Culture War Victory – Maggie Gallagher
[This looks like the kind of cultural and apostolic initiative the Pope is looking for].
Dear Friend of Marriage, Life, and Religious Liberty:
Can we achieve victory in America's "culture wars"? Can we stand—successfully—for life, for marriage, and for religious liberty?
I think so.
If you are reading this letter, you think so too. Each week, with your permission I'd like to share with you the most important things you need to know about how to achieve victory in the culture wars. Please sign up today, right now, for the Culture War Victory newsletter, free of charge.
Each week I will ask you to do two things: to think and to act for life, for marriage, and for religious liberty.
Bringing together thought and action is CWVF's unique contribution.
I'm Maggie Gallagher, and, as you know, together we've helped win a few impossible victories.
In the 90's I participated in a great national debate over family structure: are rising rates of fatherlessness and family fragmentation a good thing as progressive elites then so self-righteously proclaimed?
Or do children long for the love of their mother and father united in marriage?
The answer now seems obvious, but it was a long hard fight to win social respect for the view that marriage matters for children.
I've been a syndicated columnist and have authored three books on marriage, including The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier, and Better-Off Financially (co-authored with University of Chicago Professor Linda J. Waite).
During the Bush administration I had a front row seat for debates regarding the Federal Marriage Amendment—and I could see the need for a single-issue national activist organization to do the hands-on political work of fighting for marriage and religious liberty—especially in blue states.
So I founded one: The National Organization for Marriage (NOM).
Not all by myself of course. Brian Brown, Princeton Professor Robby George, and a whole host of impressive people came together. In just a few short years, the National Organization for Marriage has become what even the Washington Post called the "pre-eminent national organization" fighting to protect marriage as the union between husband and wife.
In early 2008, NOM helped get Prop 8 on the ballot in California. We changed history.
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I recall vividly how I was told by fellow conservatives a victory for Prop 8 would be literally impossible. They said:
"It takes $2 million to get a proposition on the ballot in California, you cannot possibly raise the money, you will raise part of the money and leave the donors hanging, if by some miracle you succeed you will lose at the ballot box because the culture has shifted."
Here's the thing I want you to notice about this story.
First, the people who were telling me that success was impossible were people who agreed with me that gay marriage was a civil wrong, not a civil right.
Secondly—and this is the most important thing—none of it turned out to be true.
In six weeks we raised the crucial seven figures needed to succeed in getting Prop 8 on the ballot. During the election, 7 million Californians voted to overturn their state Supreme Court and affirm marriage as the union of husband and wife.
I learned an important lesson from that great victory and I want to share it with you: Despair is the most powerful weapon our opponents have. And despair is self-inflicted—a weapon they can have only if we voluntarily hand it over to them.
In this respect a culture war is like any other war. When is a war over?
The answer is not when one side or the other is literally annihilated—but when one side loses the will to fight.
That's why the "argument from despair" is our opponent's most powerful weapon.
The first step to victory is believing victory is possible.
But the second crucial step is understanding the nature of a culture war.
The inventor of the term "culture war" is Professor James Davison Hunter. In 2002, he delivered an absolutely brilliant, ground breaking, original address "To Change the World". (Professor Hunter later published a book by the same title, which, in my humble opinion, sheds less light, partly because Hunter gets distracted by airing his criticism of the Religious Right's political models—more on that theme in a moment).
Professor Hunter criticizes the common view of culture—that it consists somehow additively in the "values" that inhere in individual hearts and minds. This leads too many social conservatives to the proposition that personal moral evangelization—changing individual hearts and minds—is the key to changing culture.
"Here, let me be blunt," he writes, "if one is serious about changing the world, the first step is to discard this view of culture and how cultures change, for every strategy based upon it will fail—not most strategies, but all strategies."
Evangelization is the task and duty of every believing Christian, in my view. But Professor Hunter is right: this is not the right model for understanding how culture—or the culture war—works.
Cultural power, Professor Hunter teaches us, is the power to name reality.
"Like money, accumulated cultural capital translates into a kind of power and influence. But what kind of power? What kind of influence? It starts as credibility, an authority one possesses which puts one in a position to be taken seriously. It ends as the power to define reality itself. It is the power to name things."
Think for a moment, at the deepest level, about our current struggles over life, marriage, and religious liberty:
Is that thing in the mother's body just a few unimportant clumps of cells or is it a human life, sacred to its Creator, worthy of public respect?
