Home > Oz Politics, World Events > The culture wars are over. They lost.

The culture wars are over. They lost.

November 8th, 2012


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  1. Sancho
    November 8th, 2012 at 20:06 | #1

    Triumphalism like that isn’t usually rewarded.

    For example, it came as a shock to the Republicans that their anti-gay, pro-Christian platform wasn’t immensely popular with Latinos.

    You could read that as massive Latino support for the Democrats, but I think it’s more likely to be rejection of the GOP’s harsh line on immigration.

    If the Republicans soften their stance on deportation and border control, tens of millions of Latinos may switch sides to be with the party that aligns with their religious and ethical beliefs.

    The culture wars are far from over.

  2. Katz
    November 8th, 2012 at 20:11 | #2

    They were over by 1974.

    Mopping up operations continued to 2012.

  3. Oliver Townshend
    November 8th, 2012 at 20:20 | #3

    And yet the still play the Hits of the 70s and 80s on the radio.

  4. John Quiggin
    November 8th, 2012 at 20:27 | #4


    Immigration is central to the culture wars. If/when they reverse on immigration, marriage equality, reproductive rights and climate change, the Repubs will be a lot more competitive. But that’s my point.

  5. Jim Rose
    November 8th, 2012 at 20:29 | #5

    Katz was unusually sharp on noting the culture wars was over decades ago, with mopping up operations since then.

    Back in the day, an old University mate of mine, Rodney Croome used to be (very bravely) protesting about reforms to the criminal law.
    • Rod even went into a police station a confessed to abominations against nature, as the Tasmanian criminal code called it. It was a gender neutral prohibition.
    • The police said they could not prosecute with the other party coming forward as the witness. He did.
    • The Tassie DPP then declined to prosecute on public interest grounds.

    These days, Rod is campaigning for the right to marry. All inside one generation! What a great country is Australia.

    I often use the rapid social change such as this when I must listen to some drone on tell me how preferences and social roles are socially constructed. They may have missed the 20th century, and the 60s and 70s at least ansd the Internet too.

    When I was growing-up, racist sentiments were common. Times have changed so much for the better.

  6. Katz
    November 8th, 2012 at 20:32 | #6

    No, that was my usual sharpness.

  7. Sancho
    November 8th, 2012 at 20:35 | #7

    @John Quiggin
    The criterion for the thread was to discuss the proposition that the culture wars are over. I didn’t know there was a point to refute.

  8. Ikonoclast
    November 8th, 2012 at 20:43 | #8

    A trolling headline and an open request to discuss? It’s asking for trouble.It’s much like Fukuyama’s “End of History” claim. There is no end to human history while humans exist. There will be no end to culture wars either.

    I assume in “they lost” the “they” means neoconservative politics and economics. Far from them losing they have won very comprehensively. Even when we get so-called “left liberals” (who are nothing of the sort) like Obama and Gillard all we get is more drone strikes, more homeland “security”, more trashing of the rule of law, more help for corporate capitalists and more laws against refugees to detain them indefinitely in exhausted guano mines. How is this in any way a win?

    Of course, even the neocon right’s win is temporary. The world they have contrived is unstable, unsustainable and unravelling as we blog. But it is very hard to say what will come next.

  9. Sancho
    November 8th, 2012 at 20:49 | #9

    Surely the fact that birth control and “legitimate rape” were issues at the forefront of the election demonstrates that a particularly backward form of conservatism is alive and well in the US.

    Even if the people who hold those views are in a shrinking minority, that’s still tens of millions of Americans who won’t give up the fight just because Obama won a second term.

  10. Katz
    November 8th, 2012 at 20:52 | #10

    Victory is signified by hegemony, not unanimity.

  11. rog
    November 8th, 2012 at 21:19 | #11

    They certainly did lose, after 4 years of Obama disappointments, mid term win, debt ceiling standoff culminating in an election where they threw everything in incl the kitchen sink, they failed to register a gain. No wonder Boehner is talking of doing a deal on their only remaing card the “fiscal cliff”.

