Culture Wars are Long Wars

From Ryan Burge, tweet, 2 July 2021.

“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked?

“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually, then suddenly.”

—Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises (1926).

We are told that conservatives “lost the culture war.” I dissent from this view: American conservatives never waged a culture war. Conservatives certainly fought, there is no denying that. They fought with every bit of obstruction and scandal their operatives could muster. But this was not a culture war. Rather, America’s conservatives fought a political war over culture. Republicans used cultural issues to gain—or to try to gain—political power. Their brightest minds and greatest efforts went into securing control of judiciary, developing a judicial philosophy for their appointees, securing control of the Capitol, and developing laws that could be implemented in multiple state houses across the nation. No actual attempt to change the culture was attempted.

This was not thought necessary. Conservatives had the people. One decade they were called a “silent” majority; as the culture war heated up, that majority transitioned from “silent” to “moral,” but a majority they remained. In these circumstances it was sufficient to quarantine the cultural dissidents and keep them from using minority maneuvers (“legislating from the bench”) to impose their cultural priorities on the rest of us. Political containment was the name of our game. Republicans played it well. They still play it well, even when the majority of yesterday has melted away.

The left played for different stakes. They fought for American culture as the right fought over it. Their insurgency succeeded as Hemingway’s businessman failed: gradually, then suddenly.

This is the normal pattern of things. The woke campaign to remake American society is only one of a dozen that have reshaped the American republic. The creation of a distinct American national identity between 1750 and 1780, the 2nd Great Awakening’s moral crusade (culminating in widespread anti-slavery sentiment) that transformed the North between 1820 and 1860, the South’s embrace of pro-slavery politics between 1830 and 1860, and the advance of the Progressive Movement between 1880 and 1920 are all examples of this pattern. More recent social and political movements we tend to associate with narrower dates: the ‘neoliberal revolution,’ with the election of Ronald Reagan, the Civil Rights movement with the victories of 1954-1968, and so forth. But here too there was a gradually and a suddenly; behind almost all of these sudden revolutions were a decade or two of less glamorous institution and idea building. We don’t see the Moral Majority of the ‘80s without Oral Roberts tramping about Tulsa in 1947; there is no Ms. without The Second Sex or the Kinsey reports three decades earlier. 

Cultures can be changed; movements can be built. But as these examples all suggest, this is not a quick task. Culture wars are long wars. Instilling new ideas and overthrowing existing orthodoxies takes time—usually two to three generations of time. It is a 35-50 year process.

There are four pieces I request any person serious about this problem—be they conservative or otherwise— read. They explain why cultural conflict takes place at this two-generation tempo, and where the “center of gravity” of this conflict lies. If you want to actually overthrow a cultural orthodoxy, instead of just grouse about said orthodoxies for the sake of shilling up votes, these are a good place to start. I will not provide an in-depth summary of each of these four pieces, but will briefly introduce each.

Friedrich A. Hayek, “The Intellectuals and Socialism,” in The Intellectuals: A Controversial Portrait, ed. George Huszar (Glencoe, Illinois: Free Press, 1960), 371–84.

Musa al-Gharbi, “Seizing the Means of Knowledge ProductionHeterodox Academy (4 August, 2019).

Robert Putnam, “From Generation to Generation” in Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of the American Community, 2nd ed (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2020), 247-276.

Stephen Vaisey and Omar Lizardo, “Cultural Fragmentation or Acquired Dispositions? A New Approach to Accounting for Patterns of Cultural Change,” Socius 2 (1 January, 2016).

If you care at all about this topic, Friedrich Hayek is a man to study closely. Consider his position in 1949, the year he penned the essay “The Intellectuals and Socialism.” He was an economic libertarian living in a world that had seemingly discredited everything he had stood for. Two decades before humanity had been plunged into the greatest depression in the history of the species. This depression was blamed squarely on the very laissez faire politics Hayek championed. The developed world was a collection of command economies; expansive growth in government had shepherded the Western world through the Great Depression and total war. Labour was victorious in Britain, social democrats were sweeping Europe, in the United States even Republicans had made their peace with social welfare, and communism was ascendant everywhere. The USSR’s improvements in living standards and industrial output impressed all: their success cast a pall on the capitalist world.  Unfettered capitalism was endorsed by no one. Well, almost no one. It was still endorsed by one Friedrich Hayek.  

You know what happens over the next three decades. The Soviet economy stalls, Bretton-Woods falls apart, stagflation rips through the American economy, Reagan and Thatcher have their respective revolutions, and with the end of the Cold War ‘neoliberal’ economic principles become the bedrock of the new global order. Hayek and his little band of economic libertarians begin this story as pariahs. They end it prophets. This is a remarkable transformation, a clear case of cultural insurgency triumphant. Hayek fought and won a war over American ideals.

 “Socialism and the Intellectuals” is Hayek’s war manual.  

Key to Hayek’s campaign was the conviction that policy flowed from the general attitudes, beliefs, and worldview of what he terms “secondhand dealers in ideas.”1 What these people believe today, Hayek maintains, will determine policy in 10-20 years. Secondhand dealers in ideas are not experts in the ideas they peddle; they care less about particulars than the grand sweep of things. Libertarians failed to make way against the midcentury socialist tide, Hayek maintains, because they had nothing to offer these people. They offered stale orthodoxies of an earlier age and saw politics mostly as a wonkish scheme of adjustment at the edges. The secondhand dealer of ideas thirsts for something more than this. Hayek’s essay describes the shape ideas must take if they are to appeal to the generalist intellectual, who exactly these intellectuals were, and why keepers of cultural orthodoxies struggle to adapt their message for the secondhand market.


Friedrich A. Hayek, “The Intellectuals and Socialism,” in The Intellectuals: A Controversial Portrait, ed. George Huszar (Glencoe, Illinois: Free Press, 1960), 372.

