One of the depressing developments of the current election cycle is that social conservatism seems to have lost no matter who ends up being elected as president. Of the possible future presidents, who, after all, is poised to defend social conservatism?
Hillary Clinton? Obviously not. Clinton regularly worships at the altar of child dismemberment and is wholly on board with the “LGBT” agenda and all its projects: forcing women and girls to share a restroom with mentally ill men who mistakenly believe they are women; using the force of law to destroy the lives of bakers who refuse to use their skills to celebrate same-sex “weddings”; peddling a mistaken vision of marriage; further destroying the sexual norms that make marriage possible; and so forth.
“Libertarian” candidate Gary Johnson? Hardly. Johnson has demonstrated that there is not a libertarian bone in his body, claiming as he does that bakers who object to baking a cake for a same sex “wedding” ought to be punished by the state for so objecting (in fact, Johnson ludicrously claimed that a Jewish baker ought to be forcedto bake a cake for a Nazi celebration should a Nazi ask for such a cake from the Jewish baker). Johnson, when he is not busy drugging himself, asserts that he is wholly on board the abortion bandwagon. His position on abortion is, unfortunately, almost indistinguishable from Hillary Clinton’s.
What about Donald Trump? There are some reasons to be somewhat optimistic. Trump does give lip service to the pro-life cause, and the Republican Party’s platformis, surprisingly, enduringly socially conservative. Alas, Trump’s record on abortion and same sex “marriage” is, well, spotty. This leads social conservatives like myself to believe that Trump is either not socially conservative or that he simply does not care about the topic. All things considered, then, Trump certainly is better than Clinton and Johnson on this matter, though this isn’t saying much.
Yet so goes a popular refrain, often oozing forth from the lips of many so-called fiscally-but-not-socially-conservatives nowadays, particularly from many young Trump supporters: “But social conservatism is dead and only religious nuts care about it anyway. Plus, social conservatism is not popular with the public and so is politically disadvantageous. We have to forge a conservatism that appeals to the future, one that abandons social conservatism.”
Allow me to put to one side the question of whether a commitment to social conservatism will make future elections impossible. Given what will be said below, we had better hope that social conservatism has a political future in the US. The task of explaining the point of social conservatism to (what we consider to be) misguided conservative peers, then, falls on the shoulders of conservatives who see the truth: that social conservatism is indispensable to the project of conservatism. To see the point of social conservatism, one must first understand what social conservatism is.
What is Social Conservatism?
So what is social conservatism? Social conservatism, I submit, is (i) the recognizing of the family as the most important unit of the polity and (ii) the project of securing the social conditions that are conducive to it and make it possible.
The social conservative understands, often instinctively, that there is a primacy to the family unit the successful occurrence of which makes possible the existence of the state. This is hardly implausible. After all, adults who are ready to engage in political activity do not just spontaneously come to be; men must have their intellectual, moral, and societal capacities and character formed prior to their being able to participate in a political endeavor.
The social conservative observes that nature has providentially provided such an environment for the formation of a virtuous people who are ready to participate in (or establish) a political project: the family, where the child can depend on the love of his or her mother and father (and upon the love between his mother and father) for his or her formation into a virtuous person. The child’s mother and father do more than this, however: they provide a representative of the two halves of humanity, man and woman, for the child to come to know and have a relationship with so that he or she may learn how to form relationships with persons of either sex in life and from whom he or she learns how to conduct himself or herself in marriage and relate to his or her spouse later on in life.
We can see how abortion, same sex “marriage,” transgenderism, and so forth, constitute a threat to the family: abortion violently and intentionally kills an unborn child and viscerally destroys the relationship between the mother and her child; same sex “marriage” tells a lie about marriage and fails to ground the norms of sexual exclusivity, permanence, and monogamy that are proper to it; transgenderism tells a lie about the sexed embodiedness of the human person upon which marriage depends.
Why Social Conservatism is Indispensable for Fiscal Conservatism
The fiscally-but-not-socially-conservative person (call him a ‘FC’ for short), however, fails to see how social conservatism is a condition that is necessary for a flourishing economic environment in a number of ways. Consider a transaction of any sort. In a transaction, something—often, though not always, money—is offered in exchange for some good or service that the purchaser seeks to obtain and that the seller seeks to provide. The economic system that the FC favors will be a system that is constituted by many of these transactions, each one relating to one another to create a web of transactions we call an economy. Yet a condition of all of these transactions occurring is that the persons participating in the transactions—both the purchasers and the sellers—will keep their end of the deal and that they will conduct their transactions fairly more generally. Without such an assurance, such an economic system could not get off the ground.
