by Eric Kaufmann
Tuesday, 13
July 2021
Spotted
16:48

Are conservatives stoking the culture war?

A new report fails to mention the role of progressive activists
by Eric Kaufmann
Credit: Getty

The culture war is a Right-wing plot to win votes, and is dividing Britain. This has become the progressive Left’s go-to narrative, reflected in the Fabian Society’s recent report on culture wars in Britain. Despite the nod to extremism of both Left and Right, the report concentrates its fire on the conservative and classical liberal media, alongside Conservative politicians like Priti Patel. Its solution is cancel culture: ‘We need…to extract social penalties…even if the professional or political penalties are not yet forthcoming. Shame and social sanction are powerful tools.’ Paradoxically, it then proceeds to endorse pluralism. In other words, a diversity of opinions, as long as they are the correct ones.

The report’s mantra spilled forth from at least seven opposition MPs last night during the second reading of the Academic Freedom Bill, which passed 367 to 216. ‘The government must end its divisive culture war, stop stoking the fires of hate,’ accused Leicester East Labour MP Claudia Webbe. ‘Today the government is trying to manufacture a row about free speech on campus,’ charged Nottingham South Labour MP Lillian Greenwood. For Labour grandee John McDonnell the bill is ‘a propaganda exercise in this government’s persistent propagation of the culture war as many members have suggested.’ The playbook was clear: duck the glaring problem of chilling effects for political dissenters on campus which myself and others have amply documented in survey data by accusing the government of cynically stoking division.

This is the classic example of ‘it’s only a culture war when the other side do it’. The Fabian report, like other Left-wing critiques of the culture war, fails to honestly reckon with the role of progressive activists in elite institutions like universities, museums and schools, who started the culture war by pushing far Left beliefs like ‘decolonisation’, microaggressions and critical race theory. When conservatives and classical liberals argue for contextual balance, reason and free speech, progressives accuse them of ginning up the culture war while fanning the flames of racism, transphobia and much else.

As a result of the post-2015 ‘Great Awokening’ of progressive identity activism — as Matthew Goodwin and Frank Luntz note — the culture war is becoming more electorally important in the West, including Britain. While many don’t understand what Critical Race Theory or wokeness is, they have a view on whether a statue of Winston Churchill should be torn down, if schoolchildren should be told to confess their white privilege, or whether footballers should take the knee.

Consider that, among those who say they know what wokeness is, 78% of Conservatives disapprove of it compared to just 13% of Labour voters. There are partisan divisions on these issues, even if more modest than in America. For instance, 78% of Conservative voters think Black Lives Matter has increased racial tensions in Britain compared to 40% of Labour voters. It’s true that we don’t yet see anything in Britain comparable to the yawning partisan chasm in white American opinion on Black Lives Matter, where Democrats support it 86-3 while Republicans oppose it 4-86. But data I have seen suggest UK Tory voters have a dramatically more negative appraisal of Black Lives Matter than Labour voters.

Ultimately the only way to reduce the temperature of the culture wars is for elite institutions to change course to better reflect the diversity of political views in the country.

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Simon Denis
Simon Denis
1 year ago

This is no surprise. Systematic dishonesty has been the hallmark of the left ever since the Marxists rejected the revisions of Eduard Bernstein; and more broadly, a disregard for truth is the natural result of thinking that you’re on the side of the angels: anything is permitted in the name of the wider fight, especially when it comes to characterising the behaviours of co-religionists and opponents.
However, one should also note that the problem is getting much, much worse. The centre-left, which was immune to these forms of corruption, has all but vanished – some are de facto conservatives in the face of the woke onslaught, whilst others have simply fallen silent. And the hard left now crows from the turrets and battlements of our institutions, truncating careers, stifling creation and shutting down debate. Dark, dark times.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

Thanks for bringing Eduard Bernstein to my attention. I’ve just been reading about him on Wiki.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

Eduard Bernstein, the Woke Marxist in Chief, although intensely racist, hard to fit into the modern woke actually, it was a different world back then. If he had a big statue half of the wokes would be pulling it down one way, and half the other way, to a stalemate – But a Marxist fully, a part of the problem, not the solution..

