Forgetting How To Be A Civilization
The political scientist Eric Kaufmann is no bringer of good news for us conservatives. In his latest CSPI research, there's a lot of handwriting on the wall for our kind. I tell you this not to discourage you, but to help you understand the immensity of the task in front of us. I know reading my blog can be awfully discouraging, but I firmly believe that real despair is to turn away from hard truths because they are too discouraging. If we are going to resist this tide, we need to know exactly what we are facing. I'll be taping an episode of The General Eclectic with Kale Zelden later today -- after our long summer hiatus forced by my visa problems (not a good idea to leave your mike in a country you can't enter because you screwed up your visa -- and we'll be discussing this.
Here is the summary of the findings:
America’s elite university students are more demographically diverse than the general population, but more politically divided along lines of race, gender, sexuality, and religion.
Minority and female students are far more liberal on campus than in the general population, whereas straight white Christian men are somewhat more conservative on campus than in the general population. Current trends portend a politics in which elite women, minorities, gays, and the nonreligious are more left-leaning while elite whites, males, and Christians remain relatively conservative.
White Christians tend to cluster in red state flagship universities, which are the most politically balanced in the country and have similar shares of liberal and conservative students. Yet many flagship universities in flyover states with conservative reputations actually have more liberal than conservative students.
A quarter of students are LGBT, and there are roughly equal shares of Christian and nonreligious students. LGBT, Nonreligious, and Christians are set to become more important political groups among America’s future leaders.
Liberal arts colleges are the least politically diverse. Many have almost no conservatives, and thus very low viewpoint diversity. But they have high sexual diversity, at nearly 40 percent LGBT.
Ivy League schools average 10-15 percent conservative and 60-75 percent liberal. Across 150 leading schools, there are nearly 2.5 liberals for every conservative.
Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 55-23 margin on campus, and liberals outnumber conservatives 53-21. Elite students are thus two-thirds more Democratic and twice as liberal as the American population.
Among elite students, there is a 15-point gender gap in political ideology and party identification between men and women. This is 3 to 5 times larger than the gender gap in the general population. It is also 2 to 3 times larger than the gender gap among either the 18-25 or college-educated general population. The campus gender gap has grown steadily since 2004.
The university with the highest viewpoint diversity ranking is the University of Arkansas, whose students are 35% conservative, 37% liberal, 36% Republican, and 41% Democratic. The least diverse is Smith College, at 81% liberal, 1% conservative, 78% Democratic, and 2% Republican.
Thirty percent of students and nearly the same share of academic staff in Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) fields identify as the furthest left point on a 7-point conservative-liberal scale. For Sciences, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) subjects, a smaller share – 20% of students and 10% of staff – identify as far left.
Self-identified Jews make up only 3% of elite students and just 7% of Ivy League students, suggesting a considerable decline since the early 2000s.
Homeschooled and parochial schooled undergraduates are as or more likely to identify as LGBT or non-binary as those from public or private school backgrounds.
One thing that is very, very hard for conservatives today to understand is that elites matter immensely. It is true that they aren't everything -- thank God -- but they matter far more than many of us like to think. The sociologist James Davison Hunter, a Christian, has made this point powerfully. Why is it, he wrote in 2010, that Evangelical Christians make up something like 40 percent of the US population, but have almost no effect culturally, whereas Jews are less than two percent of the US population, but exercise immense cultural influence? It's because Jews are heavily represented among elites, while Evangelicals are not. To be clear, Hunter was not making an anti-Semitic point. He was simply pointing out a sociological fact -- one that is highly unpopular today among progressives, who assume that any demographic over- or underrepresentation can only be explained by bigotry. This is how you get Communist regimes sacrificing the truly talented on the altar of ideological egalitarianism. We are busy doing the same thing in America today (witness the rich Virginia school district that is erasing the lack of academic achievement by black students by embracing "equitable grading" practices -- that is, lying for therapeutic and ideological reasons).
Anyway, a Catholic conservative friend, seeing that data, responded:
This shows how the Right is completely and comically outclassed on every front within the key institutions that we rely on to credential and staff our non-hereditary aristocracy. The issue is not how the Left won the culture war, but rather, how could they not?