Hayek’s essay is all theory. It can be usefully supplemented with an account of the institutions Hayek and his friends built to go about waging their insurgency, like the one I link to here.2 Musa al-Gharbi’s “Seizing the Means of Knowledge Production” does the same job for the woke moment. In this essay al-Gharbi traces the origins of the ideas, terms, and practices we associate with the woke breakout of 2013-15 back to their origins in legal and activist circles back in the 1970s and 1980s. Al-Gharbi is especially good at identifying the institutions and pathways by which ideas spread from these small activist circles to mainstream acceptance today. In his account we see the old pattern recur: like most successful cultural insurgencies, the woke transformation of American life was the fruit of a four decade insurgency. Its victory came first gradually, then suddenly.


John Blundell, Waging the War of Ideas, 4th ed (London: Institute for Economic Affairs: 2015), esp. chapters 1-2.

However, both Hayek and al-Gharbi miss something important—the key element, I maintain, to any accurate account of social change. This element is the topic of the next two pieces, both written by sociologists. The first is a chapter of Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, an investigation of changing social capital, social norms, and social trust in U.S. over the 20th century. Putnam isolates many different reasons for these changes, but in the chapter “Generation to Generation,” he describes most of them as effects of cohort change.

The logic of cohort change can be grasped by the graphic at the top of this essay (Putnam includes many similar ones in his book). America’s future is godless not because the God-fearing were convinced of the errors of their faith, but because their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren never adopted their faith to start out with. Cultures do not change when people replace old ideas with new ones; cultures change when people with new ideas replace the people with old ones.

Putnam’s chapter is the most accessible presentation of this process that I have read. Vaisey and Lazardo’s paper is a more technical (and thus less friendly) test of concept. They test the cohort hypothesis against a set of four dozen different beliefs and social attitudes (as measured in GSS). They conclude that almost all “social” or “value laden” attitudes are established early in life and are then maintained throughout it. The “formative events” of one’s youth truly are formative. The ideas, attitudes, and social pressures of one’s youth have a similar impact on one’s worldview, even after the conditions that created these pressures have long disappeared.

Taken together, these four papers explain many of the odd characteristics of cultural change. Generational churn helps account for the “gradually, then suddenly” tempo of social revolution. Cultural insurgents win few converts in their own cohort. They can, however, build up a system of ideas and institutions which will preserve and refine the ideals they hope their community will adopt in the future. The real target of these ideas are not their contemporaries, but their contemporaries’ children and grandchildren. Culture wars are fought for the hearts of the unborn. Future generations will be open to values the current generation rejects outright.

This will not be apparent at first. Beneath the official comings and goings of the cohorts above, a new consensus forms in in the cohorts below. Ideas will fester among the young, but their impact will be hidden by the inability and inexperience of youth. But the youth do not stay young. Eventually a transition point arrives. Sometimes, this transition will be marked by a great event the old orthodoxy cannot explain. At other times it is simply a matter of numbers. In either case, the end falls swift: the older cohorts suddenly find themselves outnumbered and outgunned, swept up in a flood they had assumed was a mere trickle.  

For them it was a trickle. They spent their time with members of their own cohort. The revolution occurring below did not echo in their souls. It won no converts among their friends, nor even among their rivals. The new values remained the preserve of weirdos and extremists. Not so for the rising generation!

 The rising cohort has many reasons to thirst for new ideas. Old orthodoxies, designed to solve the problems of a past age, will have difficulty explaining crises in the new one. These events will be formative for the new generation; a group of insurgents who can explain these formative events in terms of their own program will win converts to the cause.3


The classic example of this was the stagflation of the 1970s, which existing economic theories had difficulty explaining and existing economic tools had difficulty taming. Yet Milton Friedman was altogether too modest when he remarked that “the role of people is to keep ideas alive until a crisis occurs. It wasn’t my talking that caused people to embrace these ideas, just as the rooster doesn’t make the sun rise.” The stagflation crisis was a necessary, but not a sufficient, cause of the ‘neoliberal’ revolution. Without the rooster’s crow that sun might never have rose.

Quote from Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw, The Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998), 145.

To this we might add: the mere existence of orthodoxy sows the seeds of its own destruction. Older cohorts did the hard work of setting terms for the social sphere back in their youth. With the revolution won, revolution ends: in older age they reduce their role to that of tinkerer and technician.  “This, more than anything else,” Hayek observes, “creates an almost impassable barrier between them and the intellectuals” of the rising generation. Intellectuals are Hayek’s premier class of “secondhand dealers in ideas”—and they will always be alienated by the orthodoxies of generations past. For

Orthodoxy of any kind, any pretense that a system of ideas is final and must be unquestioningly accepted as a whole, is the one view which of necessity antagonizes all intellectuals, whatever their views on particular issues. Any system which judges men by the completeness of their conformity to a fixed set of opinions, by their “soundness” or the extent to which they can be relied upon to hold approved views on all points, deprives itself of a support without which no set of ideas can maintain its influence in modern society. The ability to criticize accepted views, to explore new vistas and to experience with new conceptions, provides the atmosphere without which the intellectual cannot breathe. A cause which offers no scope for these traits can have no support from him and is thereby doomed in any society which, like ours, rests on his services.4


Hayek, “The Intellectuals and Socialism,” 383.

If you want to see this process in real time, look no further than the Democrat’s socialist wing. Older party leaders view the socialists as spoilers and madmen, political contagions not to be fought against nor partnered with, but contained and quarantined. Socialism is not something they take seriously. This is a cohort problem. Democrats under 40 take socialism very seriously. The Great Recession was their formative event; the old orthodoxy did not seem equal to the fear and heartache it caused. Thus, gradually, the younger cohorts have been won over to the socialist cause.5 All that keeps the socialists at bay is the power of their elders. That power cannot last. At some point in the next decade the transition point will arrive. Gradually will become suddenly, and America’s most popular party will be openly run by socialists.


Lydia Saad, “Socialism as Popular as Capitalism Among Young Adults in U.S.,” Gallup (25 November 2019); Hannah Hartig, “Stark partisan divisions in Americans’ views of ‘socialism,’ ‘capitalism’,” Pew Social Trends (25 June 2019).

