Secular Conservatism, Libertarians, Progressives, and Marriage

 

I take conservatism to be an appreciation and defense of what has been proven to work, and which benefits society and the individual in a balance.

If that seems overly-broad, let me provide an example.  Morality is effective in curbing largely destructive impulses and reactions, therefore morality is worth defending in principle, with some room for debate on many fronts.  Not all morality is the same, and it is not always helpful in the particulars.  But to hold that morality is not a necessary part of society is anti-conservative in my view, as morality is the most tested method for a society to control its own behavior with respect for the society and the individual in balance. 

Libertarianism is a radical extreme that places no value on society as a body, and progressivism is a radical extreme that places no value on the individual.  Conservatism is the compromise position arrived at through experience, and stored in our cultural traditions as the wisdom of the ages.  To a secular conservative, the Bible is one of many instruments to this end.  Just because there is a religious proscription against adultery doesn’t mean that only religious people can defend a belief that adultery is harmful to individuals and society.  Likewise with other religious proscriptions.

Religion is, of course, a large component of the conservative movement, but philosophically it is not a necessary component of a thoroughly conservative position.  Not even for marriage.  I view the partnership between religion and conservatism as a co-development from a common origin.  Shared predicates yield shared conclusions, and therefore common interest.  Where religion ascribes things to God, secular conservatism agrees to the extent that it is destructive of society and the individual for mankind to mess with certain things.  Progressivism on the other hand is the confidence that a small group of people in the present know better than (on the one hand) everybody else across time, and better than (on the Other hand) God in His infinite wisdom.  Secular conservatism and religion get along just fine as defenders of our culture.

I see value in describing much of libertarianism as allied with progressivism, because conservatism is where the middle is, and to pull us off that mark either this way or that is just as destructive.  If a movement seeks to abolish our traditions as proven over time, it is not conservatism.  Progressivism and libertarianism get along just fine as disruptors of our culture.

There is already a philosophical position consistent with conservatism which enshrines human rights and the liberty of the individual: it is called conservatism.

Now, not every tradition is valuable, and a slavish devotion to traditions which are not good is not conservatism; that’s mechanism, on the process level.  Radical opposition to a flawed and failing government is not anti-conservative, but radical opposition to the institutions of our culture, most definitely is.

For example, you could argue that big spending by government is now a tradition and that it is therefore conservative to defend it and radical to oppose it, but this is wrong for a number of reasons.  First, it may be a tradition, but empirically it has not been proven to be a useful one.  Some spending is necessary, some spending is excessive — making judgements is important, and at any rate, even if all projects were equally worthy, the sheer sum of spending which displaces other worthy but non-government projects must be taken into account and weighed for relative merit.  Big spending is anti-conservative because it is destructive.

Second, the dependencies come to play in that objects and policies are not the only subjects to be appreciated and defended.  The decision to spend less is no less valuable than the process by which we arrive at that decision, and its implications.  If we feel that the accumulated wisdom vouchsafed in our culture is probably more valuable as a guide for society (in the aggregate) than the intellect spawned in a few brilliant fellows, then a process which lends itself to operation gently over time by many rather than abruptly, once, by the few is an inherently conservative method of arriving at conclusions.  Big spending is anti-conservative because it operates through an anti-conservative process.

As the free market is operated gently by many, and government spending is operated forcefully by few, any problem not specifically recommended for government remedy is probably better handled outside of government.  So no matter how “traditional” big spending may have become, it is not conservative in itself, and it is not conservative to defend it merely because it is the status quo.

Marriage pre-dates any law.  It simply is, and it is between one man and one woman.  This may sound circular, or like a “no true Scot” defense, but I assert it as a foundational fact.   Marriage is not produced by law any more than our rights are.  Marriage is enshrined and defended by law in our culture, and if the law should fall, marriage would remain, just as our rights do.  The law does not trump marriage.

This should not be too alarming; conservatism is a platform, a set of positions.  Some planks rest upon others and not all must be as heavily pedigreed.  I hold that marriage is a foundational plank in the conservative platform.  I hold that marriage is an emergent cultural defense against various destructive impulses and reactions, including those of jealous males, engineering females, and hostile out-group sentiment.  Good manners are a defense against some offenses which can become lethal, and marriage is a defense against outrage.

Humans are sexual beings (as our grade-schoolers are reminded every minute by government busybodies), and many of our impulses and reactions are not rational in the way we would like, no matter how logical they may be from a chromosome’s point of view.  As manners are typically maintained by society itself, morality is often maintained by religion as a specific example of a philosophy operating in context.

As the male-female pairing is not up for debate in conservatism (I challenge you to convince me that it is not what has been proven to work), so the societal adaptation which defends it is a necessary component of conservatism.  I realize that many “conservatives” disagree with this, but they are mistaken about either their conservatism or their conclusions.

Published in General
Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Join Ricochet for Free.

There are 716 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Asquared Inactive
    Asquared
    @ASquared

    The King Prawn: And when society becomes abusive to the individual and liberty then what? It’s not like pulling up stakes and leaving the western society is really an option. 

     I guess I fail to see how “society” can become abusive to individual liberty.  

    Can you elaborate?

