As Republicans bicker over who is or is not a "real conservative," some people want to write social conservatives-mainly Christians concerned with moral issues-out of the conservative movement.
True conservatism, according to this line, has to do with free-market, pro-business economics; a smaller government; and personal liberty. Christians fighting against a woman's right to choose an abortion are violating the principle of individual liberty, and the social conservatives opposing gay marriage want to bring the government into the bedroom.
While true political and economic conservatives will protect the rights of religious people, so the thinking goes, religiously informed moral beliefs have no place in the political arena. Nor should the government ever be so powerful that it can shape the culture, which must be free to develop according to its own dynamics.
Think-tank scholar Jeffrey Bell, however, in an article in The Weekly Standard argues that American-style social conservatism plays a crucial and necessary role in contemporary politics.
Bell points out, among other things, that it is not just social conservatives who have a cultural agenda. The true agenda of the left is not so much economic or big-government as cultural. And someone needs to oppose it.
While the last century's conflict with Marxism and socialism was indeed a battle over economics and against totalitarianism, Bell sees those ideologies as only one manifestation of a larger leftist tide.
Originally, beginning with Rousseau, the left had little to say about economics, promoting instead ending monarchy, circumscribing religion, and questioning the traditional family. "The striking thing about the history of the left," says Bell, "is its singleness of vision amid a breathtaking variety of means. The goal of the left is the liberation of mankind from traditional institutions and codes of behavior, especially moral codes. It seeks a restoration (or achievement) of a state of nature, one of absolute individual liberty-universal happiness without the need for laws."
While many conservatives in Europe and the United States focus on free-market economics and small government, they do not realize that hard-core leftists do not really care much about such things. Meanwhile, the social liberals march through the culture largely unopposed, often accompanied by economic and political conservatives.
Small government, free economics, and personal liberty are indeed important, but they rest on a cultural infrastructure and cannot survive in Rousseau's nihilistic state of nature.
This is why social conservatives are so important, not only to the conservative political movement but to the nation as a whole. There is no one else to counter the left's assault on not just Western culture but culture itself.
Comments? Email Ed Veith at firstname.lastname@example.org