How can Social Conservatism blend with Libertarianism?

One of the distressing fact we need to take away from the most recent election is the effect of the youth vote. We can sadly no longer dismiss this phenomena as something the candidate defined as the loser depends on. As shown hereand herethe youth vote turned out in great numbers for the One and we consequently faced a severe obstacle for electoral victory.

Now what is most distressing is what is suggested as to why we lost the youth vote. Admittedly trying to pin down “one” reason for such a multicausal result is almost laughable because the reasons could range from: the almost noxious “cult-like” atmosphere of Obama’s campaign that campuses (being a Graduate Student I am aware of this) were literally bathed in, the empty Change rhetoric that allowed you to tack on whatever you’d like to Obama, youthful affinity for the Democratic party, the youth not knowing how the world works, they voted for “Bread and Circuses”, etc. However, one thing that we have to note is that some of these voters were quite conservative in their fiscal rhetoric and yet had problems voting for a party which they saw as one of “Social Conservatism”. Now granted this can be overblown as if you truly cared about fiscal responsibility it is hard to think that Barack “Socialism rocks!” Obama was the right choice. Yet I can see the generally uniformed thinking “well looking at what I know (GOP circa 2000-2008) why not try something new since they certainly weren’t fiscally conservative?”. Yes yes, Obama’s an idiot when it comes to economics but we certainly didn’t help by having an economic illiterate as a candidate as well. However, it is true that we do have some problems with if not the socially conservative platform at least the way we go about arguing our point.

Now let me start off by saying I am a rock-ribbed social conservative and I do not intend to go all “David Frum” on anyone (though to be fair I think he actually is a deep thinker on trying to restructure conservatism, while some others merely tack that way to sound “sophisticated”). However, this is an issue we need to address as we cannot be electorally successful by dropping that part of conservatism, nor can social conservatives continue to do what we always have done and expect it to work. Additionally, for those who want to jettison social conservatism I give you CA passing the anti-Gay Marriage amendment. Whatever your position on that specific issue, and we can all disagree, I use this as an example of socially conservative positions still being electorally successful almost anywhere. Thus, this is not as if we are deigning to indulge a small fringe element in the country, as it sometimes seems those who suggest we should “adapt” imply.I do think that is one problem in terms of a successful answer to the question I posed in the title. Generally neither side, the more libertarian minded and the more socially conservative, trusts one another. As I suggested above those who suggest we “adapt” often mean “Will you shut the @#$(*& up already?” and we social conservatives can see right through that – in the same way that the “sensible” gun-control law can instead be seen, because of the nature of those proposing the law, as merely a first step towards assaulting the 2nd Amendment. However, I think social conservatives need to recognize that we do need to at the very least think about how we can appeal to this block of voters. Generally those who are more liberal in their youth tend to become more conservative on social issues as they age, especially as they have families of their own, but this is a) not assured and b) immaterial to the point of how we can appeal to these voters NOW.

Now how can we try to cross this divide? As both a deep social conservative and one who believes in small-government and libertarianism this is as much an internal debate for me as anything else, but I believe I have an answer.
Now I am going to go out on a limb and assume that in the main a lot of social conservatives, or at least those who privilege those parts of the platform above others, are Christian. I know this is not necessarily true and there are many who are not in any way doctrinaire and can still believe in socially conservative positions, but I can only speak to what I know.

Also this piece is as much a long response to Freddie’s front page post on David Frum’s piece – I think we social conservatives need to separate the wheat from the chaff. Yes, David Frum is one of those whose “adaption” method is simply STFU, but I think we can take from it the chance to explore ways to dialogue with those who are not initially open to our position on social issues. In sum, what I’m trying to elucidate is how we can at least ensure a dialogue takes place so, similar to the youth vote, it does not become a “deal breaker”

They key in my mind? Free Will.

And I think the argument needs to be given (to social conservatives) along the following lines:1) Free will is not inherently a bad thing. God lovingly allowed us to screw up not as a way of punishing us, but in His belief that the only way humanity and the divine could properly relate is if there was freedom. Yes, humanity screws up. But that screw up allowed God to manifest more grace and more proof of His loving nature than anything else might have.

2) Because of humanity’s free will we acknowledge that those who freely follow after God are choosing to love, and it is the fact that it is a choice which makes this decision so profound. People who are baptized as adults often use that event as a declaration of their clear decision. They do not use it as a way of recognizing success in following God’s precepts, but in the choice to try. Thus, people should recognize that free will allows a choice which is far superior than what God could have allowed or we could choose – which is sheer obedience. Again consider the words often associated with a conversion “rebirth” “new birth” “heart change” – all about people deciding to follow a new path.

Incidentally this pitch could be made in many other ways. To parents: do you want your children simply follow the rules, or actively understand and choose those decisions in line with “the rules”. To couples: There is a joke that the wife doesn’t want the husband to merely “do the dishes” but “I want you to want to do the dishes”. What is the difference? One merely accords the proper result to the first situations, while the proper decision or belief empowers the action in the second. For those who are more national-security minded, and conceivably more in-tune to Memri.org and similar outlets of information, what is the key facet of many Islamic societies today if not the governmental action to ensure outward conformity? The internal beliefs only matter in so much as whether they cause problems (conversion or individualism) for that very conformity.

3) With that in the minds of the person you are discussing this with, you can then explain how virtue can ONLY exist provided there is an opportunity for vice. This is not to suggest they are equal sides of the same coin but hopefully this argument could start to get across that libertarianism, which in sum (yes yes I know the devil is in all the details), is that liberty is the greatest thing for any endeavor. In the same way social conservatives should recognize that it is through libertarian means the greatest success can be achieved on some of their platforms.