You wonder why it is that our elites are pushing forward with implementing radical gender theory, even though polls show most Americans oppose it? This explains it. It doesn't matter what Joe Sixpack thinks. Look, I think this is wrong too, but that's how the real world works. It helps explain why Donald Trump could get elected president, but was hemmed in by institutional elites. If we are going to fight back effectively against woke hegemony, we need politicians who understand how elites think and work, and who is able to fight them on something like a level playing field. We do not have that now. We don't have anything like that.
It hardly needs saying (but I'm going to say it anyway!) that it's hugely significant that conservatives scarcely exist at the Ivies. As much as we like to make fun of Harvard, Yale, and the others for their crackpot wokery, the fact remains that those institutions produce the national elites. When I used to give talks to journalism students, I would tell them that one lesson I learned from actually practicing journalism, versus studying it in school, is that networking is far, far more important than we like to think. It's more important in terms of getting jobs, but it's also more important as a general phenomenon for how power works. In terms of one's career, for most people, it is more important who you meet at Harvard than what you learn there. When I was an undergraduate at LSU, two Louisiana friends who had gone to the Ivies to study came at different times to spend a semester at LSU, so they could participate in a study abroad program that their university and LSU participated in, while paying LSU tuition, not Ivy League tuition. Neither knew each other, but they both told me that they had been surprised by how much more they enjoyed studying at LSU than at the Ivy. Why? According to one (a liberal!), he appreciated how de-politicized LSU's campus was; even in the mid-1980s at that Ivy, proto-wokeness made everybody anxious about not making the wrong step. According to both of them, the classroom instruction was on the same level, but they got more attention from the professors.
Of course they returned to their Ivies (and both went on to prosper in their chosen fields), because if you want to get ahead in the world, you'd be nuts to choose a mid-ranked state school over an Ivy League university. I keep thinking about the testimony of a European friend who did a graduate course at Harvard. He was shocked by the attitudes of Harvard students to their studies -- they did not want to hear anything that made them anxious, and professors coddled them in that way -- while at the same time observing that they all assumed that it was their destiny to hold power. And they would hold power, because they were part of an institution that produced power-holding elites. My European friend left Harvard worried about the future of the West, because he could see that the US was going to be led by incompetent and neurotic elites who could not grapple with the real world.
Here's the thing: it does us conservatives no good if all we do is react to whatever the progressive elites (who are now the Establishment) do. We have to be just as competent and as ferocious as they are. This is my constant complaint to MAGA conservatives: if all you care about is scandalizing the liberal elites, your emotional satisfaction is no compensation for actually changing things in the real world. The MAGA dogs bark, but the caravan of professional elites moves on, changing society beyond recognition.
For me, the most shocking finding from Kaufmann et al was this one.
Homeschooled and parochial schooled undergraduates are as or more likely to identify as LGBT or non-binary as those from public or private school backgrounds.
You think you're going to save your kid from this contagion by homeschooling them, or putting them in Christian school? Think again. Why might this be? It shows that the general culture is immensely powerful. I know plenty of Christians who think that signing the tuition check for Christian school means that they have done their best. Wrong! What do you know about the ethos of that school? I guarantee you that there are few Christian schools in the US where the student body's views are not set by social media, because almost all the parents give their kids smartphones. My own kids attended a small conservative Christian school in Baton Rouge, one where smartphones were not allowed on campus. But the school had no authority to tell parents not to give their kids smartphones -- and most of them did. I often cite in this space something that a Polish high school teacher told me in 2019, trying to help me understand why Christianity is dying among the young in that solidly Catholic nation: because there are no institutions -- not family, not Church, and certainly not the state -- more powerful in shaping the moral imaginations of the young than social media, especially TikTok.
A lot of conservative families, despite their faith and values, are going to watch their children fall into arrangements like this "throuple":
When there are no boundaries, either external or internal, to sexual desire, how can these arrangements fail to exist?
I'm not saying it's hopeless! I am saying that this is going to require far more effort than we might have thought previously. You can't simply teach your kids to be against something; you have to shape their consciences and moral imagination around a positive model. Think about how Christians in the early church must have raised their kids in the sexual culture of the Roman Empire. That's what we have to do.
