Is the culture war over? Or, to use less martial language, is Christian cultural engagement at an end? At the risk of depriving a rapidly shrinking handful of old-school Republicans and countless trendy Christian blog pundits of their reason to exist, I believe the answer is yes. It is over. For to engage a culture there must first be a culture to engage. And, as the ever-incisive Anthony Esolen has pointed out on numerous occasions we no longer have a culture. What we really have is an anti-culture.
Of course, for those saps who use the word “culture” but really mean “pop culture” and therefore assume that a posturing Lady Gaga or the “artistic contributions” of some slack-jawed twenty-something with ill-fitting trousers, a pair of over-priced sneakers, and a recording contract qualify as examples of such, then yes, we do still have culture of a sort. But if we define it as the elaborate structures and materials built in to the very fabric of society for the refinement and transmission of its beliefs and its forms of life from generation to generation, connecting past, present, and future, then we really have none. None at all. From elite critical theory in the lecture theaters of the Ivy Leagues to the rampant epidemic of pornography on so many computer screens, we live in world that seeks to detach and isolate the present from any accountability to past or future. Ours is the era of the sempiternal orgiast, the true hero of our time.
Some may push back against this. We are a democracy, after all, and do our democratic institutions not form something of a cultural core for our world? No. Not any more. The mere existence of a cultural artifact from a previous era does not imply that it is itself significant for the present culture in which it occurs. Thus democracy still exists—we thankfully still live in a democracy—but it is clear that we no longer have a democratic culture. The collaborative interplay of the Unholy Trinity of the entertainment industry, big business, and legal institutions has ensured that the most important decisions of our day, those which set the moral boundaries or our civilization, those Rieffian interdicts which frame our forms of life, are no longer significantly shaped by our democratic institutions. They are controlled by others, not by the people. Our democratic culture is dead.