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The True Nature of the Culture War

The True Nature of the Culture War
Conservatives and many others on the political right fail to understand what exactly is this thing that we call the "culture war" and as a result, they are ineffective in their efforts to fight it.

You may have heard this phrase, “the return of the strong gods” in reference to this thing that we know as “the culture war.”  What does that mean?  Why is it important?  We often think that the culture war is about who controls the news or who is in control of the nation’s institutions.  Alternatively, we think that the culture war is about who is in charge of the major mechanisms of cultural production.  Maybe it is about our elite class using these cultural mechanisms to push an agenda which breaks down all traditional moral categories and standards of behavior.  It is all of this, in part.  But these are merely the surface epiphenomena.  At its heart, the culture war is about something deeper and more fundamental.  It is about the rules for everything.

Once you bore down into it, the culture war is what is called a “second order disagreement.”  What is this?  In a society that is not engaging in a culture war, that is, a unitary society, all the major means of conflict resolution are agreed upon and accepted by all.  Every society has disagreements.  But in a healthy society, a unitary society with a single operative culture, the mechanisms by which these disputes are resolved are accepted by everyone.  These can vary by society and even vary within the same unitary society over time.  We vote on it.  We consult the Bible.  We cast lots.  We go to court and a judge and/or jury decides.  We take our dispute to a wise man and he decides between us.  The Pope issues a ruling.  The Ecumenical Council decides.  Tradition will dictate who is right.  We check the policy manual.  We consult an expert.  We will follow the science.  We will read the omens.

In most societies there is a mix of some of the above mechanisms and more.  But the key in a unitary society is that everyone understands going into the dispute how it will be resolved.  And, importantly, they are willing to accept the results of the culturally agreed upon mechanism of dispute resolution.  Once something is decided, it is decided and the dispute is over.  You don’t have to be happy about the result.  You just have to accept that this is the decision and you then willingly abide by the decision.  It has been decided.  For the sake of the whole community, you let go of your claim, your dispute, and accept the ruling which has been made.  This is what is known as a “first order disagreement.”  We have a conflict, but we know how it will be negotiated and how peace will be restored to the community and we all accept these mechanisms.

In a second order disagreement, neither side is willing to accept the rules by which disputes are settled.  Each group operative within the society has their own mechanisms by which conflicts are resolved.  More than this, not only is there no shared mechanism for dispute resolution, neither party is willing to accept any attempts to adjudicate between the two operative cultural frameworks.  The differences are irreconcilable.  There is no amount of arguing from your framework that will convince someone from the other framework.  Pre-marital sex is a good thing.  Pre-marital sex is a sin against God.  Homosexuality is a good thing.  Homosexuality is a sin against God.  Abortion is vital for the liberation of women.  Abortion is murder.  Any figure in the past that owned slaves or held racist views is irredeemable and cannot be venerated.  These men, while complicated, are men who made us what we are today.  America was born as a racist country.  America is the land of freedom.  The Constitution is a living document.  The Constitution must be interpreted according to the intent of the Founders.  These are just the low hanging fruit detailing some of the irresolvable differences at work culturally.

There are those who will argue that the new left, under the sway of what is known as “critical theory” looked to break down all of the existing power structures, all the rules of society, to replace them with a pure “will to power,” the idea that might makes right.  I would argue that this is just a tactic.  There is an operative morality at work.  This morality, though, is hostile to the order that has been passed on to them, because it gets in the way of their ability to impose through the mechanisms of law, policy and the power of institutional control, their vision for a utopian society.  In some ways, the content is not as important as the fact of the technical administrative state.  The content is fungible as long as it extends control over ever greater portions of society.  This control gives them the ability to reward the client groups which form the basis of their power.  It is mixture of realpolitik and utopianism.

The operative impulse, the Myth which drives it, is that of Human Progress.  That which is deemed to aid progress is given the moral imprimatur.  That which is deemed to stand in opposition to, or to hinder, or to hold back progress is condemned.  These decisions are largely made mimetically in a dispersed network fashion.  It is not unlike how social media operates.  Is this particular moral judgement “trending?”  Then it is what is determined to be right.  Who decided?  No one.  Everyone.  But this does not make these judgements any less real or any less potent culturally.  There is an operative mechanism and moral disputes are decided upon.  Determinations are made within this cultural context.  All who adhere to this frame accept these judgements as binding.  To put it in an older parlance, the gods have decided.

We can see conflicts like the Civil War through this lens.  There is no real way to negotiate a settlement.  One side or the other must acquiesce, either giving up entirely or accepting a marginalized role in society.  It does not have to result in armed conflict, as in the Civil War, but the only way to resolve this is for one side to defeat the other.  A cultural victory of sorts was won during the period of the two World Wars, resulting in the post war liberal consensus.  This held until about the mid 1980’s.  As long as Christians, and with them conservatives, were willing to accept the cultural dominance of the progressive administrative state apparatus, a relative peace was maintained.  This did not mean that there was a truly unified culture.  It just meant that the progressives were content to leave Christians and conservatives alone for a time.  Or, at least let them think they were being left alone as they consolidated their hold on the culture producing apparatuses.

