On the face of it, the Republican victory in Virginia this week presents an attractive path to power for conservatives. Riding to victory on a platform of rolling back the Critical Race Theory or CRT ideology beloved of American HR administrators and schoolteachers (though strange and repellant to almost everybody else), the GOP strategy functioned like a form of martial arts that uses its opponents’ institutional strength against them. The enemy to be defeated was not simply the Democrat candidate but the entire superstructure of managerial liberalism: every officious administrator, smug journalist or unhinged social media liberal combined into one amorphous mass to help make the GOP candidate’s case for him. The enemy was not so much a politician, or even an ideology, as an entire social class.
No wonder British conservatives, as in Mary Harrington’s excellent UnHerd piece on the strategy’s architect Chris Rufo’s “right-wing Leninism,” see in the Virginia contest a workable lesson for their own campaign against Britain’s inept and unpopular managerial class, surely the central mission of any conservative counterrevolution. After all, what can be more satisfying than driving your enemies before you, metaphorically torching their institutional citadels and hearing the lamentation of their CommentIsFree columns? The idea is not dissimilar, at all, to our own Dominic Cummings’ alleged plan to make the culture wars central to Tory political strategy.
Yet there is a trap here Conservatives seem poised to fall into. The greatest danger is, that like abortion or gun control on opposite sides of the American political spectrum, the culture wars become viewed by political parties as a useful tool to harvest votes by riling up their base, tempting them to prolong them interminably. This would ultimately be disastrous. The aim of political conflict must not be to embroil yourself in an endless war but to win a swift and decisive victory— and a figure like Boris Johnson cannot set himself up as tribune of the plebs for long without delivering visible victories.
The Culture Wars must be a one-time only campaign: instead of an Afghanistan-like slog that grinds on interminably, with victory forever on the horizon, conservatives should aim for a culture Blitzkrieg, a bold fait accompli that reshapes the world in their image: a Great Reset, if you will. And here is the greatest structural weakness for any conservative counterrevolution: conservatives have settled into a lazy comfort zone of opposition to woke excess without a positive vision of what should replace it.
Take GB News as a proxy for the conservative mindset: we all know what it is against but what is it for? What is its vision of victory, of the good life and a correctly ordered society? By becoming purely reactive to the ideology of managerial liberalism, conservatives have neglected to build their own positive vision. Grumbling about woke students and deranged HR powerpoint presentations is not enough: they have failed to advance their own alternative case for what should replace the current system, or nurture the intellectual and institutional ecosystem to embed it within national life.
The danger is that, like the feverish anti-Trumpism of America’s liberal commentariat or the Brexit denialism of our own, a poorly-strategised single-issue culture war leads conservatives into a cul-de-sac, birthing ephemeral victories but setting up future defeats. The point of wars is after all not to keep fighting them, but to win them for once and for all.