to the parting low blow about marriage equality, after the makings of an interesting article – may I suggest, Mr. Dreher and reader Michael GC, that you thank your lucky stars you weren’t born gay (assuming you aren’t, to any degree.) If you were, it would give your sensitivity to this subject a whole new depth.

    This, because Michael GC’s quote nearly approaches an excellent understanding of what’s like to experience the profound life-long sense of dislocation and alienation from your own society:

    “preferences and practices [that] seem natural…these particularities become standard throughout society…cloaked in neutrality.”

    Yep, now just keep imagining that in addition to those preferences which aren’t yours individually and yet which are vastly viewed as normal throughout society, you have been barred from getting married, made to feel ashamed for your natural impulse towards companionship, and feel compelled to hide whatever relationship you do manage to sustain in secret, because of the random, ignorant, casual and perpetual abuse sent your way by your community at large.

    Apparently to some, in 2018, gay men and women must still approximate animals or sub-humans: after all, the Supreme Court allows marriage for death-row inmates – but on this site, two men or women that want to add a little more glue and dignity to their partnership are nothing more than a “favored lie of the moment.”

    Thanks. Good to know. Imagine how deeply insulted you both would be, assuming you are married men, that your relationship with your spouse each would be described as such.

    Therefore the idea that “liberal culture is supposedly open but closed as any other” is pretty rich, coming after this blithe dismissal – but feel free to explain how a 50% divorce rate, and tens of thousands of neglected, abandoned and abused children produced by procreating but variously married or unmarried heterosexuals, and children prone to drugs, depression and alcohol via the chaos of second and third heterosexual marriages and blended families, is under threat.

    This is exactly why one side has clearly lost what wasn’t a war in the first place – but rather, a parade of petty and ridiculous offended sensibilities, in part aimed at those who have waited decades and lifetimes, in some cases, for a humble and basic recognition of their dignity, same as everyone else.

    How about retiring the authoritarian impulse to control what other people do and and decide what values they should hold, understand that the sky doesn’t fall nor the country collapse when things change, and aim for “live and let live” as a baseline.

    The same goes for progressives and liberals who are intolerant in their own way and won’t acknowledge the chaos and cost of some of their worldview – but I’m pinpointing one aspect of the article which was simply callous.

  24. Wayne Lusvardi says:

    I wouldn’t put myself into the category of one of the acolytes of fundamentalist fire fighter Mark Taylor’s prophecy, but neither would I poo-poo it as “self deceiving triumphalist fantasy”.

    To understand the Trump phenomenon in Christianity, one should study the Dreyfus Affair in France in 1894 to 1904. The Dreyfus Affair involved the framing of a Jewish officer in the French Army for alleged treason by the French Intelligence Service as a symbolic conservative resistance against modernity and the secular takeover of Catholic schools.

    The current attempted coup of Trump by the US intelligence services is a replay of the Dreyfus Affair only in reverse, with Trump the conservative being unjustly accused in the media of treason. The Dreyfus Affair spawned 3 religious movements: 1) Zionism, 2) anti-Catholic free Masonry orders and 3) Progressivism as personified by Dreyfus as an archetype of a crucified Jew and liberal. Dreyfus’s wife wrote to him in prison: “You have been sublime, my poor martyr; continue on your Road to Golgotha; terrible days have yet to be lived through, but God will one day compensate and reward you generously for all your sufferings.” Progressivism from its start was a quasi-religious, anti-Catholic movement.

    There is no knowing what religious movements might emerge concurrent with the Trump presidency, just as no one knew Free Masonry or Zionism or Progressivism would emerge from the Dreyfus Affair.

  25. Matt says:

    “And if orthodox Christian beliefs are a barrier to full participation in the middle and upper middle class, then a lot of people are going to cast them aside.”

    Considering that wages have been stagnant for decades, such that the basic livable wage for families should be $27.50 p/hr for the sole provider. It is no wonder orthodox Christianity is dying, because there are far less traditional families, and those families are less fruitful.
    Instead of people turning their money into children, they are just subsisting, low wages and unaffordablity is cannibalising families in general Christian or secular.

    It was possible to raise a family of 4 on one average income in the 70’s and still have some disposable income. Not remotely possible with today’s expenses and wages.