The point here is that we understand properly what is happening and its implications for resolving the culture war.  Most mainstream Republicans, and many more who would think of themselves as broadly being on the mainstream right, fail to understand the significance between a first order and a second order disagreement.  Most Republican politicians and many who strategize on how to defeat the progressives, do so operating from a frame in which they assume that everyone, progressives and conservatives alike, operate within the same rules based framework.  The Republicans, their strategists and many of their supporters believe that they can win using the system as it has existed in the past, the system as passed down to them.  They have a framework of rules by which they play the game and that by playing well within this set of rules they believe they can outmaneuver and outfox the progressives and win the game within the current rule set.

One such example of this is this idea of “bipartisanship.”  The rules of the system as passed down to us says that the parliamentary system is based on the idea of a contract.  If we can come together and negotiate a good contract, then everything will be settled and we will have created a broad based consensus, a unitary society.  The so-call “social contract.” But this is not what is happening at all.  The progressives, through their political wing, the Democrat Party, have no interest in creating an enduring consensus.  They do desire a unitary society, but not one that is a healthy blend, a coming together, of the progressive and the conservative melded into a unitary social consensus.  They want progressive hegemony and the elimination of the conservative position entirely.  Once you have reached an agreement today, and you have moved part way today, they will just ask for the next thing, and the next, and the next, and the next.  We call this “the ratchet.”  They are using your rules against you.  They do not accept the rules as legitimate.  The progressive agenda has legitimacy.  The technical administrative state has legitimacy.  Their ability to implement progressive policy through the administrative state is legitimate.  They do not accept your compromises as legitimate.  They are merely a stepping stone to the next step in the realization of the progressive agenda.

The progressive does not accept the system as passed down.  This is an obstacle to the progressive agenda.  The rules of the system as passed down are illegitimate in their mind.  Or, they are legitimate only to the degree with which they support the progressive agenda.  They do not accept the set of rules under which politics was thought to operate up to the early 20th century.  If they appear to accept them, it is only because they are convenient to achieving the true rules which guide them, that of progressive ideology.  Whatever is determined to be the next stage of the progressive movement as decided mimetically within its decentralized authority network, becomes the de facto new set of rules by which all things will now be adjudicated.  The ideology is determining the current rules of the game.  Whatever supports the latest thing is good and whatever undermines the latest thing is bad.  This is often characterized as a naked will-to-power, but this is not entirely correct.  They just don’t accept your rules.  But they do have rules.  There is an operative moral order.  There is a mechanism for adjudicating disputes.  It is just not your moral order, your mechanism for dispute resolution.  The two are incommensurate.  You cannot fight the culture war until you understand this.

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There can be no compromise.  Only when one side is willing to yield and accept the victory conditions set by the other side can there be peace and a return to cultural unity.  There can be only one.  That means that the left must be defeated in a way that is total.  The institutions and the ideas which underpin them must be defeated.  Whether that is by physical violence or some peaceful means the only way through this is that either the left or the right is defeated.  They do not accept our legitimacy.  They do not accept our rules.  They do not accept any cultural consensus that we might think is operative or was operative in the past.  The mid-century consensus is not coming back.  The progressive sees everything about us as illegitimate at best, evil at worst.

You must impose your right to exist upon them by defeating them.  That means you must impose your value structure onto them such that they yield to it.  Every place they are found, every institution they control, every source of power they possess must be defeated. It must be made to surrender and it must be destroyed.  There can be only one.  Because this is a second order disagreement, there are no agreed upon mechanisms by which this dispute can be resolved, none.  We cannot negotiate through it using existing institutions.  In truth, they have figured out how to subvert your culture, morals, legal framework, and institutions so as to make them serve progressivism.  You are in a place where any weapons you thought you might have, have been stolen from you from within.  You are not so much fighting an enemy that is truly other.  Rather, the battle with progressivism is more akin to fighting off cancer.  And part of the problem is that the “classical liberal” frame that you thought was operative culturally as the unifying force, this is what gave you cancer in the first place.

What is the one force that the progressives have not completely subverted?  It isn’t the framework of “the Founders.” It exists within the Christian faith and the Christian community.  Granted, it is embattled and stressed.  But all the resources are there in our 2000 plus year old living tradition to fight back.  Until this culture war is resolved, all other political battles will be subsumed under its aegis.  You, your faith, your culture, your politics will continue to be considered illegitimate until you defeat them.  There will be no peace until one side or the other wins.

This is what the return of the “strong gods” is all about.  In ancient times, battles between peoples were often battles in which man fought man on behalf of their god.  The loser’s god would be defeated and the defeated people would be made to accept the worship of the victor’s god.  This is what the culture war is all about.  A battle over who and what will be worshiped.  Which God will make the rules and establish the cosmic order?  There can be only one.

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