What Does Christopher Rufo Believe? An Interview With the Consequential Culture War Activist

Since the time I began writing about politics back in 2005, my posture toward the Culture War has been steadfast and consistent: avoid whenever possible. Whether by design or not, the effect of cultural battles is that Americans end up bitterly divided one against the other, rather than focused in unity on the malice and treachery of ruling class power centers and their self-interested schemes of corporatism and militarism. That opinions on cultural battles are more inflammatory and more fixed than other types of debates makes it more difficult to use reporting and political writing to persuade and change minds.

More pedestrian motives also drive my decision to de-prioritize or even avoid such controversies. A journalist who attempts to weigh in on every last debate ends up being a specialist in none, little more than a generic pundit offering superficial bits of conventional wisdom or cursory statements designed to flaunt shallow virtue as part of a dreary brand-building exercise. I have always tried to use my platform to focus on issues and analysis that otherwise receive insufficient attention given their gravity, and there is no shortage of other writers who focus obsessively on fights over culture.

That does not mean that issues grouped under the label “culture war” are unimportant. The opposite is often true: how cultural disagreements are resolved — socially and especially in law — can profoundly and directly affect people’s lives, as they have for millions of people, including my own. But I personally have chosen to use the example of my life and my family and how we live as my contribution to these questions, opting to focus my journalistic platform elsewhere.

Sometimes, however, while you may not be interested in the culture war, the culture war is nonetheless interested in you. The 2020 national movement of protests and riots that erupted after the police killing of George Floyd, as well as the emergence of a brand new list of sweeping legal, cultural and social changes demanded in the name of trans equality, has made it increasingly difficult, and unwise, to avoid these topics altogether. Regardless of which side one believes is responsible for “starting” and driving this newest outbreak of culture war hostilities — and I discussed my own view of that question in an interview last week with the excellent left-wing YouTube show The Vanguard — there is no escaping the fact that the most extremist wings on each side are pulling the debate into previously unthinkable directions. Especially for those who are parents (as I am), questioning what young children should or should not be taught in school, or what medical treatments will be made available to them with or without parental consent, are highly consequential whether or not you want to participate in those debates.

One of the people who has been most prominent and influential in these debates is the writer and activist Christopher Rufo, who, among other things, works for the conservative think tank Manhattan Institute. Even large liberal media outlets which seek to demonize him and his work do so by first acknowledging the profound impact he has single-handedly had, particularly on questions of how we discuss and teach children about race and, more recently, gender ideology and trans issues.

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