    The family is the nursery of the faith, the combination of feminism doubling the employment pool and being antithetical to family in general, cheap illegal labour, globalisation with offshoring of jobs, and technology advances have made the family a luxury that only the wealthy can afford.

    The complaint in the 70’s that women were taking jobs from family men was valid one. Not only were those jobs taken but it reduced the available pool of jobs, it prevented wage growth which benefited big business.
    Now both parents must work, leaving less time to truly nurture the faith in their children. Less holidays and moments of leisure means less time for rest and thoughtful instruction.
    Two incomes being now vital, means that no one can get sick in the family unit, also there is no wife at home to take care of sick children without major consequences or look out for ageing grandparents. The flow on effect is very bad on society.

    So if the most basic wage is supposed $27.50 in real terms, all this quibbling about $15 an hour is stupidity. You can’t have $15 basic wages in a pool that will work for far less, and the basic wage of $27.50 that should naturally exist is just a pipe dream.

    Grandparents complaining that their children haven’t passed on the faith to the grandchildren don’t realise that their children are making bricks without straw working twice as hard to just to survive. Grandparents should be just be grateful that there are any grandchildren.

  26. connecticut farmer says:

    @Siralys Jenkins

    “I suspect that what we really need is about four parties, maybe five,…”.

    BINGO!!!!!

  27. Hound of Ulster says:

    @Matt hits it firmly on the head.

    The economic policies pursued by the GOP, with Democrats going along with it after the defeats of Mondale and Dukakis showed that the country had turned it’s back on New Deal liberalism, have laid waist to family life, and thus the passing on of the values that social conservatives claim to hold dear when they vote…for the GOP in every election.

    There is a big reason why social science and demography have consistently shown that the supposedly ‘degenerate’ coastal elites to a better job at family formation and all of the addendad positive metrics than ‘fly-over’ types. Stable family life is a luxury good in America.

    And social conservatives, because of their slavish devotion to the GOP, have nobody to blame but themselves for that.

    [NFR: Do you ever have a different thought? Seriously. Even Uncle Chuckie changes up every now and then. — RD]

  28. J Phillips says:

    So, if an ancient manuscript was dug up tomorrow explaining how the divinity of Jesus (or Muhammad) was a hoax, would culture as we know it cease the following day? Many countries in Northern Europe may be considered post-Christian and for the most part they are doing just fine. I sympathize with those who feel the loss of Christian status at the expense of Enlightenment values but is this really so bad? Steven Pinker just may have a point in this regard. The trajectory of the current age is statistically better on many fronts.

  29. Thrice A Viking says:

    Connecticut farmer and Siarlys, how about no parties? Every candidate would run as an independent, with whatever endorsements from various groups that (s)he could get. Nebraska does that now with its legislature. (Actually, just their Senate, as they’re unique among the states in being unicameral.) I’d suggest some form of public financing, though I have to admit I haven’t worked out the details on that yet. I tend to think that partisanship is a great evil in our representative democracy, so take my comment with any dosage of sodium chloride you find necessary.

  30. Andy Catsimanes says:

    Has Hunter reconsidered his BenOp stance. As I recall from reading To Change the World, he was not a fan.

    [NFR: “To Change The World” came out in 2010, seven years before TBO. But I’ve heard Hunter disparage it. — RD]

  31. JonF says:

    Re: The trajectory of the current age is statistically better on many fronts.

    Pinker makes the classic mistake of assuming that present trends will continue indefinitely. The number of times things have been going “just great” until they weren’t are too numerous to count or cite.

  32. JonF says:

    Re: So if the most basic wage is supposed $27.50 in real terms, all this quibbling about $15 an hour is stupidity.

    You are confusing two things: the minimum wage (which would be earned by unskilled people mostly just entering the workforce plus some second income earners) and a family wage. Even at the height of the post-war prosperity the minimum wage, though worth more in buying power than currently, was no where near the wage needed to support a family.
    As for noting that money is constraining family size, that’s true and I have made the same point– but it’s not the whole story. The rich are also not having hordes of kids even when they could easily afford them. There has been a cultural change unrelated to economics in this area, though maybe not unrelated to technological changes.

