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  • Anthony Leonardi

Institutions are Upstream of Culture

Renowned conservative journalist Andrew Breitbart once said that "politics is downstream of culture," meaning that for any one person to have success in the political realm they must first change the cultural values in society. Culture is shaped by what a society chooses to value most dearly, and those values in America emerge from an institution. In other words, the stream that flows down to culture and politics begins with institutions.


Institutions shape how we think, act, and function in civil society. There are two institutions once central to the traditional American way of life for conservatives – the Church and the family. The Church was the institution that reminded us that our fallen human nature requires us to look to heaven above as our example of how to treat our fellow man. The nuclear family laid the foundation for how society ought to grow, by either marriage, blood, or adoption, to secure the blessings of liberty for our children.


But other institutions exist that direct the attitudes of culture and, in turn, impact their politics. Those politics have only begun to erode the strength of the traditional institution of the family. An October 2020 survey from the University of Missouri found that, since 2016, politics have driven families apart. "We find that more disagreement and more affective polarization are associated with less communication accommodation, and that shared family identity suffers as a result," the study's abstract reads.


Just before the 2020 election, Reuters reported several stories of husbands and wives separating and sons renouncing their mothers because of the contentious nature of politics. "He specifically told me, 'You are no longer my mother, because you are voting for Trump'," one mother recalled. Reuters reported that the last conversation between that mother and her son was "so bitter that she is not sure they can reconcile, even if Trump loses his re-election bid."


Politicians are not solely responsible for the corrosion of institutions like the nuclear family. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find any shrewd politician endorsing children disowning their parents because of politics. Children make their own conscious decisions to separate themselves from their parents and spouses from their loved ones. But that idea comes from somewhere, and those are left-wing institutions of influence that mold culture like Big Tech, higher education, and media.


For example, Amazon's recent acquisition of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, a move many see as the corporation's attempt to compete with other media streaming companies like Netflix and theaters to make high-quality streamable exclusives. The coronavirus lockdowns rocked the theater industry, and The Atlantic reports that theaters "may still continue to close" despite efforts to increase sales. But while people stayed at home during the pandemic, they still watched movies. And they used services like Amazon to do so.


Conservatives are quite familiar with the fact that Hollywood is a propaganda machine for woke progressivism and realized they once had the option of refusing to patronize movies that elevate values they fundamentally reject. Amazon, however, is ubiquitous. They own Whole Foods supermarket, compete with Walgreens and CVS with their own online pharmacy, and now stream media to compete with theaters. All the while, they continue to promote revolutionary racial movements responsible for widespread riots in 2020 and philosophically adjacent wokeism. There is no escape from this left-wing ideology because Amazon is too big.


Political leaders on the left also reinforce the strength of higher education as an institution. In 2015, first lady Michelle Obama launched a "reach higher" initiative that instructed all young Americans to get a college degree. "No longer is high school the bar. That is not enough," Obama would say. "You have got to go to college or get some kind of professional training."


There is unquestionable value in education. The philosopher Plato thought of education as a good in and of itself to achieve justice. College is also necessary for those who possess a clear desire to become lawyers, doctors, or pharmacists. But college is not for everyone. Various jobs don't require the high cost of college, such as plumbers, electricians, pipefitters, welders, sales, and other occupations.


But why does the left so fervently concentrate on having all young people attend college? It is yet another institution they use to mold culture. It is a hotbed of critical race theory (CRT), which regards the American founding and principles of constitutionalism and limited government as a farce for white supremacy. At the least, CRT has infiltrated the social sciences and humanities departments, where many college students earn their degrees. And it's not a value-neutral ideology, as author Ryan Girdusky points out.


"Students are taught with the explicit intention that they adopt the belief system itself and become warriors for the revolution," Girdusky says of CRT's pedagogy. "Consider, for example, if students were being taught about fascism, recognizing its objective evils, and learning from history. We would welcome that education. But what if students were instead being taught about fascism with the intention that they themselves become fascists? No good parent would want this for their children."


The institution of education is so necessary to the culture that many on the left either favor student loan forgiveness or free college, even though taxpayers ultimately bear the cost.


The right's answer has traditionally been "build your own [insert institution]," a fine and noble goal for one to pursue if they have the means and resources. But it doesn't fully address the fact that the institutions the right attempts to combat have enormous power, which is used to attack the institutions conservatives most value. Christians and conservatives, for example, may try to provide alternatives to standard institutions of education, like Hillsdale or Liberty University. Both are fantastic institutions themselves, but they don't remove the threat children face in most other public universities that teach critical race theory.


So long as the left continues to hold hegemonic control over most of the institutions in America, the culture will continue to move in their favor, and that will only benefit their continued electoral success. Conservatives must not only provide alternatives to these institutions, they must wage the culture war in these very institutions, just as the left has done to gain its power in culture.