Did conservatives win the culture war?

I always used to think liberals had won the culture war and conservatives had won the economic war. Now I’m not so sure

culture war
WASHINGTON, DC – SEPTEMBER 24: Protestors, including current Yale University Law student Jesse Tripathi (2 from R), rally against Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh in the rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill, September 24, 2018 in Washington, DC. Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault, has agreed to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
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‘Kavanaugh’s Drinking Should Be Investigated,’ says the headline on Slate, a reference to the admission by Mark Judge, a schoolfriend of Brett Kavanaugh’s, that he sometimes got ‘black out’ drunk. This prompted a wit on Twitter to remark: ‘Guys, I think conservatives won the culture wars.’


Reading that brought me up short. I’m a social liberal and an economic conservative, and have always told myself that people like me have won: liberals won the culture war and conservatives won the economic war, at least in the US and the UK. But what if it’s the other…

Kavanaugh’s Drinking Should Be Investigated,’ says the headline on Slate, a reference to the admission by Mark Judge, a schoolfriend of Brett Kavanaugh’s, that he sometimes got ‘black out’ drunk. This prompted a wit on Twitter to remark: ‘Guys, I think conservatives won the culture wars.’

Reading that brought me up short. I’m a social liberal and an economic conservative, and have always told myself that people like me have won: liberals won the culture war and conservatives won the economic war, at least in the US and the UK. But what if it’s the other way round?

Let’s start with the culture war. If liberals won, how do you explain the following?

  • The editor-in-chief of the New York Review of Books, the St Patrick’s Cathedral of New York liberalism, has just been forced to resign by an outrage mob for publishing an essay by someone accused – and acquitted – of sex crimes.
  • Feminists like Germaine Greer, Julie Bindel and Linda Bellos and are routinely no-platformed and threatened with violence on college campuses for challenging the right of men to tell them what to say and think.
  • Boris Johnson, the ex-Foreign Secretary of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is currently under investigation for making a joke about a traditional religious practice.
  • Male college students in America can now be found guilty of ‘rape’ if they have sex with a woman who is under the influence of alcohol or if she hasn’t explicitly consented to the removal of every separate item of clothing, including her belt. That holds true even if the people involved have subsequently entered into a monogamous and loving sexual relationship.
  • James Gunn was fired by Disney as the director of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 for having joked about paedophilia on Twitter 10 years ago, even though he had subsequently deleted those tweets.
  • Damian Green was sacked from the UK Government after the police found images of naked women on his office computer, even though there was nothing unlawful about the images.
  • Films, TV shows and pop music are frequently found to be ‘problematic’ by millennials for breaching various codes and taboos to do with race and sex. Tipper Gore must be delighted.

OK, what about the economic war? We won that, right? Maybe not:

  • A Harvard poll in 2016 found that only a minority of 18-29-year-old Americans support capitalism (42 per cent in favour, versus 51 per cent against).
  • In the UK there is widespread public support for the state seizing control of the assets of private companies. Polling indicates that 65 per cent of British voters are in favour of nationalising the Royal Mail, 60 per cent the railway companies, 59 per cent water companies, 53 per cent energy companies and 30 per cent telephone and internet providers.
  • A majority of British voters think that taxes and expenditure on health, education and welfare are too low. Only a tiny minority – around five per cent – think they are too high.
  • A 2011 Pew survey found that among 18-29 year-old Americans, 49 per cent have a positive view of socialism compared to 43 per cent who have a negative view.
  • At the recent Labour Party Conference, the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said he wanted to take 10 per cent of the shares of private companies away from stockholders and give them to the companies’ employees. Fifty-four per cent of British voters said they thought this was a good idea, versus 17 per cent who thought it was a bad idea. Even among Conservative voters, 39 per cent said it was a good idea, versus 27 who thought it a bad idea.

So what’s going on? Have social liberal and economic conservatives like me got it backwards? Did we lose on both fronts?

Not exactly. The truth is, the Left has won the culture war and is probably heading for victory in the economic war. The unsettling resemblance between the Moral Majority that policed public life and popular culture in the second half of the 20th century and the Witch-Finder Generals of the Woke Left is not because they share the same political agenda. Rather, it’s because they’re equally illiberal in the pursuit of their goals. Strategically, they’re poles apart, but tactically, they’re remarkably similar.