From the detailed report (you can see it by clicking the link above):
In terms of gender, 61% of the unweighted sample are female and 36% male, with 3% gender nonconforming. With survey weights applied the numbers are 50% female, 48% male, and 2% gender nonconforming. The unweighted figures are not far off the national student figures, in which around 60% of students are female. Nine institutions are more than 75% female in the data. This is accurate for mainly female colleges, though in some cases the samples overstate a particular university’s actual sex ratio. Clearly there is a certain amount of measurement error at the college level given an average enrollment of 20,000 undergraduate students and a sample size of around 250 students per school. This produces a margin of error of 6% for the typical college in the dataset.
Twenty-three percent of students identify as LGBTQ: 16% of men, 28% of women, and virtually all non-binary respondents. The bisexual and ‘questioning’ sexual orientation categories account for 15% of females but only 6% of males, while the gay/lesbian share is around twice as high among male students (6.1%) as females (2.8%). Non-binary students comprise 3.6% of the 2021 sample, adjusted to 1.1% in the weighted data. In 2022, the question was broadened to 7 categories, leading to 3% of the weighted sample identifying as non-binary. In the HERI data, a lower share of students, 15%, identify as LGBTQ.
Much of this pattern can be accounted for by the share of LGBTQ respondents among young people, with 21% of Gen-Z identifying as other than heterosexual in the most recent Gallup survey. The unweighted Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) finds no difference between students and non-students in LGBTQ share. Regardless, the substantial LGBTQ quotient among the young is a trend that is independent of the effects of college, although LGBTQ individuals appear to be self-selecting into elite higher education institutions in somewhat larger numbers compared to lower-ranked institutions.
Across 159 campuses sampled, three schools contained a weighted majority of students identifying as LGBTQ – Oberlin (51%), Wellesley (61%), and Smith College (70%). Given the 6% margin of error in the data for these colleges and possible noise from any sampling biases, these figures should be treated as indicative rather than definitive estimates. On the other hand, the 38% share of LGBTQ students among the more than 4,000 students in the 23 liberal arts colleges sampled is accurate to within a 1% margin of error. This suggests several liberal arts colleges, such as those listed above, could be majority LGBTQ. At the other end of the scale, LGBTQ students made up no more than 15% of students in the weighted sample at BYU (10%), Utah State (11%), Bucknell (13%), University of Miami (14%), Notre Dame (14%), and Clemson (14%). Importantly, no institution had fewer than 10% LGBTQ students.
This is morally insane. I mean it. The number of gays and lesbians has held fairly steady in society at between two and four percent. I believe that is the actual number. Why, then, are massive numbers of college students of that generation -- 23 percent -- claiming to be queer ("queer" as a catch-all term to describe non-normative sexual desire)? As noted above, both Gallup and CCES had the overall number of that generation at similar numbers, so this can't be simply a matter of college kids. I think a couple of things are going on here.
First, there is simply the matter of social contagion. A reader of this blog who is in college now told me last year that identifying as queer is his generation's mode of rebellion against the older generations. Most of these people who say they are queer will settle back into more or less normative heterosexual identity. I suppose that is probably true.
But there's little reason for religious conservatives to take comfort in that. My generation (X) was the one that first extended real tolerance to gays and lesbians. I supported that then, and support that now. But as we know, tolerance is not tolerated; you must affirm, and not only affirm, but celebrate; otherwise, you are a bigot. I did not imagine that the humane, liberal ideal of tolerance for sexual difference would quickly morph into this Babylonian decadence we see today.
What we have now challenges a presupposition that I long held: that sexual desire was fairly fixed. I think we now see that it is more fluid than we once thought, and that heterosexuality is partly something innate, but also something that must be achieved. That is, sexual desire is an overpowering force within each of us, one that we must be taught how to channel. I believe that most people are either predominantly heterosexual or predominantly homosexual in their desire, but that these boundaries aren't as sharply drawn as I once believed. Taboos play a meaningful role in telling people what they should desire, and therefore guiding them to maturity.