That's the culture war over abortion.
Are two men pledged in a sexual union really a marriage? Or is there some reason virtually every known human society has recognized that an enduring union of husband and wife—in which each is pre-committed to being responsible for the children their bodies may make together—really is different and sacred and necessary to the whole tribe in a unique way?
That's the culture war over marriage.
Is standing up for the great truths of Genesis an exercise in freedom, or an example of discrimination? That's the emerging culture war over religious liberty and it's very serious.
Culture war is not about individual hearts and minds—not about "values"—it's about the nature of reality itself and who is authorized to speak on its behalf.
Culture has a center and a periphery—it is created by elites. And the key actor is not the individual genius, it's the network that spreads ideas.
That's why it takes something like 150 million voters to balance the faculty of Harvard law school.
(By reading this far into this letter, by the way, you are demonstrating your desire to be part of a new elite network of people who care about the foundational ideas of America.)
What is the place of politics in winning a culture war?
Here is where I think Prof. Hunter makes a serious mistake.
"Politics will never be a solution to the challenges we face," he boldly declares, "The work of the political Left and the political Right—even, if not especially, the Religious Right—often makes matters worse."
Of course politics is not "the" solution.
A sophisticated view about the role of politics in a culture war requires starting from this proposition: Politics is not an alternative to culture, it is one potent expression of it. In particular, in the United States politics offers a constraint on the ability of highly credentialed "progressive" elites to impose new norms on the American people, without our consent.
The political process makes it harder for the culturally powerful to de-legitimate alternate views unilaterally as "outside the mainstream."
Thirty-nine years after Roe v. Wade transformed abortion from a crime to a Constitutional right, abortion remains a live, heated, moral and political controversy in America, and the pro-life position is gaining—not losing—adherents.
True, an enormous amount of "cultural production" went into sustaining the pro-life vision and cause by religious leaders, intellectuals, and even the rare artist.
But it is hard to imagine that we would have a vibrant cultural pro-life movement without a political wing.
The political struggle has had enormous cultural implications
Why did Bill Clinton adopt the mantra "maximum feasible accommodation" with religion as an alternative to "separation of church and state"? Why did he call for abortion to be "safe, legal and rare"?
Because he and other Democratic elites were tired of losing political elections on "values" issues. They sought to moderate their expression of views in an effort to win more votes and, in the process, inevitability legitimized "anti-abortion" views as a reasonable position, not a morally extreme view.
This process is part of what has opened up the new pro-life surge in the larger culture. In the struggle to "name reality" intellectual elites cannot simply shut down important public debates because our political process won't let them.
Ironically, we can thank the progressives of the 1920s for this fact: the American system of open primaries is the most open and democratic in the world.
Because the people choose party nominees in an open election, political leaders in the U.S. cannot simply get together and decide to take certain issues "off the table" as they often do in parliamentary systems.
So, for example, despite an August 2011 poll that shows the majority of the British oppose gay marriage, all the major political parties support redefining marriage.
Similarly, after the courts in Canada imposed gay marriage, the leaders of all the major parties decided to support gay marriage. That consensus among leaders effectively blocked off any public visible political reaction to same-sex marriage. A top-down imposed silence replaced a free and fair public debate. Which in turn has made it easier to create a Canada where opposition to same-sex marriage is considered bigoted and "beyond the pale." Ask Damian Goddard, who was fired from his sports broadcasting job in Toronto the day after he tweeted he supports "the true and authentic meaning of marriage." (You can see Damian tell his story at www.marriageada.org.)
As long as Americans keep voting against gay marriage and for marriage as the union of husband and wife, alternative views cannot be totally de-legitimized.
Politics can affect culture by raising the costs to elites of de-legitimizing others' point of view, and by making visible public opposition to the elite cultural consensus.
The same culturally powerful elites now pushing for gay marriage would have, if they could, shut down life issue. They could not, in part, because the American political system did not grant them that power.
The religious right emerged and took political form not because of some false theories of culture, but because in the United States the political system is the hardest part of society for elites and their consensus opinions to shut down.
It is true (as I said) that it takes approximately 150 million ordinary American voters to counterbalance the entire faculty of Harvard.
you need to lead to victory. (Sign up for the fight by joining Culture War Victory fund!)
Politics is only one tool in a culture war—not the be-all or end-all. But it is too important a tool to surrender, unilaterally.
