Home culture war recent Can Our Politics Get Better, If Our Culture Keeps Getting Worse?
Home culture war recent Can Our Politics Get Better, If Our Culture Keeps Getting Worse?

Can Our Politics Get Better, If Our Culture Keeps Getting Worse?

"Politics is downstream from culture" has long since passed from revelation to cliché. Culture has long since become politics and politics has become culture. All culture serves or pretends to serve political ends. And all politics, outside the nitty gritty of the actual legislative agenda, is culture.

Politics has come to be defined by social media influencers. Key cultural figures, like AOC, may have no meaningful legislative clout, but adapted social media celebrity to politics. That they don't really do anything is almost beside the point in a culture war where no one really does anything except build their brand by virtue signaling, trolling, and insulting their opponents. The base for politics has been sharply split between issue voters and culture voters with the former still dominating elections, but the latter dominating narratives. And social media narratives preclude the need for real world results.

The internet broke our culture the way that it broke our economy. But you can't really blame technology or even the consolidation of power by special interests using the future shock of the new on anything except the inherent weaknesses in the Weimar world of the pre-internet era that was all too vulnerable to them.

The underlying question on seeing every new low is whether the culture is making the politics worse, or the politics is making the culture worse. The answer to the chicken and egg question is that a narcissistic culture has produced a narcissistic politics. The jargon of contemporary politics that has been adopted so well by AOC leans heavily on "My truths", "My pain", and "I am outraged". Every issue is reduced to a narcissistic projection with no thought for anything larger except as a secondary narrative.

A narcissistic culture did not shed its principles and convictions overnight. It was a slow process that took us from the "Me" generation to the "Selfie" generation. And at the tail end of it, political narcissism shed even the faintest pretenses of Obama's "We are the ones" and asserted "self-care" and "safe spaces" as its highest values. The unapologetically narcissistic "My truths" dispensed with any interest in facts or truth. Principles had fallen by the wayside even earlier after being sacrificed on the altar of Hope and Change.

Can our politics get any better if our culture keeps getting worse?

It's a mistake to think of America as an immutable set of ideas built into its founding documents. The ideas and the documents were magnificent, but they were the product of a culture that believed in them. A document without conviction is just so much paper. And anything can be rewritten on that paper.

Cultural wars can't be fixed by voting and cultural problems can't be solved with elections. But we do "elect" cultures with our economic choices, our educational decisions, and our personal styles.

That doesn't mean that politics, that voting and fighting for issues don't matter. They very much do. It's just that the underlying crisis ensures diminishing returns. An army with the best equipment, but terrible morale, no unit cohesion, and no sense of larger purpose will lose every war that depends more on an enduring struggle than brief shows of force. As long as the Left controls the machinery of the culture, it has an inescapable advantage in setting the terms of the culture war. Even when it can't define our culture, it can deny us the advantages of our culture. And that may be its greatest weapon.

Imitating the Left's tactics, a popular approach, is a plan for a military, not a cultural victory. And without cultural victories, the larger struggle is doomed. From the beginning, the Left sought to eliminate cultural alternatives to its worldviews leaving its ideas and worldview as the only option. It successfully chipped away at the majority culture, fragmenting it, degrading it, and tearing it down until its culture had achieved institutional dominance. And until even its enemies had adopted core elements of its worldview while they still continued to believe that they were fighting the Left.

Envisioning conservatism as a counterculture is a popular meme, but the trouble with it is that the Left is so effective as a counterculture because of its narcissistic nihilism under which it believes in little except its emotional drives for power over others, for destruction, and for the worship of its ego.

A counterculture is inherently destructive. It contains nothing except the seeds of destruction. Its stylistic elements, its vigor and edginess, are all external. The counterculture is a zombie with no soul.

A conservative counterculture, which is emerging in some ways, is as much of a zombie. It's no coincidence that its loudest elements ridicule the idea of conserving anything or believing in anything except Nietzschean narcissism and power. It won't preserve anything or build anything new. Like its National Socialist counterparts, who sought to build a counterculture based on imitating the Communists, the end result can only be corruption and destruction.

Small numbers of people can build a culture. But the culture has to be a commitment to building a future rather than undoing the present. It has to be based on conviction and principles. A compelling culture can sweep across millions and transform the world. But the trick is that it has to have a soul.

Our politics can't get any better until our culture does. And our culture can't get any better until it stands for building a new future.

American culture was thoroughly corrupted because we turned it over to massive unaccountable institutions, to corporations, organizations, think tanks and the elites of financial capitals. They didn't believe in anything and that made it easy for the Left to take them over. Any culture that can resist the Left must believe in itself, and it must believe in a world that transcends the Left.

The counterculture defines itself by the culture. That's how you know it's a zombie. But a culture defines itself not by its opposition to something, but by what it intends to create for its children.

We had that culture once. We can have it again.

Daniel Greenfield is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. This article previously appeared at the Center's Front Page Magazine.


  1. Anonymous4/6/24

    Profound, provocative, and most excellent!!!

  2. Pray Hard4/6/24

    Nothing gets better under islamocommunism.

  3. Chavi Beck5/6/24

    Thank you for this important article, and especially the optimistic conclusion. Please keep writing about this and let's get specific.
    I got an audiobook of Trump's 'Crippled America: How to make America great again' not realizing it's from 2016. It's full of positivity and solid ideas for specific things we need to build. This is why people love Trump (or at least the best, in my opinion, among the many reasons)

  4. You are correct, of course, with your basic premise. However, your position that nothing can be changed until we change the culture is a convenient cop-out. The necessary political change to preserve freedom may require more drastic measures than just slowly changing the culture of some misled/brainwashed people. Would the American revolution ever happen if it would be left to the majority who wanted to be left alone?

    1. I'm not proposing that we slowly change the culture as the solution to all our problems.


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