I think back to the all-male dorm I lived in during my last two years of high school. Think of a dorm full of 100 high school juniors and seniors, in the early 1980s. Imagine the pent-up sexual desire. There were a handful of guys who were out, or semi-out, as gay, and nobody thought anything of it. I remember a couple of them took advantage of the dorm administration's inability to recognize what was happening to get themselves assigned a room together, even though they were quietly a couple. A bunch of us envied them, and all the sex they must be having. The thing is, the only thing preventing any of the rest of us from doing the same thing was the internalized taboo against gay sex. Even though everybody in my class (to my recollection) was quite tolerant of homosexuality, it was also something that very few of us had any interest in experimenting with.
I can imagine now that things are very different at that school. Students today grow up formed by a culture that tells them anything goes in terms of sexual desire, as long as consent is provided. In fact, you are rewarded with social status if you identify as queer. If you haven't yet seen the interview Kale and I did with Helena, a detransitioner, please don't delay. Helena talks about how she was lonely and alienated from herself and her body, and was drawn into an online trans community because by identifying as queer, she could achieve the status and sense of community she ached for. Moreover, the more queer she became, the higher she moved up the social hierarchy within that community. She ended up injecting herself with cross-sex hormones, and living as a man before she came to her senses and realized that she was not at all a man. What Helen (and other detransitioners) testify to is the power of social pressure to compel people to believe -- to genuinely believe -- that their sexual and gender identity falls into these queer categories.
You might think: So what? If people want to experiment, let them? Why is it your business?
There is an Orthodox Christian answer, having to do with sin, but I'm not going to get into that here. What I will say is that it is the business of this and every society to create the next generation, and to equip them to flourish, and to create the generation after that. Religious or non-religious, that is the core mission of every society that does not have a death wish. The best way for society to do that is to regulate sexual desire, and to channel it into socially constructive outcomes. Historically, most societies have done this through some form of polygamy (which has its own serious problems, but that is the historical norm). In Jewish and Christian societies (excluding, obviously, the Judaism of the Old Testament), the model has been one man and one woman, exclusively. The Harvard sociologist Carle C. Zimmerman's excellent postwar study Family And Civilization explains how the collapse of the stable family model is always a sign of civilizational collapse. He writes about how in the West, the early medieval church brought order to chaotic barbarian tribes by imposing a Christian model of family formation on them -- and how that led to the kind of social stability in which people flourished.
We have cast that into the trash bin today, just as the late Romans and late Greeks did. Note well that I'm not saying that non-standard sexual desire and practice did not exist in the Christian period. Of course it did! And it always will. But society had strong models around which people were expected to conform, as part of social and psychological maturity. Those models helped push and pull us past the fear of sexual maturity, and intimacy with people of the opposite sex. It is a scary thing for a teenage boy to think about sex with women. Women's bodies are so different from theirs, and the male ego can be awfully fragile. But most push past that, driven by sexual desire that has been channeled into courtship rituals, however messy they may be.
But now? Teenagers are told that whatever they desire must be good, and normal. It is forbidden to forbid. This rule has serious social consequences. As difficult as it is to form and to maintain a family -- remember, I am going through a divorce after 25 years of marriage -- it can only really be done at a mass level if society shares a binding belief that doing so is not only good, but is a greater good than rival goods. Where does that binding belief come from? It can come from custom, but mostly it comes from shared religious belief. I've just finished Louise Perry's must-read book The Case Against The Sexual Revolution. Perry is not (apparently) a religious believer, or even a conservative. She's rather an English feminist who sizes up the Sexual Revolution and concludes that it has been a disaster for women and children. Perry comes to the same conclusions that many Christians do, but she does so not based on religious revelation or Scriptural instruction, but rather through a pitiless appraisal of sociological facts and human desires.
If you want to see where a society governed by no marriage and family norms takes us, look at the inner-city black communities today. There is no replacement for the family. A white liberal Democrat who once served as a juvenile court judge in a violent, predominantly black city said that if you want to see the reality of what family collapse means, go spend some time in juvenile court in his city. It happened to black Americans first, but it is coming for us all.
Think about it: young people only have a certain number of years to get their acts together, pair off, and start to produce the next generation. We have created a society that lies to them about this. Our society is so given over to radical individualism that it pretends that all familial arrangements are equally good, and that to say otherwise marks you as some sort of bigot. By the time a young person makes it through the confusion of his or her teens and twenties, and settles onto a stable sexual identity (if he or she can manage), they will have lost more than a decade of maturing. The idea of queerness as a social norm has consequences.
