Richard Hanania's Theory of the Culture War
Why now? Why here?
Throughout the developed world you see the same cleavages opening up, with an educated urban elite that is more likely to support left-wing parties, and an exurban and rural populist backlash that looks strikingly similar across different societies.
His explanatory schema for this phenomenon includes:
One thing people with money buy is separation from poor people or others not like them, while assortative mating moves these trends along.
…Despite social desirability bias leading to the triumph of egalitarian ideologies, the natural tendency towards a kind of class consciousness does not go away. The higher class therefore becomes more strenuous in defining itself as aesthetically and morally superior to the lower classes.
Members of the lower class don’t understand much, but they do understand when others hold them in contempt.
In America, things are especially divided, Hanania says. His explanation for this includes:
We have a high crime rate and extreme dysfunction among the very bottom rungs of society, which increases the costs of living around poor people, thus creating more class segregation.
…Our political system is more “democratic,” … This gives the lower classes more of a say in the government, which increases parity between the two sides and increases the intensity of the struggle.
My favorite sentence in the essay:
In the age of social media, we therefore have two grievance parties, one that talks about “white supremacy” and “patriarchy” and the other going on about the “deep state” and “liberal elites.”
There is much more in the essay that I would excerpt if I didn’t feel I’d be abusing the copy/paste function.
My only hesitation in agreeing entirely with Hanania is that his theory is reductionist. It says that people’s beliefs are not genuine. It is just the highly-educated urban folks trying to feel superior and the less-educated rural folks feeling resentment. Hanania’s final words are
The culture war as such will not be won or lost, as it is not about deep philosophical differences regarding the good life, but the product of unhappy people seeking status at the expense of others, and the tribes that form around the great antagonists in this battle.
The Albion’s Seed story offers a different perspective. Most important, it allows differences in beliefs to be taken at face value. The Puritans of The Scarlet Letter could never have imagined their descendants proudly taking their children to the library for Drag Queen Story Hour, but the continuity is there. You can take away the 17th-century rules of sexual conduct, but you still end up with Puritanical insistence on moral conformity.
Meanwhile, the descendants of the Borderers do not operate whiskey stills, but they still consume beers that sophisticated Yankees would never be caught drinking. And the descendants of Borderers are just as ornery as they always were. They don’t think they need to listen to the Puritans’ moral lectures.
In the 21st century, these old antagonisms have been exacerbated. People with different cultural backgrounds and beliefs see less of one another in person, so we have less opportunity to appreciate one another’s humanity. Instead, we see the online version of the other, which is often a caricature. I think the situation is potentially more explosive than Hanania allows.