A few weeks ago I participated in a panel sponsored by the Cherokee County Republican Assembly. The question was: Did the Conservatives lose the culture war? According to businessman Alex Gimenez, they did. Given that liberals have captured the media and schools, he identified these folks as setting our cultural agenda.
Matthew Perdie, a documentary moviemaker, disagreed. He argued that Donald Trump’s electoral victory demonstrates that political correctness is on the wane. As for Catherine Bernard, a lawyer, she was more equivocal. She suggested that conservatives should be more tolerant of minorities.
In my opinion, however, nobody won the culture wars. Liberals, conservatives, and libertarians alike were losers. Each faction promoted a program that is now in tatters. All made promises that were not kept. The result is a stalemate in which each side still expects to claim victory.
The reason that none will is because they are out of date. All three endorse ideas created hundreds or thousands of years ago. None was specifically designed to address the problems we currently experience.
Thus many conservatives urge us to embrace religious verities. They tell us that if we recommit to laws handed down by a merciful God, we will regain his favor. We must therefore love one another. We are to treat each other essentially as siblings so as to safeguard our collective welfare.
This strategy will not work because too many Americans are secular. They refuse to embrace the old-time religion. Nor can three hundred and thirty million people truly love one another. Although they may behave decently toward strangers, they are not, and never will be, kin.
As for the libertarians, they advise us to become entrepreneurs. If we are free to pursue our private interests in an unfettered marketplace, we will all be better off. The problem with this approach is twofold. First, we are not equally talented or aggressive. Second, this leaves love entirely out of the equation.
Although the liberals have been dominant for about a century, they too aspire to the untenable. They tell us to turn to the government for salvation. If we allow its experts to make decisions we are incapable of making for ourselves, we will prosper as never before.
The liberals call this social justice and explain that a fully democratic regime will create complete equality. Once it controls the means of production, it will ensure that everyone receives a fair share. With greed having been suppressed by a myriad of regulations and affirmative action empowering the least formidable among us, the playing field will finally be level.
Except that we have now had some experience with residing under a bureaucratic yoke. Government experts turn out to be at least as corrupt as the industrial moguls who preceded them. Their version of political correctness pits minority groups against one another such that it is the politicians who enrich themselves.
No one is happy with the current situation because no one has obtained the alleged benefits. As it happens, we have developed into a mass techno-commercial society. This ushered in undreamt of wealth and a myriad of choices. But it also introduced unprecedented insecurities.
With so much power at our disposal, we are today capable of big mistakes. The traditional ideologies guarded against these. Religion gave us divinely inspired answers. The marketplace stimulated a multitude of technical and political innovations. As for the progressives, they offered relief from frightening choices by making these for us.
The alternative to these failed worldviews is for us to take care of ourselves. If we become emotionally mature grown-ups who understand the problems before us, we can individually determine what is best for us personally and collectively. As self-motivated experts, we ought to learn from the traditional philosophies so as to take charge of our destinies.
The problem with this option, however, is that it thrusts the responsibility upon us. Aside from the hard work it takes to master contemporary complexities, if things go wrong, we will be to blame. This prospect has already stimulated a flight from freedom and reanimated cultural solutions that have hitherto demonstrated major limitations.
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Kennesaw State University