This is where we are today. Everything about Christian civilization, in terms of its model of family and sexuality, has been turned upside down by the Sexual Revolution. Philip Rieff, a nonbelieving Jew, saw this as far back as 1966. We have created what Rieff called an "anti-culture" -- a culture that has chosen to become one incapable of sustaining itself. That is why our civilization is dying.
How do we, as conservatives, defend a civilization that has chosen suicide? I'm going to write separately about this, because it deserves its own post, but a friend sent me this latest screed by the Russian hypernationalist Alexander Dugin, in which he writes about Putin's recent speech:
Cultural (Russia swears by traditional values, man, his right to existence, faith, the normal family, freedom and justice, and rejects individualism, post-humanism, abolition culture, LGBT, feminism, the legalisation of perversion and the direct Satanism of the West);
Russia is a civilisation whose basic code is Tradition. Opposed to it is another civilisation, whose code is anti-Tradition, dehumanisation of man, lies, aggression, exploitation of countries and peoples, neo-colonialism, terror and evil. At the same time, the collective West also claims the universality of its model, leaving no one the right to choose otherwise. One can choose one over the other. Anyone who disagrees is immediately branded with terrible labels: 'fascist', 'Putin's agent' or simply 'Russian'. Russophobia today is also an ideology, a Western globalist ideology, which reeks of hatred towards its opposite, the good and the bad. Being Russian, being with Russia, means being on the side of Truth.
There's a load of nonsense there; I don't see Russia as any kind of trad paradise, and I think any nation that assumes for itself a messianic mission is worshiping itself as an idol (the United States is this sort of nation, as Dugin understands, even as he is blind to his own idolization of Russia). Moreover, if you look at the entire speech, Dugin is legitimizing Russian imperialism as holy war. All of that I strongly reject! Nevertheless, I don't say Dugin is entirely wrong. The West really has become an anti-traditional civilization, one that despises traditional values, and that brands those who don't share those values as bigots, "domestic terrorists," "Putin's agent," and the rest. When all this first started, I joked about how the West was waging war to queer Donbas. I don't think it's too far from the truth now.
You don't have to back Russia's imperialism against Ukraine to recognize that we in the post-Christian -- and increasingly anti-Christian -- West are not the good guys here. I too would like Ukraine to be free to determine its own way, but if you think Washington and Brussels intend to let Kyiv govern Ukraine as Ukrainians, think again. I still believe that while nothing justifies Russia's attack on Ukraine, Washington made provocative moves, and bears some responsibility.
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It's a time of great confusion for people like us religious and social conservatives. The most important revolution of all has overturned -- has queered, if you like -- all the values of our once-Christian civilization. We religious and social conservatives -- not just the Christian ones -- are now being pushed to the margins, and may well become outlaws. Even if we don't -- even if we are somehow tolerated -- our kids are growing up in a culture that will deform them, and wishes to take away their capacity to learn to love the right things, and to be able to form stable, healthy families, and communities of families.
In the country next to the country where I sit writing this, there is a war going on. But in truth, there is an unseen war going on around us in the United States, and all over the West, and it has been going on for some time. Our people are losing. I believe as a matter of faith that ultimately, we are going to win. But there will be a lot of suffering to go through on the way to that victory. And as a Christian, we have to realize that there can be no victory without suffering and sacrifice. Does that depress you? It shouldn't. If you are hearing me rightly, it should cause you to redouble your efforts to deepen your roots in your faith, and in the practices of faith; to work hard to cultivate courage; and to earnestly seek out others who see the world as you do.
Next week (October 11), Live Not By Lies will be published in paperback (follow the link to preorder), which will make its message far more accessible to church groups, student organizations, and young people. I hope that one or more readers have the knowledge, the time, and the ambition to create online platforms for those who agree with the message to find each other, and start forming networks. It's important. Read the signs of the times. It might not be the End of The World, but we are definitely living through the end of a world. Now is not the time to drink lotus smoothies and hope everything will turn out just fine if we only keep quite still and wait.