The late Andrew Breitbart is credited with the statement that “politics is downstream of culture.” Since Breitbart made that memorable assertion, Red State, Daily Caller and other Republican websites have expressed the same view. By now this remark has risen to the status of an axiom. Too bad it’s simply wrong as a description of contemporary Western societies! Clearly, those repeating Breitbart’s statement have not read my work on the managerial state and its changing ideological justifications. Having spent decades trying to demonstrate the power of modern democratic states over moral attitudes and social practices, I’ve noticed that no one of journalistic importance has considered my arguments.
Let me begin by noting that modern public administration and its judicial and educational arms should not be equated with any government at any time. A specifically modern Western state has behind it vast coercive power and the capacity to socialize its subject-citizens. Moreover, since elections are scheduled at regular intervals and since rotation is supposed to take place between two parties or party blocs, citizens assume that government operates “democratically.” Never mind that entrenched parties and politicians by their presence and activities serve to strengthen the status quo or that representation becomes more distant and vaguer as both population and bureaucratic centralization continue to grow. Despite occasional complaining, most of the population take on face value what is presented as “democratic” representation. Being free to manage their lives matters less to them than other things, such as not giving actionable offense in the workplace, making sure that government provides social services and not having to fork over “too much” to other state clients. Fascism: The Career of... Best Price: $33.34 Buy New $29.35 (as of 08:40 EST - Details)
These attitudes do not arise from politically uncontrolled social interactions. They are the responses to how people are being ruled. And by now more than half the population in most Western democracies draw half or more of their income from public administration, as government employees, recipients of social programs, and/or retirees. (Although the figures in my book After Liberalism are twenty years old, there is no reason to assume that they’ve gone down in the intervening time.) In Europe culturally, radical leftist parties, such as the German Greens, are collections of government employees. Even more importantly, these leftist, social engineering parties, teeming with government workers, like the German Greens and the French Socialists, run or co-run regimes.
Crusades against discrimination on behalf of a variety of groups designated as historically disadvantaged or victimized by xenophobia have been essential for expanding government. It has allowed administrators and judges in the US, Western Europe, and other Anglophone countries to bully “reactionaries” and to mold the young through state-run education. As an engine of social and moral change, the state is on a perpetual behavior-modifying mission. Political Correctness is not just about “culture.” It results from government policies relentlessly applied for the purpose of changing the way we think about human relations. Accelerating immigration from different cultures also furthers the state’s presence in our lives. Demographic change weakens established patterns of social interaction that might resist the state’s expanding control, such as long-standing cultural identities. Further, immigration generates conflicts that require or are thought to require the intervention of state actors.
We’re not saying that every state employee or government agency director sets out to lord it over others. Many “state servants” and judges are undoubtedly motivated by shared ideological conviction, and others may see themselves as performing their duty according to received guidelines. But the effect of their actions is to push moral and social attitudes in a particular way, and this, not incidentally, leads to an erosion of what were once dominant beliefs. It is also not being claimed that culture has never been upstream from politics. Where weak After Liberalism: Mass... Best Price: $14.98 Buy New $31.37 (as of 06:30 EST - Details) states and strong cultural identities have been present, Breitbart’s statement does make sense. It should be no surprise that America’s original constitutional design took shape in the late eighteenth century among Northern European Protestants rather than Latin Catholics. The way of life among America’s settlers and the political and religious attitudes that prevailed among them may have been a necessary precondition for their successful regime. Deliberateness, individual lawfulness, and an aversion to state churches and monarchical power served as preconditions for the American venture in ordered liberty. Other societies may have featured more interesting people and more intense family loyalties but not necessarily the qualities that were useful for the regime then being constructed.
But the question is not whether culture never determines forms of government or the success of a particular government in taking and holding power. Clearly in some circumstances established ways of life may have that effect. But what we are looking at in present-day America and in countries that resemble us is not what the French political thinker Tocqueville styled “moeurs,” manners broadly understood, or what Aristotle called the “tropos,” the moral character inherent in a particular regime. Contrary to an older understanding of culture, what we are referring to is a process of moral and social radicalization. It is a process that didn’t come about unbidden but which powerful, pervasive administrative rule promoted. And the social engineering function of public administration here and elsewhere in the West has been particularly evident since the 1960s, with governmentally encouraged immigration and an accelerating war against discrimination. Presumably, when Hillary Clinton assured a gay rights group that she was addressing last year (October 5, 2015) that she would use the IRS to force recalcitrant religious institutions into endorsing gay marriage, she was not simply responding to a cultural condition. She was working to create one.
Allow me to speculate on why “conservative” publicists shift or ignore the conversation when an uninvited guest brings up political reasons for our cultural radicalization: it’s best to avoid certain subjects. Since the 1960s the US has enacted transformative legislation punishing The Problem with Socia... Best Price: $5.00 Buy New $5.00 (as of 07:10 EST - Details) discrimination against blacks, women, and other protected groups, overseeing an expansion of the suffrage for minorities, and opening up the doors to massive immigration. Most Republican politicians and publicists not only have no trouble with such measures but also wish to take credit for them. A now released film by Republican filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza, which has attracted throngs of the GOP faithful, attack the Democrats for being the party of racists and sexists. Among the charges against the Democrats in D’Souza’s film is that they dragged their feet on the civil rights legislation of the 1960s.
Republicans have no desire to criticize certain measures that have been decisive for cultural change. They have enough trouble wooing blacks, Hispanics, and unmarried (read, feminized) women into their predominantly WASP big tent. Why should they compound their electoral difficulties by pointing to the obvious? My point is not to force them to do what they’re unwilling to do, something I couldn’t achieve in any case given my limited resources. But I’d be happy if accredited conservatives stopped babbling about how the state is a tributary of culture. What they say on this subject is no longer credible.