In Prospect

Winter 2005

Conservatives sometimes have trouble taking yes for an answer, but in the culture wars, we no longer have our backs to the wall in a hopeless rear-guard action. In fact, many Americans now share our worldview, as the 2004 election made clear. In the mainstream press and the universities it’s still 1968, of course, and City Journal has always believed that these would be the last two redoubts of the sixties cultural revolution. But as senior editor Brian C. Anderson showed in “We’re Not Losing the Culture Wars Anymore” (Autumn 2003), the New York Times, Random House, and CBS have lost their monopoly on news and opinion, and today represent only one extreme, albeit a very powerful one, of what has become a much broader media spectrum. And now, as Anderson reports in “On Campus, Conservatives Talk Back”, the very last bastion of knee-jerk leftist political correctness, academe, is growing less monolithic. Not the faculty, of course; but today’s students are much less radical than their sixties-generation profs, and, thanks to their own efforts, reinforced by outside conservative institutions, they have initiated a two-way conversation even in Ivy League institutions, leavening colleges with some of the intellectual diversity they have hitherto shunned. It is a development conservatives should acknowledge, applaud—and build upon. For a very different, and highly entertaining, insight into that cultural shift, don’t miss Kay S. Hymowitz’s “Capitalists on Steroids”.

Two of this issue’s stories discuss the actual war against terror, but even here the culture wars play a part. As Heather Mac Donald demonstrates in “How to Interrogate Terrorists”, the widely accepted belief that the Abu Ghraib scandal sprang from our military’s standard war-on-terror interrogation procedures—a belief nurtured to discredit both the war and our good faith in fighting it—is wholly a myth. In fact, our interrogators take a fastidiously mild approach—too mild, Mac Donald makes clear. But, of course, most of those who promote the myth that we condone and practice torture are ex–sixties radicals for whom every war is Vietnam, and every action My Lai.

Certainly our enemies are aware of how our culture’s love of self-criticism and intellectual freedom, central to Western democracy’s strength, can be transformed into weakness by propaganda campaigns that fan antiwar dissent, as Victor Davis Hanson shows in “Postmodern War”. They can’t defeat us on the conventional battlefield, Hanson says, but they can triumph on the TV screen, by (for instance) making us look like butchers and torturers—which, as the Vietnam generation knows, can be enough.

Though New Left thinking still influences our politics, if decreasingly, Steven Malanga points out in “The Real Engine of Blue America” the emergence of an increasingly powerful New New Left, a coalition of public-sector unions and publicly supported private social services and hospital workers, whose agenda is always bigger government, more services, and more taxes—not out of any altruistic motive but out of self-interest. These tax eaters are increasingly the most powerful political force in the urban areas that the district-by-district electoral map shows really are “Blue” America, and they are growing ever more powerful in the national Democratic Party. What’s more, observes Nicole Gelinas in “Corporate America’s New Stealth Raiders”, the union officials and left-wing pols who run the giant public-sector pension funds have increasingly succeeded in using shareholder activism to impose the New New Left agenda upon the nation’s corporations whose shares the funds own—to the detriment of common shareholder interest. These New New Left interests have completely taken over the government of New York State, and, as Malanga argues in “The Empire State’s Quickest Route to Reform”, a strong governor, given the inherent power of the office, is the best hope taxpayers have of restoring a focus on the public interest.

Finally, City Journal stories strive to transcend journalism and become literature; and you’ll find that Theodore Dalrymple’s two extraordinary articles, “The Specters Haunting Dresden” and “A Murderess’s Tale” (page 104) triumphantly succeed in doing just that.