Understanding this is equal parts clarifying and frustrating. Clarifying, because it gives us a clear idea of what must be done and of what cannot be done. Frustration comes from that second item: as culture wars are long wars, there are no quick victories. If you reject the quickly crystalizing orthodoxy of America’s millennials, your short-term options are limited. The millennials are a lost generation; they will persist in their errors to the end of their days. Theirs is a doomed cohort—and for most of the next two decades, this doomed cohort will be in charge.

 But like all orthodoxies, theirs will eventually stumble. Today’s orthodoxy will meet events it cannot explain. Today’s hopes will be the source of tomorrow’s sorrows. When those sorrows arrive, a rising generation will be looking for alternatives. The job of today’s insurgents is to build a coherent critique of this orthodoxy, a compelling vision of a better way, and a set of networks that can guard the flame until the arrival of that happy day.

Values must be forged. Utopias must be imagined. Ideas must be tailored for mass intellectual appeal. Paths to communicate these ideals must be cleared. The inevitable shall happen: old orthodoxies shall go stale and brittle. New crises shall discredit them in their brittleness. Then the well-placed culture warrior will have both the arguments and the networks needed to inspire the rising generation. That generation will learn how their fathers and mothers created the mess they are now in. Gradually, then suddenly, our people will turn to the light.

This is a long process, but a true one. This is the proven path of the culture warrior.

If this post on generational determinants of political ideology has caught your interest interest, consider reading my earlier posts “Conservatism’s Generational Civil War,” “The Problem of the New Right,” “Living in the Shadow of the Boomers,” and “Public Opinion in Authoritarian States.” To get updates on new posts published at the Scholar’s Stage, you can join the Scholar’s Stage mailing list, follow my twitter feed, Facebook page, or support my writing through Patreon. Your support makes this blog possible. —————————————————————————————

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When the Right sneezes, the Left litigates.
When the Left violates federal or state law in activities such as workplace training, public school indoctrination, university use of tax supported education systems that are in fact political action committees, etc., the Right does nothing.
If the Right does not begin litigation, early and often, we can forget about a culture war victory.

Frankly, the comments are as I expected. Lots of talk and ideas but no path to victory.
America is a divided country; one faction is organized, funded, motivated and bold.

The Culture War is a Long War…..and the Long Grift.

Enough. The Right speaks of Liberty and Prosperity, infuriates our enemies, then delivers us to them in rags and chains.


We listened to Scholars and Intellectuals and got out our Bibles and Checkbooks.
When they mentioned culture we should have reached for our pistols.

You intellectuals taunt and infuriate our foes then leave us to their ruining of us.

If any follow these worthies down this culture war know that we’ll for certain have a nation where the memory of Christ is the same as the memory of Buddha in Afghanistan~ blown up monuments to a long dead religion. We’ll not have one intact family from ocean to ocean. We’ll have not a penny, a roof, a virgin child boy or girl. This is the result of ‘conservative scholars’, at least the Left is honest about what they want….the conservatives feed us to them.

You are our ruin not our salvation ….and your glean your contributions from our ravaged lands.

Begone, you have ruined us. Go see your rich men, go to Mar Al Lago.

I do lean socialist/ social democratic and im guessing the instability of the past 2 decades has informed that

There probably is no one time flawless system that fits for all time but I think social policies similar to the ones of the northern Europeans and east Asian states along with Canada new Zealand and Australia can allievate a lot of the suffering and complications of modern American life.

‘The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.’ Margaret Thatcher.

Another problem is that socialists “take” instead of “make”. Finally, socialism is INCOMPATIBLE with the US Constitution. You cannot force a rational, productive person to be his brother’s keeper, especially if the “brother” is too lazy to work. But you can surrender all of you income to the IRS to support the slackers if that makes you feel better. Not me. No thanks.

Funny thing is, most if not all of Gibran’s examples are either way overrated, masked by cultural cohesion, or are a society that embraces excellence and meritocracy.
Every other place where socialism has been tried it has failed.

that’s silly. Part of the US economy is socialist. This black/white thinking always limits the imagination of conservatives.


I’ve deleted your other comments and marked you as spam. One-liner insults are low effort and not welcome here. Add value with your comments or do not make them at all.


This is the “every other place socialism has been tried…” line.

Different from the “every time socialism has been tried…” line.

Nice to see we’ve graduated a degree.

Now, why is it that America can’t have those social policies? Are the Koreans more meritocratic than us? What is so culturally cohesive about the Canadians that means nobody goes bankrupt when they fall ill? Let me know. I’m not wedded to a term. I don’t see those policies as overrated but spectacularly successful and I want it here.

“But you can surrender all of you income to the IRS to support the slackers if that makes you feel better.”

The arguments that you lay out do little to convince a prospective socialist because they don’t address the anxieties that are causing them to consider socialism.

As Tanner briefly touches upon by mentioning the Great Recession, many young American social democrats or socialists have been driven to their ideas because of the top 10% brazenly exploiting tax loopholes as well as the growing income gap despite the nation’s growing nominal wealth. These factors have also been formative in the beliefs of young Republicans, who may be turned off by the American left but are also increasingly in favor of taking down corporations and the ultra-rich.

The strongest way to mitigate the spread of socialism is to better address the ills that have led people to these beliefs.

Addressing the ills here being, making the economy such that a single young man can start a family on his income.

Fail to do that, no amount of talking or convincing will cover it.

Is he 18? Did he graduate HS? 22? AD or BA? Does he live in NYC? That’s a drastic overhaul of the economy to fulfill his dream. Two adults, one earner, one child, living wage is $35, or $62,800 in NYC. And I’m not sure how much dream that secures.

Your fix doesn’t address the young man’s obligations, nor the young woman’s. Does he move to an opportunity? The New Deal saw 10s of 1000s uproot their lives and families. Does he enter a specific training program at the uni plus internship and take the position offered by his sponsoring corporation? Wherever it is?

The Social Contract has become a bit tattered and is almost forgotten. It is though, a two-way agreement. Both the left and the right seem to forget this. Corporations hide their profits. The wealthy avoid taxation. Graduates fail to pay their debts. Governments protect their workers better than they protect the vulnerable. Citizens vote down bond issues. Programs need to be designed, and funded, to address and eliminate, not ameliorate, problems.