  12. Peter Whiteford
    November 8th, 2012 at 21:24 | #12

    They are not dead yet, and they even be zombies.

  13. John Quiggin
    November 8th, 2012 at 21:25 | #13

    “I assume in “they lost” the “they” means neoconservative politics and economics.”

    If only. As you say (and as I said in my book on the subject) they are very much alive, or, at least, very much undead. The culture wars were just one tactic to distract voters from the way the neocons/neolibs were taking them down

  14. November 8th, 2012 at 21:27 | #14

    Just like the ‘potato famine’, the truth about the culture war is: There never really was one.

    It is a construct.

    As an example: something like 70% of Australians don’t care about gay marriage. Not in favour and not against, just plain old don’t care. It isn’t an issue. If it became a reality they wouldn’t care. Similarly, they can’t get worked up about advocating for it either.

    The construct is designed to push everyone into one of two deliberately designed corners of a series of otherwise largely unnoticed issues. Often people will have to change corners when the next issue comes up, so there isn’t even uniformity across the two “sides” to the war.

    ABC’s Q&A is a perfect example of this type of time-wasting confection. A form of ‘circuses’ in the ancient Roman sense. Jeez it keeps us busy.

    I notice that a whole bunch of “occupy” people got straight into organising and collectively delivering real aid and relief to those in grief after Sandy. (Anyone interested can see #OccupySandy on Twitter).

    They were in there delivering food, water, goods and medical assistance several days before the National Guard and Red Cross.

    The Culture-War-Mongers hate this kind of apolitical grass roots organising. It mucks up their entire plan that we all just sit about calling each other names and waving red or blue flags at each other while they carry on fucking up the world.

  15. Katz
    November 8th, 2012 at 21:43 | #15

    The major battlefields of the culture wars predated the rise of neocons/neolibs.

    It is true that neocons/neolibs enlisted partisans in these causes in their struggles. But it is historically incorrect to imply that neocons/neolibs conjured the culture wars into existence.

  16. November 8th, 2012 at 22:17 | #16

    The bad guys can now no longer sustain the culture wars on all fronts. However, should they choose to surrrender on some they will be in a position to continue fighting others for maybe a decade or more. Let’s hope they’re not that smart.

  17. November 8th, 2012 at 22:17 | #17

    Sorry, I forgot where I was for a moment. I’ll try again, without the fruity language:

    Just like the ‘potato famine’, the truth about the culture war is: There never really was one.

    It is a construct.

    As an example: something like 70% of Australians don’t care about gay marriage. Not in favour and not against, just plain old don’t care. It isn’t an issue. If it became a reality they wouldn’t care. Similarly, they can’t get worked up about advocating for it either.

    The construct is designed to push everyone into one of two deliberately designed corners of a series of otherwise largely unnoticed issues. Often people will have to change corners when the next issue comes up, so there isn’t even uniformity across the two “sides” to the war.

    ABC’s Q&A is a perfect example of this type of time-wasting confection. A form of ‘circuses’ in the ancient Roman sense. Jeez it keeps us busy.

    I notice that a whole bunch of “occupy” people got straight into organising and collectively delivering real aid and relief to those in grief after Sandy. (Anyone interested can see #OccupySandy on Twitter).

    They were in there delivering food, water, goods and medical assistance several days before the National Guard and Red Cross.

    The Culture-War-Mongers hate this kind of apolitical grass roots organising. It mucks up their entire plan that we all just sit about calling each other names and waving red or blue flags at each other while they carry on stuffing up the world.

  18. November 8th, 2012 at 22:30 | #18

    If you are old enough to remember all the flack about Kennedy’s Catholicism what was truly amazing about this US election was that it was a contest between a Mormon and a part Afro-american. There seemed to be little discussion of the religious or ethnic background of the candidates.
    I am not sure what Qld John Q lives in but the one I am in seems to have been taken over by a triumphant branch of the Tea Party.

