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Position Statement

Spotlighting the Cultural Conservative

By William J. Dodwell

            It’s all relative – but only to a point.


Today’s culture eschews the long-standing standards that used to govern behavior, mores, ethics, education, commerce, language, music, and personal appearance. Instead, it celebrates the ugly, the stupid, the unaccomplished, and the immature in the politically motivated elevation of the secular.  How determinative is politics in culture?  To be sure, culture is based on sensibilities, not ideology.  But I believe our declining culture flows in part from political liberalism which promotes equalizing everyone and thereby suppressing excellence and distinction.  This zeal for inclusiveness denigrates discipline, restraint and accomplishment, and substitutes a perverse tolerance that embraces the least common denominator which the mass media extol.  To some extent, this political race to the bottom begets a cultural parallel we see today having its own negative consequences.  The Comprehensive Conservative decries that reality and hopes to diminish it.


Certainly, cultural tolerance is encouraged to a degree as many nuances come into play.  And intractable generational differences will always exist.  Indeed, individual freedom, a basic conservative tenet, applies to cultural preferences and tastes as it does to political protections from government oppression.  Different strokes for different folks.  But civilization is defined by certain intuitive limits that preclude the relativist standard.  And many of those boundaries have been breached in today’s culture. Indeed, certain behavioral and aesthetic standards founded on past conventions define the cultural conservative.  In the last fifty years we have experienced unimaginable advances in technology, but new pathologies have taken root – legal abortion, pervasive drug abuse, pornography, along with a dramatic rise in divorce, out of wedlock births, poverty, crime and illiteracy, especially in inner city populations.  These maladies have engendered a permissive society reflected in the deterioration of aesthetic standards, which are largely exempt from criticism.  They reflect a perverse allegiance to relativism embodied in the proscription against being “judgmental”.  Some even believe that cultural deterioration is a means of destroying civilization to advance a leftist political objective.


Cultural conservatism is not necessarily grounded in religion.  To be sure, evangelical and other religion-based rectitude might comport with this philosophy with respect to standards of behavior and expression.  But many non-denominational peoples also support its principles, not on the basis of scripture, but the secular lessons of tradition.  Theoretically, even an atheist could subscribe to cultural conservatism which inherently invokes natural law.  However, the notion of a deity as the source and guide behind the awe-inspiring complexity, diversity and balance of nature with its karmic powers lends a cosmic context that makes cultural conservatism more compelling.  That is, this divine origin is more consistent with the nature of cultural conservatism which values the cultivation of human potential, as well as physical wellbeing and beauty, as a seemingly providential product derived in concert with nature.  In short, non-believers might support cultural conservatism in context with nature.  Believers accept it in relation to God, the source of nature.  As such, both believers and non-believers can appreciate cultural conservatism but it is probably more compatible with the former.


Liberals tell us not to be “judgmental”.  But that admonishment is just a tactic to defuse criticism. There is a limit to tolerance, notwithstanding the primacy of individual freedom.  For example, what is it that prevents a full facial tattoo from becoming vogue?  We must uphold appropriate normative standards despite shifting popular opinion and express disapproval wherever we see cultural decline or forever descend the slippery slope towards nihilism.  Diffidence and political correctness will doom us as traditional standards recede only to be replaced by shallowness and coarseness.  For example, we see the decline in education and the lack of appreciation for scholarship among the youth.  This does not augur well for a more engaged electorate that supports meritocratic values.


Consider the decorum of the movie stars of the ‘30s and ‘40’s who even in their twenties and with little education displayed sophistication marked by good grooming and refined diction.  That was the standard to emulate.  But that image of class and excellence implies exclusivity which is anathema to the Left today (at least publicly).  So, cultural standards had to be downgraded across the board to accommodate everyman as the symbol of the liberal canon bent on an obsession with diversity.  In the process, this secular mission has yielded a carelessness and imprecision with adverse consequences in education, communication, behavior, relationships, and general aesthetics.  For example, I’m convinced entertainers earn credits in Hollywood for degrading America, its tradition and its culture, especially celebrities trying to revive flagging careers. (Don’t be fooled by the fulsome tributes to the military.)  Stars dress like slobs and engage in public displays of vulgarity.  And they make frequent bogus claims of child abuse, which I believe are designed to impugn the sanctity of the traditional family by having us believe that behavior is commonplace.  Politicized culture is the lament of the cultural conservative. 

© 2012 William J. Dodwell