The Long Game: A Cultural Manifesto

A tough day, even for tough guys. But here’s my response in City Journal:

Life is short, said Hippocrates, but art is long. There is a practical corollary to that great truth: elections are won and lost in the politics of the moment, but it’s the culture that makes the nation.

In the aftermath of President Obama’s victory, conservative political thinkers will have to ask themselves some hard questions. How much of our defeat was due to strategy and how much to structure? How can we reach out to struggling workers without sacrificing our commitment to free enterprise and individual liberty? How can we speak to single women without losing voters committed to family values and the lives of the unborn? How can we welcome the children of illegal immigrants without compromising our belief in the rule of law?

The smartest political writers in the country, all of whom are conservative, will now be addressing those questions. I’m an artist; I play the long game.

To win that game, to create an electorate more deeply committed to true liberty and resistant to the sort of cultural scare tactics the president’s campaign team used so effectively, there are three areas to which conservatives need to commit intellectual and financial resources—three areas that our intelligentsia and funders, in their impractical practicality, too often ignore.

Read the rest here.

  1. Zach Franzen

    Great article.  I especially liked the bit at the end about secularism failing to provide a ground for the Great Conversation.  Relativism diminishes truth so much that conversation is irrelevant.  Only the belief in Truth makes conversation legitimate.  

    I think the conservative task is harder even than a pessimist like Rob Long might articulate.  It isn’t just a matter of arguing and persuading people to embrace conservative positions.  Conservatives have to argue and persuade people that argument and persuasion make sense.  If you throw the seeds of conservatism on the concrete bed of secularism it dries up.  Unless conservatism is planted in the soil of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty (and that only makes sense under a Christian framework) conservatism will have no place to germinate.

  2. David Williamson
    Andrew Klavan: I’m an artist; I play the long game.

    Much as I admire Andrew’s writings, and agree that American Popular Culture led to this election result, it should be apparent that his fellow-artists are predominantly, um, Liberals.

    I’m trying to think of a culture that recovered from such a cultural decline – I have seen it happen in my lifetime, first in the UK and now here. None come to mind, and great cultures like Iran, Japan and Europe show no signs of recovering. Rather, they are going into demographic collapse (Mark Steyn should write a book or two about it – oh, wait, he already did).

    It may be a long game, longer than our generation – it’s a Brave New World for the next generation, who are taking over with their culture – they won, we lost.

  3. SWBart

    I’ve had similar ideas rattling around my head for a couple of months now.  The culture is shaped by the story tellers, and we’ve forgotten how to tell the stories well.  It’s an up hill battle, but if we have a critical mass of the right stories, told well, we can turn the tide.

  4. BlueAnt
    Andrew Klavan: I’m an artist; I play the long game.

    A good analysis, and a noble goal.  Godspeed on your mission.

    But I am an amateur historian.  We’ve seen the long game play out multiple times.  And cultural decline generally does not get arrested or reversed.

    A culture can underpin a great nation, state, or empire. Over time, the founding values deteriorate in the populace, as the conditions which made those values successful are further and further out of memory.   There are always calls for a return to “a more virtuous time” near the end, and there is sometimes a small movement that gives the appearance of reverse momentum.  

    And then, before you know it, Gibbon is writing The Decline And Fall of the Roman Empire.

  5. James Gawron

    Andrew,

    Absolutely wonderful article.  All of your points are well taken.  All of us right now need to look to “The Long Game”. 

    Gd will underwrite our efforts.

    Regards,

    Jim

  6. Zach Franzen

    Also, I wanted to commend this thought of yours:

    “We don’t need more conservative artists. We need an infrastructure to support them: more funding, more distribution, sympathetic review venues, grants and awards for arts that speak the truth out loud.”

    I’m an illustrator, and I go to illustration sites a fair bit.  They are almost universally liberal.  Liberal in that agressive snarky way that assumes nobody would be an illustrator and conservative.  Most of the work on display is for liberal publications.  For some reason, conservatives aren’t persuaded that art has much payoff, whereas liberals are very persuaded (I except Weekly Standard and National Review).  Go to a site like drawger.com if you want to see this phenomenon in action.   Conservatives tend to embrace the rational, and the moral, but not the emotional.  As a movement, we embrace Truth, and Goodness, but not Beauty.  At the very least we see beauty as something set apart from our beliefs not intertwined with them.  Theater critic Kenneth Tynan once said of (his former tutor) C.S. Lewis “how good he makes goodness seem–how tangible and radiant.”  Displaying the goodness of goodness is not a thing without dividends.

  7. BlueAnt

    Also, obligatory excerpt from Isaiah’s Job:

    [Isaiah] preached to the masses only in the sense that he preached publicly. Anyone who liked might listen; anyone who liked might pass by. He knew that the Remnant would listen; and knowing also that nothing was to be expected of the masses under any circumstances, he made no specific appeal to them, did not accommodate his message to their measure in any way, and did not care two straws whether they heeded it or not.

    As a modern publisher might put it, he was not worrying about circulation or about advertising.

    …The prophet of the American masses must aim consciously at the lowest common denominator of intellect, taste and character among 120,000,000* people; and this is a distressing task.

    **120 million was the approximate size of the US electorate when Nock was writing this in 1936

  8. Duane Oyen

    This article is right on target. 

    While the tendency to secularism and value of free stuff received from the government has always progressed and degraded each society, I challenge someone to read Dorothy L. Sayers’ Murder Must Advertise, with its rampant and casual promiscuity, drug-dealing, etc., and tell me that it is all that different (i.e., better) than it is today.

