Virtual Voices

Calling a truce too soon

Campaign 2008

Have the culture wars come to an end?

E.J. Dionne predicts the beginning of a new, more secular era, comparing this election to FDR's, when the crisis of the Great Depression outweighed people's former squabbles about Prohibition.

Dionne predicts that "large, secular problems" like war, the economy, and globalization will eclipse voters' concern for moral values. John McCain, he points out, won by focusing on national security instead of abortion, and Democrats are closing the gap between religious voters. Dionne ends with a statement that's become cliché this year: "The era of the religious right is over."

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Daniel Larison dissects Dionne's argument and disagrees. "The culture wars are not only continuing, but they are arguably intensifying and the belligerents are become more hardened in their opposition." Obama faces questions about patriotism and religious faith, Romney struggles with the Mormon question, and Huckabee ends up the second-to-last man standing. In a diverse and splintered society, "political polarisation will keep increasing as citizens come to have less and less in common with one another."

Rod Dreher sides with Larison: "The culture war isn't dead; it's just shifting fronts." It's becoming less about "sex stuff," Dreher says, but it's becoming a war that divides by race and social class.

Peter Steinfels echoes Dionne's cliché with a caveat: "Combat may wane, at least a little, at least for a while. But there are good reasons to doubt any lasting truce, let alone a real peace." Culture wars began before the Religious Right, and they'll continue because our surface divisions come from deep philosophical fissures. There are still people who believe that religion poisons everything, he notes, and liberal Democrats are probably their more receptive audience.

Walter Russell Mead says the culture wars may never end, and they shouldn't because we need each group to balance out the other: "Conflict is not the same as chaos. It may be that in a fallen world, we need the excesses of each party to be held in check by the other parties." The culture wars, he says, "may be the best way for human beings."

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