  33. grumpy realist says:

    Matt–I’m afraid that if you want to go back to the 1950s, you’re going to find a lot of women aren’t very interested in that.

    The 1950s were the time when almost every man was finally rich enough to have a non-working wife–which up to then had been a hallmark of luxury. And a lot of non-working wives (a.k.a. housewives), when they didn’t have the social position that used to accrue to The Lady of the Manor, and had all those wonderful labor-saving machines, discovered something: that a life filled with housekeeping and nothing else was boring as hell.

    If we DO decide to go back to “one breadwinner per family”, let’s take advantage of all those mechanical devices like forklifts etc. and allow women to have the well-paying jobs, while the guys stay home. After all, fair is fair, no? Men have been the breadwinners for centuries; let’s now turn the tables and see how women deal with the task. After all, if taking care of the house and a baby is as easy as a lot of guys claim it is, they should be jumping at the opportunity to relax…..

    (Inspired by the number of cases I’ve read where a SAHM, fed up with the dismissal of the difficulty of her tasks by her husband, has left him for the weekend with the baby and the toddler.)

  34. Jefferson Smith says:

    @Thrice A Viking:

    how about no parties? Every candidate would run as an independent, with whatever endorsements from various groups that (s)he could get.

    That was already tried, in the first years of the American republic. Parties soon emerged, as they have in all modern democracies, because they’re apparently part of what makes mass democracy work. If the the party system were somehow abolished in a country like America, it would just re-emerge or reconstitute itself under a different name within a few election cycles, as ideologically aligned candidates and office-holders found other ways of coordinating their efforts. Notice how even beyond the Dem/Rep division, we’ve got voting blocs that have emerged informally, like the Freedom Caucus in the US House. Ultimately you can’t stop politicians from trying to maximize their influence by choosing to work in league with others.

  35. Brendan from Oz says:

    ““I suspect that what we really need is about four parties, maybe five,…”.

    BINGO!!!!!”

    You mean like Italy? Be careful what you wish for.

  36. Matt says:

    It costs $230,000 to raise a child, without considering any higher education costs, and wages have remained stagnant for decades, there is a massive unseen toll on the numbers of children that should exist and don’t.
    The average hourly wage rate has just hit $22.50, when the very basic liveable wage rate should be $27.50 in real terms.

    The destruction of wage growth and the ever increasing cost of living has made families unaffordable.
    Removing traditional stay at home mothers, guarantees cultural decline.
    It is not by accident that culture declined when the homemaker was sent to work. The mother nurtures the prayer life of children and instills moral and religious values.

    Now childcare agencies are raising children, the formative years being moulded by others.
    Childcare also being an entirely new expense that has to be shouldered by families, as an aside.

    Society has been altered and heaped with obstacles to traditional family life, if not by accident, perhaps design.

    To repair the culture, women must return home. For women to return home, husbands must be paid at least a liveable wage, if not an aspirational wage.

  37. Connecticut farmer and Siarlys, how about no parties? Every candidate would run as an independent, with whatever endorsements from various groups that (s)he could get.

    That was tried when our constitution was written. Parties formed anyway. It seems to be a natural feature of entrusting politics to human beings.

    I do favor deinstitutionalizing party formation. The Democrats (a fraction of an offshoot of an Era of Good Feeling) and the Republicans (a former Third Party that became dominant after leading the victorious federal government through a Civil War) passed laws that were not exactly anti-constitutional but certainly extra-constitutional circa 1900 to cement jointly and severally their place as The Major Parties, to block the People’s Party (the original Populists) and the Socialist Party from supplanting them. That needs to be undone.

    I like some of what California has done, entrusting the jobs of drawing district lines to a nonpartisan commission, with a mandate to draw compact districts, and, more importantly, setting up a primary in which, indeed, everyone gets to run, and the top two enter the run-off. Even better would be an order of preference ballot with no need for a runoff.

  38. BillWAF says:

    @ Grumpy Realist

    Thank you for the reference to Dr. North’s website EUReferendum.com. I was unaware of it. It is very interesting.