In other words, transactions, which make up the economic system, presuppose the existence of virtuous persons who are disposed to engage in them and engage in them well. Yet marriage is the means by which human beings are raised into virtuous persons who have the reasoning, social, and ethical virtues that allow them to engage in such transactions.
One may object as follows: “Can’t a system of punishments and rewards enforced by the state be as effective in prompting citizens to engage in lawful and proper transactions?” Of course, attaching punishments to unwanted conduct vis-a-vis transaction will deter some persons from engaging in transactions improperly (viz., unfairly). And surely attaching benefits to engaging in transactions properly (viz., fairly) will provide a reason to engage in transactions properly.
Yet it doesn’t seem that this alone will suffice. After all, what is desired in an economic system is that the persons who engage in the transactions will be already disposed to engage in them well even in the absence of deterrents placed by law against improperly engaging in transactions, just as it is desirable—and indeed conducive to the common good—for citizens to be disposed to engage lawfully and morally even in the absence of deterrents attached to act-types that are immoral (like murder). Penalties and benefits, then, should be best understood as complementary policies that provide additional reasons to engage in transactions well, not as stand-alone systems that can by themselves replace the rearing of children in accordance with virtue.
There are more ways in which social conservatism is indispensable for conservatism or otherwise that failing to tend to social conservatism is counterproductive to fiscal conservatism. Consider, for example, the fact that the US now spends, according to some studies, approximately 99 billion dollars each year on fatherlessness, a cost that need not be anywhere near as high were social conservatism tended to properly. Consider too the social and economic costs that have resulted as a consequence of the attacks against the family. In 1965, whilst working in the Lyndon Johnson administration, liberal Harvard sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan was astonished to find that about 25% of African-American children were born out-of-wedlock.
Moynihan was deeply worried about this finding because he knew exactly what being born out-of-wedlock means for a child. Decades of social science confirm what millennia of common sense has always taught us: that children born out-of-wedlock are disadvantaged in every way: They are more likely to be physically and mentally ill, more likely to be poor and unhappy, more likely to have trouble in school and with education generally, more likely to be abused sexually, more likely to themselves abuse others sexually, more like to abuse alcohol or other drugs, and more likely to engage in criminal activity and to have a disdain for authority.
This, in turn, invariably increases the size and scope of power of the state as it must expand to replace fathers who have abandoned their families by providing for single mothers; it must increase its public health efforts to provide for children whose single parents cannot provide for them, and treat victims of violence from persons who have been raised in an environment that has failed to instill in them virtues necessary for a robust social life free of violence and crime; it must create and maintain adoption agencies to care for children whose parents are unfit or otherwise absent; it must commit more funds to police departments to address crime that results from families breaking apart (or failing to form in the first place) and hence fail to instill virtue in children; it must commit funds to the creation of prisons where criminals are to be kept; and so forth.
The economic costs of abandoning social conservatism, then, run quite high—in addition to all of the unquantifiable social costs of broken families, deaths, and ruined relationships and ruined lives. It is no surprise that leftists, committed to consolidating power in the state, have sought to destroy and undermine the family: they realize—better than many fiscal conservatives do—that a flourishing family and marriage culture are required for free markets and limited governments to exist.
There is also another huge problem with abandoning social conservatism that Europe is coming to learn the bloody way: the falling of birth rates that result from a weakened marriage culture, which in turn motivate a country to look to foreigners—often unassimilable or unwilling to be assimilated—as a source of labor that is unable to be provided by aging citizens of a childless country.
What, then, will a future conservative movement bereft of a commitment to social conservatism look like? It will look very much so like the leftist movement, albeit with perhaps lower taxes. It will, as blogger Matt Walsh notes, be nothing more than leftism with a better accountant. But lower taxes won’t do much to bring the West back from the brink. Only rejecting wholesale the leftist project and its goals of destroying the family, sexual norms coupled with regaining pride in Western culture will do that.
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