The Clare Spark Blog

July 1, 2014

The Rightist Culture War Strategy Won’t Work

culture-war1It is not surprising that persons who make their living in publishing or writing on behalf of conservative or libertarian causes would envision “culture” as the battleground on which to halt the slide toward “fascism” or “totalitarianism” or “statism” or whatever you want to call the direction of the Democratic Party. The latest to enter the fray is publisher Adam Bellow, son of the illustrious Saul Bellow. (For my one and only blog on Saul Bellow see

Leaving aside for the moment, whether there is a single, coherent right wing culture to spawn artists, let me ask some related questions: Do artists and filmmakers make revolutions in human relationships, or do material factors that are often avoided, put down, or erased by mystical science-hating organic conservatives? For these persons often view themselves as postmodernists or moderates or entirely alienated anarchists.

Think about the onset of modernity in the West for a moment. What factors enabled the elevated status of women? Novels and tracts by soi-disant feminists, or the Industrial Revolution that removed patriarchs from the home, hence raising the status of the women who were now, by default, more in charge of socializing children and supported by John Locke’s empiricist idea of the tabula rasa (i.e., by the outcome of experience and study on our judgments, as opposed to Plato’s innate ideas and shadows on caves)?


As for the sexual revolution, how can we discount the effect of “the pill” that prevented unwanted pregnancies and enabled greater freedom in sexual pleasure for both partners? Or do we want movies that take us back to the good old days when women were entirely subservient to husbands and children, lived for the family alone, and endured endless pregnancies? (See Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse (1927): her portrait of “Mrs. Ramsay.”)

It is true that the mass media have had a great effect publicizing social movements, but close examination of their politics reveals a motion toward populism, not social transformation in human relationships that would lead to wider acceptance of free markets, the end of racism and sexism, and to an aversion to overregulation by the State. Populists are not leftists, but petit-bourgeois radicals angry at “elites” (perhaps stand-ins for authoritarian parents). Such resentment may be found in much of the conservative movement, currently in an uproar over “progressives” in disguise as “RINOS.”

No culture produces so many geniuses that we can simply call out brilliant artists and/or critics who can move mountains and change consciousness to the degree required by our current polarization and sense of injustice on both sides of the great divide.

But we can read good literature from many sources to our children, and we can teach them to extract the messages contained in specific texts. The same goes for music and art. That is what European and American “elites” did, and they ended up ruling the world, enhancing life for the billions, and continuing to ask the big, still unsolved questions. If we want to let “the right brain run free,” we have still to look for excellence in whatever genre or artist we can find. Forget political correctness on both left and right: Study how individual works of art work on us to get us thinking and moving again.

Will satire and spleen of the sort recommended by Adam Bellow and other culture warriors change hearts and minds on the liberal Left? Or will it be taken as yet more agitprop and bad faith emanating from reactionaries?



  1. “…and enabled greater freedom in sexual pleasure for both partners”

    Social conservatives have also increased their interest in sexual pleasure. This genie will not be put back into the bottle.

    Comment by thomsondavid — December 3, 2014 @ 8:28 pm | Reply

  2. The Right-Left, with its ups and downs, circulating in the inside-out Moebius string, as if in the time of the Great American-Russian Circus days…Obsolete, but still very much inflamed with violence in spite of atomic age entanglements underground. Options: none for many, many for a few.

    Comment by brainandrain — July 2, 2014 @ 4:24 pm | Reply

  3. Yet what you and I call excellence is today known in the University as ‘The Canon’ and considered quite arbitrary. And the University does influence the Arts when the arts become prestigious. Cinema was originally a branch of Carnival, now it’s one of the Arts, so a respectable career for the graduates of Universities who will carry the attitudes of their professors into their careers. The claim that mainstream mass media has a leftwards slant is not without foundation.
    Does that matter? As a lifelong practitioner rather than theorist of media, it is my belief that mass media follows popular taste more often than it leads it. I’ve usually had this view challenged by feminists rather than by conservatives, often by feminists who were colleagues. Yet if mass media has no influence at all, why do so many authoritarians seek to control it, and come to that, how does it attract advertisers?
    I have to agree that the spleen and satire usually offered as an alternative by the right are pretty dismal. Satire does not have to be funny but it must have more than partisan appeal to succeed (‘the glass in which a man recognizes every face but his own’) otherwise it’s just jeering.

    Comment by William Saunders — July 2, 2014 @ 11:05 am | Reply

    • I agree that the media follow popular taste, and that taste is populism, as I said in the blog. I should have added that there is no unity on the Right (except insofar as it criticizes the Left), and that all attempts to present a united front against the leftist control of “culture” is absurd on the face of it.

      Comment by clarelspark — July 2, 2014 @ 1:33 pm | Reply

      • So, what is your recommended approach to changing that dynamic?

        Comment by John Anderson — July 3, 2014 @ 3:03 pm

      • Since there is no unified right-wing culture, look to economic measures and get out the vote to unseat this administration. The Republican Party will move to the right with pressure from below.

        Comment by clarelspark — July 3, 2014 @ 3:34 pm

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