The Culture War is the name given to conflict over moral or religious values typically between mainstream American political thought and liberals.
European culture wars historically pitted Catholics against Protestants, from the extraordinarily violent Thirty Years War of the 17th century to the nonviolent Kulturkampf in Germany in the late 19th century when Bismarck's German Protestant government sought and failed to suppress Catholicism. In the 19th and early 20th centuries the great battles were over cultural and ethnic nationalism, as well as political contests between clerical and secular forces, especially in France from 1789 to the early 20th century.
Just as violent were the occasional conflicts between Christianity and Islam that led to dramatic battles such as those at Tours (732), Kosovo (1389), Constantinople (1453), and Lepanto (1571). Terroristic Similar outbursts occurred in Chechnya since the 1990s, and in Britain, France, the Netherlands, Spain, Bali and elsewhere after 2001.
In Canada, mostly nonviolent cultural tension between English and French ethnic groups has simmered from 1760 onward. Finally in the 1990s Canadians opted for a multicultural compromise that downgraded British heritage and Canadian nationalism in general. The There remain, nonetheless, active Quebec separatists, hovering just short of a majority, groups continue to that seek independence and reject multiculturalism. among Francophones and some native peoples.
Since 1789 there has been a persistent global cultural war between the forces of modernization, secularization, and globalization on the one hand, and traditionalists on the other. The latter expressed itself among Roman Catholics in the 19th century, and Islamists, Hindu nationalists, and Christian evangelicals in the 20th and 21st centuries. In class terms, the upper middle class has typically been the proactive modernizing force, with the peasants and working classes (often joined by the aristocracy) acting in reaction.
Massive great violence accompanied culture wars in Mexico from 1810 to the 1930s that saw clerical/conservative alliances battle anticlerical modernizing forces.
In American history culture wars have seldom escalated into violence. In general the groups at sword’s point in other lands coexist in America. The rare exceptions were tensions between Catholic and Protestant Irish in the 19th century that erupted in riots in New York (1871) and, Philadelphia (1844) and elsewhere, though these were quickly quelled. More violence and hatred has surrounded racial tensions between blacks and whites (and between whites and Chinese in the late 19th century, and blacks and Koreans in the late 20th century).
The most important culture wars in America have involved questions of morality. The abolitionist movement was one such expression. Before the 1830s many national leaders, North and South, considered slavery a social evil that should be gradually abolished. During the Second Great Awakening, religious evangelicals in the North began preaching that slavery was a personal sin which slaveowners must immediately repent. The novel and play by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin (1851) became a best seller in America and Britain, driving home the horrors of slavery. Across the South those suspected of harboring abolitionist thoughts were driven out. More generally the South feared various Yankee "isms" (abolitionism, feminism, and reformism) that threatened to destroy the traditional lifestyle of both subsistence yeoman farmers and slave plantations. The North meanwhile was modernizing rapidly and building an educational system that provided the intellectual and interpersonal skills needed for an upwardly mobile middle class to flourish. The South was nearly as rich the North in 1860, but its wealth depended less on intellectual skills than on the luck of land speculation, gambling, European demand for cotton, and weather. After slavery ended in 1865 and cotton prices plunged, the South fell behind economically and intellectually until it finally broke with cotton and began urbanizing in the 1940s, and abandoned segregation in the 1960s.
Second Great Awakening
The Second Great Awakening (1800-1840) created a series of reform movements that generated culture wars. In addition to abolition there was the Prohibition movement, which moved liquor from a social nuisance to a personal sin in the minds of many pietistic, low-church, revivalist Protestants, and motivated their efforts to destroy the liquor trade and saloons. The robust resistance provided by Catholics and liturgical, high-church Protestants such as Episcopalians and German Lutherans turned liquor into an ethno-religious issue that polarized the political parties along parallel lines.
Still another spin-off of the Second Great Revival was Mormonism, whose doctrines of polygamy and theocracy profoundly alienated Americans. Persecuted relentlessly in culture wars in Ohio and Illinois, the Mormons tried to escape to Utah. There the Mormon subculture grew rapidly because of high birth rates and successful missions to Europe. The anti-Mormon culture wars largely ceased around 1905, when Mormons finally abandoned polygamy and theocracy. A peculiar feature of the Mormon case was the remarkable combination of a high commitment to technological, organizational, and educational modernity among Mormons who simultaneously clung to traditional religious and ethical views.
