Friday, August 9, 2013

The argument for an objective moral order

by Gene Wisdom

 In the aftermath of the 2012 election, and even before, we heard many pundits telling us that social conservatives are dragging down the Republican Party. Establishment Republicans (read “professional Republicans”), RINO’s and even some other conservatives argue that conservatives driven by social issues are holding back the GOP and diminishing its potential outreach among the young—and that we’re causing GOP election losses. We’re pointed to polls we are told that show that public opinion is now in favor of acceptance of same-sex marriage and told to get on board with young people who are more “tolerant”.

First of all, it strikes me as odd that the party which brought in Abraham Lincoln in the wake of the Dred Scott decision would now want to push itself away from moral issues. Slavery is a moral issue. Personhood is a moral issue. And they are issues in which the state should be deeply involved. Abandoning the moral issues is an acceptance of James Carville’s “It’s the economy, stupid.” In so doing we concede the Democratic/liberal position that marriage doesn’t matter, that abortion doesn’t matter, and that what our children are taught in school doesn’t matter. They do matter and government has a legitimate role in ensuring that these values aren’t attacked. Government has an interest in the stability of society which is strengthened by traditional marriage between one man and one woman and in facilitating its permanence. It is also government’s duty to protect human life. Before liberty and the pursuit of happiness, both as a duty recognized in the Declaration of Independence and as a matter of reason, there is life. And government, through public schools, weakens families and social order by allowing traits such as honor, faith, and patriotism to be attacked in our classrooms.

Surrendering will most certainly have an impact on the direction and health of our society. By taking social issues off the Republican electoral agenda we will have effectively surrendered the legislative agenda to the Democrats. If Republicans aren’t willing to take a stand on the campaign trail will we, should we, expect them to take a stand on those issues in our legislative chambers and yes, in our courtrooms. And they are foolish who do not accept a certain level of inevitability (yes, slippery slope) to the direction our nation is headed. We would not have the debate over partial birth abortion (nor the horrors of the recent Gosnell case in Pennsylvania) without Roe v. Wade. Justice Scalia warned in his dissent in the Texas sodomy case (Lawrence v. Texas, 2003) not to believe the majority opinion when they said that it would not lead to same-sex marriage and was proven correct when that decision was later cited in the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision which first legalized same-sex marriage. He also warned us in the recent same-sex marriage U.S. Supreme Court case, United States v. Windsor not to believe the majority when they said it would not lead to striking down state laws protecting traditional marriage. This is not to say these things can’t be turned around but they certainly won’t be if their importance is ignored or belittled.

By backing down on these issues, it doesn’t mean that there is not a moral position. It means simply that we surrender to an opposite moral position, that of moral relativism and nihilism. The vacuum created by our silence (both as social conservatives and as conservative Republicans) will be filled by those with a much different agenda. Not only nature, but politics too, abhors a vacuum. Does anyone really believe that Republican silence on these issues, that locking out social conservatives from the Republican Party will not hasten these destructive social trends? Silence about social issues and these values is rejection of these values, in favor of a system of morality which has weakened our nation.

And its economy. These issues overlap with economic issues. Redistribution of income is really bad economics but why is it bad economics? Sure, there are the disincentives to work and the misallocation of resources. But the disincentive to work means that people lose the incentive to work to provide for their families, for fathers to remain with their families, to be fathers and teachers to their children. Is this a benign outcome? Of course not--even redistributionist-in-chief Barack Obama has stated that fathers are essential. And when fathers aren’t there, children are much more likely to grow up to become criminals, to go to prison, to use drugs, to become pregnant teenagers. Families break down. Senator Rick Santorum, writing in It Takes a Family reminded us that “[W]elfare enabled out of wedlock childbirth (because the financial and, over time, social consequences—i.e., shame—were not as devastating) and, conversely, made marriage unnecessary.” Daniel Moynihan, often described as a neo-conservative, warned us of these consequences to the black family in the 1960’s. Economic issues also become social issues.

Surrender on moral legislative issues is a tacit declaration that there is no objective moral order and effectively that government has no role in fostering integrity, character, honor, honesty. It is true government officials do a poor job of living up to those standards (and so do we all as human beings; it is the human condition) but the fact that they violate them doesn’t mean they don’t exist and that those standards should not be advanced. Have conservatives, and by extension the Republican Party, so lost touch with our intellectual forbears as to forget warnings such as that from Richard Weaver that our society “approach[es] a condition in which we shall be amoral without the capacity to perceive it and degraded without the means to measure our descent.” Are we only to offer a measuring stick, if that, for our decline. If Republicans look to ditch social conservatives they will lose even that barometer and will face only the storms. Wearing blinders to these issues will not make them go away, it will simply say “We don’t care.” And perhaps some don’t. It is they who are more fit for another party, that of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. And Anthony Weiner.

