Aren’t We All Culture Warriors?

David Sessions asks:

Often in both the media and among hip, moderate-to-liberal evangelicals, only the right fights the culture war. Conservatives are culture warriors, but gay marriage activists are not. Thus when the topic turns to “getting beyond the culture wars,” what is really meant is conservatives giving up or at least shutting up. We will get beyond the culture wars when the conservatives at least admit they’ve lost and decide to stop talking about this stuff so much. 

His larger point:

Deep down, I think describing serious political conflict as a “culture war” is part of the liberal allergy to vigorous debate; it tries to shove deep disagreements into a corner with some kind of label indicating that this is not welcome in “reasonable” discourse. “Culture warrior” is an epithet, used by the “sides” against each other and by bipartisan elites against all that shrill partisanship. But the reality is that certain issues like abortion, gay marriage, etc, are deeply divisive, and they symbolize and encapsulate dearly-held views about what is good and right in our country and the identities of people who hold those views. Despite what Washington pundits might tell you, people should have strong feelings about these issues, and they should fight about them. It’s called politics. 

It is, but the point is not that these issues should not be debated. It is that they should not define the entire political debate and the two parties.  Once that happens, politics becomes close to impossible because the deepest religious and experiential convictions – on both sides – are the hardest to mediate. Other Anglo-Saxon democracies have a slightly different way of dealing with this. In Britain, controversial social issues are invariably given a free vote in parliament so that individual deputies, on moral questions, can vote their consciences and not their party line. That both honors the importance of the debate, but also its intractability and its ability – unlike, say, how to finance health insurance – to make politics close to impossible. That's what makes the American conversation on this a "war", rather than a "debate".

The best American way on this is surely federalism, which is why Roe was such a premature disaster. I think playing these debates out in the states allows for greater diversity in a very diverse country, a means to understand better the experiment we are conducting, and a safety valve for all the passions these debates bring. Turning a war into an argument is the goal. And winning an argument is much more intellectually satisfying than winning a war.