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.