  19. Sancho
    November 8th, 2012 at 22:40 | #19

    @John D
    Conservative Christians railed against Romney’s religion until they realised that he was the only candidate they had, then reluctantly bit their tongues about it, while Brian Fischer and co were shouting about Obama being an atheist and/or Muslim right up the end of the election.

  20. paul walter
    November 8th, 2012 at 22:42 | #20

    The rival thesis as to the culture wars being over forty years ago is the idea that the last century is typified by two period of reform ( FD Rooseveldt, then the sixties) and long periods of reaction in between.
    It’s true the US public avoided the mistake they made in tossing a decent man, Jimmy Carter,for Reagan in the eighties, but then, the damage is so much more obvious this time as to Zombie economics and neo conservatism.
    I think the parallel between Australia and the US at this stage of the Culture Wars is remarkable. It could be that the public here is also having a “Deer-hunter ” moment and holding off killing off Gillard Labor while this time they have a PROPER look at Abbottism and see Australian rightist obstructionism for what it is, same as the USA , a gun held to the head of society.

  21. Chris Warren
    November 9th, 2012 at 02:24 | #21

    Culture Wars are proxy wars for economic interests. If necessary they can always be reignited by the Right.

    However, in Australia, the History Wars [1] are not yet dead.

    This also applies to Kenya where new British papers have only just been released.

    [1] The question whether colonial genocide was used to construct modern Western wealth

  22. rog
    November 9th, 2012 at 04:14 | #22

    @Chris Warren The Cattlemans Hall of Fame Longreach are going to add a section on aborigines, which is about time when you consider that all the early explorers and cattlemen utilised and exploited existing tracks and routes. In some cases this was done through torture (Canning Stock Route).

    Australians need to acknowledge the numerous murders and massacres of aborigines by white people, often committed with approval of the Crown.

  23. BilB
    November 9th, 2012 at 04:50 | #23

    If you are talking about

    “……….former Nixon speechwriter named Patrick Buchanan. At the Republican National Convention he sounded the clarion call for a cultural war for the “soul of America”.

    He laid out the battlefields on which that war would be fought.

    Abortion on demand, a litmus test for the Supreme Court, homosexual rights, discrimination against religious schools, women in combat units.

    And he made it clear, in his trademark snarl, what he thought of the other side. The Democrats had just had their convention in New York City.

    Like many of you last month, I watched that giant masquerade ball up at Madison Square Garden, where 20,000 liberals and radicals came dressed up as moderates and centrists in the greatest single exhibition of cross-dressing in American political history”

    …….this culture war, then you might be right. But the war will only stay won for as long as women actively contribute and defend their presence and equality publicly as energetically as they do within the home.

    I do not include legalised marihuana into that fold and will fight that one vigorously.

    If you are talking about a conservatives versus liberals, avarous versus sharing, dominance versus caring,…culture war, then no I don’t think that has been won.

    The one quote from the US election that fully defined the American problem for me was dropped casually into a talk referring to the Baby Bommers as “…the pig in the python…”. To me that totally visualises the 1% problem, the catch 22. These are the people who were “Johnny on the spot” when the biggest growth boom in history was in full swing. And the 1% are those who were able to consolidate those gains and are now using their strength to maximise that position against all comers. They are the property barons, every bit as ruthless as the media barons and drug lords.

  24. Mr Denmore
    November 9th, 2012 at 07:01 | #24

    The culture wars are pretty much a media construct. That they any currency is purely because mainstream media publications say that they exist. It’s in the interests of that industry to keep them going because their business model is based on conflict.

  25. Ikonoclast
    November 9th, 2012 at 07:02 | #25

    @John Quiggin

    I see your point now. I just wonder why you focus on the culture wars so much when you too see they are a secondary issue.