We will not meet the goal you’ve set. The majority of what the educational system produces, as it stands, is not capable of adding such value. If the median income of a BA grad is $52k, and only ~25% of 22yr olds are graduating, 32% of 25+ yr olds, then it’s a tough road to $62k for 2/3s of the population.

Education is the obstacle. Money isn’t the problem.

The problem with that other thing is that the People themselves run out of money!”

“The socialists “take” instead of “make””—and yet Biden won 71% of US GDP by county that Trump only got 29%. Biden won 171 out of 202 counties in the country with a Whole Foods; suburbs have fled the GOP in droves! That the life expectancy of the Red States is now YEARS(PLURAL!) worse than the Blue States! Then again, the Wall Street Journal front page headline doesn’t read “Rural America is the New Inner City” for no reason! Nor do they call it the SUICIDAL Death Cult-45 for no reason either! Given that very much the opposite of 30-40 years ago, whites in America are killing themselves at much higher rates with guns and drugs than blacks are, worse for the Right, it’s not all whites doing the dying!! Those who are anti-Trump seem far more immune to the scourges!

College-educated whites voted 40 points more for Biden than non-college whites. Then again, non-college whites voted a lot more for Biden than they did for Hillary, and when a Republican only gets 55% of the white vote like Trump in 2020, they’re screwed! That’s the irony about the orange man: it’s white Americans the big reason he’s gone.

Anyway, keep on pretending that the GQP base isn’t the welfare class in this country, cause it’s 2021 NOT 1981, and you don’t even know who your own miserable suffering people are! 2020 Census: 1st in 250 years of US history that whites DE-populated! Meanwhile, the 7 Census counts prior(WW2 through 2010): the white population increases by OVER 10 million in EACH of them! With the average increase being OVER 15 million whites per decade! But again, it’s much more poor & rural whites dying. That the DE-population got way worse under Trump(2016 was the first year white deaths exceeded whites births in this country that now it’s over 1000 fewer white babies born per day than the over 5000 whites that die per day). Yet ironically immigration from 2010-2020 was the lowest decade for we’ve had in over 50 years! Which puts it among the lowest levels of immigration in our history! Yet Republican whites are dying more than ever before! But then that’s what SCAPEGOAT politics is: blame somebody else & do nothing to fix the actual problems! That the more power Republicans get, the more they kill their own people! The Census is really all one needs to review to realize just how much a dozen years of the Tea Party then Trumpist extremism have badly hurt rural white America. Cause millions of them don’t exist!!!

All of those countries rely on innovation from the United States. Virtually the entire modern world that the social democracies enjoy was created by the rough-and-tumble capitalism of the U.S.: electric light, telephone, mass production automobile, television, man on the moon, personal computer, smart phone, internet, MRI machine, AIDS cocktail…

Look around and try to name the major innovations that have made modern life what it is, and see how many did NOT come from the U.S. Precious few.

American has driven humanity forward. Europe cannot be Europe unless the U.S. remains the U.S., supplying the innovation that prevents them from turning into socialist backwaters.

I lived in a lovely Western European social democracy for five years and has this conversation many times with European friends. It invariably led to long pauses, long sighs, and then agreement.

A great deal of American innovation in the 19th and early 20th century was supported by patent thefts and technology transfers from European ideas.

This is not to say that these were immoral or incorrect to pursue, as they perfectly fit the enterprising spirit of America. However, these are important reminders that American innovation was not driven by some sort of divine exceptionalism.

Viewing America as a consistent global patriarch can lead to miscalculations in these cultural struggles. The nation’s power and wealth is undeniable, but if our bellies have grown to the point where we cannot see our own feet, would it be wise to walk forward with brazen confidence?

The US is indeed an innovative country, but has Europe really no ability to innovate? Look at tiny countries like Sweden and Finland, which have given rise to huge companies like Nokia and Eriksson. I think it’s true that there’s a certain entrepreneurial spirit in the US that’s lacking in Europe, but that won’t go missing if you institute some basic protection of workers’ rights and welfare for the poor.

I agree and disagree. It was the 20th century that was far more the “American Century” than this one. We were the richest most powerful country on Earth(I guess we still are, but not by nearly the disparity), much like the UK was Superpower in the 19th century. Also, a lot of this nation’s innovation came from social investment into our people. Heck, anti-racist anti-Know-Nothing Honest Abe 1860 Campaign Slogan “Vote Yourself a Farm!” later “Act to Encourage Immigration” Lincoln who was essentially the founder of the Republican Party, was one of the biggest social program proponents EVER in our history! The Homestead Acts he signed gave MILLIONS of acres of American land away Scot free often to penniless peasants off the boat from overseas, in a era when land, agriculture, and resource extraction were the true sources of America’s wealth back then! 2/3rds of adults farmed for a living in his time! Besides universal free public education, it’s perhaps the most “socialist” thing this country ever did! And honestly, we didn’t invent a whole lot of stuff prior to it! In part as another huge boon for innovation in America has been our education systems and public funding of fundamental research. Let’s not forget either America’s natural advantages; we have a gigantic country with very little history(and all the baggage & calcified/classist structures from), that we all speak the same language with some of the most arable land & temperate climate with gold beneath our feet in natural resources. This country was ridiculously rich before anyone hardly invented anything. Over in the “Old World” it was no less than Thomas Paine who commented on how much harder it was for the average citizens to live than were they only in America! And even with all the Socialism, that hasn’t changed much, ex: food, consumer goods, real estate, etc; other than healthcare, most of the stuff is much more expensive in Europe than here. Then again, I’d say many Europeans have a better standard of living in many ways than many Americans. Also, of innovation in America, how much has come from NON natives, i.e. immigrants? A: A whole lot!

“All of those countries rely on innovation from the United States. ”

I’m glad to have contributed so well. Now I’d like some publicly funded social programs please?

