Culture War As Class War


Beginning in the 1870s, […] the in­fluence of this Protestant establishment began to wane. A new secular university model emerged, supported by the rising titans of industrial capitalism. The academy focused increasingly on research rather than on character formation. New professions such as psychiatry and social work arose, sometimes under the sponsorship of Protestant seminaries eager to draw upon the new prestige of science and academic training, but soon wholly separate from, and usually rival to, churches and their ministers. In the cultural categories then ascendant, conservative Protestants became “fundamentalists.” […] By the Great ­Depression, conservative Protestants had been driven from the halls of power by liberal Protestants and their allies. The repeal of Prohibition in 1933 was the final symbol of their rout. The rural and ­small-town Protestant middle class was marginalized in its own society.

The stakes in any cultural clash are high. […] No wonder they fight so hard. The class that succeeds in consolidating its own culture and making it mandatory for anyone who wants to gain entry into the elite gets to sit at the top of the social hierarchy. Its class ethos becomes society’s ethic, defining what is elevated versus what is base, what is natural versus what is abnormal, what is unquestioned versus what is questioned, what is rational versus what is irrational or even insane. The fight is over nothing less than who has the power to define reality. To lose such a fight […] is to have the weight of the dominant culture pressed firmly against you […] to be denied access to elite institutions and networks, and to all the material and social benefits they confer. It is even to have the force of law and thus ultimately the power of the state used against you.

Culture wars are never strictly cultural. They are always economic and political struggles as well. Elites rule through an interlocking political-­economic-cultural system. The mainstream media certifies whose political ideas are respectable and whose are extremist. Hollywood, Silicon Valley, Wall Street, academia, and white-shoe professional firms are all part of the postindustrial “knowledge economy” that allocates economic rewards. As American elites become increasingly integrated and culturally ­homogenous, they begin to treat their cultural rivals as subordinate classes. The same thing happened nearly a century ago to the rural and small-town Protestants whom H. L. Mencken derided as the “booboisie.” Many would like to see it happen again, this time to anyone who challenges the dogmas of diversity and progressivism that have become suspiciously universal among the richest and most powerful Americans, dominating the elite institutions they control. If cultural traditionalists want to survive, they must not only acknowledge but embrace the class dimensions of the culture war.

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