Cultural Conservatism

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There are no solid dates for when cultural conservatism arrived on the American political scene, but it was certainly after 1987, which lead some people to believe the movement was started by writer and philosopher Allan Bloom, who in 1987, wrote Closing of the American Mind, an immediate and unexpected national best seller. While the book is mostly a condemnation of the failure of the liberal American university system, it's criticism of social movements in the US has strong cultural conservative overtones. For this reason, most people look to Bloom as the movement's founder.


Often confused with social conservatism - which is more concerned with pushing social issues such as abortion and traditional marriage to the front of the debate - modern cultural conservatism has strayed from the simple anti-liberalization of society Bloom espoused. Cultural conservatives of today hold fast to traditional ways of thinking even in the face of monumental change. They believe strongly in traditional values, traditional politics and often have an urgent sense of nationalism.

It is in the area of traditional values where cultural conservatives most overlap with social conservatives (and other types of conservatives, for that matter). While cultural conservatives do tend to be religious, it is only because religion plays such a large role in US culture. Cultural conservatives, however, can be affiliated with any American sub-culture, but whether they are of the Christian culture, anglo-saxon Protestant culture or African American culture, they tend to align themselves tightly with their own. Cultural conservatives are often accused of racism, even though their flaws (if they surface) may be more xenophobic than racist.

To a much larger degree than traditional values, nationalism and traditional politics are primarily what concern cultural conservatives. The two are often strongly intertwined, and show up in national political debates under the auspices of "immigration reform" and "protecting the family." Cultural conservatives believe in "buying American" and oppose introducing foreign languages such as Spanish or Chinese on interstate signs or ATM machines.


A cultural conservative may not always be a conservative in all other matters, and this is where critics most often assault the movement. Because cultural conservatism isn't easily defined in the first place, critics of cultural conservatives tend to point to inconsistencies that don't really exist. For example, cultural conservatives are largely silent (as Bloom was) on the issue of gay rights (their main concern is the movement's disruption with American traditions, not the gay lifestyle itself), critics therefore point to this as being contradictory to the conservative movement as a whole -- which it isn't, since conservatism in general has a such a broad meaning.

Political Relevance

Cultural conservatism in common American thought has increasingly replaced the term "religious right," even though they aren't really the same things. In fact, social conservatives have more in common with the religious right than cultural conservatives. Nevertheless, cultural conservatives have enjoyed considerable success at the national level, especially in the 2008 presidential election, where immigration became a focus of the national debate.

Cultural conservatives are often grouped politically with other kinds of conservatives, simply because the movement doesn't tightly address "wedge" issues like abortion, religion, and as noted above, gay rights. Cultural conservatism often serves as a launching pad for newcomers to the conservative movement who want to call themselves "conservative" while they determine where they stand on the "wedge" issues. Once they are able to define their beliefs and attitudes, they often move away from cultural conservatism and into another, more tightly focused movement.

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Hawkins, Marcus. "Cultural Conservatism." ThoughtCo, Jul. 31, 2021, Hawkins, Marcus. (2021, July 31). Cultural Conservatism. Retrieved from Hawkins, Marcus. "Cultural Conservatism." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).