In the 1830’s, an insecure region that had fancied itself to be the cultural elite of the young United States of America was concerned about demographics and the growing abhorrence to its immoral and distinctive culture sought freedom from its demographic decline in igniting a culture war that sought to control national politics, especially the judiciary, and place the its corrupt culture beyond the reach of any electoral majority. When these efforts were unsuccessful, the culture war became an actual shooting war, fatally crippled by an inattention to logistics and by insecurity on the part of its ruling elites. As ironic as it may be, the methods of Calhoun and his associates was adopted by the similarly identity-politics minded left-wing would-be cultural elites of the 1960’s and beyond to engage in a similar attempt to maintain control as a fractious and insecure minority through domination of elite institutions.
One of the many striking similarities between the two is their attitude to dissent and disagreement. Censorship is the refuge of the weak and insecure. Just as the Deep South refused to allow antislavery opinions in fear that it would destabilize their insecure regime, so too the contemporary era has featured a growing censorship of opposing views, often easily identifiable because of the specific biased language used. The fact that many people, especially of the Calhounian left, seeking to defend their immoral institutions and culture through the censoring of others and the domination of elite institutions, engage in censorship and fraud to attempt to secure their power and place their institutions and behaviors beyond the reach of any electoral majority hostile to their views, is deeply troubling. But it also demonstrates that the methods of Calhoun and Gramsci are not a function of ideology (and neither a monopoly of the far left or the far right) but are rather the general policies of any extremist elite that wishes to maintain its control over a large and restive population that does not buy-in to those cultural ideals.
Our politics spring, ultimately, from our religious and moral worldviews. This is why we and our nations will not be saved by who we vote for (or who we refuse to vote for). Politics and political discourse is merely the outgrowth of our worldview, as consistent and inconsistent as it may be. And ultimately, it is our belief systems and how we act on them that receives justice. We can do the right things for the wrong reasons, and claim to ourselves (and others) that our bad deeds have noble ends. Ultimately, we will only be blessed if we have good intents, good motives, good behavior, and good results. We could all stand to improve in these aspects, and in different areas we will face challenges in different aspects of our character. The fact that we misjudge ourselves and others greatly harms our uncivil discourse in that it leads us to think ourselves to be paragons of virtue (rather than smuggling sinners) and thinks others to be monsters and devils, rather than struggling sinners themselves who have a different mixture of good and evil than we ourselves possess.
And this is why culture wars are generally folly. One of the most successful diabolical strategies is to pit different mixtures of good and evil against each, present a false dilemma where people see themselves either as one side or the other when anything less than total agreement between ourselves and the ways of God, in all facets of life and behavior, means we have fallen short (and we all fall short). If we ceased to point to ourselves as authorities, or assumed that we were entirely just (or that our opponents were entirely unjust), and instead pointed to the proper external standards by which we are all under judgment, either to receive mercy or justice, we might have some opportunity of national revival. This possibility seems remote, because of a lack of self-examination in the mood of our civilization. We are willing to apologize to bullies around the world for our cultural distinctives, willing to sacrifice our genuine principles of freedom of expression to appease allies and enemies around the world (like Thailand and Egypt), but we are not willing to repent to God for our sins. And without repentance we will not grow in character.
Related to the immense folly in engaging in culture wars because of unjust desires to maintain power in the face of hostile majorities or because of the fact that given our own mixture of good and evil we do not serve as perfect moral exemplars for others, or competent to be judges of the hearts and minds of others we presume to be unjust, pitching a culture war with broad-brushed attacks often alienates potential allies. People who might agree with us about injustice might not agree on the causes of that injustice or the proper solutions to it. A more gradual and patient approach that focused on winning hearts and minds and encouraging changes of attitudes might not seem satisfying for a revolutionary, but it could gain most lasting moral improvements, preserve our own respect and concern for others, and avoid unnecessary conflict. A desire for culture wars, or shooting wars, is a sign of our own injustice because we do not trust ourselves and our capacity to persuade (seeking instead to coerce) and because we do not trust others enough to assume that their feelings and interests are worth our concern. And therefore it is only a fool that prefers to fight someone than to persuade them, if not of the rightness of your cause, than at least of your worthiness and reasonableness as a person. And often, that is enough for the long term.