  39. Hound of Ulster says:

    @Matt

    Which is what I’ve have been saying this entire time. The forced decline of wages and working, and increasingly middle-class, cultural and political power, imposed on the country by Reagan and his successors, has the paradoxical effect of weakening the cultural and social forces that many of the people who voted for Reaganism thought they were conserving by voting for Reaganism. Marriage, stable families, and children are luxury goods that only wealthy, or people who are upwardly mobile, can afford. Hence smaller families, later marriages, more frequent divorces (the majority of which are driven by economic considerations), and more unstable and isolated social lives. Reaganism broke American culture in ways that the ‘60s radicals could only dream of.

    TL;DR Wall Street capitalism is the most vulgar form of a vulgar system of political economy.

  40. JonF says:

    Re: You mean like Italy? Be careful what you wish for.

    What keeps us from becoming Italy is that fact that elections here only happen at set intervals. A government cannot fall and no one can call for new elections in the middle of a presidential term, or congressional session.

    Re: To repair the culture, women must return home.

    Not really true: for centuries women worked as well as men– but often beside the men in the fields (and the older children with them). Those who lived in cities also worked together in shops of various sorts with their spouses and children. The real issue is that the family ceased to be a true economic unit during the Industrial Revolution, which created mass employment and separated work and home. I don’t have a clue how to reverse that.

  41. russ says:

    @Siarlys,

    Is a non-partisan commission anything like a moderate Syrian rebel?

    Kidding (sort of).

  42. John Andre says:

    ‘Because liberals control “the credentialing institutions of our society,” he says, those who want to get to a middle or upper middle class life are going to have to kowtow to liberal culture — a culture that likes to think of itself as open, but which is as closed as any other.’

    How exactly am I going to pursue the Benedict Option – keep my wife at home and raise a large family – and not be middle or upper middle class? It takes money to do this and earning that money is going to require me to kowtow, so how is this supposed to work?

    Or is the Option itself like an escapist political fantasy that I read while I outwardly conform along with everyone else?

  43. russ, is a fresh ripe banana anything like a tarnished rust-stained mirror?

  44. Thrice A Viking says:

    Jefferson Smith and Siarlys, thanks for the historical insight. However, I believe that non-partisan elections such as Nebraska holds, and I believe many city council and mayoral races as well, can be nothing more than forbidding all candidates from putting a party affiliation beside their names on the ballot. There may be factions that still develop in the legislatures, but this will allow members of said bodies to steer clear of them, not needing their endorsement for re-election. I still say it’s an experiment worth trying, even if it didn’t work the first time under very different circumstances.

    Matt, might at least part of the problem be that a family man simply needs more money for his stay-at-home wife and the child(ren) than a childless single of either gender who would get the same wages or salary if employed in the same line of work at the same workplace? If so, then I think a good share of the problem you point out could be solved by instituting a family wage. That is, the family man would be awarded extra money over the single just for being the sole provider for two or more other people. These funds could be provided by a government, or, better yet IMO, by the employer under some provision of the tax code that would make it painless for them to do so. I do, all the same, hope for a revival of good wages and salaries for all workers.

    Hound of Ulster, your animus towards Reagan leads you somewhat astray. There’s an article in this month’s Atlantic Monthly called “The Birth of a New American Aristocracy” by Matthew Stewart. In it, he exhibits a graph which shows that the highest percentage of wealth owned by the bottom 90% was in the middle of the 1980s, which was also the middle of Reagan’s administration. (At least that’s what Stewart says was the time. I thought it was the late ’80s. I couldn’t determine which part of the numbers referred to which years, as there were no indicators that I could see.) That’s just one mark of economic success, to be sure, but I think it an important one. And I believe that many other such marks started declining some time before Reagan took office, much less his successors.

  45. russ says:

    Siarlys, I was making a joke but I struck out. If you were joking in return, I am not sophisticated enough to understand the parlay 😉

    I was comparing the pseudo-mythical nature of “non-partisan commission” and those elusive “moderate Syrian rebels” oft-spoken of in years past (the ones the US were supposed to be supporting in Syria). Basically, both of these concepts exist in the wild, I’m sure, but more often than not, I’m thinking both aren’t what they purport to be.

  46. However, I believe that non-partisan elections such as Nebraska holds, and I believe many city council and mayoral races as well, can be nothing more than forbidding all candidates from putting a party affiliation

    Indeed. So let’s not pretend. Let all the candidates put their party affiliation on the ballot. But let them all compete in one big pot, or on one list.