Republicans need to ask themselves, if they are ready to abandon those issues, whether they will stand up
to protect the free speech rights and religious liberties of social conservatives on them. There are many cases around the country where Americans have taken a stand against same-sex marriage and have then come under fire, lost jobs, been sued and charged by state/local “human rights commissions”. This is the real meaning of liberal “tolerance”. Is the Republican Party going to look the other way? Catholic charities were denied participation in Massachusetts adoption programs because they refused, due to religious principles, to place children with same-sex couples. People have been sued for not wishing to provide services such as photography for same-sex weddings. The Left is not looking for tolerance, they seek to impose uniformity. And now in the wake of the Windsor decision there is a renewed push in Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (a brainchild of the late Senator Edward Kennedy) which would add sexual orientation as a suspect classification, following the path of Justice Anthony Kennedy who, in his majority opinion in that decision, abandoned all precedent for such classifications. Social and religious conservatives have warned us for years that this measure would threaten the religious liberties and hiring choices not only of religious institutions but also religious individuals. Is this what the Republican Party will become once they’ve ditched “those embarrassing religious wackos”?

Current laws on marriage—as on anything else for that matter—reflect a particular view of morality. It is a view which understands that the purpose of marriage is to ensure that any children brought forth from that marriage are raised by their biological mother and father and is meant to ensure permanence, exclusivity, and fidelity between those parents. Marriage is under assault by another moral view which holds that this integral interest of children, and society, doesn’t matter, that laws on marriage must preserve equality and “equal access”, pushing aside the question of the purpose and definition of marriage. It is social conservatives who have been fighting the good fight on this issue. If Republicans abandon a framework validated by centuries of experience it is they who will be on the wrong side of history. The other side represents not simply deafness to moral questions but an entirely different moral framework.

Constitutional scholar Hadley Arkes said that “[T]he family is the first coiner of citizens, and it can never be a matter of moral indifference as to the moral norms on which children are begotten and in turn nurtured and shaped in their character.”

Social conservatives cannot expect moderates, establishment Republicans, libertarians or fiscal conservatives to prevail on these issues or even to engage the fight. They have no heart for it. Moderation on these issues opposes winning, ridicules the moral stances required to win and doesn’t understand the arguments even if it were temperamentally suited to make them. It doesn’t want to win, it only wants peace which means moral and intellectual disarmament while those on the other side are ready for, and have been engaged in, pitched battle. It means that as soon as the media begins its plea for moderation (only from our side) the moderates are with them and throw in the towel. When the principle you stand on is compromise the other side knows that and will continually be back for more. It is why Democrats and liberals push for radical ends while demanding moderation from our side.

The bottom line is that engaging on these issues, and across the gamut of issues conservatives are involved in, is to understand that liberalism is built on an edifice of lies. Egalitarianism. Moral relativism. Sexual libertinism. The welfare state. The mutability or even perfection of man’s nature. That poverty is in itself an evil whose elimination is the state’s responsibility. And to understand these are lies one must understand there are truths, and that there are moral truths as there are economic truths. And that a readiness to abandon those among us [Republicans] who represent moral truths is to give the field to lies.

Further, polls are not a measure of whether something is either moral or true. They are only and at best a measure of its popularity. Are polls then to determine Republicans’ readiness to stand for truth and for what truths we will stand? What other truths would these establishment Republicans abandon? Many counseled us to toss out “those pro-lifers, those single-issue voters” (by the way, polls, especially among young people are more pro-life now than at any time since Roe v. Wade—so much for inevitability). As we abandon one moral issue should we prepare to abandon others?

I daresay that among those who would encourage us to embrace and cherish the moral conscience represented by social conservatives are Dred Scott, Martin Luther King, Jr., George Washington, and Ronald Reagan. I’ll stand with them. I hope the Republican Party does the same.

Gene Wisdom is an Alabama native but has lived in the Nashville area since 2007. He, his wife Vicki, and their dog Savannah live near Nolensville. Gene is a conservative activist and leads the Conservative Fusion Book Club.

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