It’s the Culture, Stupid

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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos arrives for the Star Trek Beyond premiere in San Diego, Calif., July 20, 2016. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

It won’t have escaped anyone’s notice that big corporations and progressive activists have been batting their eyes at each other lately. Jeff Bezos has just come out in favor of the Biden “infrastructure” plan, Major League Baseball is wringing its hands in protest at Georgia’s fairly innocuous new voting law, and implicit-bias training is being administered by latter-day witch doctors in many of America’s biggest corporate offices. 

This alliance between identitarian progressives and big business cuts across the ideological dividing lines that were established during the Cold War, when the existence of the Soviet Union guaranteed the preeminence of economics in the clash of civilizations. But in the post-1989 world, the most radical elements of the progressive movement appear to be more interested in culture than economics. Those on the furthest reaches of the left today are not terribly interested in nationalizing the energy industry or the post office; they’re interested in nationalizing childhood, gender, love, race, and religion, and they’re more than happy to use the mechanisms of market efficiency to do so. As I pointed out in the context of the Chinese Communist Party (who have practically perfected — in the most sinister way — this model of markets without freedom, the totalitarian state of the 21st century will likely be the hideous love child of Margaret Thatcher and Deng Xiaoping. 

This is not to say that standing up for market economics isn’t important. We can afford to care about culture, gender politics, and education because, for the most part, we don’t have to worry about breakfast, lunch, and dinner in America, which is a bounty of economic freedom that we can’t afford to take for granted. But while there are still cold-warrior throwbacks such as Bernie Sanders hanging around the Democratic Party these days, the real energy is with figures such as Ibram Kendi and Nikole Hannah-Jones who, socialists though they may well be, tend to focus on factors other than class as the inflection points of the coming cultural revolution they’re after. It’s worth noting, for instance, that both Kendi and Hannah-Jones are hugely popular with and handsomely remunerated by some of America’s biggest corporations. Neither have, so far as I am aware, began any of their speaking engagements by assassinating the exploitative agents of capital who invited them and shouting “the workers of The New York Times have nothing to lose but their chains!” No, the prophets and apostles of cultural progressivism are happy to sprinkle incense on the altar of mammon if there’s a speaker’s fee in it for them, or an opportunity to boost book sales. 

The canary in the coal mine as far as the ascendancy of cultural progressivism goes was the election of Tony Blair as British Prime Minister in 1997. As the English writer Peter Hitchens has pointed out, by embracing market economics and selling himself as a moderate (much as Joe Biden did during his presidential campaign), Blair was able to accomplish a huge amount of the non-economic objectives of old socialist Left in Britain: the final destruction of what remained of the English grammar school system, a bureaucratic putsch raised against the British constitution, and surrender to the Provisional IRA in Northern Ireland. This facade of economic moderation overlaying a cast-iron commitment to cultural revolution worked electoral wonders for Blair at the ballot-box. It could do something similar for Democrats in the long term if they resist the temptation to nominate cartoonishly off-putting self-avowed Bolsheviks for high office and play it smart instead.  

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