There is a line in a Leonard Cohen song which goes: ‘there is war between those who say there is a war/and those who say there isn’t’; quite apposite in the case of the so-called ‘culture wars’. Those who say that there is no war do so because their mind-set arranges things in a way which means that there really is no war. They are on the side of ‘progress’, and everyone (who matters) agrees that that is a good thing; the real progressives think it is a very good thing indeed; the revolutionaries are in such a hurry for it that they want to get there sooner. Where? There is an in-built teleology in the mind-set. Things are getting better and will get even better; history is tending in the direction of progress; one’s job is certainly to be on its side, and there are certainly jobs to be had that way; if one can direct it, there is real power to be had: ‘can we do it? Yes we can.’ No need to ask what ‘it’ is, it is progress, it is taking the steps on the road to the new Jerusalem: new wine for old, new ways for old, and even new wives for old. The past was a bad place where they did things we no longer do; we measure our progress against (self-selected) ‘benchmarks’ and, to our satisfaction, find things are better – thanks to us. So, no ‘war’ here, simply a following of the tide to a better and brighter future; there are, of course, those enemies of progress who create a culture war; but it is their fault.
There is a quite splendid piece of leger de main involved here; it places those who simply favour the status quo in the position of having to defend what is conventional wisdom; if not all that is, is good, it is at least something known and experienced; the reformers offer better jam in some distant tomorrow. Those who defend the status quo know there is a war, because they feel the foundations shifting, and they share Matthew Arnold’s view: