The American political system is in crisis. Many believe our problems are systemic, due to a failure of our institutions. They believe that our problems are caused by politicians, by other people. They are wrong.
Our politics are the result of our other beliefs; politics flow from culture. America is in trouble not because of some mistake made by the Founding Fathers, some unintended consequence of their efforts, or the malevolence of people in Washington. It is in trouble because of culture.
America’s problems are, without a doubt, our fault.
Since coming to Washington in the 1970’s, I have watched two trends emerge in American culture that disturb me greatly: secularization and increasing dependence on the government. They are not unrelated; on the contrary, secularization leads to increasing dependence on government, and increasing dependence on government leads to secularization. As Chesterton said, “when you abolish God, government becomes God.”
That’s why libertarians who think that there is a wall between social and economic issues are puzzling. There’s a distinction, but it’s more abstract than people usually think it is. Social issues have economic consequences, and economic circumstances have socio-cultural consequences. You can’t completely separate them. The libertarian only does so with the assumption that people are capable of self-government.
A look at the different cultures of the world tells us that this is often untrue. We should not take our own success for granted. Poverty is the rule of human life; our prosperity and freedom are the exception. We can’t simply count on having these things forever.
Why is the West so wealthy and powerful compared to the rest of the world? Is it because of natural resources? Other countries are rich in natural resources. Is it because of colonialism and its ravages? The West rose to dominance before colonization and imperialism, rising from a cultural backwater that was far less wealthy and far less accomplished than the great civilizations of China and the Middle East. Surely culture is a major factor in what makes for success.
This isn’t just a phenomenon of nations and civilizations; even within our country, communities with a strong work ethic, an emphasis on family, God, and service, thrive. Even at the individual level, we have all seen examples of how hard-working, morally grounded people eventually create their own luck.
One of the great legacies of Andrew Breitbart is his keen understanding that culture is the real battleground in this country. He knew that, so long as the Left controlled the cultural mainstream, politics wouldn’t matter.
But, of course, the orthodoxy of academia and the media of our time — which the Left took over precisely because of their importance — centers on cultural relativism: No one is allowed to judge anyone’s culture, and all cultures are equal.
No one believes this until they are taught it. Of course some cultures are better than others. Not only is it acceptable for us to proclaim that, but it is our duty: The culture of life is superior to the culture of death, the culture of family is superior to the culture of selfishness, the culture of entrepreneurship is superior to the culture of dependency.
When we believe that, we will be in a position to start fixing America’s politics.
From October 24, 2013