Opinion Piece by Daniel Bendele
“The economy, stupid,” with that simple phrase, James Carville helped Bill Clinton beat incumbent George H.W. Bush in the 1992 Presidential election. Before that, we had President Ronald Reagan’s “Trickle Down Economics.” Americans are obsessed with the economy and making money. Studies have shown that the average American works almost 100 more hours a year than our counterparts in Europe and that only 1 in 5 American workers actually take a lunch break. The economy is important. It’s not wrong to want to make money, but I believe a major reason why we’re losing our country is that we have been hyper-focused on the economy at the expense of our culture.
I’m sure you have noticed it as well. Everything is economics ALL THE TIME. “Millennials are lazy and support socialism.” “If Trump loses the election, the Democrats are going to destroy Capitalism.” “We have to stop immigration because these people are taking our jobs.” On and on and on it goes with no sign of stopping. Meanwhile the economy roars along, the country at least ostensibly grows wealthier (at least prior to Covid), but the culture degrades all around us.
If the culture degrades even as the stock market climbs, there must be something else that we are missing? If the rising tide is lifting all the boats, why is society so unhappy? Why is it that society continues to call good evil and evil good? Conservatives and Christians are losing the culture war because we fail to promote GOOD art. It’s not the economy, stupid, it’s Truth transmitted through culture.
I wrote in my last piece about the desecration of statues and churches. Last year, prominent “Conservative” columnist David French called Drag Queen Story Hours at public libraries, “One of the blessings of liberty.” Leftists have argued that people should be able to use the restroom of whatever gender they identify as that day. God and the Bible have been taken out of our schools, courthouses, and the public sphere. But Republicans are happy because the stock market is up?
Oftentimes during this discussion, friends tell me, “Conservatives don’t make good art.” There’s this idea that we’re losing the culture war because we are not good at creating or because we’ve failed to engage in that type of work. I’m here to tell you that this is absolutely false. Conservatives are NOT losing the culture war because we fail to make good art and/or fail to participate in that sphere. Conservatives are losing the culture war because our leaders fail to promote the good art that does exist, and we are too lazy to find it for ourselves and promote it to our friends and family.
Two of the best-selling literary series of all time were written by strong, Conservative men of faith, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. You may be surprised to learn that Christians didn’t stop writing fantasy after Tolkien and Lewis. Believe me, after years of being sick to death of only finding fantasy with morally ambiguous heroes, gratuitous and often violent sex scenes (looking at you George R.R. Martin), and grim portrayals of humanity, I was shocked to find a plethora of amazing literature written by Christians and Conservatives. These works are for the most part not explicitly Christian, but like Tolkien’s work they promote important themes: heroism, sacrifice, integrity, and the battle of good versus evil.
The Galaxy’s Edge series by Nick Cole and Jason Anspach is like Star Wars on steroids. Vox Day’s Arts of Dark and Light saga is the best fantasy I’ve read since staying up all night to finish The Return of the King as a teenager. How did I find this stuff? Did Bill O’Reilly plug their books during an expose on all the trash on tv and in modern literature? Did President Trump put out a Tweet about them? Absolutely not. I stumbled upon these things while furiously searching Amazon for something to read that would not damage my soul. Something that I could be proud to pass on to my own kids one day, just as others passed Tolkien on to me.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for movies like the pro-life hit, Unplanned, but by and large these explicitly Christian message works are aimed at a niche audience. You don’t engage the culture if you only target 50% of it. Unfortunately if we’re only promoting things like God’s Not Dead or Unplanned, we’re not reaching the people who turn on Game of Thrones or The Avengers.
Speaking of comics, I have two comic books sitting on my desk right now that you’ve probably never heard of. Alt-Hero is like a mashup of the Avengers and X-Men comics. One of the writers is the legend, Chuck Dixon (creator of Batman villain Bane). Soulfinder: Demon’s Match tells the story of a secret order of exorcists who battle the occult. The art and stories in these comics are better than anything I’ve seen from Marvel or DC Comics recently, but I haven’t seen a single Christian or Conservative personality promoting them.
What grabs the attention of our kids and society? Is it seeing Ben Shapiro destroy another college liberal in a debate using “facts and logic?” Or is it superheroes, chivalrous warriors, quick-witted princesses, and tales of wonder? If you want to win over the next generation, stop hitting them over the head with facts and logic, and start introducing them to the value systems that have made our civilization great.
The famous Conservative philosopher Roger Scruton once said, “We appreciate beautiful things not for their utility only, but also for what they are in themselves – or more plausibly, for how they appear in themselves.”
That, to me, is the rub. Our focus on economics and utility has blinded us to beauty. We see a short clip that demolishes the other side’s argument, we share it on social media, all our friends who agree with our politics cheer, and everyone else gets ticked off and starts arguing. Sure, we get a quick dopamine hit from all the likes and interactions, but have we changed anyone’s mind? Have we advanced our cultural view in the slightest?
In the military there’s this idea that floats around in Counter Insurgency manuals about “winning the hearts and minds” of the enemy’s people. The idea is that if you can change the culture and influence the population, they will start to support you instead of your enemy. That’s exactly the type of fight we are in today, but we don’t seem to realize it. Did Game of Thrones advance a Conservative/Christian agenda? Certainly not, but it was entertaining. Many of you probably watched it or had children or friends who did. Why hasn’t Fox News promoted any of the alternatives I have mentioned? Why haven’t we regular people searched for those alternatives and shared them with our friends?
Hopefully, this short article can be a step in the right direction. I want to see great art made again. Movies, paintings, sculptures, literature, and music that lift the spirit and urge us to strive to be better. I want to see my Facebook inundated with suggestions for books to read, new musicians to listen to, etc. I want to see my creative friends make art that I can share. It has never been easier to self-publish a book than it is today. Do you have an idea? Write it out!
It is important to have a strong economy. I am a strong advocate for private property and economic freedom, but I have come to realize you do not win hearts and minds with Adam Smith. You win hearts and minds with Frodo Baggins, Gandalf, and the Pevensies. If we want to leave our children a country worth living in, it is more important that they be rich in spirit versus economically wealthy. It is more important that they want to strive to be a hero rather than a billionaire.
If you are looking for good fiction to read that promotes traditional values without being preachy, here is a short list of authors and publishers to check out:
-Nick Cole & Jason Anspach – better than Star Wars
-Jon del Arroz – Amazing comic books, great science fiction!
-Brian Niemeier – Dante’s Inferno meets Dune, plus a great series about giant robots fighting
-Robert Kroese – wrote an alternate history series about Vikings trying to build spaceships!
-Travis J Corcoran – Libertarianism meets moon colonies and uplifted dogs.
-John C. Wright – Best modern sci-fi writer there is.
-Vox Day – Greatest fantasy since Tolkien.
-Bradford C. Walker – Exciting space opera
-David V. Stewart – Fantasy, sci-fi, great books on creativity
-Cirsova Magazine – Excellent short fiction.
-Castalia House – Wide variety of stuff from non-fiction to fiction.
-Douglas Ernst – Writes for the Washington Times, makes great comics.
-Chuck Dixon – Amazing comics! Used to write Batman.