04 Mar 2018

Why Do Conservatives Keep Losing the Culture War?

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David Brooks notes the paradox in which conservative Republican America is able to win at the ballot box, but commonly loses anyway because the Left controls the culture.

Republicans control most legislatures. To get anything passed, I thought, it would be necessary to separate some Republicans from the absolutist N.R.A. position. To do that you have to depolarize the issue: show gun owners some respect, put red state figures at the head and make the gun discussion look more like the opioid discussion. The tribalists in this country have little interest in the opioid issue. As a result, a lot of pragmatic things are being done across partisan lines.

The people pushing for gun restrictions have basically done the exact opposite of what I thought was wise. Instead of depolarizing the issue they have massively polarized it. The students from Parkland are being assisted by all the usual hyper-polarizing left-wing groups: Planned Parenthood, Move On and the Women’s March. The rhetoric has been extreme. Marco Rubio has been likened to a mass murderer while the N.R.A. has been called a terrorist organization.

The early results would seem to completely vindicate my position. The Florida Legislature turned aside gun restrictions. New gun measures in Congress have been quickly shelved. Democrats are more likely to lose House and Senate seats in the key 2018 pro-gun states. The losing streak continues.

Yet I have to admit that something bigger is going on. It could be that progressives understood something I didn’t. It could be that you can win more important victories through an aggressive cultural crusade than you can through legislation. Progressives could be on the verge of delegitimizing their foes, on guns but also much else, rendering them untouchable for anybody who wants to stay in polite society. That would produce social changes far vaster than limiting assault rifles. …

[P]rogressives are getting better and more aggressive at silencing dissenting behavior. All sorts of formerly legitimate opinions have now been deemed beyond the pale on elite campuses. Speakers have been disinvited and careers destroyed. The boundaries are being redrawn across society.

As Andrew Sullivan noted recently, “workplace codes today read like campus speech codes of a few years ago.” There are a number of formerly popular ideas that can now end your career: the belief that men and women have inherent psychological differences, the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman, opposition to affirmative action.

What’s happening today is that certain ideas about gun rights, and maybe gun ownership itself, are being cast in the realm of the morally illegitimate and socially unacceptable.

That’s the importance of the corporate efforts to end N.R.A. affiliations. It’s not about N.R.A. members saving some money when they fly. It’s that they are not morally worthy of being among the affiliated groups. The idea is to stigmatize.

If progressives can cut what’s left of the conservative movement off from mainstream society, they will fundamentally alter the culture war. We think of the culture war as this stagnant thing in which both sides scream at each other. But eventually there could be a winner. Progressives have won on most social issues. They could win on nearly everything else.


There are obviously plenty of conservative intellectuals. Conservatives at universities are, frankly, smarter than liberals. Conservative ideas, conservative critiques of Progressivism are more substantive, more rigorous, and more serious.

The Left always wins, it seems, by a combination of appeals to sentimentality and emotionalism communicated by simplistic, manipulative slogans which obfuscate and commonly totally misrepresent the issue and the facts. Their final victory comes by making their preferred position a class identifier and a fashion statement. Once that happens, the entire elite establishment is committed and on board.

Standing in opposition to the edicts of the God of Fashionable Opinion is undignified, uncomfortable, and has recently become a very possibly career-limiting decision.

Conservatives are perfectly able to win the debate. We can even win elections. But we seem, as David Brooks recognizes, totally impotent at affecting the Culture or having the slightest influence on Fashion.

Why is this the case? How can it be possible that the better ideas consistently lose in the marketplaces of ideas that matter the most? Any thoughts?

7 Feedbacks on "Why Do Conservatives Keep Losing the Culture War?"


I don’t believe that these progressives are winning in the marketplace of ideas. They are winning in the high school of conformity. A woman I have known 35 plus years. Recently said “Of course, as an educator, I’m against arming teachers “. I asked why and she broke off the discussion. I was expecting to hear her reasoning. I’ve come to believe that she doesn’t have reasons, just conformity.

Dick the Butcher

JFM is correct. David Brooks is full of baloney. He lives and works in NYC where they think their socialist state is paradise while it’s a disaster waiting to explode.

I bet Brooks doesn’t know anyone that owns a gun, hunts, or attends Sunday Church services.

The left is losing. But, don’t tell them. They think they’re winning. It’s why they lose elections even when they deploy the deep state and cheat.

The corporations that virtue-signaled (ending discounts merely b/c I’m an NRA member) on the NRA will lose money. NRA membership is skyrocketing. A recent poll, after the terrible shooting at Parkland, showed that only 28% think gun laws are the answer. Over 51% believe it’s mental health.

Normal Americans know gun control is a hoax.

JFM, You are a charitable persosn. You didn’t tell your teacher friend that from June 2016 to June 2017 far too many, seven people, were killed in school massacres, while over 60,000 died by opioid overdoses.

And. no one is blaming big pharma.


The previous 2 commenters remind me of H. G. Wells’ comments regarding Adolph Hitler, quoted at the beginning of an essay by Orwell on nationalism and the Left. Wells thought that AH was such an OTT fringe character that he couldn’t possibly be of any real significance. In retrospect, as Orwell noted, Wells’ complacency doesn’t look too prescient.

It’s true that the Left, in what may well be its final most debased stage, has been reduced to fomenting an endless series of social hysterias. But at the same time they have taken over much of the high ground in this society, so they can carry out an effective pressure-from-above/pressure-from-below strategy. And they don’t have to have anything like a majority to do this, any more than they did in Czechoslovakia in 1948.

Francis W. Porretto

You cannot win a war by refusing to fight. For decades, conservatives have sat back while the Left advanced culturally as aggressively as it liked. If you’re old enough to remember “Point / Counterpoint,” the old nightly-news feature that counterpoised conservative Jack Kilpatrick and liberal Shana Alexander on issues of current interest, you could see the outline of it even then: Alexander was unrestrained in her vilifications of conservatives and Kilpatrick himself. Kilpatrick barely ever even objected.

That having been said, a reaction is in progress. Note the mushrooming of the indie movements in fiction, cinema, and the visual arts. (Full disclosure: I’m part of that.) Note how the eBook has eclipsed paper publication, and independently made video productions, including news broadcasts, are now commanding significant shares of television viewing time. The great majority of these things are conservative in their theses…and the Left, which has relied upon its control of gatekeeper institutions, is having a very hard time coping with them.


This is a vitally important topic, that has been identified long ago, even by Ayn Rand. Yet, the progressive left continues to advance in the most critical areas. The most important front, I believe, is education: schools, from K through PhD. They have become increasing intolerant indoctrination centers. That is the front that conservatives must puncture if progress is to be made.

Seattle Sam

It all revolves around the weapons you choose. Conservatives choose, logic, reason and facts. The left chooses emotion.

“How can you stand there and tell me that gun restrictions will have no effect on gun violence? Or that gun violence is actually going down, not up? Or that we will be no better at controlling guns than we at controlling drugs? Or that arming schools would be a deterrent? There were children murdered! Parents and friend are suffering real pain! You are a heartless person without empathy who hides behind facts so you don’t have to DO SOMETHING!”
Sadly, the culture of America is emotion. Most of us stopped at about age 10 shouting “I HATE YOU!” at our parents and others who didn’t give into our fancies. The left has not. And the country seems more inclined to say, “Now,Now, poor thing” than to send them to their rooms.

Steve Gregg

What David Brooks wrote could easily have been written by Adolph Hitler in the ‘30s when talking of the Brownshirts. Distilled down to its essence, Brooks is saying that the argumentum ad baculum trumps reason.


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