Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Winning the Culture War in an Age of Incoherence

We must remember that “true things prevail.”

(Suzanne Tucker/Shutterstock)

The following is adapted from remarks delivered at the 16th Annual Veritas Lecture to John Paul the Great Academy in Lafayette, Louisiana, on April 29, 2023.

Just a couple weeks ago, I sat on stage with Tucker Carlson, who had just given one of the most important speeches in modern American history. Captivating the audience with his moral clarity, Tucker emphasized our modern age fight as good versus evil, saying, “The second you decide to tell the truth about something, you are filled with this power from somewhere else. The more you tell the truth, the stronger you become.… I don’t pray enough for the country, and I should.”


In our brief conversation that followed, neither of us knowing what would befall him just three days later, I jokingly mentioned, “If things go south at Fox, there’s always a job for you at Heritage.” Timing really is everything in life.

We will all know soon what Tucker’s next plans are. Whatever they entail, he will no doubt have an even larger following, perhaps accelerating the pace of “cord cutters” who have found the uniformity and pallidness of cable television to be unwelcome in their homes. Moreover, with several days now to have digested the absence of Tucker on our televisions each weeknight, I am ecstatic about him being unshackled from the corporatist overlords of the New York media. The everyday American, who has so few advocates with big platforms, needs Tucker more than ever.

Many people have asked—some with a certain degree of bewilderment—how it is that the president of the Heritage Foundation, a venerable institution headquartered in “the belly of the beast,” Capitol Hill, could so readily understand the everyday American.

There are two reasons. First, every day, our policy experts are focused on doing precisely what Tucker exhorted all Americans to do—fight like hell for the truth, even when it hurts. Their exceptional work and ironclad commitment to restoring self-governance for the forgotten, regular American are unyielding and inspiring.

But I also understand regular people, and their challenges and dreams, because of where I am from, the very city where we convene this evening. To some extent, just about any American could say something like that. But my point tonight is to illustrate, using a little bit of local history, why people in this place—my hometown of Lafayette, Louisiana, and our broader region of Acadiana —are particularly well-suited to raising men and women who understand everyday concerns.


You might say, to use the parlance of my friends on the so-called New Right, that we in Acadiana have known “what time it is in America” well before other Americans did.

Talking about local history is not, however, my only task this evening. I also have the privilege—indeed, the honor—to deliver this year’s Veritas Lecture for John Paul the Great Academy, a school I founded in 2006, and a school that, in spite of its founder, is flourishing. Unequivocally, John Paul the Great Academy is one of the most important institutions in America, and it is so for many reasons, not the least of which is, using Tucker Carlson’s words, because it knows goodness and truth and beauty and love.

Its story is really the story of this region and its people, and the traditions they steadily nurtured and transmitted from one generation to the next. It is at once a quintessentially American story, and also a unique story—and one, as we will see, that reveals a trinity of patrimonies: Acadian, Christian, and American.

Our story begins in 1765, when a group of 300 refugees, persecuted for their religion, arrived in New Orleans. Disembarking from their sloop, they no doubt found the teeming port city a dizzying place—after all, the Crescent City’s reputation, shall we say, has been well-earned for nearly 300 years.

And yet, the city and its denizens also offered an atmosphere of comfort. In spite of the recent transfer of Louisiana from France to Spain in 1763, New Orleans was still a French city. Most importantly for the new arrivals from Nova Scotia, the city was Catholic, a welcome confirmation to them that their arduous journey down the Atlantic Seaboard, and across the Gulf of Mexico, was worth it.

Less than a year later, however, most of the Acadians who had arrived in New Orleans would move deep into the interior of Louisiana, taking advantage of the Spanish Crown’s generous land grants to anyone willing to tame the swampy lowlands of the Gulf Coast. And tame, these new migrants did, all across the coast, quickly founding eight towns on the Mississippi River between New Orleans and New Roads, along Bayou Lafourche, and west of the Atchafalaya River. My favorite of those settlements is Opelousas, just north of Lafayette, where one of those original 300 Acadians, my maternal ancestor Francois Pitre, settled.

