On losing the culture

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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My latest column over at The Week presents the argument that today’s electoral losses are the inevitable byproduct of conservatives having first lost the culture.

Some will, no doubt, see this as an indictment of conservatives who somehow failed to rise to the challenge. (In fairness, part of my argument is that winning elections in the 80s, 90s and 2000s probably fooled conservatives into believing everything was hunky-dory.)

But my purpose is not to disparage cultural conservatives who dedicated their lives to defending traditional American values.

In fact, the truth is that conservatives were indeed “standing athwart history yelling Stop!”

To be sure, many of the changes of the early 60s — civil rights, for example — were incredibly positive. But many of the developments that began in the mid-to-late 60s were corrosive. Some of the changes — globalization, the birth control pill, etc. — appear philosophically neutral, but had a profound impact on changing the culture (for more on this, see my notes on chapter 2 of Ross Douthat’s “Bad Religion.”).

As James T. Patterson’s new book, “The Eve of Destruction: How 1965 Transformed America,” recounts, the changes that took place in the latter half of the decade were nothing short of remarkable. During a recent conversation with Patterson (listen to it here), the author and historian argued these changes were a predictable, if ironic, byproduct of the peace and prosperity ushered in by previous generations.

Patterson called the phenomenon, “a revolution of rising expectations.”

Often these rising expectations involve a move away from traditional values. This, of course, is not an entirely new observation. As John Wesley said, “[W]herever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased in the same proportion.”

Matt K. Lewis