According to Nicholas Capaldi’s expansive biography of John Stuart Mill, the great British philosopher argued that “All lasting political reform is not accomplished directly, through partisan activity, but indirectly, through the reform of culture.”
As someone who thinks political culture is an underrated variable (the possible result of Weber’s problematic “Protestant Ethic” argument), I find Mill’s claim compelling. However, there are also key choice moments that deeply change the future as certain paths are followed or not and that themselves help structure the future nature of our political culture. Like the New Deal, won’t ObamaCare change the nature of state-society relations in ways that will affect our institutions and our culture? Isn’t that why its passage and likely ratification by the Supreme Court is so potentially dangerous?
And yet perhaps ObamaCare or something like it is the inevitable consequence of deeper changes in our political culture along the lines suggested by James Buchanan in his wonderful piece “Afraid to be Free.”
If Mill is right, places like TFAS and the Institute for Humane Studies are incredibly important since they attempt to educate the youth about a certain set of important ideas that contribute to a political culture supportive of liberal democracy.