Conservative powerbrokers must accept the new reality on the ground: Generation X Conservatives have a different philosophical view of the world. Do not fear us; embrace us; we are the breath of fresh air the Conservatives so desperately need…
For the most part, Generation X leans to the right when offered Reagan Conservatism; it's when the religious right shows up, most check out.
Conservatives lose all credibility to fight every nanny state issue because of abortion. Or are Conservatives for a nanny state when the rules play into their preferences? Why alienate millions of women because of our pro-life stance? The pro-life movement has its own inertia, why do Conservatives need to help? It would be great to get some more women in the Conservative tent.
In our battle to advance Reagan Conservatism how does promoting Christian morality help our cause?
March 8, 2009 10:16 AM
In response to my post about Sam Brownback's retreat from principle, this comment from Ed arrested my attention. He asks an important question; one that I'm sure reflects the thinking of millions of people like him. I believe that answering it is not at all difficult, though the reasoning involved requires several steps, in the course of which we recapitulate the tenets of conservatism.
- The preservation of Freedom- In order to know whether promoting morality advances the cause, we must first think about the nature of the cause. Reagan conservatism is first and foremost about preserving freedom. It begins, like the United States itself, from the premise that as individuals all human beings have unalienable rights (rights inseparable from their humanity), among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. To state the principle in this way begs a question however. What justifies the claim to these rights? As a matter of historical fact, America's founding generation justified it by reference to the will of the Creator, to whose Providence they trusted, and whom they regarded as the ruler and ultimate judge of the universe. All this they made clear in the Declaration of Independence, at the moment the United States came into existence as a free and independent nation. If members of Generation X embrace the American doctrine of freedom, they must either embrace this justification for it, or make the case for some other. Of course, they may be content to assert it as an existential act of will, without justification. But how does it promote conservatism to reduce its foundation to an arbitrary whim? If the claim to freedom is an arbitrary whim, why should it be preferred to the whims of wealth and power that are the basis for oligarchy, military tyranny or other forms of despotism? If there is no rational basis for the preference, how do we preserve it from the whirlpool of relativism, which in the end sucks political life into a maelstrom of perpetual conflict intermittently relieved by those eras of calm during which superior might reduces all to slavery and subjection?
- Securing the blessings of liberty- Contrary to the inclinations of the more shallow libertarians, conservatism has nothing in common with anarchism, since it is based on preserving freedom, which means firmly establishing it on sustainable grounds. Anarchy is not sustainable, but inevitably produces first chaos, then tyranny. So, while respecting the premise of unalienable individual rights, conservatism also requires respect for the limits implied by the reasoning used to justify our claim to those rights. Put simply, if the claim to rights rests on the premise of God's authority, we cannot preserve the claim if we use our rights in a way that destroys respect for God's authority. The premise of freedom is equal rights. The premise of right is God's authority. Freedom exercised with respect for God's authority is liberty. Thus exercised it produces good results, which the preamble to the U.S. Constitution calls "the blessings of liberty." This of course implies that there are curses, or bad results that arise from the abuse of freedom, which abuse the Founders often referred to as licentiousness.
- Establishing limited government- Conservatism respects the goals for our government set forth in the U.S. Constitution. It therefore seeks to secure the blessings of liberty and avoid the curse of licentiousness. In order to achieve this goal, freedom, whether for one individual or a large number, must be limited by respect for the rights that are inseparable from our humanity. Free government, though based upon consent, is therefore not the instrument of unbridled free will. It is government limited by respect for the right use of freedom (which is, by the way, the proper definition of a right), and for the authority that substantiates it.
- Promoting respect for law- Government limited by respect for the right use of freedom is lawful government. This does not mean government in which people slavishly obey whatever their rulers declare to be the law. It means first of all respect for the premise of lawfulness. Lawfulness is the right exercise of freedom, so that when individuals conform their choices to what is right they behave lawfully. If they form a community on this basis, they constitute a society in which they literally govern themselves. But when individuals voluntarily behave in a lawful fashion they act morally. Morality is therefore the effective basis of self-government.
- Preserving the moral basis of freedom- As individuals acting lawfully do what is required by right, others are obliged by their respect for what is right (and ultimately by respect for the authority of God which substantiates the claim of right) not to interfere with what they do. The exercise of right thus limits the actions of others. But the government is nothing more than the instrument of individuals when acting as a community. So when individuals act lawfully government is, like all others, obliged to respect their rights (that is, not to interfere with the actions they take in order to do what is right.) Whatever its powers, its exercise of those powers is limited to actions that are consistent with this obligation. Self-government is thus the effective basis for insisting upon limited government. But since the essential substance of self-government is moral action, morality is the effective basis for insisting upon limited government. Conversely, where morality and therefore self-government fail, the power of government must expand in order to restore respect for right. Such expansion must extend as far as the disorder produced by licentiousness requires. Given the ingenuity of human wickedness, this implies no limitation but what is required to maintain superior power.
The promotion of morality thus appears to be an essential prerequisite for limited government. Limited government is the key practical goal of conservatism. One advances a cause by actions that bring closer the achievement of its goal. Therefore the promotion of morality advances the cause of conservatism. It's worth noticing that the logic used to reach this conclusion, while consistent with Christian beliefs, is entirely based upon the understanding of rights and government contained in the fundamental civic documents of the United States (in particular the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.) If Generation X conservatives have a philosophical view of the world that rejects this understanding, they are not conservatives at all, at least not in any sense that Ronald Reagan or any other American conservative would comprehend. I also wonder whether their views are, in the true sense, philosophical. Opinions asserted without reason may be deeply felt. They may be authentic expressions of an individual's real identity, convictions or needs. But if old Socrates was any guide, when it comes to philosophy none of these attributes is a substitute for the simple willingness to accept the discipline of the search for truth. One of the greatest obstacles to this acceptance is the worship of one's own opinion.
Now I can hear you saying that the Founders reliance upon the authority of God was no more than their own opinion. But even Socrates did not hold that philosophy required the possession of truth, only the willingness constantly to submit to the examination made necessary by respect for it. Since thousands of years before the American founders, people who call upon the name of God have submitted themselves to this examination, as I do on the pages of this site. When the "philosophic view" of Generation X can make the same claim, it might be less unwise to consider trusting the fate of the world to their opinions. When they articulate and find some justification for their view that moves men to righteousness, and to give their all, in pain and war and martyrdom against injustice as the Christian gospel of love, or the American creed of freedom has done, it might be wise to do so. For now all we see is people who demand all so that their lusts may be satisfied, their fragile egos comforted, and their self-indulgent intellectual fantasies indulged. Such people lean toward the materialist version of conservatism as a way of avoiding the one discipline on offer from those now lifted to leadership, supposedly with the support of their Generation. I mean the discipline of government dependency, slavery and domination. Sadly, they do not realize that there is no sustainable choice that will respect their licentious whims. The real choice we face is between totalitarian government based ultimately on force, and self-government grounded upon respect for what is morally right.
One final word: Conservatives don't believe in the nanny state, but in the free republic, which requires among other things, respect for the authority of the Creator God on which our claim to freedom relies. In any case, I think it may be a mistake to refer to what leftists like Obama intend to impose as a nanny state. Sometimes nannies have been a more than adequate substitute for mothers who think they have things they can do better. However if, as a free people, we have reached the stage when we have better things to do than to preserve our rights and respect the discipline implied by them, I see nothing in the history of humankind to justify the assumption that the resultant tyranny will be an adequate substitute for the loss of our individual and national dignity. When I'm tempted to think otherwise, I remember the moral degradation that Frederick Douglass and others held to be the greatest misery of my slave ancestors, and I think again.
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