The Shot Not Heard Round The World?
May 27, 2005 12:40 PM   Subscribe

When was the first salvo in the "culture war" fired? By which I mean, I don't remember hearing the term all that often growing up, despite a lot of the same issues being debated and discussed. Now, though, it's all over the place. When did the Left/Right, Red/Blue, Catsup/Ketchup divide start being refered to as a War. Bonus points to whoever can tell me who first started using it.

This is something I've been wondering about recently. Sure, politics seems WAY more bitter and devisive (nostalgia, sure), but "war" has some pretty severe linguistic conotations that "debate" or "divide" don't). (ex: one side eventually "wins" a war, and war is violent as hell.)
posted by absalom to Writing & Language (19 answers total)
The expression gained wide use with the publication in 1991 of Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America by James Davison Hunter. In that book, he described the dramatic polarized re-alignment that had transformed American politics. The term echoes the German Kulturkampf.
posted by ericb at 12:48 PM on May 27, 2005

The term Culture Wars was adopted by William Strauss and Neil Howe in Fourth Turning (1996), to describe the historical period from 1984 to approximately 2005. The preceding era they termed the Consciousness Revolution; the succeeding era in Strauss and Howe's system is the predicted upcoming Crisis of 2020.
posted by ericb at 12:50 PM on May 27, 2005

I recall an early major battle being the late 80s brouhaha over Andres Serrano's Piss Christ. It seems he had received NEA (or was it NEH?) funding. Kept talk radio busy for weeks and Congress cut (and restricted) funding for the arts in the next budget round.
posted by LarryC at 2:19 PM on May 27, 2005

This Wordorigins thread agrees with ericb.
posted by languagehat at 2:27 PM on May 27, 2005

I'd argue we've been fighting the culture wars since the Salem Witch trials, if no before then...
posted by herc at 2:44 PM on May 27, 2005

I sort of locate it around the time of the Serrano/Mapplethorpe/Finley arts flap in the mid-80s, but I think that's largely a function of the fact that I was college-age around then. I'm currently reading Diane Ravitch's The Language Police, and one of the things she describes is an earlier incarnation of the culture war during the McCarthy Era (1950's instances of John Birch Society members banning books they thought fostered communism), so if I were my father's age, I would probably locate it around then instead.
posted by matildaben at 2:46 PM on May 27, 2005

A Google search for the phrase "history of anti-intellectualism in America" reveals the following book, which came out in 1966: Anti-Intellectualism in American Life by Richard Hofstadter. The sample page from the beginning of Chapter 3 describes the "subordination of men of ideas to men of emotional power or manipulative skill" as inheritances of the founding tradition of Protestant dissent from Europe. Which supports herc's point, and goes back even further than my original, generationally specific, attempt.
posted by matildaben at 2:51 PM on May 27, 2005

he's not looking for when we started HAVING "culture wars", but when we started CALLING them that.

It's an etymology question.
posted by fishfucker at 2:56 PM on May 27, 2005

ericb makes it clear that this couldn't be the first salvo, but I believe this speech made it a household phrase.
posted by kimota at 3:10 PM on May 27, 2005

From the 1992 Republican National Convention Speech by Patrick J. Buchanan.

My friends, this election is about much more than who gets what. It is about who we are. It is about what we believe. It is about what we stand for as Americans. There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself. And in that struggle for the soul of America, Clinton & Clinton are on the other side, and George Bush is on our side. And so, we have to come home, and stand beside him.
posted by Clay201 at 3:19 PM on May 27, 2005

duh oh! beaten to the punch
posted by Clay201 at 3:19 PM on May 27, 2005

I use the Buchanan speech as the real ref too, but it was building all thru the 70s-80s, with the rise of the Moral Majority, etc.
posted by amberglow at 3:44 PM on May 27, 2005

roe v. wade was probably the first salvo.
posted by amberglow at 3:45 PM on May 27, 2005

I agree with Clay201.

Of course everyone is correct, that the arguments have been going on forever, but I always think of that Buchanan speech when I hear the term "culture war".
posted by marsha56 at 4:30 PM on May 27, 2005

Yeah, in her book Roads To Dominion, which is a great book on the subject by a Berkeley professor, Sara Diamond identifies the Buchanan speech as the formal first salvo of the Culture War. But she traces how it had been long in in the making.
posted by inksyndicate at 4:53 PM on May 27, 2005

what, exactly is this "Crisis of 2020" all about? The wikipedia entry dosn't say what's actualy supposed to happen (just a lot of old people?).
posted by delmoi at 9:52 PM on May 27, 2005

It's a literal translation of Kulturkampf, which has been current since 1871. Pat Buchanan introduced it to American politics, I'm sure, but it has much older antecedents.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 9:56 PM on May 27, 2005

I don't remember hearing the term all that often growing up, despite a lot of the same issues being debated and discussed
(emphasis added)

He's not talking about antecedents, he's not talking about issues, he's talking about the phrase "culture war." Unless I'm severely misunderstanding his question.

Pat Buchanan introduced it to American politics, I'm sure

No he didn't. His speech came after the book ericb mentioned.
posted by languagehat at 10:25 AM on May 28, 2005

languagehat, I think you are correct about the general scope of the question, but the very first line ("first salvos") misled me into thinking that it incorporated more than just word origins. Especially since most wars are named ex post facto and the first salvos of "the Revolutionary War," "the Civil War," and nearly every other war that I can think of occurred long before the terms by which we now refer to them were in common usage.

That said, it seems like in the past couple years I have read a few articles that trace the so-called culture war as a republican electoral strategy back to Barry Goldwater and "The Speech" delivered on his behalf by Ronald Reagan in 1964. I have heard others trace it back to Nixon's "Southern Strategy."
posted by mokujin at 4:12 PM on May 28, 2005

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