By 1785, a total of 3,000 Acadian refugees had arrived in Louisiana; their settlements quickly flourished, leading to a population that in 1810 had blossomed to 35,000, a critical mass that would dominate the bayous, lowlands, and prairies of southern Louisiana.

At this point, you are no doubt wondering the purpose of this brief history lesson. The short answer is that it’s part of our patrimony. Yours, mine, everyone’s who is associated with John Paul the Great Academy, even for those whose ancestors were not Acadians, whether they be from England, Germany, Asia, Latin America, Africa—or elsewhere.

The Acadians of late 18th-century Louisiana were what cultural historians call an “anchor culture”—the first settlers of a region whose culture and folkways become predominant for decades and even centuries. Thus, like the Scots-Irish of Appalachia, the Dutch Reformed of Michigan, and the Mormons of Utah, the Acadians of the Gulf Coast became one of the most distinctive and influential regional cultures in America.

As such, this anchor culture has had a disproportionate influence on all the institutions of this region, including one of its newest, the school we celebrate tonight. But that school, however new, would not exist without the traditions transmitted over the centuries. By “centuries” I am not just referring to the 250 years since the Acadians arrived on the banks of Bayou Vermilion, quite literally where we are seated at this moment. Rather, I am referring to the two-millennia long intellectual tradition of the Roman Catholic Church—and even further back, on the Jewish and pre-Christian intellectual tradition of the Athenians and Romans.

It is all those traditions—plus those of Cajun culture—that John Paul the Great Academy both exists within and itself nurtures for future generations.

And is if these two patrimonies of local culture and the Judeo-Christian Great Books tradition were not enough, there is a final strand, a final patrimony, if you will: America.

We all take for granted that becoming part of America in 1803 was somehow automatically accepted by the residents of the Louisiana Territory. But for the Acadians, whose journey to this region was not that distant a memory, the American political tradition—with its British origins—was not readily embraced. And this makes complete sense, considering the religious oppression imposed by the British Crown on them and their forebears in Nova Scotia.

But as you and I know, and as the Cajuns came to know, the American political tradition had, from its inception on the Eastern Seaboard, embraced a radical notion of religious liberty. Thus, while the Cajuns sustained a culturally quasi-independent existence from the American governmental, they also knew that the most important of their traditions—their faith—would be honored by American rule of law. By the early 20th century, that symbiosis between a regional culture with its own language, and the nation-state of a different tongue, had been completed.

Two centuries after the Acadians’ arrival in Louisiana, President Ronald Reagan hosted Pope John Paul II in America. In this 1987 speech commemorating the pope’s visit to Miami, Reagan quoted the great Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain, who had written: “The Founding Fathers were neither metaphysicians nor theologians, but their philosophy of life and their political philosophy, their notion of natural law and of human rights, were permeated with concepts worked out by Christian reason and backed up by an unshakeable religious feeling.”

So it is precisely these patrimonies—Acadian, Catholic, and American—that John Paul the Great Academy nurtures. And considering when it was founded, in a period John Senior described as “the death of Christian culture,” it stands athwart history today, pulling into the present-day timeless principles of long-ago ages, and forging a path for the future, with its formation and cultivation of the young people in its care.

In that way, the school is leading the way in what Senior called “the restoration of Christian culture”—that is, the rebuilding of our institutions to reflect the needs of a generation so deprived of truth.

In fact, institutions like our school have only grown in importance during the last two decades. Though there has been a rebirth of classical schools of all denominational affiliations, the accelerating pace of the left’s march through most other institutions of learning—both K-12 and colleges—has widened the gap between schools that stand for truth and those that do not.

On this point, there really is no middle ground, for the neo-Marxist left in America does not merely want to hold power, but to destroy every semblance of tradition. They are cultural barbarians, burning to the ground—mostly figuratively, but increasingly literally—our statues, our icons, and the touchstones of our cultural inheritance.

In this cataclysmic battle for our remaining institutions, there is no room for half-measures. And the single best way to equip men and women for the “culture war” is to immerse them in the intellectual traditions of the West. This is the true armor of the modern age of decadence and incoherence, for it reminds us—inspires us—to build and re-build while our opponents are hell-bent on destruction.

