Yesterday the Wall Street Journal published a letter I wrote to their editor in response to Kevin Rudd’s exposition on Xi Jinping’s “Common Prosperity” campaign:
Vladislav M. Zubok’s A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War From Stalin to Gorbachev is a surprising counterpart to my essay, “Culture Wars are Long Wars.” That essay proposed a general theory of cultural change. Key to its thesis was the observation that most cultural change does not occur because people change their ideas, but because people with new ideas replace people with old ones. As most people form their essential political worldview by the time they are 30 and only adapt it on the edges to new circumstances, only the most earth shaking events have the power to fundamentally shift the frameworks and values that the majority filter their politics through. Large scale cultural shift is largely a story of generational churn.
While the focus of that piece was on American domestic politics, this is a general phenomena that applies across cultures and time periods. Vladislav Zubok understands this. The generational nature of political change is a recurring theme of Failed Empire, which chronicles the ups and downs of Soviet diplomacy from the end of World War II to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. While we often describe Soviet history in terms of the leader reigning at the top of the system, Zubok argues that shifts in Soviet strategic behavior reflected not only the differing leadership styles of the various CPSU General Secretaries, but broader transitions from one generation of leaders to another.
We are told that we “lost the culture war.” I dissent from this view: we never waged a culture war. Conservatives certainly fought, there is no denying that. We fought with every bit of obstruction and scandal our operatives could muster. But this was not a culture war. Rather, America’s conservatives fought a political war over culture.
Noah Smith has a recent substack note discussing Taiwan. In the comments section there are a number of heated arguments over whether Taiwanese language, history, politics, and so forth are enough to justify thinking of Taiwan the way Smith does: as its own “civilization.” When reading through these debates I was struck by the […]
A few months ago I wrote about Oswald Spengler’s attempt at comparative world history. I expressed severe reservations with Spengler’s methods and conclusions. But for me the most fascinating parts of the book were the footnotes to Spengler’s main argument. Take, for example, Spengler’s attempt to compare and contrast members of his chosen pantheon of […]
Several months ago I wrote a few reflections on Ross Douthat’s newest book, The Decadent Society. As I noted, Douthat’s most interesting claim is that we live in an age of intellectual sterility. We cycle ever backwards to the intellectual, cultural, and political priorities of 1975. In response, I argued that complaints of cultural sterility […]
Shenzhen.Image source. Ending his decade of silence, the voice of Marc Andreessen rises from the dust, trumpeting forth a rousing cri de coeur: “It is time to build.” Andreessen’s essay has got a lot of play in certain circles, and it generated many responses. The general rule for those galvanized by Andreessen’s […]
Add caption One month ago I announced a series that would investigate “the world that China wants,” using Dan Tobin’s recent congressional testimony and Nadege Rolland’s recent research brief as the foundation of this discussion. My original plan was to dissect each of these documents at length. However, I put that aspect of the project […]
Two weeks ago I appeared on Titus Techera’s podcast Post-Modern Conservative to talk with him about my article for the National Review, “Learning the Wrong Lessons From Reform Conservatism” and the blog-post that went with it, “Conservatism’s Generational Civil War.” Our discussion was fruitful and wide ranging: over its course we discussed various intellectual currents […]
Image Source I have a new essay out in the National Review which extends some of yesterday’s thoughts on the limits and attractions of the “common good” conservatism to a new topic: the generational divide that currently divides thinkers on the American right. The Sanders/Biden primary has drawn attention to the parallel phenomena on the […]