The author is primarily occupied with explaining why religious conservatives lost the culture wars, but he offers a set of papers that he thinks explains how socio-cultural change works that EAs interested in social movement history might find informative: 

There are four pieces I request any person serious about this problem—be they conservative or otherwise— read. They explain why cultural conflict takes place at this two-generation tempo, and where the “center of gravity” of this conflict lies. If you want to actually overthrow a cultural orthodoxy, instead of just grouse about said orthodoxies for the sake of shilling up votes, these are a good place to start. I will not provide an in-depth summary of each of these four pieces, but will briefly introduce each.

Friedrich A. Hayek, “The Intellectuals and Socialism,” in The Intellectuals: A Controversial Portrait, ed. George Huszar (Glencoe, Illinois: Free Press, 1960), 371–84.

Musa al-Gharbi, “Seizing the Means of Knowledge ProductionHeterodox Academy (4 August, 2019).

Robert Putnam, “From Generation to Generation” in Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of the American Community, 2nd ed (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2020), 247-276.

Stephen Vaisey and Omar Lizardo, “Cultural Fragmentation or Acquired Dispositions? A New Approach to Accounting for Patterns of Cultural Change,” Socius 2 (1 January, 2016).

His summary of those papers below:

 “Socialism and the Intellectuals” is Hayek’s war manual.  

Key to Hayek’s campaign was the conviction that policy flowed from the general attitudes, beliefs, and worldview of what he terms “secondhand dealers in ideas.” What these people believe today, Hayek maintains, will determine policy in 10-20 years. Secondhand dealers in ideas are not experts in the ideas they peddle; they care less about particulars than the grand sweep of things. Libertarians failed to make way against the midcentury socialist tide, Hayek maintains, because they had nothing to offer these people. They offered stale orthodoxies of an earlier age and saw politics mostly as a wonkish scheme of adjustment at the edges. The secondhand dealer of ideas thirsts for something more than this. Hayek’s essay describes the shape ideas must take if they are to appeal to the generalist intellectual, who exactly these intellectuals were, and why keepers of cultural orthodoxies struggle to adapt their message for the secondhand market.

Hayek’s essay is all theory. It can be usefully supplemented with an account of the institutions Hayek and his friends built to go about waging their insurgency, like the one I link to here. Musa al-Gharbi’s “Seizing the Means of Knowledge Production” does the same job for the woke moment. In this essay al-Gharbi traces the origins of the ideas, terms, and practices we associate with the woke breakout of 2013-15 back to their origins in legal and activist circles back in the 1970s and 1980s. Al-Gharbi is especially good at identifying the institutions and pathways by which ideas spread from these small activist circles to mainstream acceptance today. In his account we see the old pattern recur: like most successful cultural insurgencies, the woke transformation of American life was the fruit of a four decade insurgency. Its victory came first gradually, then suddenly.

However, both Hayek and al-Gharbi miss something important—the key element, I maintain, to any accurate account of social change. This element is the topic of the next two pieces, both written by sociologists. The first is a chapter of Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, an investigation of changing social capital, social norms, and social trust in U.S. over the 20th century. Putnam isolates many different reasons for these changes, but in the chapter “Generation to Generation,” he describes most of them as effects of cohort change.

The logic of cohort change can be grasped by the graphic at the top of this essay (Putnam includes many similar ones in his book). America’s future is godless not because the God-fearing were convinced of the errors of their faith, but because their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren never adopted their faith to start out with. Cultures do not change when people replace old ideas with new ones; cultures change when people with new ideas replace the people with old ones.

Putnam’s chapter is the most accessible presentation of this process that I have read. Vaisey and Lazardo’s paper is a more technical (and thus lest friendly) test of concept. They test the cohort hypothesis against a set of four dozen different beliefs and social attitudes (as measured in GSS). They conclude that almost all “social” or “value laden” attitudes are established early in life and are then maintained throughout it. The “formative events” of one’s youth truly are formative. The idea, attitudes, and social pressures of one’s youth have a similar impact on one’s worldview, even after the conditions that created these pressures have long disappeared.





More posts like this

No comments on this post yet.
Be the first to respond.
Curated and popular this week
Relevant opportunities