“The centre-left, which was immune to these forms of corruption, has all but vanished”
‘Useful Idiots’, as Lenin called them. Now I guess they are mostly useful by being silent. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” (Burke)

Norman Powers
Norman Powers
1 year ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

But the Woke are very racist, aren’t they? Just they’re racist against white people. If you replace Jews with “white men” then most historical documents from Marxism become not very different to modern rhetoric.
The core of leftism is separation of society into two groups which are stated to be in perpetual opposition, with one oppressing the other. Whether it’s capitalists v working class, men vs women, whites vs everyone else, the playbook is always the same. The modern groupings at least have the advantage of actually being fairly indisputable that they really exist and in what category people fit, whereas proles vs bourgeoisie never really made sense outside Marx’s own fevered imagination. But beyond that small upgrade it’s a way of thinking that’s centuries old and stale, and the modern groupings mean claiming one group oppresses the other is automatically sexist or racist.
That’s why critical race theory spends so much time trying to redefine the word racism. If they didn’t, their neo-Marxism would itself be racism, which would mean they’d be attacking themselves. Hence their ridiculous “it’s not racism unless white people do it” word games.

Last edited 1 year ago by Norman Powers
Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 year ago

Ultimately the only way to reduce the temperature of the culture wars is for elite institutions to change course to better reflect the diversity of political views in the country

The way to defuse this is for prominent institutional and company bosses simply to support their employees and refuse to give in to cultural bullying.
Small companies are easy targets and give in because they don’t have time and resources to fight this.

Last edited 1 year ago by Brendan O'Leary
Paul Sorrenti
Paul Sorrenti
1 year ago

the question ‘do you know what woke means?’ is unsatisfactory because the definition of woke is itself part of the culture war. defenders will roll their eyes and shrug and define it as something like ‘being nice to people’ whereas critics will define it as ‘that thing that tells me why my race makes me racist’. I reckon 100% of those who say they know what woke means also say that 100% of those on the other side who say they know what woke means dont know what woke means and vice versa

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Sorrenti

As soon as “woke” became a term of mockery, leftists deserted the term faster than Speedy Gonzales off a red-hot pizza shovel.

Paul Sorrenti
Paul Sorrenti
1 year ago

Brendan, we’re not allowed to refer to Speedy Gonzales anymore, because he characterises all Mexicans as being quick-witted, heroic and able to play tennis with themselves

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul Sorrenti

It seems we’re both allowed and glad to see someone remembers the great Ricardo “Pancho” González

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
1 year ago

Lefties, wait till the coming financial collapse arrives, then it switches from woke to Bolsheviks building Gulags… or not, maybe this is just a phase the youth are going through and one good scare and they will get over it fast..

Unherd refuses to do finance, and I sort of see why, the future is wildly Bifurcated, we walk a knife edge and falling one side of the abyss is into deflation, and the other rampant inflation, neither witch the current debt based financial system can survive.
“”The consumer price index has risen 5.4 percent in the 12 months through June””

The dreaded CPI was released today, the USA gov means of tracking inflation, a sampling of a ‘basket’ of consumer products prices in relation to last year. 5.4% IS WAY, way, higher than Powell, (USA Fed chairman) wants at 2.5%. Once inflation gets running no one knows how it runs, it is utterly unpredictable, and in this time, terrible if it remains at this level. Powell says it is transitory, but it may not be.
Inflation is excellent for the Debt holders as it inflates debt away, the USA with 100% GDP level of Gov debt can never be repaied except through inflation (which is a Tax, it allows overspending as inflation taxes it back (via devaluing the currency, and so everyone’s money, savings, and pension)) It is terrible for working people as it kills their savings, pensions, and their pay always lags.

Deflation is a killer to anyone holding debt – the Governments cannot, Cannot, handle their debt with deflation (and tech is always deflationary), and it means job loss to the workers too, and depression.
Which is coming? To fight inflation the policy is raise interest, but if it is raised above zero, as it is now, the debt servicing cannot be sustained – $300,000,000,000,000 of global debt needs servicing, and at any interest will begin to default, and that is BAD.

