Mitt Romney has taken a lot of heat for telling the truth lately. First, the guy says what everyone knows: that the British were not completely ready for the Olympics. How dare he say what every newspaper had been saying for weeks! Then, he goes and praises Israeli culture, and credits Israeli prosperity and strength, in part, to the greatness of Israel's culture.
This, of course, is true, as well. Liberals agree that culture matters; they just want a different kind of culture. If liberals didn't think that culture was a factor in the success of a nation, they wouldn't be trying so hard to change ours. Their efforts to strangle Hollywood, to smother politically incorrect speech in academia, and to run the media are three examples just off the top of my head. Everybody with a modicum of common sense knows that culture matters.
I got into a discussion about this with a friend shortly after the media decided to run with the story. He essentially espoused a Jared Diamond-esque materialistic determinism. Diamond makes some very important insights, and has a brilliant body of written work, but it is important, to beware of what the great Donald Mackay, in a vastly different context, used to call "nothing buttery." To say that "nothing but" culture or "nothing but" natural resources or "nothing but" climate matters is an obvious fallacy. All of these are important factors in the development of a nation, and it is an unsurprising straw man for the Left to argue that Mitt Romney is some sort of cultural reductionist.
One needn't be a reductionist to see that our politics is the result of our other beliefs: it is downstream from culture. America is in trouble not because of some mistake made by the Founding Fathers, some unforeseen development; no, it is a result of culture. It is, without a doubt, our fault.
Since I first came to Washington in the 1980's, I have seen two trends happening in American culture that disturb me greatly: secularization and increasing dependence on the government. And they are not unrelated; on the contrary, secularization leads to increasing dependence on government, and increasing dependence on government leads to secularization. As Chesterton said, "when you abolish God, government becomes God."
That's why I'm always puzzled by libertarians who think that there is a wall between social and economic issues. There's a distinction, but it's more abstract than it is usually assumed to be. Social issues have economic consequences, and economic circumstances have socio-cultural consequences. You can't completely separate them; the libertarian only does so with the assumption that people are capable of self-government.
A look at the different cultures of the world will tell you that not all people are capable of such a thing, and that we should not take our own success for granted. Poverty is the rule of human life; our prosperity and freedom is the exception. We can't simply count on having these things forever.
Why is the West so great? Is it because of natural resources? Lots of countries are rich in natural resources. Is it because of colonialism and its ravages? The West was dominant even before colonization and imperialism. Surely culture is a major factor in what makes for success.
It's not just some macro-economic or international idea; even within our country, communities with a strong work ethic, an emphasis on family, God, and service, thrive. Even at the individual level, we have all seen examples of how hard-working, virtuous people eventually create their own luck.
One of the great legacies of Andrew Breitbart is his keen understanding that culture is the real battleground in this country. He knew that, so long as the Left controlled the cultural mainstream, politics wouldn't matter.
But, of course, the orthodoxy of academia and the media of our time-precisely because the Left took over both industries for their importance-is culturally relativistic: no one is allowed to judge anyone's culture, and all culture's are equal.
No one believes this until they are taught it. Of course some cultures are better than others. Not only is it acceptable for us to proclaim that, but it is our duty: the culture of life is superior to the culture of death, the culture of family is superior to the culture of selfishness, the culture of entrepreneurship is superior to the culture of dependency.
What Mitt Romney said was right, and closer to an understatement than an overstatement. The fact that the media is trying to spin this into another "gaffe" discredits them even further than they had already discredited themselves.