Thanks, but no thanks: the US can keep its culture war
Posted: Wed, 24th May 2023 by Alejandro Sanchez
American efforts to export regressive religious views under the guise of the 'culture war' are to be resisted, argues Alejandro Sanchez.
President of US conservative thinktank The Heritage Foundation, Kevin Roberts, is a man on a mission. A keynote speaker at this year's National Conservatism (NatCon) conference in London, he bemoans the reticence of the British right to engage in "what we Americans call the culture war" – a struggle between groups with opposing and entrenched ideologies to dictate public policy. He now seeks to stoke the flames of social division here in the UK.
This should come as no surprise. Back home, Roberts champions a crusade against "woke totalitarianism" underpinned by "faith, family, freedom, and nation." And he speaks openly of his desire to overturn the constitutional right to same-sex marriage in the US, describing it as "a really bad social experiment that we're only beginning to see the rotten fruit of".
The "political success" of Florida governor Ron DeSantis, he claims, serves as a shining example of what can be achieved by harnessing the power of the culture war. And what is this success, exactly? A six-week abortion ban and the Protections of Medical Conscience Act, which allows doctors to deny gay patients treatment on the basis of a "sincerely held" religious belief.
Call me a cynic, but the spoils of Roberts' culture war and the long-standing goal of Christian nationalism – to impose conservative Christian values on our political life - seem curiously aligned. This thinly veiled rebrand makes perfect sense in the British context: for the first time in the history of the census, we are now a minority Christian nation. Theological invocations simply will not wash with the public.
Instead, religious objections to women's and gay rights are being repackaged and masqueraded as part of a broader backlash against 'wokeism'. This is not to say there are no legitimate criticisms to be made of the excesses of the left, only that regressive religious agendas should be recognised for what they truly are.
The Edmund Burke Foundation, the American organiser of NatCon, is even less subtle. Public life "should be rooted in Christianity", it says. And the "lifelong bond between a man and woman" is "the foundation of all other achievements in our civilisation". No prizes for inferring the logical conclusion of that.
Fellow speaker and evangelical Christian Danny Kruger MP said the quiet part out loud: heterosexual marriage, he proclaimed, is the "only possible basis for a safe and successful society". And though his naked homophobia was rightly rejected by the government, if the rise of Trump and attendant US Christian nationalism has taught us anything, it is this: when someone tells you who they are, believe them.
To the extent that the culture war is characterised by bad faith arguments, deliberate efforts to polarise, and the promulgation of echo chambers, it is to be opposed. Instead, we should aspire to reasoned criticism of opposing views and unsparing self-examination of our own.
In closing, I draw on the warning of NatCon's own James Orr. He implored fellow conference-goers to shield British children from the "norms and narratives from our cultural colonial overlords in the United States". We should take his advice one step further, and reject the American culture war wholesale.