The post-World War I South developed a culture based on fundamentalism and related anti-modernist tendencies. It rallied to its favorite political hero William Jennings Bryan, already a leader in the prohibitionist cultural wars, when he declared war on ungodly Darwinism in the 1920s. The result was the national attention given the Scopes Trial in 1925.
Southern anti-modernism resurged in the 1980s, assisted by a new political mobilization behind the conservatism of Ronald Reagan. It was sponsored by the Christian Coalition and other ad-hoc alignments led by the ministers of Southern Baptist mega-churches. Northern Catholics had long opposed abortion and began mobilizing its own culture war against secularism in the 1970s. In the name of "family issues," Southern Baptists, Missouri Synod Lutherans, Mormons and fundamentalists joined in the new culture war, attacking evolutionism, abortion, feminism, homosexuality, obscenity, and government support for the arts and humanities. African Americans joined the ad-hoc coalition to oppose gay rights. After 2000, stem cell research also became a culture war target. Southern Baptists, who expanded nationwide after 1945, reignited their crusade against Darwinism as taught in the public schools and lobbied for the teaching of various forms of Creationism as an alternative.
By the 1980s, educational levels more so than social class aligned culture war partisans and spilled over into presidential elections. Republicans increasingly attacked public schools, higher education, and the arts, as they became a party of college dropouts and lost its historic support among the better educated. The injection of immigration issues into politics after 2005 opened a new front in the culture wars by reinvigorating nativist themes that had been dormant since the 1920s. Attacking illegal iImmigration, however, has proved problematic for Republicans, as Republican nativists often denounce the Republican business interests that attracted illegal Latino immigrants in the first place with irresistible job opportunities.
American culture war, demographics and expected tipping point in 2020
The Birkbeck College, University of London professor Eric Kaufman wrote in his 2010 book Shall the Righteous Inherit the Earth? concerning America:
|“||High evangelical fertility rates more than compensated for losses to liberal Protestant sects during the twentieth century. In recent decades, white secularism has surged, but Latino and Asian religious immigration has taken up the slack, keeping secularism at bay. Across denominations, the fertility advantage of religious fundamentalists of all colours is significant and growing. After 2020, their demographic weight will begin to tip the balance in the culture wars towards the conservative side, ramping up pressure on hot-button issues such as abortion. By the end of the century, three quarters of America may be pro-life. Their activism will leap over the borders of the 'Redeemer Nation' to evangelize the world. Already, the rise of the World Congress of Families has launched a global religious right, its arms stretching across the bloody lines of the War on Terror to embrace the entire Abrahamic family.||”|
In recent years "Culture War" describes the dramatic polarization that has recently taken place in American politics. The observation is that on an increasing number of issues, from abortion to gun control to taxes, there are two definable poles in American politics, commonly referred to as the left or liberal position and right or conservative position. It In his book, Culture Wars, James Davison Hunter describes this polarity as the impulse toward "Progressivism" and the impulse toward "Orthodoxy".
Some political scientists have suggested that America is not in the midst of a political war, but that a large majority of voters are moderates. "Both red and blue states are basically centrists," said Fiorina. "Red states are a little more conservative than blue states. But people by and large see themselves in the center." These scholars argue that, while America is generally evenly split on most issues, it is not divisively polarized. The media plays a part in promoting the appearance of a culture war, because showing the extreme side of issues is more interesting than showing the moderate view.
- O'Reilly, Bill. Culture Warrior (2006) Broadway Books
- Clark, Christopher and Wolfram Kaiser, eds. Culture Wars: Secular-Catholic Conflict in Nineteenth-Century Europe (2003) online edition
- Fiorina, Morris P. Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America (2004)
- Gerson, Mark. The Neoconservative Vision: From the Cold War to the Culture Wars (1997)
- Hales, E. E. Y. Pio Nono. A Study in European Politics and Religion in the Nineteenth Century (1954), on Pope Pius IX
- Hunter, James D. Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America (1992) excerpt and text search
- Jensen, Richard. "The Culture Wars, 1965-1995: A Historian's Map," Journal of Social History, Vol. 29, Oct 1995 pp 17-37online edition
- Webb, Adam K. Beyond the Global Culture War (2006)
- Zimmerman, Jonathan. Whose America? Culture Wars in the Public Schools, 2002 (2002)