Consider abortion. Let us say for the moment at the stroke of a pen we could change the Supreme Court and instantly get people on who would ban abortion completely. First, I think many would sour on that as a method of solution (no better than what got Abortion allowed in the first place) but also what ability would it have to be sustained? If that was the solution what would be the stability of this success? Courts would be swamped with petitions and the elections would hinge even more on trying to change the court. Would people want to choose less abortions? Would attitudes towards life suddenly swing towards the position of the GOP? Hardly.

In fact, consider how many people who wish to stop abortion often say they want Roe v. Wade reversed to the states. Inherently what are they saying? Conceivably, if they believe abortion is murder, they can’t say that they believe that “oh if we only have 12 states that are allowing murder that’s ok”. What is tacitly behind that reasoning is that when the issue is back in the people’s hands decisions can start to be made that will enact real change. Perhaps it is only propositions that ask for more notification at first, which have often been wildly successful, but each of those moves is often a pull at the center to move it to a more pro-life position. Thus, many pro-life politicians have made allowances for just this sort of process. When abortion is back in the hands of the people we can make a decision – which is where true changes can be made. While the numbers were often completely made up, it was that individual decision that led mothers to look for abortion as an out, even when it was banned by law. As I said, it gets back to individual decisions.

4) Incidentally this could also be where social conservatism can be in some ways “adapted” – or I would say “redirected”. The more we focus on trying to blend positions with “liberty-driven” processes, the more that the effort on social issues can be properly directed. As a social conservative I can understand, so (so!) understand, the frustration and disappointment that so many feel about abortion, the nature of the culture war etc. Now I know many more libertarian minded might say “well what about X, Y, Terry Schaivo, etc” but I would caution you and suggest the general feeling is one of rear-guard actions. There is no sense of fundamental success because we feel we’re always on the defensive and fighting just to hold onto a patch of ground rather than going forth and re-taking anything. Part of this reason is I think we have become too focused on the outcome rather than the process. So much energy and grassroots effort is expended on creating PACs, ads for Focus on the Family, what-have-you, which might and often do have effects. And yet, we still feel as though we keep fighting with no true end in sight. However, if we try to focus on what I’ve stated above we realize the true work, which is actually in many ways MUCH harder than political action, involves talking to and convincing others.

If we focus on more libertarian solutions, and I will continue with my example of abortion, the success will be in local races, local initiatives, etc. that will be decided by the people. And how does one change that? By talking with them, reasoning, having an open dialogue not with some unseen/unknown judge or politician, but with a neighbor, a friend, a co-worker. And consider what we said about free will – if we are then able to convince just one person of our position on that issues how much greater a success that is than some bill or law being passed? You have now, I hesitate to use the word convert but I can’t think of another, “converted” someone to your way of thinking not only on that particular issue but might also effect how they apply it in their own lives, but to other socially conservative issues. Additionally, if they confront a socially conservative issue they disagree with I doubt it becomes a deal breaker as they know they can have a reasoned discussion with someone else regarding it. Thus this is not only the more ultimately successful process towards socially conservative ends, it ensures we could go from success to success rather than constantly fighting rear-guard actions.

This might imply some hard changes as David Frum alludes to, but not in the way he means. This would involve a new way of thinking about outcomes and processes and redirect energies away from a lot of the presently established socially conservative organizations. But if the ultimate outcome is a “prodigal son” who comes back with a new appreciation for this or that conservative position, isn’t that far better than someone who is stuck having to try and live under a law they abhor, detest, and sours them completely on the platform/party that placed that over them? There is no chance for any future dialogue – it is now effectively blocked by the nature of the process.

5) In the same way I do think this would challenge libertarians (and let me say I have no great insight into the deep inner-workings of the “true” libertarian mind, so forgive false assumptions and/or broad generalizations – I might have been better stating federalists or “libertarian-inclined”) need to in some ways put their money where their mouth is. Sometimes it feels as though the calls against social conservatives is some belief that if we simply went away all these things would be better. That is often how criticism from that “side” is taken which is why so often libertarians and social conservatives don’t have dialogues so much as screaming matches. “You lose us elections!” “If we listened to you we’d lose more!” “You’re just a bunch of hicks” “You’re immoral” etc. etc. And meanwhile while we are fighting we do something dumb like put Trent Lott in charge of something…

However, if social conservatives in some ways focus on this new way of conceiving of their battles I think many libertarians would have to get in line at least with the process, even if they might disagree with the outcome. If for instance we chose to enact highly strict abortion restrictions in OH, the solution for many who disagreed could/should not be complaining about social conservatives but getting THEIR hands dirty in the act of convincing/dialoguing with others. It might fully show whether all this talk about “adaption” is a minor disagreement or a way of saying “don’t let the door hit you on the way out”. I also think that politically this would ensure social issues would become muted as a “deal breaker” and, hopefully, mute some of the unhelpful criticism of this wing of the party. On the reverse social conservatives might see some true successes, which would galvanize them to keep up their present efforts.

Again I think nothing but growth could come from such a decision by both sides – it might mean we stop cutting each other up and blaming one another and ultimately might come to more satisfactory policy outcomes now that we have adopted a better process.

Please feel free to jump in since I hope this diary would start, as I urge, a dialogue. I don’t claim this is THE answer, but I feel we have to try and square this circle so that we don’t abandon social conservatism (which I think ensures we end up in the wilderness) or libertarianism (which as I argued I believe could lead to successful outcomes).