Hm. The smartphone originated in Japan. The electric light was invented in Great Britain (although Edison popularized it). The first power station was also built in London (although the first overland transmission of power appears to have been a 14-mile line in Portland, Oregon).

The idea of television was come up with by a Russian in the 19th century. The first radio transmission of an image was done in France.

I think the world might be bigger than you suspect.

Social democracies aren’t socialist, they’re welfare states — industry- and informatics-driven capitalist economies with extensive social safety nets funded by, it’s true, quite heavy taxation. So is the US — it’s just an astonishingly inefficiently managed one. The UK *was* a welfare state, but is shifting to a kleptocracy in much the same gradually-but-then-all-at-once manner this post describes as a generation of elites who have learned how to play the bureaucracy game *extremely* well go about dismantling public health care, housing, and higher education.

It perplexes me that “welfare state” has become such a pejorative. I’m just old enough to remember the rhetoric about “welfare queens” during the Reagan years, though I’m not sure whether the change in connotation is older than that. Do people just not remember that it was Otto von Bismarck who pioneered the concept?


I grew dismayed at watching wokeness spread like wildfire through literally everything in the 2010s. I used to argue and debate against it, now I don’t bother. When “preferred pronouns” come up in board review questions and grand rounds, you know the battle has long been lost. Instead, I have given some thought as to how this may all end.

I think there will be a new movement to throw down the gauntlet at the regnant ideology, neoliberal-professional class wokeness. But there is no reason to believe that movement will be Right in provenance. People in dissident circles talk about a “great man” or a “Sulla” come to deliver us from modernity. What if the Sulla is an atheist socialist enraged about the moneychangers in the woke temples? It might not happen, but it’s certainly more likely to happen than “Barstool Conservatives” creating their own Mont Pelerin Society and standing by their cause for decades.

It is also possible that wokeness is never defeated, maybe never even challenged, but that people get bored and move on to other things. In the 2000s, foreign policy and privacy were major debates, now nobody cares to discuss them. Who knows what the 2030s may hold?

The sulla/caesar stuff I think is a fantasy. Everyone wants a Salazar, but its a roll of the dice, and you are just as likely to get a Stalin. Terribly conceived IMHO.

Stalin was a leftist though. Our concern should be a Hitler, but
I’m pretty sure (not certain) that we know how to spot a Hitler.

Also Sulla himself was a massive bloody failure.

As a National Socialist, would that not class Hitler as a leftist? Not ‘declaring’ rather have been and remain open to points toward either pole.

Socialism in the USA, with its individualistic cultural foundations, nonexistent civic mindedness, and ethnic divisiveness, will rapidly become a shamelessly corrupt, inefficient, abusive racket, providing high taxes, intrusive and politicized bureaucracy, rotten services, for most people, with a small tier of people at the top who benefit. In effect, it will be Chicago on a continental scale. But the crony capitalism we have now is so obviously rigged and unfair that the people coming up want an alternative. They think they want socialism. They are going to get it good and hard. Expect a socialist USA to look a lot more like Venezuela than New Zealand. Maybe it will be possible for some committed people to start preparing for the post-socialist USA of three or four decades from now, after all the damage has been done. But not me, I’m too old!

Don’t worry about it. I am bearish about socialism going anywhere in the United States. Bernie Sanders arrived in 2016, and his rise was largely a reaction to the Democrats crowning a staid, disdained partocrat as their champion. The field was different in 2020, and so Bernie went nowhere.

The energy on the Democrat side is with a coalition of professional class leftists and ethnic lobbies. They successfully defeated the socialists, and will do it again because they simply have more manpower and materiel. The professional class will obviously not want any upheaval to the current system-why should they when they are its winners? The ethnic lobbies believe (justifiably) that their interests are better served bandwagoning the establishment than in taking a chance on an unproven movement.

Bernie, to his credit, at least addressed the two problems young voters face, which are all-consuming for them: (1) insanely overpriced college education, which is in turn a mandatory ticket to adult life and adult employment, and (2) inaccessible health insurance unless you have checked box number 1 and gotten a “good job” that provides health insurance. This is a brutal rigged game. It needs to change. My own children are my anecdotal data set on this. Scott Galloway writes about this issue intelligently, and he has some proposed steps to mitigate item (1). Much as Nixon saw that the way to turn off the protests and anger was to end the draft, whoever comes up with a viable solution to this set of problems will transform politics and the culture as well. A rightfully discontented generation will be dealt back into the game. They think the way to do this is socialism. They are wrong. But a solution by whatever name is needed.

A good college education is still extremely cheap compared to its value. Nobody has to go to an elite private school and virtually nobody needs to go out of state to study their preferred major at a quality institution. In-state tuition at good state schools still runs about $12k per year. With scholarships, fellowships, and financial aid, most people pay less than half that. Yes, students pay for rent and food, which you have to pay even if you don’t go to school. If you go to a school that offers 24 hour meal service at a dozen locations with dozens of menu items that you never have to prepare yourself, dozens of free intramural sports, events, clubs, social gatherings, etc. then the price goes up. Your comments about the cost of education are simply grossly inaccurate.

College education in the US is not insanely over-priced unless one goes to a private college, which is an irrational decision in the first place unless one is going to a handful of schools for particular fields (Harvard and Princeton for consulting and finance, CMU and Stanford for computer science, etc). Only top flagship publics (UC Berkeley, U Michigan, UVA, etc) are over-priced, plenty of publics are reasonably priced, especially local public colleges, and community colleges are cheap. College education is by no means mandatory for adult life and employment, otherwise well over half the US labor force would not be currently employed, however it is mandatory for fields that are overwhelmingly filled with the affluent and privileged (media, academia, non-profit work, etc). One thing the US does really need is to copy the German system for tracking students into apprenticeships for skilled labor, Germany has a much smaller percentage of college graduates in its labor force yet has higher median wages, mainly because skilled labor is actually a component of the workforce there.

Healthcare costs in the US are another issue, it is telling that research shows that standardizing healthcare prices would save much more money than switching to a single payer system, many physicians won’t accept Medicare, let alone Medicaid, because the reimbursement schedules are too low, so I do wonder what fantasy DSA members live in when they think singly payer would solve issues with healthcare costs.

