Why We Still Need Social Conservatism

Hello, all. This is my first diary here at RedState, and I’m very excited to be joining you.

First, a brief introduction. So, the plan is this: Once a week, I hope to present a roundup of articles from around the web that I’ve found to be particularly illuminating, insightful, or otherwise noteworthy, and that I believe our little RedState community will find to be so, as well. Additionally, I’m going to try to contribute an original piece on a monthly basis.

Now, just so you know, I care about restoring the proper (i.e., constitutional) relationship between the federal government and the states, about following the Madisonian vision of checks and balances, and about protecting our system of private property and free exchange as much as the next conservative guy or gal, but of late I’ve come to the conclusion that what matters the most right now are marriage- and family-related issues (pace the naysayers). Bearing that in mind, then, I’ll generally focus on such things. If something else catches my fancy, however, I just might go with it…

That being said, let’s get to it.


As most of you are probably already aware, the results of the last election cycle raised the question of where the GOP needs to go in the future. So, what do we emphasize now? Fiscal conservatism? Protecting our constitutional rights and liberties? Giving powers long usurped by the feds back to our state governments and local communities? Continuing the fight against terrorism?

One thing in particular stands out: There seems to be a growing number of people (and not just liberals or libertarians) arguing that the GOP needs to move away from social conservatism. For instance, back in November Rod Dreher argued over at The American Conservative that the struggle to prevent the redefinition of marriage was “not an argument that we were going to win,” that social conservatives are pretty much unable to do “anything significant to protect traditional marriage” at this point, and that we should “instead focus on the threat SSM poses to religious liberty.” In other words, this was a losing battle to begin with, so just give it up already.

Now, I like Dreher’s writing, and share a lot of common ground with him ideologically, I happen to think; nevertheless, I think he’s wrong about this. I also believe (to cite another example of this line of thinking) that Tom Rogan was wrong when he wrote last month that “in opposing gay marriage under secular law, social conservatives are doing serious harm to society,” and that social conservatives must “modernize and compromise, or continue down the road to total irrelevance.” Wrong again.

I realize I’m nobody, but I’m a very opinionated nobody, and my opinion is this: Without social conservatism, our system of constitutionally-limited government and free-market exchange cannot long survive. Not exactly a novel insight, I know, but one that needs to be mentioned every once in a while.

I’m not going to give an extended argument for social conservatism right now; maybe one day later on. What I aim to do at this point is this:

First, take some time and chew on this significant (and, I think, disturbingly plausible) argument made in Public Discourse last July by Princeton professor Robert P. George:

…[A]dvocates of [redefining marriage] are increasingly open in saying that they do not see these disputes about sex and marriage as honest disagreements among reasonable people of goodwill. They are, rather, battles between the forces of reason, enlightenment, and equality—those who would “expand the circle of inclusion”—on one side, and those of ignorance, bigotry, and discrimination—those who would exclude people out of “animus”—on the other. The “excluders” are to be treated just as racists are treated—since they are the equivalent of racists. Of course, we (in the United States, at least) don’t put racists in jail for expressing their opinions—we respect the First Amendment; but we don’t hesitate to stigmatize them and impose various forms of social and even civil disability upon them and their institutions. In the name of “marriage equality” and “non-discrimination,” liberty—especially religious liberty and the liberty of conscience—and genuine equality are undermined.

The fundamental error made by some supporters of conjugal marriage was and is, I believe, to imagine that a grand bargain could be struck with their opponents: “We will accept the legal redefinition of marriage; you will respect our right to act on our consciences without penalty, discrimination, or civil disabilities of any type. Same-sex partners will get marriage licenses, but no one will be forced for any reason to recognize those marriages or suffer discrimination or disabilities for declining to recognize them.” There was never any hope of such a bargain being accepted. Perhaps parts of such a bargain would be accepted by liberal forces temporarily for strategic or tactical reasons, as part of the political project of getting marriage redefined; but guarantees of religious liberty and non-discrimination for people who cannot in conscience accept same-sex marriage could then be eroded and eventually removed. After all, “full equality” requires that no quarter be given to the “bigots” who want to engage in “discrimination” (people with a “separate but equal” mindset) in the name of their retrograde religious beliefs. “Dignitarian” harm must be opposed as resolutely as more palpable forms of harm….

The lesson, it seems to me, for those of us who believe that the conjugal conception of marriage is true and good, and who wish to protect the rights of our faithful and of our institutions to honor that belief in carrying out their vocations and missions, is that there is no alternative to winning the battle in the public square over the legal definition of marriage. The “grand bargain” is an illusion we should dismiss from our minds. [All italics in original.]

And then there’s this, which Kathryn Lopez at National Review Online excerpted from remarks made by Prof. George at a Heritage Foundation panel on defending marriage earlier this week:

There is no conceivable way that you can maintain limited government, economic growth, the rule of law, the preservation of democratic self-government “while letting the institution of the family erode and collapse, letting the marriage culture go the way of the dodo bird. . . . Everything depends on marriage, because marriage is the fundamental unit of society, the original and best department of health education and welfare, supplying what every other institution in society needs — depends on — for its own flourishing but which none of those institutions can provide for themselves.”

(You can read Lopez’s entire piece–which in its own right is worth the time–here. Especially noteworthy is her admonition that we “avoid taking the ‘social issues’ seriously at our own risk,” which is precisely what I’m trying to say.)

So, you want to save our constitutional system? You want to save the free market? Then don’t abandon fighting for the family. That battle’s not quite over yet.