Western societies are in the midst of a growing “culture war” between cultural socialism and cultural liberalism. The two sides in this conflict only partly overlap with the country’s partisan political divide: the culture war divides Democrats while largely uniting Republicans and independents. It presents, therefore, a risk for Democrats and an opportunity for Republicans.
In a controversy dominated by anecdotes and headlines, it is vital to systematically gather and analyze survey data on public experiences and attitudes toward culture-war issues. While this has been done for universities, this report—based principally on a new survey conducted on the Qualtrics platform—is the first comprehensive analysis of the wider American experience with, and opinion of, cancel culture, political correctness, and Critical Race Theory.
Cultural liberalism is the belief that individuals and groups should have the freedom to express themselves, should not be compelled to endorse beliefs that they oppose, and should be treated equally by social norms and the law.
Cultural socialism is the idea that public policy should be used to redistribute wealth, power, and self-esteem from the privileged groups in society to disadvantaged groups, especially racial and sexual minorities, and women. This justifies restrictions on the freedom and equal treatment of members of advantaged groups.
For some Democratic voters, a commitment to cultural socialism overrides their historical defense of free speech. Most Republicans disagree with that position. They also oppose what they perceive to be the denigration of white Americans and the nation’s past, which underlie their support for a new politics of civil rights in schools and workplaces.
The main findings include:
A majority of Americans oppose cancel culture, but a significant minority—about a third— support it, backing decisions to fire employees for legal speech that they regard as unacceptable. Cancel culture is thus not only about people being afraid to stand up for their rights; it is rooted in genuine philosophical differences in the population between cultural socialism and cultural liberalism.
The problem of cancel culture is going to get worse, not better. Younger people are substantially more likely to support cultural socialism than older Americans, even when controlling for ideology and party identification. As today’s college graduates enter large organizations, they will mount an increasing challenge to freedom of expression.
Look at this. You’ll recall that Google fired James Damore when he responded to an in-house inquiry about the company’s hiring policies by writing a memo criticizing the assumptions in its diversity plan, and making suggestions for other ways to achieve what the company wanted to achieve.
The survey finds that diversity training has no impact on improving relationships within a workplace, and makes people more afraid:
The survey also finds that all people — even Republicans — who go through diversity training emerge more in favor of cancelling others.
Look at this finding:
Many Republicans are insulated from the culture wars because of where they live and work. Democratic and Republican voters tend to sort into neighborhoods, social groups, and workplaces that reflect their values. This helps protect conservatives and moderates from progressive illiberalism and political discrimination, forces that would cause them to selfcensor. Conservatives (including conservative Democrats) living and working in left-wing environments bear the brunt of progressive illiberalism. Democrats in Republican workplaces also report less freedom to express their views but not nearly as much as Republicans in Democratic-dominated organizations, where fewer than three in 10 Trump voters would tell a coworker how they voted.
Well, sure. Most of this tearing-apart of our society is driven by the aggressive hatred of the ideological left, as the survey shows. Conservatives and moderates naturally don’t want to be around them more than they have to be, because to do so is to put yourself at risk of cancellation or some other form of harassment. The story we get from our leftist-dominated media, though, tells a very different story.
In sum, a divide has emerged between a cultural socialist minority and a culturally liberal majority. Among the youngest voters, cultural socialism arguably has the edge over cultural liberalism, suggesting that cancel culture is likely to worsen in the years to come. Issues of cancel culture and Critical Race Theory now rank at the midpoint in American politics and are a high priority for Republican voters and a mid-ranking issue for independents.
More than a third of all workers are concerned about losing their jobs or reputations to cancel culture. More than seven in 10 people say that political correctness has gone too far and that they self-censor their beliefs in at least some situations. Among employees with college degrees, a majority have experienced diversity training, and taking diversity training is associated with a heightened fear of misspeaking or being fired.
An overwhelming majority of voters of all political stripes oppose certain Critical Race Theory– inspired teaching methods, such as separating children by race into “privileged” and “oppressed.” However, there are large partisan gaps over whether students should be taught that the U.S. is a racist country or whether the curriculum should focus more on race and gender. Public opinion on culture-war issues tends to split the Democratic coalition while uniting Republicans, suggesting that culture-war issues are a risk that the Democrats must manage, while presenting an opportunity for the Republicans.
What to make of these findings? I have a few thoughts.
First, we must do away with the thought that wokeness is a passing fad. It’s here to stay, not only for the reasons N.S. Lyons identified the other day, but also because, as Prof. Kaufmann demonstrates, it is popular with a majority of young Americans. You would be foolish to think that they will grow out of it. We have to have a long-term plan to deal with it.