The solution would be to emulate East Asia (South Korea, Japan, SIngapore), which have taxes and spending comparable to the US, however public goods and services are much higher quality, unfortunately Democrats, progressives and socialists in the US don’t care about the proper provision of public goods, its a means for them to go after the rich, which is what they actually care about. Envy over the public good.

And the GOP response to Sen. sanders is… “Tax cuts for the rich”. Yup, that has worked so well in the past.

Rather than cry about what “socialism” is going to do so terribly wrong, why not propose solutions to these problems? And, honestly, Trickle Down Laffer never did cut it, but you guys are still singing that same old failed tune.

Its interesting that you scoff at crying about “socialism” but then you in turn mention “trickle down” which is another political boogieman myth. If Supply Side Economics doesn’t work then care to explain why we have rising inflation that the Biden administration and Federal Reserve did not think was going to happen?

So tax cuts for the rich when top marginal rates are roughly 40% federal are the same as when those rates are 90%?

The professional class leftists are committed to Bernie Sander’s platform without the rhetoric, who cares if it’s called socialist?

“….will rapidly become a shamelessly corrupt, inefficient, abusive racket, providing high taxes, intrusive and politicized bureaucracy, rotten services, for most people, with a small tier of people at the top who benefit.”

Hey pal, we’re already there. The only important question is what will be done about (or to) the grifters? And when?

AI/Robotics will upend our current concerns about taxation, debt, bureaucracy, inefficiency, etc. These constraints that we’ve obsessed over are going to seem quaint in 30 years. This too, will be a thing that takes a while and then is suddenly upon us. Frankly, who cares about socialism if all of the work is being done by a machine? I’m just worried about getting there without someone burning down the house.

Can we do away if the subscription reminder on every article? I’m already subscribed and the pop up is obnoxious.

The trouble of course is that 70% of my visitors on a given day have never visited the website before.

Would the pop up be less obnoxious if it only appeared at the end of the post instead of in the middle?

You could probably use cookies to tell who is already subscribed and turn off the popup for them.

“The millennials are a lost generation; they will persist in their errors to the end of their days.”

White millennials broke for Trump in 2016, that doesn’t sound very woke to me. Of course Republicans will look at anything except addressing the real concerns of their voters. They’ll even go full woke (Juneteenth, anyone?) as long as they manage to keep tax cuts for corporations that hate their voters.

“Cultures do not change when people replace old ideas with new ones; cultures change when people with new ideas replace the people with old ones.”

This is the difference between a conservative and a liberal. This statement describes conservatives. Liberals can replace old ideas with new ones. They are not necessarily better, just new, but they are open to it.

Anyway, I appreciate your post. It’s devoid of talking points and presents legitimate counters to what we tend to hear more often.

Interesting analysis but I don’t believe it drives at the fundamental problem—a decline in mores and religions which presages the “end times.” As a Christian it seems that we’ve reached the tipping point of the prelude to the Second Coming. Oh no, not a religious nut! I’m a serious student of history with a BA and double Masters as proof (plus a library with so many books the wife is threatening to divorce me if I don’t take a few dozen boxes to the local community library). There is an established cyclical pattern of slide in morality followed by a return to orthodoxy (Roman Empire went through a few with Augustus, Constantine as the more significant; pre-Victorian England has a reputation for being pretty bawdy before the neck to foot hemlines; the US post war era of the flappers was a party time until the Great Depression caused a kill buzz, etc…). And so, one is tempted to believe that we are just in bottom of a cycle and should be returning to an approximate orthodoxy. I don’t believe so this time. For one the Left is no longer set to allow a “live and let live” approach to the new orthodoxy. The new orthodoxy demands rigor along the lines of Stalin’s Communism. You don’t get a bye. You get canceled if you’re lucky. Dead if not. Additionally, the new bottom hasn’t seem to be reached and we are seeing immorality now that rivals Sodom and Gomorrah with no end in site. So now I switch to my Christian hat. The Bible clearly foretells of this period as the End of Days (Time) and the Book of Revelation reads more like CNN Headline News than some old dusty prophecy.

I’m not religious in the slightest, yet agree with your analogy.

We both observe the gradual legalization and normalization of nearly every vice… of gambling, of recreational drugs, of ever more shocking violence and sex on TV, of blatant lying and dysfunction among even democratically elected politicians. What must it all signal except some societal self-hatred and despair before an upheaval? In US this atmosphere of doom is real.
It is explained by our decline relative to other powers, by the ruthlessly rising economic pressures of globalization falling on our workforce, by our terror of crazy people running cults and terrorist groups and nuclear-armed police state regimes, by our confusion at the pace of technical change, and by the sgns of accelerated global warming. (When the skies are so angry so often, even God is against us.)

What should be keeping check on these impulses are the resolution and bravery of our leaders and the morals and fabric of our community… yet so many business and political and religious leaders are proven corrupt… and now that we are always online, our physical community is hollowed out and our virtual community can be anything and often promotes the extreme… we are gerrymandering ourselves online into districts of like believers that can reinforce even wacky ideology.

My personal north stars in this mess are the efficiency of markets, the value of innovation, and the inherent goodness of people… a belief that if we let people be free and give them fair rules, well-enforced, then talent will rise to the top, people will cooperate, the pie will expand, and we will all thrive. Per the author, promoting those values to pur young people is what I think we can do that will help.

First, let’s differentiate the true socialists from the “democratic socialists” (see the previous comment by Gibran. The democratic socialists want stuff. Put differently, they want lots of govt services. And they look to all those nations that do that and say why can’t we? Well, the difference is low productivity and lower living standards. Plus, their lack of productivity is partly made up for by America. As for the first group – the true socialists – they simply want power. As far as I can see, the only way they’ve ever been defeated is by gaining power and ultimately destroying a nation and themselves in the process.