Here, T.S. Eliot’s 1925 poem “The Hollow Men” is instructive. Written as an indictment of the crisis of leadership during the interwar periods, Eliot’s poem is shockingly timely when considering our present, profound cowardice by so many leaderships today:

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death's other Kingdom
Remember us—if at all—not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men….

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

It is that very breach—the morass of passivity, of the soft, squishy, emasculated, self-absorption that obscures one’s ability to see the harrowing depths of our cultural rot—where schools and colleges play a unique role. They are the mediating institutions of culture, the places where book learning, to be sure, happens, but equally importantly, where all our various differences confront the unifying, cohering, overwhelming force of truth.

This witness to truth is particularly needed in our age of declining religiosity—a trend, not surprisingly, that has given way to an even worse, emerging reality: hostility to religion. The only antidote to the anti-religionists is neither compromise nor negotiation, but religion itself—namely, the courageous, vocal, explicit, public affirmation of faith in every corner of the public square. After all, the Gospel Commission is an exhortation precisely because the work of evangelizing is and always has been difficult.

What makes that difficult work easier is the presence of institutions that inculcate “the permanent things”—those eternal, immutable principles we have inherited. It is important to note the practical, daily work inside those institutions: the teaching of a lesson in excellence; the openness by students to being taught; the informal conversations, in the hallways, cafeteria, and afternoon car line, among teachers, students, and parents, that subtly but profoundly reinforce the community.

To cite a small book that I quoted often in the Academy’s early years—Archbishop Michael Miller’s Five Marks of a Catholic School: schools “are genuine communities of faith” that represent the greatest alternative to our “individualistic society.” In other words, yes, the lessons and curriculum and homework and lectures are all vital to a school, but it’s the human element—the human interaction—in which the inculcation of culture really happens.

That is precisely why the radical left despises every institution of faith and every institution of learning—if they can complete their “long march through the institutions,” then they can control culture, which is tantamount to controlling us. The result is the tyranny of uniformity—indeed, a most ironic outcome in the age of the atomized individual.

Though we recognize this trend as a modern one, aggravated by our incessant devotion to screens and devices and social media, Alexis de Tocqueville observed a similar trend in the 1830s. He wrote,

I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world. The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remains to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.

In his magisterial work The Quest for Community, Robert Nisbet explains the significance of Tocqueville’s analysis. Nisbet writes that Tocqueville

points directly to the heart of totalitarianism—the masses; the vast aggregates who are never tortured, flogged, or imprisoned, or humiliated; who instead are cajoled, flattered, stimulated by the rulers; but who are nonetheless relentlessly destroyed as human beings, ground down into mere shells of humanity. And the genius of his analysis lies in the view of totalitarianism as something not historically ‘abnormal’ but as closely related to the very trends hailed as progressive.

It is those very trends against which all great schools must stand.

As most of us know, these battles are not new—they are just accelerating. Consider both the prescience of Patrick Buchanan’s comments, written twenty years ago, as well as the cultural carnage wreaked by the left’s march through our institutions. Buchanan observed:

Destroy the record of a people’s past, leave it in ignorance of who its ancestors were and what they did, and one can fill the empty vessels of their souls with a new history, as in [Orwell’s] 1984. Dishonor or disgrace a nation’s heroes, and you can demoralize its people….

Many of the institutions that now have custody of America’s past operate on the principles of Big Brother’s Ministry of Truth: drop down the “memory hole” the patriotic stories of America’s greatness and glory, and produce new “warts-and-all” histories that play up her crimes and sins, revealing what we have loved to be loathsome and those we have revered to be disreputable, even despicable. Many old heroes have not survived the killing fields of the New History. [The] ultimate goal: Destroy patriotism, kill the love of country, demoralize the people, deconstruct America. History then will no longer unite and inspire us, but depress and divide us into the children of victims and the children villains of America’s past.

