In Defense of Culture War
Philosopher Edward Feser argues that Wokism cannot be defeated with economic or market solutions because it’s not fighting an economic war but a political, cultural and religious one.
A spectre is haunting American politics—the spectre of economism: the materialist belief in the primacy of economic causes and solutions to all that ails our life together.
It’s a ghost we might have thought had been exorcised. Despite inflation not seen since the 1970s and skyrocketing debt, cultural rather than economic issues have dominated politics in recent years. On the left, identity politics and abortion appear to trump all other concerns. On the right, alarm at woke excesses seems to be the prime motivator—as illustrated by Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin’s election victory, Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s decisive reelection win, and the grassroots boycotts against Bud Light and Target. Heated and ongoing debates over Critical Race Theory, gender ideology, parental rights in education, the Defund the Police movement, cancel culture, and so on have given the lie to the conventional wisdom that “pocketbook issues” are what ultimately matter to voters.
But voices across the political spectrum bemoan this emphasis on “culture war” issues. The more fundamental problems, they insist, remain economic, and anti-woke politics is misdirected. One hears this even from some who one might have expected would welcome the backlash against woke extremism. For example, on Twitter recently, the British Blue-Labour advocate Adrian Pabst opined that “the culture wars are a distraction (and arguably grow out of economic discontent).” The American Left-Catholic Tony Annett concurred, averring that “people just love culture war issues, but it’s material conditions that matter.” More recently still, former House Speaker Paul Ryan decried “culture war politics” in favor of a focus on matters such as the “debt crisis” and “poverty and upward mobility.”
Other examples could be cited, illustrating how the view that “It’s the economy, stupid” (in Bill Clinton advisor James Carville’s famous phrase)—a long-standing attitude in American politics, on the left and right alike—remains influential today. It evinces an implicit economism—the thesis that economics is more fundamental to the social order than cultural or other factors. This is simply false. Wokism is destructive force which isn’t reducible to economics, and can never be defeated by economic solutions alone.
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