Culture Wars

If politics has always been a rich-man’s game, or at least a game for those who aspire to be rich, have historians (always?) been practitioners of auxiliary “culture war” games? And what is a “culture war”?

An article in a Polish publication that I picked up many years ago in Krakow led me more recently to pick up an interesting book that is partly, if not exclusively, about culture wars in “cold war” Europe (it also looks back to the nineteenth century). Lately, I found a book in a bargain bin that is essentially about “cold war” America, called The Cold War and The University, which falls into a “lefty but not polemical account” by American academics upon not entirely dissimilar themes, albeit from their own purely national, or internal, perspective.

There is certainly a growing literature “out there” on cultural diplomacy, which is a potential source of debate, but is it a fresh or a novel idea? As per the first book I read on this theme, it most definitely is not.

I remember suggesting to a student/practitioner of foreign policy a while ago that it seemed curious to me that there have been publications that, although ostensibly about welfare-state policies and the like, seemed (to me) to be actively calling for a continuation of the “same old” cold war divide within Europe on the basis of supposedly liberal or non-liberal values (‘cosmopolitans’ versus ‘religious’) and his response was “ah, that’s just the cultural wars talking”, as if such debates are of very little practical consequence.

Is it “just because” I am a historian that I have my doubts? And, if so, what does that say about either “me” or historians in general? Are we sometimes unwittingly an audience of, or even participants in, “culture wars” every time we attempt to come up with an interpretation without even realising it? I do not have an answer to that question but, today at least, the thought has crossed my mind.

As the central bankers aspire (pray…let us not say “conspire”), let us historians perspire or expire or, at the very least, give in to our healthiest expressions of self-doubt or self-criticism. That’s my motto for this afternoon, at least. And then…youtube recommended to me to watch this.

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