We Are Going To Win
Some brief thoughts in response to T. Greer's "Culture Wars Are Long Wars."
Tanner Greer, who blogs under the title “The Scholar’s Stage,” is one of the most incisive independent writers commenting on American politics today. Some very smart people read him; some very powerful people read him; sometimes, those people are the same people. In a recent post, “Culture Wars Are Long Wars,” Greer makes just that important titular point, reminding us that it is in the turnover of generations that society is truly transformed. This is an old observation: think of the comments of Socrates on education in The Republic or the Bible’s perpetual use of the language of generations—some are crooked and perverse but others will return to the path of wisdom. But it is also a truth that is easy to forget in the hubbub of partisan legislative battles, so that the “culture war” is generally waged by conservatives not with the end in mind, that is the production of a new generation confident in what it means to be a human being and an American, but rather for little horse race victories in elections and the judiciary. The voters are, too often, taken for a ride.
As Greer puts it:
America’s conservatives fought a political war over culture. Republicans used cultural issues to gain—or to try to gain—political power. Their brightest minds and greatest efforts went into securing control of judiciary, developing a judicial philosophy for their appointees, securing control of the Capitol, and developing laws that could be implemented in multiple state houses across the nation. No actual attempt to change the culture was attempted.
That seems about right, to me. Or, at least, it describes the functional effect of the efforts of establishment conservatives for the last half century or so, regardless of their intentions or the supposed nobility of their methods.
So, if we agree that “Culture wars are long wars. Instilling new ideas and overthrowing existing orthodoxies takes time—usually two to three generations of time. It is a 35-50 year process,” then what should we conclude? I think I get to conclude I am going to win. If you, like me, believe that there really is such a thing as a human being, as a normal, as a nature beneath the world, then it can only be resisted so long before a younger generation begins to notice that the status quo is not working out for them. We’re all going to make it. Moreover, if you, like me, are invested in the support of institutions and communities dedicated to preserving the means to receive answers to the questions implicit in those beliefs, e.g. churches, classical schools, great books, and the like, then a 35 to 50 year process is the kind of timeline you were already operating on. As Greer writes:
Cultural insurgents win few converts in their own cohort. They can, however, build up a system of ideas and institutions which will preserve and refine the ideals they hope their community will adopt in the future. The real target of these ideas are not their contemporaries, but their contemporaries’ children and grandchildren. Culture wars are fought for the hearts of the unborn. Future generations will be open to values the current generation rejects outright.
The task in the meantime, then, is to light whatever little candles of culture you can in the face of an encroaching dark and keep them lit by any means necessary, conventionally political or otherwise. Then marry, have children, and add fuel to the fires till they become conflagrations big enough to burn away the chaff. The twilight that is falling now will only make it easier to see the other points of light, to find your companions in the long war’s fight.