Anyway, to us conspiracy loons it is very possible the fragile, debt based, Fiat Currencies, of the World’s Central Banks may not hold with inflation or deflation, or raised interest, or even ‘Tapering’ of the $150 Billion the USA prints a month to buy bonds to hold down interest…

So – this is where these silly woke kids will come to find what they are. If times get hard, poverty increases, unemployment, reduced spending, Recession, – what will they become? Meekly in the bread line, or flaming barricades and urban chaos?
Is Woke the first step on the ladder to militant Marxism and all that is needed is hard times for it to explode? My guess is the woke will turn out to be meek once the real problems begin, but who knows? Because it looks like it may well happen by the end of 2022, not to mention the USA 2022 elections when the Senate and House could flip.

andrew harman
andrew harman
1 year ago

I think it is less and less a question of left versus right or of conservative versus socialist and more a matter of authoritarian against libertarian. The current UK government has demonstrated alarming tendencies towards authoritarianism. This is, in the case of Priti Patel, a product of personality and to a lesser extent Matt Hancock. With Boris Johnson it is merely supine flotsam like floating on the sea of events. They are all poorly equipped to take on the woke totalitarians.

Ludo Roessen
Ludo Roessen
1 year ago

Also not a word from the usual media/political culprits about the ongoing Cuba revolt?

Michael James
Michael James
1 year ago
Reply to  Ludo Roessen

Especially when it’s a chance to promote their case for democratic socialism.

Glyn Reed
Glyn Reed
1 year ago

So-called wokeness is cultural marxism and cultural marxism is a weapon aimed at destabilising our culture so that it inevitably collapses. Like termites gnawing quietly away at load bearing joists it takes a while and then suddenly, if it is ignored and thorough action not taken, boom the entire structure collapses.
Cultural marxism ensures that people accept what many would have thought ludicrous in the recent past such as making it an offence to say that only women menstruate or have babies, or that a person born male can change their gender simply by saying “I am identify as female” and get to take part in top level women’s sports and – and win thanks to their innate physical advantage. Anyone who says this can’t be right will be denounced as a bigot/fascist etc so the majority – who are cowards – pretend there’s no problem with it. Same can be applied to the embracing of CRT, the notion that simply being born white is a stain on your character, a notion similar to original sin but worse because there is no chance of either forgiveness or redemption. Two plus two equals five and so of course this is all the fault of the Conservatives and not the Left. The Conservatives share the guilt for being, on the whole, ignorant, wishful thinking cowards
In order to thrive Cultural Marxism relies on general ignorance. Dumbed down education and media has ensured there is plenty of that around.

David Yetter
David Yetter
1 year ago
Reply to  Glyn Reed

I’m not sure you’re quite accurate. “Woke” is more the idiot child of cultural Marxism and anti- and post-colonialist thought of the sort grounded in Lenin’s provably wrong imperialism theory. Gramsci and the Frankfurt school thinkers knew what they were doing in promulating ideas to destabilize the West during the Cold War. The woke think they’ve had a great epiphany about the nature of social reality and don’t realize that they are really just playing the role of useful idiots for the no-longer-extant Soviet Union.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago
Reply to  David Yetter

I don’t agree with that. Conspiracies aren’t usually the cause of social movements. Conservatives have it wrong banging on about Marxism, in my view. Marxism is not understood as a threat for one thing, and it sounds old fashioned and out of touch.

(What we really tend to mean by ‘Marxism’ would be far better termed ‘Leninism’, which was a massive departure from Marx’s theories. However for some reason that evil genius (I suppose) is rarely given the ‘credit’ for the huge, if ultimately short lived world wide political movement, except by experts) .

The woke are very different in not being run by a ‘vanguard’ elite and being uninterested in class.

Sometimes I feel that you kind of have to half admire them, the social justice warriors, their energy, willingness to read tedious books and attend meetings etc. In that respect they are like the old Marxist Left, they take over institutions because everyone else is bored rigid and actually have lives to lead.

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew Fisher
David Yetter
David Yetter
1 year ago

Blaming the conservatives for the culture war is analogous to blaming the Philippines for being invaded by the Japanese in 1941.