My buddy Rod Dreher is talking a lot these days about “cultural socialism.” I wish he wouldn’t. Rod believes that the term “cultural socialism” is justified because, like actual socialism, it’s about the redistribution of resources — in this case the resources of access, prestige, etc. But if so, then much of McCarthyism was cultural socialism. McCarthy sought to pull down the privilege of communist fellow travelers in cultural high places (Hollywood) and replace them with God-fearing Americans. The social wing of Wilberforce’s movement, which sought to drive slave-owners from polite society while bringing in formerly excluded people like Olaudah Equiano: cultural socialism!
If Rod places a lot of emphasis on this term, then here’s a preview of the first review of his forthcoming book: “We’ve already read this book, under a slightly different title: Jonah Goldberg wrote it and called it Liberal Fascism. This is just Goldberg’s idea but with a hat-tip to the alt-right’s cries against ‘cultural Marxism.’”
Rod absolutely right, and right in a very important way, that the strategies that Christians and conservatives and, in general non-socialists used to survive under Soviet-sponsored socialism are likely to become immensely relevant to many American Christians and conservatives in the coming years. (I may say more about that in another post.) But that doesn’t mean that what we’re battling against is a form of socialism, cultural or otherwise. I would argue rather that it’s the ultimate extension of the free market — a kind of metaphysical capitalism. The gospel of the present moment is, as I have frequently commented, “I am my own.” I am a commodity owned solely by myself; I may do with this property whatever I want and call it whatever I want; any suggestion that my rights over myself are limited in any way I regard as an intolerable tyranny. That some kind of redistribution of access/prestige/attention and even economic resources might be needed to bring this gospel to those who have not previously been able to enjoy its benefits should not obscure for us what the core proclamation really is.