    Material production and ownership of the means of production are the key issues. Religion, mores (moral attitudes and manners) and rationalising ideologies grow out of and to some extent re-influence the forces and relations of production. My views are of a somewhat late or post-Marxist nature further informed by Veblen’s analysis, green ecologism and biophysical economics. From this point of view, the culture wars are a side issue. Our problem is our inability to reform and eventually effect a revolutionary transformation to take us out of and beyond capitalism. Capitalism as a system is failing and must be condemned on two major counts. It strongly works against equal and positive relations between humans and it strongly works against a sustainable (and ethically justifiable) interaction between human civilization of the rest of “nature” or the biosphere.

  26. Sancho
    November 9th, 2012 at 07:10 | #26

    @Mr Denmore
    They perpetuate the culture wars, but I can’t imagine the Vatican, in particular, would have shrugged and let abortion, feminism and gay rights pass without protest if there weren’t a content-hungry media urgently stoking the fire.

  27. Greg vP
    November 9th, 2012 at 07:29 | #27

    Look at it from the other side:-

    “It was a 48 to 50 loss. We would have won but for Hurricane Sandy, which gave Obama the chance to look presidential.

    If bigotry, paternalism, unreason, fear-mongering and lying didn’t work, it was because we were unlucky, and because we didn’t use enough of them. We’ll be back, better than before.”

    Nothing has changed.

  28. rog
    November 9th, 2012 at 07:53 | #28

    @Mr Denmore I thought the Gulf Wars to be valid manifestations of the culture wars.

  29. Katz
    November 9th, 2012 at 07:57 | #29



  30. November 9th, 2012 at 10:52 | #30

    If we who believe in free markets for free minds lost, what exactly did you collectivists win? Cuba? Libia? Greece? The Aboriginal Gulag? Green Tasmania? Postmodern Nihilism?

  31. Sancho
    November 9th, 2012 at 10:56 | #31

    @John Dawson
    The central point of this thread is that the US election outcome proves we don’t have to bother with that nonsense any more.

    If you want to see a Republican president again, it’s entirely up to you to start talking in hard facts instead of straw men and conspiracy theories.

  32. November 9th, 2012 at 11:04 | #32

    @Sancho So you’ve defeated the bad guys and don’t have to bother about the freedom nonsense any more, I get that. What I don’t get is, what have you won? There’s the loot you can plunder, but what then?

  33. Sancho
    November 9th, 2012 at 11:11 | #33

    @John Dawson

    The right has spent the last ten years shouting that science is communism, secularism is persecution, homosexuality is a disease, feminism is a disaster, Wall Street can self-regulating and the environment is expendable.

    That you believe the right was defeated by anyone but itself is just evidence of how far you need to travel back to relevance.

  34. November 9th, 2012 at 11:43 | #34

    @Sancho So you’ve won licensee to gloat, misrepresent and abuse. Anything else? Seriously anyone, what is it that you think you have won?

  35. Sancho
    November 9th, 2012 at 11:58 | #35

    @John Dawson
    Just the gloating, and only for a short while, because there’s progress to be made before the Republicans swallow the poo sandwich and try to rein in the Tea Party for the Christie nomination in 2016.

    More interesting is what this will mean for Australia, which is generally more conservative than the US but also more stable. US voters just rejected most of the claims the Liberal Party took directly from the GOP, but that’s no guarantee it will convert to similar results.

    So you can pray to Monckton and keep the powder dry for now.

  36. may
    November 9th, 2012 at 12:29 | #36

    while the “culture wars” have been very good to broadcasters and paid opinionators,the
    cult of superiority is a perennial throughout history.

    the need to convince/ coerce the subject productive units to support a priest/military/noble way-to-go is seen in every country and culture.

    the rule of entitlement is what is being painted into a corner,the privelege of money(privelege means private law) is being outflanked by the inexorable encroachment of education and rights in law.

    so emotion and agnotology are used to convince the “unentitled”that it is in their/our best interest to trust a purported ‘we are doing this in your best interest because we know more than you do and it’s going to stay that way trust us even as you haven’t got a clue of who we are except for a carefully glamourised image of a photogenic few.

    super rich tend to get really sniffy if the idea that their superiority relies on money, assets or family connections.
    (this is not to deny the reality of groups and individuals who have,after all, made the world a better place)
    and seem to truly think that normal people envy a way of life that means having to have round the clock body guards .
    maybe the ones who make a living breathlessly broadcasting the glamour of it all wish they were in the magic circle but i’ve got enough to go on with.
    it just irritates me that they could easily hire a hitman or legal S.L.A.P* to deal to me if i get in their way.