    But our biggest problem in the culture is indeed that the left owns the narrative.  Rich conservatives invest in homes, yachts, stock, venture capital for companies, cancer research, and the like.  The Left funds movies and operates newspapers.

    Why can’t our side ever buy NBC, the Washington Post, and a TV/Film studio, and compete with the MSM?

  9. FeliciaB

    Yes, I have a crush on you, Drew.

  10. David Williamson
    Duane Oyen: 

    Why can’t our side ever buy NBC, the Washington Post, and a TV/Film studio, and compete with the MSM? 

    They did – it’s called Fox News. And people like Rush and Glenn Beck – but they and we are now the minority, and none of us are getting any younger.

    The Left have been playing the long game for a, um, long time – 100 years or so.

    Islam has been playing it for about 1300.

    So, if there is a long center-right game, it’s gonna have to be… long.

  11. Nick Stuart
    Andrew Klavan: How much of our defeat was due to strategy and how much to structure? How can we reach out to struggling workers without sacrificing our commitment to free enterprise and individual liberty? How can we speak to single women without losing voters committed to family values and the lives of the unborn? How can we welcome the children of illegal immigrants without compromising our belief in the rule of law?

    Good questions, for which I’m sure there are good answers. The RNC needs to put to work people smarter than me perfecting how to deal with them.

    Then ANY Republican candidate wanting party money should be REQUIRED to memorize, and practice the answers.

    We cannot afford any more candidates who answer basic questions they KNOW they’re going to be asked stupidly and throw their races away.

  12. Southern Pessimist

    Yep. Now is not the time to go Galt. It is the time to go Breitbart.

    Maybe with slightly less bombast but with lots of humour and the fierce conviction of principle that the other Andrew exhibited.

  13. Severely Ltd.

    Even in the early 20th century there was a dearth of good fiction with a conservative backbone (though certainly not as thin as today) prompting C.S.Lewis and Tolkien to agree that each would write a novel that they themselves would want to read. This resulted in Lewis’s space trilogy–if I’m remembering rightly–and the Hobbit.

    Good stuff, literally, with the Good presented matter-of-factly as something all right-thinking creatures admire and desire. You’re right that the Conservative worldview is the natural home of drama, but how often do we see a modern story with solid Conservative bones polluted with some extraneous garbage under the pretense of bringing in gritty reality. Usually just when it’s getting interesting too.

  14. Percival
    Ameriherron

    Purplestrife: Play long and play smart. Evil will always be as clever as it can. So we must be clever, too. · 3 hours ago

    There has been a lot of talk like this, Purplestrife, and you’re right. Every time it crops up, I can’t help but think of Matthew 10:16: I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. · 7 hours ago

    Darn, Ameriherron…beat me by 7 hours.

  15. Pseudodionysius

    While the tendency to secularism and value of free stuff received from the government has always progressed and degraded each society, I challenge someone to read Dorothy L. Sayers’ Murder Must Advertise, with its rampant and casual promiscuity, drug-dealing, etc., and tell me that it is all that different (i.e., better) than it is today.

    Dorothy Sayers — who was cursed with a self confessed “high libido” and had a child out of wedlock (yes, she was punished with a baby) — was quite familiar with the Oxford modernist milieu brewing weapons grade secularism. Anyone who’s read the memoirs or books of Evelyn Waugh can get a strong whiff of the atmosphere. The difference now is that the King and Country debate is out of the lab and in the wild.

  16. Nobody

    Play long and play smart. Evil will always be as clever as it can. So we must be clever, too.

  17. SpinozaCarWash

    Kronman is a good guy.  He taught a seminar on Kant’s moral philosophy at my law school.  Dyed-in-the-wool liberal and a secularist through-and-through, but at least he credits Christianity its profound influence on western philosophy and literature.  What disturbed me about that seminar experience, though was this: he and I were the only men in the room who knew a lick about Martin Luther–what he wrote, what he stood for, even what “grace” means. Educated class my a**.

  18. cbc

    I would add K-12 education to the list of where we must focus.  The public schools are indoctrinating our children with leftist ideology from kindergarten on — and I don’t just mean their social values stuff.  As a college teacher in a private liberal arts college I would ask my students to define capitalism.  They had all been taught that capitalism is theft.  

    Willy Ayers has taken over the schooling in this country.

  19. Steven M.

    I think artists are predominantly liberal because conservatives abandoned the arts as territory too hostile. 

    We spend too much time being outraged at “works of art” that would be ignored if we didn’t bring attention to them.

    On top of that, artists tend to look and act in unique ways. I’ve known too many conservatives  that pre-judge people who have things like tattoos and piercings. Not everyone, but many do.

    The same thing happened with Christians and the arts, concurrently and for the mostly the same reasons. 

    I’ve seen a lot of progress in churches. Much more support and recognition for artists as valid contributors to the community. 

    It may or may not be possible to win artists over. I don’t think conservatism will ever conquer the art world. But that’s not what’s important; it’s important that we stay on the battlefield. 

  20. N.M. Wiedemer

    Great article Andrew you summed up so many of my own thoughts while I was busy not sleeping last night. One point of contention I have with it though. I’d couple the infiltration of the media with the infiltration of academia. J schools don’t teach journalism anymore, they teach and train activism. The students that are now drawn to these schools are not interested reporting on the state of the world their interested in changing it. Flip this and you’re well on your way to flipping the media.