That's why each week at the Culture War Victory Fund I am going to ask you to do two things: to think and to act.
The most hopeful lesson we can learn from the pro-life battles is this: truth matters.
The first step to winning this culture war is simply to stand up and not only proclaim but ACT on the great truths:
That which a mother carried within her body is not a clump of cells, it's a human life, worthy of respect.
The unions of husband and wife really are different than other relationships—we need them, children need them, in a unique way.
An American civilization that attempts to redefine the great truths of Genesis as irrational bigotry is not going to be recognizably American, any longer.
The great lesson of Communism is that systems of thought—even powerful systems of thought created by elites—that are not grounded in human nature will eventually fail. The faith wish we share is simple. Hope is stronger than fear. Love is more powerful than hate. Truth in the end will prevail over falsehoods and prevarication and ideological commitments.
Thanks for caring about the things that really matter.
I look forward to this great conversation continuing each week, another chance to think and to act together on behalf of the principles we hold dear, the truths too dear to surrender.
Can you do me one favor? Can you pass this letter on to one other person whom you think shares our commitment to life, to marriage and to religious liberty? And to the great principle that truth and love will prevail!
Yours, in gratitude and in good faith,
P.S. Don't forget to pass this on to one friend! Benjamin Franklin said an elite is a person who can influence one vote beyond his or her own. One vote, one book purchase, one new idea—together we can help change the world. —Maggie
I repeat the text of Benedict XVI from January 19, 2012:
"With her long tradition of respect for the right relationship between faith and reason, the Church has a critical role to play in countering cultural currents which, on the basis of an extreme individualism, seek to promote notions of freedom detached from moral truth. Our tradition does not speak from blind faith, but from a rational perspective which links our commitment to building an authentically just, humane and prosperous society to our ultimate assurance that the cosmos is possessed of an inner logic accessible to human reasoning. The Church’s defense of a moral reasoning based on the natural law is grounded on her conviction that this law is not a threat to our freedom, but rather a "language" which enables us to understand ourselves and the truth of our being, and so to shape a more just and humane world. She thus proposes her moral teaching as a message not of constraint but of liberation, and as the basis for building a secure future.
"The Church’s witness, then, is of its nature public: she seeks to convince by proposing rational arguments in the public square. The legitimate separation of Church and State cannot be taken to mean that the Church must be silent on certain issues, nor that the State may choose not to engage, or be engaged by, the voices of committed believers in determining the values which will shape the future of the nation.
"In the light of these considerations, it is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres. The seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life. Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion. Many of you have pointed out that concerted efforts have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices. Others have spoken to me of a worrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience.
"Here once more we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society. The preparation of committed lay leaders and the presentation of a convincing articulation of the Christian vision of man and society remain a primary task of the Church in your country; as essential components of the new evangelization, these concerns must shape the vision and goals of catechetical programs at every level.
"In this regard, I would mention with appreciation your efforts to maintain contacts with Catholics involved in political life and to help them understand their personal responsibility to offer public witness to their faith, especially with regard to the great moral issues of our time: respect for God’s gift of life, the protection of human dignity and the promotion of authentic human rights. As the Council noted, and I wished to reiterate during my Pastoral Visit, respect for the just autonomy of the secular sphere must also take into consideration the truth that there is no realm of worldly affairs which can be withdrawn from the Creator and his dominion (cfr. Gaudium et Spes, 36). There can be no doubt that a more consistent witness on the part of America’s Catholics to their deepest convictions would make a major contribution to the renewal of society as a whole.
"Dear Brother Bishops, in these brief remarks I have wished to touch upon some of the pressing issues which you face in your service to the Gospel and their significance for the evangelization of American culture. No one who looks at these issues realistically can ignore the genuine difficulties which the Church encounters at the present moment. Yet in faith we can take heart from the growing awareness of the need to preserve a civil order clearly rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition, as well as from the promise offered by a new generation of Catholics whose experience and convictions will have a decisive role in renewing the Church’s presence and witness in American society. The hope which these "signs of the times" give us is itself a reason to renew our efforts to mobilize the intellectual and moral resources of the entire Catholic community in the service of the evangelization of American culture and the building of the civilization of love. With great affection I commend all of you, and the flock entrusted to your care, to the prayers of Mary, Mother of Hope, and cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of grace and peace in Jesus Christ our Lord."