In Jeffrey Bell’s article discussed below, he makes an even more important point, one of those obvious-if-you-think-about it points that nevertheless may come as a revelation. The social conservative’s emphasis on culture is crucial because cultural change–not economics–is the main agenda of today’s leftists.
At first it was widely assumed that the collapse of Soviet communism, and of government ownership and/or direction of business as a serious economic recipe, had dealt a devastating, possibly mortal, blow to the left. But after a brief period of licking its wounds the international left found itself far from devastated. The truth is that old-fashioned, state-administered socialism had become something of an albatross for the left, impeding rather than advancing its ability to benefit from the worldwide political and social upheavals of the 1960s.
Indeed, not long after those upheavals peaked in 1968, it became obvious that the enduring, truly revolutionary impact of the 1960s was moral and cultural, not economic. By the end of the 1970s a new and adversarial form of politically engaged feminism not only became all but unassailable among North American and European elites, but also took a central political role almost everywhere the left was strong.
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But when it first arose in recognizable form in Europe in the closing decades of the 18th century, the left was primarily about other things [than economics]. Among these were ending monarchy, eliminating or at least circumscribing the role of traditional religion in society, and liberating humanity from what it saw as repressive institutions. Often included among such institutions was the traditional family, anchored by the Christian ideal of monogamous marriage.
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The striking thing about the history of the left is its singleness of vision amid a breathtaking variety of means. The goal of the left is the liberation of mankind from traditional institutions and codes of behavior, especially moral codes. It seeks a restoration (or achievement) of a state of nature, one of absolute individual liberty–universal happiness without the need for laws.
The proposed political way stations chosen by the left in its drive toward this vision have varied greatly. To name a few: abolition of private property (socialism); prohibition of Christianity and/or propagation by the political elite of a new civil religion to replace it; confiscatory taxation, especially at death; regulation of political speech to limit the ability of certain individuals or classes to affect politics; the takeover of education to instill new values and moral habits in the population; confiscation of privately held firearms; gradual phasing out of the nation-state; displacement of the traditional family in favor of child-rearing by an enlightened governmental elite; and the inversion of sexual morality to elevate recreational sex and reduce the prestige of procreative sex. This is, it must be emphasized, a partial list.
While many conservatives in Europe and the United States focus on free market economics and small government, they do not realize that hardcore leftists do not really care about such things! Meanwhile, they are marching through the culture unopposed. This is why the country needs social conservatives, since there is no one else to counter the left’s assault on the culture.
What do you think of this analysis? How could social conservatives be more effective? To what extent is this a political issue? Might there be other forms of cultural activism that social conservatives might pursue?