    Russ, I knew what you were saying, but as you may have noticed, I disdain analogies as PROOF of any fact. You may hold an opinion, but you haven’t really demonstrated the truth of either of your clever examples, nor, assuming that “moderate Syrian rebel” is an oxymoron, that non-partisan commission is also. Anyway, if we have to discuss it at length, the joke fell flat, n’est-ce pas?

  47. Jefferson Smith says:

    @Thrice a Viking, although I don’t have the same animus against parties that you do, I think it’s fine to experiment with different electoral systems and different legislative procedures that might change their status and lower their potential for abuse. That’s been done over the course of American history too, notably with some of the reforms of the Progressive Era. The increasing reliance on party primaries in recent decades is another such reform, and we saw the dramatic results in 2016, when a candidate with no experience of public office and almost no support within the Republican Party nonetheless won its nomination and then the presidency. Whether that result speaks well of the experiment or not is a separate discussion, but the primary system definitely did dis-empower the party’s organization and “establishment” significantly in that case.

    So, the Nebraska ballot you mention might be a good way to go — I don’t really know, because I haven’t studied it. To seriously reduce the influence of parties, though, you’d probably need a whole package of interconnected reforms. For instance, parties’ influence is conveyed through the ballot not just because they get their names printed on it alongside the candidates’, but because it’s onerous and expensive to get a candidate on the ballot in the first place. Parties have the infrastructure already in place to pay fees and collect signatures and file the legal paperwork and so on. That’s often why candidates seek their endorsement — because doing all that yourself, while possible in theory, is much harder.

    And then there’s the problem of becoming known to enough voters to have a chance to win. Parties are aids and shortcuts to that as well: a party’s endorsement itself is a kind of seal of approval that some voters respect, and the party raises money and organizes volunteers for advertising, mailers, phone banks, polling, robocalls, get-out-the-vote efforts, etc., which again an individual candidate could theoretically organize for him/himself, but which most won’t have the wherewithal to do alone.

    Now, you could drastically lower the threshold for getting candidates on the ballot — make it much cheaper and easier — but the likely result of that would be a ballot with dozens of candidates. California did this in the 2003 gubernatorial recall election, which was nonpartisan, and wound up with 135 candidates. Voters can’t realistically sort through that many choices, so they’re probably going to do one of two things: (a) elect the guy they’ve already heard of (in that case, because he was already a world-famous movie star); or (b) turn for help to organizations that have the resources to review the choices, vet the candidates and make endorsements. If these endorsing organizations don’t start out as political parties, I think over time, if such a system were followed from election to election, they would evolve into parties, or at least into organizations that did much of what parties now do. So then you’re almost back where you started.

    That said, experiments are worth trying. We certainly haven’t found the optimal system yet, and there are so many jurisdictions and so many legislative bodies in the US that lots of different methods could be tried so we can see how they work.

  48. Thrice A Viking says:

    Russ, ignoring the moderate Syrian rebels to concentrate on non-partisan commissions: are you saying that all or most of the commissioners have a decided partisan slant, even if registered as independents? If so, I would agree with you. For instance, Bernie Sanders is officially an independent. But there are probably some official Democrats who are fairer-minded towards Republicans than he is. Yeah, non-partisan – in suggesting true objectivity – is something of a joke to me too.

  49. Wisconsin had a very good nonpartisan elections commission, until it made some rulings the Republican majority didn’t like, and they legislated it out of existence. Now we have a BI partisan commission with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, and very little to respect about it.

    Commissions to draw election district lines can be quite nonpartisan, in the sense that they draw compact districts and don’t examine each ward to see if it normally votes Dem or GOP and construct gerrymandered districts that give one party a lock on power even if a majority of voters favor the other party.

  50. russ says:

    Siarlys, I already admitted my joke fell flat, and I wasn’t trying to prove anything. I assumed having fun was in order on page 2 of a comment thread on a blog post buried on page 2 of the archives. But you seem more serious about this than I, so I’ll leave it at that.

    I’m generally aligned with Viking’s sentiments on nonpartisan commissions though.

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