The Community of Fashion’s Nightmare
Community of Fashion, Culture War, The Cathedral, The Elite
Former CIA Analyst Martin Gurri explains what the American Establishment, what Mencius Moldbug calls “The Cathedral,” is really afraid of.
There is a tremendous asymmetry in the alignment of ideological forces in this country. Politically, we are fractured: war-bands of every denomination prowl restlessly through a zone of perpetual conflict. Electorally, we are divided. Voting is binary: in practice, this means that the war-bands get artificially squeezed into one of two mega-tribes. On Election Day, we must choose one or the other—and, because of the dynamic among war-bands, any one of which can defect at any moment, majorities rest on a razor’s edge.
Culturally, however, we are monolithic. From the scientific establishment through the corporate boardroom all the way to Hollywood, elite keepers of our culture speak with a single, shrill voice—and the script always follows the dogmas of one particular war-band—the cult of identity—and the politics of one specific partisan flavor, that of progressive Democrats.
The imbalance between a divided nation and a monolithic culture warps our shared perception of reality. A potentially scandalous story about the son of the Democratic presidential candidate, though entirely true, can be smothered to death by Facebook, Twitter, and Google. On the other side, if you are a former Republican president, you can expect to get locked out of social media permanently, even though 74 million Americans voted for you.
These decisions don’t reflect a consensus of public opinion. None of us was polled on the proper informational treatment for Hunter Biden or Donald Trump. This was control at a far more elemental level—and only here, in the murky depths of truth and post-truth, can we discern the motive for this year’s meltdown over disinformation and its avatar, Musk. The elites, confronting what they believe to be a political tempest of biblical proportions, are terrified of losing their monopoly over culture as well.
Whether this will actually happen is beyond the reach of analysis: culture evolves in mysterious ways. But it may be useful to speculate on the matter. In this spirit, let me propose three strong countercurrents, already visible across the American landscape—that might, in time, threaten the cultural supremacy of the elites.
The first is the intrusion of the political into the cultural. Since conservatives and Republicans are politically strong but culturally nonexistent, they will flex their political muscle to try to right the imbalance. Virginia and Florida have banned the teaching of certain progressive doctrines in public schools. When Disney, Florida’s largest employer, vocally condemned these laws, the company was punished with the removal of local privileges. Should Republicans win Congress and the White House, I would expect American politics to experience a cultural Armageddon. The output of culture can’t be legislated on demand: otherwise, the Soviet Union would have been a golden age of creativity. But raw political power can make the cost of cultural monopoly—and of idle posturing, Disney-style—unpleasantly high.
A second threat to elite culture is the defection of the victim class. The cult of identity generates an insatiable demand for victim groups, which, by necessity, must become ever smaller and more marginal not only to the mainstream but also to traditional minorities. Even as the elites solidified their grip on culture, the focus of their performative outrage was drifting from civil rights and pocketbook issues to more esoteric questions of sexuality and climate justice. The new causes simply don’t resonate with Hispanics or blacks, whose socioeconomic interests lie in other directions. According to recent polls, significant numbers of both groups are threatening to abandon the Democratic Party.
Progressivism is essentially a protection racket. If the elites ever lose the undisputed right to shout “Racism!” at the producers of culture, the latter will begin to fracture like the rest of the country and to look to the marketplace, rather than ideology, for inspiration.
The last countercurrent may be the most potent of all: the internal churning and dispersal of populations spurred by the pandemic and the availability of remote work. The number of Americans moving from their home regions, a recent survey found, is at the highest level on record. Though conservative writers are quick to observe that this is predominantly a flight from Democratic-controlled states to Republican strongholds in the Sunbelt, the political implications strike me as unclear. Many of the newcomers, I’m guessing, will be Democrats.
Far more significant will be the impact on the culture. Migration is a powerful solvent. Millions of people are leaving home in pursuit of change. They wish to be reborn, reinvented, liberated from the dead hand of the past; pick your metaphor for personal transformation. Such sweeping tides of humanity have always exemplified the central tenet of the American creed: that we are not captives to fate. Each wave of immigrants will begin a strange new story. To tell it, the culture, too, must be reborn and reinvented—and the mold of progressive dogmatism will be shattered in the process.
An unexpected blow against the progressive hold on culture came on May 2, when an anonymous leaker within the Supreme Court made public Justice Samuel Alito’s draft decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and devolve the regulation of abortion to Congress and the states. By the time the formal ruling came down on June 24, traumatized elites seemed ready to repudiate the one branch of the federal government that they did not control. The Supreme Court had “burned whatever legitimacy they may still have had,” Senator Elizabeth Warren proclaimed. “They just took the last of it and set a torch to it.” Abortion on demand—an early victory over traditional culture—has become sacramental to the left, with Roe v. Wade as holy writ. If Republican governors can align with Republican-appointed justices to demolish this once-settled arrangement, then every facet of the culture will be up for grabs. Justice Alito’s opinion “is not just about a woman’s right to choose. It is about much more than that,” cautioned Hillary Clinton, after the draft leaked. “Once you allow this kind of extreme power to take hold, you have no idea who they will come for next.”
Are we on the cusp, then, of an anti-elite cultural revolution? I still wouldn’t bet on it. For obscure reasons of psychology, creative minds incline to radical politics. A kulturkampf directed from Tallahassee, Florida, or even Washington, D.C., won’t budge that reality much. The group portrait of American culture will continue to tilt left indefinitely.
But that’s not the question at hand. What terrifies elites is the loss of their cultural monopoly in the face of a foretold political disaster. They fear diversity of any kind, with good cause: to the extent that the public enjoys a variety of choices in cultural products, elite control will be proportionately diluted.