Any *thoughts* about Tanner Greer’s “Culture Wars Are Long Wars”?
Ah, I pick up a certain self-recognizing fondness about the “general intellectuals”, “secondhand dealers of ideas” whose adoption and promotion of ideas to the broad symbolic-manipulation class is planting 20-year seeds. That’s okay, me too.
Not to be too Marxian base-determines-superstructure but this cohort replacement model doesn’t seem to have a place for material forces at all.
It also doesn’t account for failed succession and counterrevolution. You want to talk American culture war? “The Sixties”, significantly in the 1970s really, was acknowledged as a case of cohort succession at the time. “Generation gap”, remember?
And okay maybe that could explain the shift from flag-waving pro-military patriotism to wariness, John Wayne macho to Alan Alda sensitivity, happy housewifery to strident feminism, Rotary small business to Great Society civil servants as the overseers of society.
Okay. But then the ‘80s happened. America-Fuck-Yeah, Bruce Willis, Andrew Dice Clay misogyny. WWF and porn stars (AND the Moral Majority), Wall Street takeovers the new hot scene. And it was not powered by a new generation of Alex P. Keaton teenagers. (Really, he was a viewpoint character for Boomers who parsed cultural change through youth culture.)
“America’s most popular party will be openly run by socialists” was a real belief in the Ford-Carter era and since then has been laughable. How’d that happen? It wasn’t because conservatives started pushing back on the 70s in the 40s!

This is a good post and very worthwhile.

But I am mostly struck by how conservatives and, in particular the GOP, kept relitigating past struggles even when the tidal wave that was coming was quite visible and almost upon us—say by 2015. As I have put ite lsewhere, every elected GOP lived in terror that Grover Norquist would call him a “tax increaser if a comprehensive tax bill produced even one hypothetical situation where a person might see their tax liability increased by a penny. In the meantime, the barbarians had already breached the gates and were spreading though all the institutions. And I do not use “barbarians” as a literary term, the woke really are barbaric in their beliefs and how they impose them.

This war is probably lost and it will be, as you say, about 2 generations for the internal contradictions and inadequacies of the successor culture to lead to something new. But this is a more fundamental revolution than struggles in the recent past between liberals who were more, or less, advocates of govt intervention in the market. This is (maybe ‘was’) a war over whether there is such a thing as objective reality, whether people can argue in good faith about important things, whether there will be free expression and due process and equal protection under the law, and
rule of law” itself; and the liberal side is losing to the barbarians.

In the meantime, strong actors, esp. China, are preparing to pick up the pieces and reorder the world along authoritarian lines to suit their purposes and cement their security and hegemony–lines that will be quite comfortable for the woke generation, which is nothing if not authoritarian in its attitude toward even trivial apostasy, once they accept that the rules are being made in Beijing. You already see tem excuse Chinese govt treatment of Hong King and Xinjiang, as they tear down statues of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. They will not resist Chinese suzerainty over them unless the Chinese are very clumsy, which won’t be the case.

Heaven help us.

Richard Weaver, Wilhelm Roepke, Hillaire Belloc, Russell Kirk and others noted years ago that corporate collectivism leads to despair about “capitalism (a Marxist term) because it substitutes abstract “shares” for truly private property. Our current plutocracy of big data, big pharma, big finance, and deep state elitists believes in some blob called mixed-economy regulated capitalism but doesn’t believe in private property. If conservatives and libertarians continue to let corporate interests define private property as abstractions which are really corporate collectives controlled by the Googles of the world and their Chinese partners, we will have liitle traction with many of the middle-class and skilled-labor voters who fear corporate collectivists as much as big government and the regulatory state.

The actual empirical evidence of the world’s leading nations is itself the crisis that the old orthodoxies cannot explain.
The old orthodoxies of Socialism, and Libertarian Capitalism cannot explain the real life evidence of the Scandinavian nations, or Asian nations like Japan, Korea or Singapore.

All these modern industrialized nations have markets and private ownership of the factors of production as their base, yet they also have robust and aggressive government control of banking and strong social welfare systems.

They are not staggering toward revolution as a socialist might expect, and they are not collapsing with bureaucratic inertia like a free market capitalist would predict.

What passes for “socialism” in the American parlance is really just a mimicry of the systems that most developed nations around the world have.

Excellently stated and for a number of reasons I’ve recently grown wary of tying myself down to a particular ideological label (econ or politics) because conditions vary so much and so do people through time and place that it’s very difficult to just pinpoint what worked where and why. I do appreciate that difficulty. I also don’t think the kitchen sink responses to the success of those modern states from libertarians really works. At times its, their workers are more productive than us, at others its, well they all benefit from our superior productivity! Make up your minds my friends or just admit you dislike free stuff given to people you perceive as lazy.

They’ve got this line on auto repeat, socialism never works, and those aren’t socialist policies, and we can’t have them here because it would be socialism if we did it, ad nauseum. I get the feeling they just have a strong resentment towards the “youth activists who want free stuff” (hey so do I! And I’m 27. Its natural to find them annoying) but they aren’t looking at the bigger picture.

If you look at the bigger picture, you realize that you don’t stop raising or looking after the young generation when they turn 18. You partially stop, maybe fully stop by the time they’re 40. Yes, you say and call them adults but you still look after them.

I think that may be a missing piece of the puzzle. East asians and Northern Europeans perhaps have this general, nationwide sense of stacking the odds in favor of their (ever fewer) descendants. They’ve got generally more intelligent populations with better impulse control and lower levels of corruption and violent crime (getting into why is a dangerously controversial minefield but the general observation stands) and they see to look after the generation that will replace them.

Its possible the most successful socialist policies in the world come from one of the most conservative instincts of them all!!!

Until fairly recently, I held socialism in contempt. I can see, however, that AI/Robotics will in a matter of time make socialism (or massive routine redistribution) not only workable, but probably inevitable. In short, if the cost of labor collapses throughout the economy, all bets are off. Capitalism’s superpower is the ability to wring out inefficiencies. If labor, both manual and mental, costs pennies per hour, efficiency simply won’t be as important and even making a profit will likely cause shoulder shrugs. What’s the Zizek quote – “It is easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism.”

Great comment, John.

