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The Culture Wars Are Over?

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From an interview between Micah Uetricht and Andrew Hartman, author of The War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars, at In These Times:

You write about people on the Left realizing that, in addition to restrictive ideas about gender and race, perhaps the whole American project is rotten to the core, and they need a different way to define themselves. And so there increasingly was no unifying project for the Left to feel a part of anymore—while the average American still probably wanted to be a part of that kind of project.

There were some people from the ‘60s onward who saw the whole American project as irredeemable: racist, sexist, imperialist. But for the most part that was a very small minority.

Multiculturalists, the people who Schlesinger was arguing against, just wanted the U.S. to reflect what it actually was: a very multicultural society. People wanted to stop the U.S. from thinking of itself as better than others, reject American exceptionalism. But most of these people weren’t giving up the project of the U.S., they just wanted the project to look different. Derrick Bell, the critical race theorist and law professor who I write about in the book, was arguing that America was irredeemable; can never be anything other than racist. But the majority of say, social movement activists and professors in English departments were not going so far as to say that we need to burn the American project to the ground.

But most critics of multiculturalists and others lumped them together with many others much farther to the Left. To conservatives in general, there was no difference to them between multiculturalists and Afro-Centrists. In their eyes, both were rejecting American ideals.


You argue, pretty provocatively, in your conclusion that the culture wars are largely over.

To me, the logic of the cultural wars seems largely exhausted. The Christian right in many ways is kind of a lost cause. You have an increasing number of conservative religious figures who are arguing the need to withdraw from public culture and create their own autonomous cultural zones, where they can prepare for when the U.S. is once again ready for its ideals.

Many conservative Christians, for example, still believe that homosexuality is not only an abomination in the eyes of God but also a threat to national values. But they are less likely to make that argument publicly and politically; instead their main tactic is “religious freedom.” To me, this is a recognition that they are losing the national battle, and they’re trying to create smaller zones in which they can discriminate in the name of religious freedom.

To read more about The War for the Soul of America, click here.