Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously observed that conservatives recognize “culture, not politics, determines the success of a society,” while liberals believe “politics can change a culture and save it from itself.” Yet today’s conservatives and liberals both tend to demand cultural results from political and economic systems. Liberals invest ever more moral meaning into politics, and conservatives do the same in response to a rapidly changing culture seemingly slipping from their grasp.
Conservatives see liberal elites time and again attacking the foundations of traditional culture, and then be shocked by the predictable results. “In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function,” wrote C.S. Lewis in “The Abolition of Man.” “We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise.” The cultural elites mock and undermine faith, traditional family, patriotism and shared history—then concoct new political programs to deal with the resulting mess.
Conservatives are angry at these elites for taking sledgehammers to the nation’s core, and they see society in a crisis. The first step to recovery, in some conservatives’ view, is to go after the people who wield the sledgehammers. They thus turn to populists like Donald Trump, ignoring his failure to live up to their ideals in his personal life, because he promises to fight the elites for them.