Concerning Culture Wars

The concept of Culture Wars was brought from the German term kulturkampf, created in the context of the dispute between Bismarck and the Catholic Church in the 19th century. It refers to the opposite perspectives on life, the role and place of religion in daily affairs, societal models, and values. According to Hunter (1991, 1996) and Wuthnow (1996), the designation of culture wars is related to conflicts about issues related to nonnegotiable conceptions embodied in cultural and moral spheres. As Hunter (1991) points out, the polarisation in American society presents a high risk to democracy since each side positions itself as the owner of the truth.

For that reason, I use the idea of the great divide (Ferreira Dias 2022, under press), referring to incompatible worldviews between a globalist left and a nativist right. The core of this division is not based on economic issues but post-material ones. As Fukuyama (2018) stated, if 2oth century left was embracing workers’ rights, welfare programs and redistributive policies, it is now involved in the agenda of marginalised groups – ethnic minorities, immigrants, refugees, women, LGBT. The same operates to the right that once focused on reducing the size of government and promoting the private sector and is now engaged in traditional patriotic identity. The struggle is thicker due to last decade’s globalisation, a world phenomenon that created societies experiencing drastic economic and social changes, becoming diverse and multicultural. The 2008 financial crisis gave room to the emergence of populist parties, both on the left and right. However, Populist Radical Right (PRR) parties and actors played a central role in directing discontent and resentment from a white working class that feels to be left behind and “stolen” by a “corrupt elite” (v.g. Taggart, 2000; Mudde, 2004; Moffitt, 2020). A significant example is the election of Donald Trump and the Brexit (v.g., Mondon/Winter 2018).

Thus, the last decades have experienced significant changes in public politics. At the same time, activism moved from demands for equality to the request for specific treatment for every separate entity from mainstream society: disabled, native Americans, LGBT people, immigrants, transgender people, and racialised groups of each ethnic-racial marker (Fukuyama 2018). This activism produced essential changes in western societies, with public policies and laws affecting once invisible and marginalised groups. However, on the other hand, by focusing on those groups, society faces a fragmentation that produces consequences in the idea of common ground in the social contract model of society and, more importantly, on the political level, leads to a conservative wave.

As Fukuyama put it, “perhaps the worst thing about identity politics as currently practised by the left is that it has stimulated the rise of identity politics on the right. This is due in no small part to the left’s embrace of political correctness, a social norm that prohibits people from publicly expressing their beliefs or opinions without fearing moral opprobrium” (ibidem).

Identity politics, white fragility, post-gender, radical feminism, political correctness and cancel culture, cultural Marxism, and similar terms are now at the heart of social debates. There is no room for consensus, only for radical agendas. As Fukuyama debates, “In both the United States and Europe, that debate is currently polarised. The right seeks to cut off immigration altogether and would like to send immigrants back to their countries of origin; the left asserts a virtually unlimited obligation on the part of liberal democracies to accept all immigrants.” (ibidem).

Thereby, culture wars mean a battle in western societies between a leftist cosmopolitan globalist citizenship and a rightist nativist nationalism. The core themes are individual identity (gender and sexual identity), self-determination (abortion), and equal treatment with particular attention to the protection of fragile individuals in a logic of proportionality (gay marriage, minorities’ rights, affirmative actions). As Turner (2018) states, the Moral Majority in the USA arises side-by-side with the left agenda for sexual issues and the advent of a perception of an Islamic threat.

Putin’s government is profoundly labelled with culture wars against the west (Robinson 2014). For him, Europe became such liberal geography – with minorities’ fundamental rights and multicultural societies – that means both a threat to Russian civilisation and to Europe itself by giving it back to olden days morals and values.

Citação recomendada: João Ferreira Dias, “Concerning Culture Wars,” in O Estado da Teoria, acedido a Junho 22, disponível em <>.

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