Second, we aren’t going to be able to vote this away, but politics can be useful in fighting it. Because of the demographic shifts, Republicans and moderate Democrats will never have a better opportunity to roll back wokeness and all its pomps and works than they do now. It is imperative that GOP voters push, and push hard, on Republican elected officials to go after cancel culture, CRT, and other forms of wokeness. If they don’t do it now, they never will.
Embarrassing to whom?
They’re destroying the people you claim to represent and working to permanently shift voting demographics and the only consequence they pay is a few snarky tweets from the “opposition” https://t.co/mJsVGkcoWQ
— Auron MacIntyre (@AuronMacintyre) January 25, 2022
The media will scream bloody murder about the terrible, horrible, no-good Republican bigots, but as Kauffman’s polling shows, most voters — even independents and some Democrats — hate this stuff, and will stand by the GOP.
Third, conservatives, moderates, and cultural liberals (as distinct from cultural socialists), have got to find their voice and use it within institutions to defend liberal values like free speech. If we wait for Republican politicians to rescue us, it’s not likely to happen. Besides, law generally follows culture. Look to the courageous parents in northern Virginia who raised hell about what the educational bureaucracy was doing to their kids. The parents there led this fight; the politicians only followed. This is a battle to defend basic liberties, and basic decencies. If we sit quietly hoping to avoid trouble, we will deserve what we get.
This afternoon I’ve been having conversations with Christian friends all over the country. A couple of these friends — both Evangelicals, from different parts of the country — are particularly downcast about what they see happening in their church circles. They talk about how the leadership class within their denominations and institutions prefer to avoid making hard choices, and think they are protecting the institutions by avoiding controversial stands, and by staying quiet as senior leadership makes mistake after mistake, and satisfies itself with trying to fight yesterday’s battles, which are irrelevant today.
Speaking for myself, I get especially irritated when fellow Christians, especially pastors and other church leaders, refuse to confront the multiple crises we are living through. I know that many of them are hoping that politicians will save us from the anti-Christian woke militants. It’s a foolish bet, in part based on past performance of those Republican politicians, but also because the primary battlefields in this war are the hearts and minds of their congregations. In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his Fidesz Party majority in parliament are doing what they can with the law to fight wokeness, but the young generation of Hungarians are being catechized and discipled through social media. A conservative Hungarian woman told me last summer there that her 19-year-old son and all his friends are being radicalized by TikTok on gender matters. A Polish high school teacher told me that there are no institutions in Poland more influential on the attitudes and beliefs of the young than social media. Unless you expect the state to shut down social media entirely, you are going to have to fight this battle for the hearts and minds of your kids, and (pastors) for the kids in your congregation.
One of my interlocutors today, a veteran Evangelical pastor in a Red State, said, “I am convinced 100 percent that the Benedict Option is the only way out.” What he means is that the faith will only survive in small communities of countercultural Christians who exercise spiritual and moral discipline. In other words, this Red State pastor has arrived at the same conclusion that Father Cassian Folsom, the founding prior of the Benedictine monastery in Norcia, shared with me in 2015 when we met. He told me that in his denomination, they depended for far too long on measuring success by the numbers of people in the pews, and by holding everybody together via shared political views. They have been hollowed out from within.
Of course it is not just Evangelicals. It’s all of us. There is nowhere to hide.
I expect that we will see a big Republican victory nationwide this November, and some respite from the relentless attack of the woke brigades. But as Eric Kauffman’s work clearly shows, this is going to be a battle lasting decades. I strongly urge you readers — traditional Christians and others whose convictions put them on the opposite side of the woke crusaders — to read Live Not By Lies and start setting up Kolakovic groups, and networking with other Christians. As I explain in the book, and as many of you have read on this blog, Father Tomislav Kolakovic was a Catholic priest who saw Soviet domination coming to Slovakia, and he knew that that would mean persecution of religious believers. He spread the word and started groups for prayer, discussion, and action to prepare the local churches for what was coming. He did so in the face of criticism from the Catholic bishops of that country, men who were confident that It Can’t Happen Here™. That courageous priest knew otherwise, and kept working. Thank God, because the reason the underground church under Czechoslovak communism was so strong had a lot to do with Father Kolakovic and his disciples.
We Christians and other social and religious conservatives have the gift of time now. Scholars like Eric Kauffman are showing us what is likely coming. A big Republican victory this fall will only slow things down — and that is assuming that the GOP lawmakers actually get off their butts and act boldly against wokeness, as Viktor Orban has in Hungary. So, yes, vote, and get active politically — but by no means let that be the extent of your activism. Prepare your family, your church, and your community for what is to come. The dissidents who survived Soviet communism have so much to teach us.