    S.L.A.P=Strategic Ligitation Against Protesters.

  37. may
    November 9th, 2012 at 12:30 | #37

    bloody hell.

    litigation. litigation.

  38. Julie Thomas
    November 9th, 2012 at 12:37 | #38

    John D, nobody has won; but your side has lost.

    The ‘collectivists’ these days are not ‘the left’; they are the ordinary people who don’t usually take any notice of politics or economics. But they love social stuff and through initiatives like the Destroying the Joint facebook page, – and the Keep Campbell to Account – they are learning about economics and politics and realising that they do have the ability, and the means, to understand what is going on.

    White male supremacists are the ones who fight to win, and we’ve just seen how low they can go to do this, because ………..???

    Why? What do you think you’ve got to offer anyone except people who are exactly like your good self?

  39. Sancho
    November 9th, 2012 at 13:08 | #39

    Here’s Matt Taibbi on culture war stuff: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog/hey-rush-limbaugh-starting-an-abortion-industry-wont-win-you-female-voters-20121108

    John and co might want to mull over the nut graf:

    “[M]odern Republicans will never be able to spread [their] message effectively, because they have so much of their own collective identity wrapped up in the belief that they’re surrounded by free-loading, job-averse parasites who not only want to smoke weed and have recreational abortions all day long, but want hardworking white Christians like them to pay the tab. Their whole belief system, which is really an endless effort at congratulating themselves for how hard they work compared to everyone else…is inherently insulting to everyone outside the tent – and you can’t win votes when you’re calling people lazy, stoned moochers.”

  40. Uncle Milton
    November 9th, 2012 at 13:28 | #40

    Taking up Katz’s metaphor about mopping up operations, even if the war can be officially declared over for decades to come the Republicans will be like those Japanese soldiers who spent 30 years in the Philippines jungle not knowing the war was over.

    But it’s not obvious that the culture wars are over. Take abortion. It’s nearly 40 years since Roe v Wade, and still it’s the defining issue that separates the true believer Republicans from the RINOs. Romney is obviously not terribly anti-abortion but he had to say that he was or his candidacy would have been dead before the Repub primaries even started. If anything, the standard Repub position is much harder line than it used to be. I don’t think even Reagan ever said that he opposed abortion arising from rape.

  41. Sancho
    November 9th, 2012 at 13:37 | #41

    @Uncle Milton

    That’s a direct result of the Tea Party, which itself was a result of what Barry Goldwater warned of in 1994 when he said “when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party…it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”

    The establishment Republicans thought they could direct all that Tea Party anger into the machine, but instead the extremists began turfing out the moderates, or “RINOs”.

    Next thing you know, you’ve guys like Todd Akin piping up about rape and the GOP enforcers who wouldn’t have tolerated it a decade ago just shrugging and saying “so what?”

  42. Uncle Milton
    November 9th, 2012 at 14:04 | #42


    It’s reached the point where Mitch McConnell, the Republic Senate leader, arch conservative and uber obstructionist, is facing a primary challenge in 2014 from the Tea Party.

  43. Sancho
    November 9th, 2012 at 14:07 | #43

    @Uncle Milton

    That’s the make or break. Either the remaining moderates manage to pull the party back toward the centre, or what? Civil war?

  44. JamesH
    November 9th, 2012 at 14:33 | #44

    There’s still plenty of trench warfare culture warriors here in Oz.

