Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Has the Campus Culture War Even Started?


I appreciated Carol’s post on libertarians’ disdain for (especially) social conservatives and – like her – have noted the assessment of some that the culture war is over.  This strikes me as nothing more than wishful thinking from the more libertarian corners of the right.  I have long detected from many of the more hard-core libertarian members of the “big tent” conservative coalition a feeling of “if only.”  “If only” goes the argument “we could move past all this obsessing over things like abortion and gays and porn, then we could make real public process on the core issues of economic and personal liberty.”  I’ve been to libertarian conferences where the words “religious right” are uttered through clenched teeth.  There’s an almost palpable sense that we could have a truly civilized dialogue if only the messy religious aspects of conservatism were moved to the back of the bus (or off altogether).   

But religion tends to impact America not at the level of the chattering classes (which are overwhelmingly secular), but through mass movements.  So any chattering class assessment as to whether the culture war is “over” is virtually irrelevant.  They didn’t start it, they (largely) don’t fight it, and they don’t truly understand its dynamics.  Social conservatives act not so much through leading pundits but through the ballot box or through the sheer weight of public opinion and collective public action.  Where they have concentrated their efforts – creating alternative media, alternative education systems, and electing politicians – the results have been nothing short of astounding.  Is there any other coherent ideology or philosophy in this country that has a corresponding national infrastructure?  While there are certainly subcultures that pop up across this fruited plain, there are none so complete, so thoroughly national, and so (comparatively) organized as religious conservatism.   

This national movement has not yet focused its attention on our nation’s campuses (except as part of its general evangelism efforts).  But there are important signs that this is changing.  Earlier this year, James Dobson dedicated two entire programs to the plight of Christian students and professors on campus.  A new study from the Institute for Jewish and Community Research demonstrating profound bias against evangelicals on campus has created a stir amongst grassroots Christian leaders.  Stories about the violations of constitutional rights of Christian students generate ever-increasing media coverage, with some cases leading to literally hundreds of local and national news articles.  Christian radio is paying increasing attention to the state of our campuses, and – at the Alliance Defense Fund – we are receiving a steady stream of inquiries and offers from attorneys, activists, and citizens who want to “do something.”   

In my job I live with one foot in the full-time activist world and the other as a member of a group that is sometimes slow to stir, but when it stirs can create lasting national change.  And something is stirring in that group.  It’s still early, and the attention of the Christian public can easily be diverted to seemingly more pressing emergencies, but it is my sense that campus libertarians are going to have to swallow the bitter pill of religious activism for a long time to come.


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