For instance, a Harvard Law Professor wrote a piece in the New Yorker earlier this week in which she argued that anyone who witnesses a sexual misdemeanour – such as observing two drunk college students making out at a party – but fails to intervene or report it to the authorities is complicit:

The Kavanaugh allegations also highlight the emerging consciousness on campuses of bystanders’ responsibility. Ford’s lawyers and Senate Democrats have called for Kavanaugh’s alleged witness and accomplice, Mark Judge, to testify. College students now commonly receive training on how to intervene if they see a situation that is fraught with risk, such as a student who is severely drunk at a party accompanying another to a private place. As the #MeToo movement gains momentum, people who are not victims or perpetrators but may know of sexual misconduct have been increasingly criticised for complicity.

Wasn’t this #MeToo zealot struck by the similarity between this suggestion and Senator Joe McCarthy’s insistence that anyone who appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee and refused to ‘name names’ should be thrown in jail? Apparently not.

In case you haven’t noticed, it isn’t just Harvard Law School and the New Yorker that have been seized by this new authoritarian spirit. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that, across the developed world, many of the shibboleths of this new, illiberal ideology are adhered to without question by the most powerful elites. I’m thinking of the administrators of the West’s most prestigious universities, not to mention the department chairs and professoriate; large swathes of the political class (including the leaders of many right-of-centre political parties); the managers of state bureaucracies; the editorial boards and senior employees of the most influential mainstream media platforms, such as the New York Times, the Guardian, CNN, the BBC, etc.; the boards and managers of social media companies like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter; the executives of large publishing houses, such as Penguin Random House, as well as a majority of the authors they publish; the leaders of the tech giants – Apple, Google and Amazon – and the Brahmin class in Silicon Valley more widely; the managers of the entertainment industry, including the Hollywood studios; the vast majority of the ‘talent’ that makes its living in entertainment, including those employed in the performing arts, particularly the state-subsidised or charitably-funded performing arts; most artists and art dealers; the leaders of the fashion business, including the editors of fashion magazines and websites, such as Teen Vogue; and the executives of many if not most large corporations, including some global financial services companies. As Andrew Sullivan wrote in New York magazine earlier this year, ‘We are all on campus now.’

How did this happen? I have many theories and intend to flesh them out in a book I’m working on called The Sado-Narcissists: How the World’s Cultural and Political Elites Came to Hate the West (and Love Themselves Even More in the Process). But the short answer is that the authoritarian Left has, over the past 50 years, gradually taken over the higher education sector in Britain and America. The sociologist A.H. Halsey surveyed the political views of British academics in 1964, 1976 and 1989. He found that those with right-of-centre views fell from 35 per cent to 29 per cent to 18 per cent over that period whereas left-wing allegiance rose from 64 per cent to 67 per cent to 72 per cent.

A similar shift has happened in the US. For example, the political scientist Stanley Rothman found that the proportion of US professors describing themselves as right-wing declined from 34 per cent in 1984 to 15 per cent in 1999 and those describing themselves as left-wing increased from 39 per cent to 72 per cent in the same period. (See here for Rothman’s 2005 paper.) And the leftwards drift has continued in the last two decades. According to a study carried out by Econ Journal Watch in 2016, which looked at the voter registration of faculty members at 40 leading American universities in the fields of Economics, History, Law, Psychology and Journalism/Communications, Democrats outnumber Republicans by 11.5 to 1 on average. In Psychology, the ratio is 17.4:1; in History, it’s 33.5:1. Another study of US academics, this one conducted in 2003, found that most lopsided fields are Anthropology with a Democrat to Republican ratio of 30.2:1 and Sociology where it’s 28:1.

more recent study of 51 of the top 66 ranked liberal arts colleges by Mitchell Langbert, carried out in 2018, found that 39 per cent of them had no Republican staff on their faculties at all. ‘The political registration in most of the remaining 61 per cent, with a few important exceptions, is slightly more than zero per cent but nevertheless absurdly skewed against Republican affiliation and in favour of Democratic affiliation,’ he wrote. ‘Thus, 78.2 per cent of the academic departments in my sample have either zero Republicans, or so few as to make no difference.’ Langbert found that registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by ratios of 30:1, 33:1, 44:1 and 48:1 in Theatre, Music, Sociology, and English, respectively.

Conservatives haven’t won the culture war. It only seems that way because a new generation of hard Left, authoritarian ideologues, with a profoundly illiberal attitude towards dissent of any kind, are about to complete their long march through our most powerful institutions.