Many people lost in the culture struggle appear to miss the critical impact that technology has on societal attitudes, and in general, ideologies.

To echo your points, what might the state of economic conservatism become when “socialism” eventually reflects the efficiency of the invisible hand? This is an outcome that few conservatives have addressed.

Moreover, if the impact of technological shifts on society are dramatic enough, would it be the conservatives or progressives who first tire of non-economic cultural issues (e.g. personal pronouns)?

Ah, I pick up a certain self-recognizing fondness about the “general intellectuals”, “secondhand dealers of ideas” whose adoption and promotion of ideas to the broad symbolic-manipulation class is planting 20-year seeds. That’s okay, me too.
Not to be too Marxian base-determines-superstructure but this cohort replacement model doesn’t seem to have a place for material forces at all.
It also doesn’t account for failed succession and counterrevolution. You want to talk American culture war? “The Sixties”, significantly in the 1970s really, was acknowledged as a case of cohort succession at the time. “Generation gap”, remember?
And okay maybe that could explain the shift from flag-waving pro-military patriotism to wariness, John Wayne macho to Alan Alda sensitivity, happy housewifery to strident feminism, Rotary small business to Great Society civil servants as the overseers of society.
Okay. But then the ‘80s happened. America-Fuck-Yeah, Bruce Willis, Andrew Dice Clay misogyny. WWF and porn stars (AND the Moral Majority), Wall Street takeovers the new hot scene. And it was not powered by a new generation of Alex P. Keaton teenagers. (Really, he was a viewpoint character for Boomers who parsed cultural change through youth culture.)
“America’s most popular party will be openly run by socialists” was a real belief in the Ford-Carter era and since then has been laughable. How’d that happen? It wasn’t because conservatives started pushing back on the 70s in the 40s!

This is startlingly naive. To to think a socialist future is progressive when we have such retrogressive examples of its folly in the last century boggles the mind. Yes the current badly educated generation will determine the future. But to see the results simply read of Stalin, Pol Pot and Castro.

This article is both compelling and in some sense depressing. By the time rationality states a comeback, the United States could be essentially a third world nation digging itself out of decades of economic and social destruction.

You paint a depressing portrait of conservatism that may represent an obstructionist form. But conservatism does not have to be either obstructionist or mired in the past. If the past still works, fine. If it doesn’t, we have to look to something better. But the virtues of discernment and prudence would say that change for the sake of change is not necessarily good. My version of conservatism has a smaller, less intrusive government allowing and helping more people to independently flourish in a dynamic economy that gives them more choices through their own efforts. Conservatism is about developing skills and encouraging innovation. It is more moral that progressive-liberalism (socialism) which is big government that controls everything while enabling millions of people in the form of “help” to wallow in the addictive sinkhole of dependence upon handouts that limit choices and retard economic growth. Socialism would make us a larger Venezuela. The Republican Party may be going the way of the Whigs. It has become populist rather than conservative. As far as new rights: if the people believe strongly enough in a new right, we have a way to bring that about…a constitutional amendment. No more penumbras and emanations. If the proposed new right has political heft it will pass. After all, the abolishment of slavery and women’s suffrage became constitutional amendments. I am hoping that the constructive form of conservativism will have a resurrection and renaissance.

I grew up in a conservative household in the 70s and identified as a conservative through high school and college. I wasn’t subjected to liberal bias, indeed most of my teachers were also Republicans. I saw them at county GOP activities, they were mentors of the county’s teenage Republican organization that I belonged to, and they worked as volunteers side by side with me during elections. In fact several of my teachers were Republican elected officials. In college I was exposed to more liberal thought but there were plenty of Republicans on the staff and faculty. In fact, I managed my advisor’s campaign for city council. No faculty member scoffed at my belief or ridiculed me for being a conservative. In short, I believe there was no long term cultural war waged by liberals.

What led to my transition leftward? The failed policies of the Republican Party. The Laffler Curve was a lie. Reagan’s welfare queen was a lie. I saw blacks and the poor being treated differently to white middleclass men. To be blunt, I realized the GOP was intellectually and morally bankrupt. In the passing years the party has fallen even further down the sewer.

Your essay reminds me of Peter Turchin’s Cliodynamic grouping of theories. I recommend them not because I think they are perfect, but because they have already done a lot of number crunching and sociological referencing that would carry the argument much further back in time, and also incorporates (at least to a degree) the actual leadup causes to the Great Recession and to our current social climate.

Again, I don’t think what he has is perfect, but he (along with a group of others) have done a lot of number-crunchy leg work.

We are putting forth a cultural initiative called Newtown that gives shape and access to a market of hundreds of millions of consumers seeking arts and entertainment free of divisive woke orthodoxy and produced by free-thinking creators, at no cost. It is also a certification that effectively shields Newtown culture from woke capital and reduces its size and influence on Western culture at large.

Essentially, Newtown competes with Western culture. It is a bold vision but given the pitiful state of our culture it is already sorely needed. If this piques your curiosity I invite you to read our 2-page essay and our presentation. Check us out on Twitter or Clubhouse @NewtownCulture

This article is amazing, am looking forward to learning more about Hayek and your time is appreciated. Feel free to reach out to us with questions or comments.

We’ll get through this, but we have to believe. Peace.

Newtown Essay

Newtown Deck

“The USSR’s improvements in living standards and industrial output impressed all: their success cast a pall on the capitalist world.” Not true. It was the illusion of a robust economy; a Potemkin village. What they had was a centrally planned and controlled economy. It simply could not compete with the dynamic and flexible Capitalist economies of the West. The Soviet economy didn’t just stall, it collapsed as the Soviets tried to match Reagan’s military buildup. A much smaller portion of America’s industrial output was needed to implement this buildup than was the case for the Soviet economy. The effort to keep up with the US overwhelmed the Soviet economy. This same centralized control of the US economy via COVID emergency powers has been underway for some 18 months, distorting the labor market, resulting in the kind of shortages that plagued Soviet bloc economies. One only needs to see the plight of Cubans fleeing the Communist/Socialist paradise of Cuba to understand that such systems only benefit the elites at the top.