From George Will
Pat Moynihan said: “The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.”
The issue is the second half of Moynihan’s formulation — our ability to wield political power to produce the requisite cultural change in a place such as Iraq. Time was, this question would have separated conservatives from liberals. Nowadays it separates conservatives from neoconservatives.
Although George Will is attacking neo-cons in his piece, I largely agree with his forumation. Though, I would phrase it with more nuance. Both conservatives and neo-cons believe that local culture needs to change. The difference is that Neo-cons hope that we can influence culture through politics/institution-building; that failure to do so will result in much less pleasant forms of cultural-change (memecide). My criticism of paleo-conservatives is that they have no program for cultural change. Perhaps they believe it is not possible, but I can imagine a program of propaganda, PR, advertising, branding etc that might be more effective than the troops doing liberating and holding local elections. The problem conservatives have is that they seem to believe that these are all left-liberal tools and have abaondened them to the left-liberal ad agencies in New York and Hollywood and the real paleo-cons at Al Jazeera.
Note: Neo-cons are typically policy geeks who baseline view cultural expression as noise. Positive expression of American values may be a casualty of America’s culture wars.