Ten years before he wrote that passage, Pat Buchanan was here in Lafayette, speaking at a rally in his campaign for the 1992 Republican nomination for president. His speech was superb and, for me, formative: you see, I was there, having volunteered to help organize the event and recruit attendees. It was the first time I saw a national leader articulate so clearly what was on the minds of the everyday people in my hometown, all of whom had been deeply affected by a regional economic depression brought on by the oil bust of the 1980s.

I was not alone in that thinking. National coverage of the event estimated the crowd at over 600 people, one of the largest rallies Buchanan had in his entire campaign. Lafayette's local newspaper, the Daily Advertiser, led the next day's issue with a piece titled, “Buchanan Woos Acadiana,” paired with a picture of Buchanan receiving a large certificate naming him an honorary Cajun. How fitting, especially three decades later, considering how deep Buchanan’s appreciation was for the Acadians’ tenacious Catholicism and, in time, zealous American patriotism.

Though Buchanan would end up losing the Louisiana primary and, ultimately, the Republican nomination, no region in the country that year delivered a higher percentage of votes for him than did Acadiana. America’s original “America First” candidate knew that his political home was south Louisiana, where the confluence of culture and religious tradition had forged a unique American story.

But Buchanan’s brilliance was not limited to economic analysis. Later that year, at the Republican Convention in Houston, he delivered one of the most consequential convention speeches in modern history. I happened to be present for that speech, too, and now can confess to walking briskly past the security checkpoint so I could be on the convention floor for his speech.

In his broadside against the nascent culture warriors who were just beginning to train their sights on the American family, Buchanan declared, “My friends, this election is about much more than who gets what. It is about who we are. It is about what we believe. It is about what we stand for as Americans. There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself.”

Thirty years later, we know how right Buchanan was. Let us remember all that our society has normalized during that period: disordered affection, legalizing it as marriage; infanticide through the final days of the final trimester, if the most radical legislators in blue states get their way; forcing people of faith to be jabbed with a non-vaccine “vaccine,” over their religious and scientific objections; indoctrination, not education, in many of our schools; using public libraries as places for pornographic books in the children’s section and for drag-queen story hours, which have become the theatrical icon for the regime; and mutilating young men and young women, in many cases without their parents’ consent, in the name of “tolerance” and “love.”

Co-opting our language and even rainbows, the radical leftist agenda is as cunning as it is evil. As the great conservative historian Russell Kirk observed, “Political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems.” Consequently, to solve our political problems, we must also address religion and morals. And doing that requires forming men and women who can be the leaders in every arena of the public square during this grand effort to reclaim our nation.

In short, we have had enough of what C.S. Lewis calls “men without chests,” his wonderfully apt description of the consequences of raising men without heart and courage. As Lewis wrote so powerfully, “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

And yet, as another of Lewis’ great works so profoundly shows, there is always hope. His Chronicles of Narnia are one of the most important recent literary achievements in our Western canon, in no small measure because they capture the imaginations of children and adults alike. Fittingly, the Chronicles are a key part of the curriculum at classical schools. Lewis’s final lines in the final book of that beautiful series remind us why we do what we do, ultimately—to serve the Lion of Lions, the antithesis of “hollow men” and “men without chests,” our Lord Himself. Lewis writes:

And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at least they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

So yes, there is hope—at least of the supernatural kind. But with institutions, like John Paul the Great Academy, that form men and women of real courage, set to build families, communities, church parishes, religious orders, and businesses that withstand the winds of this incoherent age, we ought to have hope in this life, in this time, in this place, and in every place. As my friend Tucker Carlson said recently, “True things prevail.”

I close with this thought: On the day when I was announced as president of Heritage, I charged my colleagues with being “on offense” every single day, every single hour, for regular Americans and their values. The left wants us on defense, despairing and even despondent. That path is the path of defeat, riddled with the cultural potholes of calling men “women” and women “men,” of placing the pursuit of worldly possessions above the possession of truth, of telling our youngest generation that the American Dream for them is somehow dead.

It is imperative that we not take that road, and instead build our own path forward, alighted with the candles and torches of our shared cultural patrimony, and paved with the foundation of truth that only excellent, classical education can provide. As our patron John Paul the Great would exhort us, “Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch…. I plead with you--never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.”