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Brad Littlejohn: Winning the long game


WORLD Radio - Brad Littlejohn: Winning the long game

Institution-building is key to pushing back evil in today’s culture battles

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NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Wednesday, October 25th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. Up next: WORLD Opinions commentator Brad Littlejohn on playing the long game in the culture wars.

BRAD LITTLEJOHN, COMMENTATOR: Why is it that conservatives always seem to lose cultural battles? Even the generational triumph of Dobbs seems to have been followed by a slew of setbacks at the state level.

We could point to the power of left-leaning educational and media institutions, which can leave conservatives feeling like David facing Goliath. But perhaps there is another fundamental factor at work: Conservatives don’t make good activists.

In a recent National Review profile of pro-life activist Lila Rose, the author observed, “Typically, activism is the Left’s domain. It requires certain qualities that are often lacking in conservatives: monomania; the desire for radical change … and, perhaps above all, a willingness to get into the trenches and stay there for as long as it takes.” The author is not wrong.

To live a conservative life is to live out the conviction that some things are more important than politics: such as faith, family, community. It is to commit to investing one’s time in these things—in the long hours of being a spouse and a parent, a church elder or Little League coach. It is to stay rooted in a place rather than be always on the go. It is to rest in God’s providence rather than entertaining delusions of grandeur about one’s ability to change the course of history. It is also to prize truth above all else, even effectiveness.

Radical progressivism, however, puts all its energy into politics; it is the work largely of the single and unattached, the restless and mobile, the arrogant and self-assured. And while these habits may not be the path to happiness, they can certainly effect political change.

Many on the right are calling for conservatives to fight fire with fire, to get in the trenches and do activism the way the left does. This is short-sighted. For the fact is, genuinely conservative causes cannot be advanced by radical means; it is dangerous to think that you can play with fire and not be burned. So, what are conservatives to do?

The answer, I think, is institution-building. Institutions are inherently conservative things: They require cooperation, commitment, self-sacrifice, loyalty, and humility. Our problem today is that so many institutions have become progressive that conservatives have turned against them. When the dangers seem so urgent, it can seem pointless to invest in the long, slow work of rebuilding and redeeming institutions. But it is the only way to effect true conservative renewal; consider how the Dobbs decision was the fruit of decades of institution-building in the conservative legal movement.

That’s not to say there is no place for conservative activism. We need some front-line troops in the field—not to mention saboteurs and commandos to slow the enemy advance. But they need not be very numerous; the attacking force will always have more.

And if it is human nature and created order we are defending, we have the high ground. Reality will win out over unreality in the end. We can afford to play the long game.

I’m Brad Littlejohn.

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