    Consider Dr Steven Kates, for example, who teaches economics at RMIT, and has just written a piece (of ….) for Quadrant explaining that Obama won by building a coalition of:
    Women who are, amazingly, concerned that Republicans might limit their access to abortion – these women are clearly “damaged” and “living in a world of paranoia”, and he suspects they have “not avoided the deep and fearsome pains of commitment-free sexual relations either” (slut shaming! way to go, Steven!) and their anger at “men of my and Romney’s generation” is “beyond all understanding” (well, it’s clearly beyond Steve’s understanding);

    “Mendicants”, because “So far as those who vote for a living are concerned one can understand why they are voting as they do. There are more of them than ever as their numbers have been propagated by leftist parties everywhere” (translation: the brown hordes are multiplying!);

    “Broken Glass Democrats” who are “worm-eaten with envy” (I’m not sure who this is a dog-whistle for, cause he already did women and brown hordes – is this blacks?); and

    “Marxist social science know-nothings” (who knew marxists were so powerful in the USA?).

    Dr Kates must also be an economic zombie par excellence as he has devoted much of his career to extolling the wisdom of Say’s law. That’s not even neo-classical, it’s positively pre-diluvian. He regularly writes for the Drum to explain how stimulus is destroying the Australian economy (snerk) due to “crowding out”. Why does ortho-free-marketeering so often coincide with racism and sexism?

    He is apparently considered competent to teach. I do wonder if he shares his views of women, “mendicants”, and other such undesirables with his students.

  45. November 9th, 2012 at 14:52 | #45


    I know virtually nothing of economics, so I had to look up “Say’s Law”.

    Apparently it isn’t really his law, it just got his name on it. Anyway, it seems he stated that the only way to have a market for something is to produce that thing. Pure genius.

    Then there was something about how it’s impossible for rich people to accumulate money because they’ll spend it. Except sometimes they won’t. And if they horde their money (by definition, become rich) that is against his law. And he seemed to be in favour of economic stimulus in hard times to create work for the unemployed.

    It seemed his idea was that the economy consists entirely of manufactured widgets which are immediately transferred (via money) into other widgets. Food doesn’t seem to fit into the law. That’s it, I’m leaving this economics caper to the experts.

  46. JamesH
    November 9th, 2012 at 15:37 | #46

    I note John Dawson believes in “free markets for free minds”. I knew that right wing hacks sell their opinions to the highest bidder, but they don’t usually come out and admit it.

  47. Uncle Milton
    November 9th, 2012 at 17:59 | #47


    It didn’t work out so well for them in Indiana. Problem is, the extremists have the support of the people who vote in the primaries. Richard Mourdock (he of pregnancy after rape is God’s will fame) ran against the incumbent Richard Lugar (considered to be a conservative Republican by pre Tea Party standards) on the basis that any working with the Democrats of any kind at any time on any issue is treasonous, and the Repub primary voters lapped it up.

    It’s reminiscent of the Protestant paramilitary groups in Ulster: “No Surrender!”

    That’s the problem with these people. They really do think they are doing God’s work, and they see treason and betrayal anywhere and everywhere beyond their own world value.

  48. Tim Macknay
    November 9th, 2012 at 18:04 | #48


    S.L.A.P=Strategic Ligitation Against Protesters

    No, it’s S.L.A.P.P – “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation”.

  49. m0nty
    November 9th, 2012 at 19:03 | #49

    The culture wars are not over in America. All the GOP needs to do is embrace Rubio, and probably also Jeb Bush, and shift their policy to Rubio’s version of immigration amnesty to win back the natural social conservative constituency of the Hispanic population.

    Whether they will do that or not is the issue. Based on the last four years, they are more likely to double down on the Clint Eastwood demo, led by the Tea Party conducting more neocon cleansing.

  50. November 9th, 2012 at 20:03 | #50

    I guess I’ve got my answer. If we lost, nobody won. You guys certainly didn’t, because you don’t stand for anything. You don’t stand for socialism any more, you resemble some sort of green feudalism but your union power base wouldn’t accept serfdom so at the end of the day you can be defined only by what you want to destroy: the remnants of capitalism. And after that … *?*

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