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August 17, 2010


Joseph Fouche

For analytical convenience I usually divide culture as the division of priority between narratives and politics as the division of power between individuals and groups. In reality, however the cultural and the political are tightly interwoven. Culture shapes politics but politics also shapes culture.

There sometimes seems to be a sort of Darwinian logic at play where a cultural narrative that accompanies someone, perhaps incidentally, getting more political power gets more cultural priority and the political narrative that accompanies a cultural narrative, perhaps incidentally, getting more political power. This possible process is made more complex by the fact that the internal dynamic that rewards internal cultural and political narratives with priority and power may not result in it getting priority and power in an external dynamic.

In the external dynamic, the Trident submarine or the UK's independent deterrent may or may not act to give the UK more power or priority on the world or even the European stage. But the internal dynamic of the Trident debate may have a different logic than the external dynamic. It may or may not favor the Tories over their erstwhile coalition partners or Labour. Even if the Trident makes absolutely no difference in giving the Tories or their base political power or cultural priority, it may still give them a sense of fulfillment if their cultural narrative is realized.

Whether it is cultural narrative or political power that drives strategic actors is almost a moot point. One actor will always claim that they are acting in favor of the narrative while their opposition will always claim that they are acting in favor of the power. I have a once and future post on the interaction between the two during the conquest of Mexico as related by Bernal Diaz del Castillo. Sometimes Cortez seems to be acting in favor of political power and sometimes he seems to be acting in service to a cultural ideal. Whether priority for a cultural narrative, like Cortez destroying his Totonoc allies' idols at Cempoala and freeing their human sacrifices before his conquest was even secured, is merely a higher and more long term form of political power is an open question. On some level it probably is. But the fact that the Spanish were as motivated as much by religion and chivalry at times as much as they were interested in gold and the social status it would buy can't be ruled out either.

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