    • #31
  2. hawk@haakondahl.com Inactive
    hawk@haakondahl.com
    @BallDiamondBall

    Misthiocracy:

    Libertarianism is a radical extreme that places no value on society as a body…

    “Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all.” – Frederic Bastiat

     I agree with this and it is actually a plank in my own conception of conservatism.  So I am puzzled by the accusation that I have conflated the two (by way of a third term, “nation” which  I assume means “state” in this context). 
    We have a culture and there are several of us.  We insitute a govewrnment to protect not only our physical well-being, but our society.  Recent libertarian arguments posit that the government has no right to apply security at our borders.
    I am not conflating society with government.  I recognize that government did not spring into being through magic, but that our society instituted it intentionally to protect us as individuals and as a group.  This scandalizes libertarians.

    • #32
  3. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Jamie Lockett: Morality and the institutions that support it, be they family or religion, are not a primary topic of libertarianism because libertarians believe the government has no role in enforcing morals or establishing the institutions that do. This is because The State is uniquely bad at this and any attempt by the state to do so pushes us ever so much closer to tyranny.

    I accept your description of libertarian thinking. But, one of BDB’s points was that the institution of marriage predates government — certainly here in America. If the State is uniquely bad at establishing institutions which uphold certain societal norms, are you arguing that licensed male/female marriage prior to the SSM movement was “bad” for individuals and society — and was leading us ever closer to tyranny?

    This is where I lose track of the libertarian thread… sorry, but that line of thinking is incoherent to me. Especially since SSM is a leap forward for the Left in suppressing religious freedom.

    I would like to clarify our conservative/libertarian differences, as I don’t believe we’re capable of convincing each other.

    • #33
  4. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Asquared: I guess I fail to see how “society” can become abusive to individual liberty. Can you elaborate?

    Let’s take the marriage example. Imagine if government had absolutely nothing to do with marriage. Marriage would then remain the purview of faith communities (undeniably social insitutions) which have traditionally held to the traditional, gender based definition of marriage. Who would then marry gays one to another?  

    • #34
  5. Majestyk Contributor
    Majestyk
    @Majestyk

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Conservatism is a big tent, but it’s not infinite and neither should it be. If there is an extreme of individuality, it is contained within libertarianism and not in conservatism. Likewise of communality and progressivism. Sound like a real middle, not a false one.

    Don’t be so fatalistic.

    As a secular conservative/libertarian I find there is plenty of room in the tent of the Republican party for me.  Part of being in a coalition party means that everybody has to sacrifice a bit of principle on either end of the spectrum.  I find myself being pinched at the libertarian end of my tendencies and pulled at the conservative side all the time by the vehicle of the Republican party.  That’s just part of the deal.

    We need the energy which the Libertarian wing brings if nothing else.  It makes for a more interesting party if nothing else – we need a larger coalition if we’re going to beat the Democrats, not a smaller, more ideologically pure one.

    • #35
  6. Majestyk Contributor
    Majestyk
    @Majestyk

    The King Prawn:

    Asquared: I guess I fail to see how “society” can become abusive to individual liberty. Can you elaborate?

    Let’s take the marriage example. Imagine if government had absolutely nothing to do with marriage. Marriage would then remain the purview of faith communities (undeniably social insitutions) which have traditionally held to the traditional, gender based definition of marriage. Who would then marry gays one to another?

     The United Methodist Church.

    • #36
  7. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    The King Prawn:

    Asquared: I guess I fail to see how “society” can become abusive to individual liberty. Can you elaborate?

    Let’s take the marriage example. Imagine if government had absolutely nothing to do with marriage. Marriage would then remain the purview of faith communities (undeniably social insitutions) which have traditionally held to the traditional, gender based definition of marriage. Who would then marry gays one to another?

    You don’t have a right to another person’s services or approval.  Refusal to perform someone’s marriage isn’t harm by any reasonable definition.  

    • #37
  8. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Libertarianism is a radical extreme that places no value on society as a body, 

    Can you define “society” for us?
    Additionally: Who makes up “society”?

    • #38
  9. hawk@haakondahl.com Inactive
    hawk@haakondahl.com
    @BallDiamondBall

    Valiuth:

    Society as I think you mean it Ball is the emergent product of the actions and values of its constituent individuals. Society essentially represents the sum of individuals and the consensus that they reach however uneasy that consensus maybe. Society is dynamic and changing not just because individuals are dynamic, but mostly because individuals are transient and the consensus propagates through imperfect transmission. So as generations are born and die the consensus in a group can and will shift simply due to transmission errors between generations.

     Society as I mean it has much more memory than that, and while there is a natural, built-in tension between young and old, those who choose to mature wind up with a position remarkably similar to most of those who have gone beofre.  I hold that society is inherently conservative, and that powerful externalities (foreign, hostile, or incompatible forces) and perversions (self-loathing, nihilism, despair)  must be brought to bear in order to suppress a culture’s defenses.
    I do not subscribe to “living document” Constitutional theology, and I do not feel that culture is an instant in a majority.

    • #39
  10. Asquared Inactive
    Asquared
    @ASquared

    The King Prawn: Let’s take the marriage example. Imagine if government had absolutely nothing to do with marriage. Marriage would then remain the purview of faith communities (undeniably social insitutions) which have traditionally held to the traditional, gender based definition of marriage. Who would then marry gays one to another?  

     Gays can create their own churches that will marry them.  I don’t see that as a limitation of individual liberty.

    • #40
  11. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Majestyk: The United Methodist Church.

    The UMC has long followed the herd rather than shepherding the flock. Thier change was based more on political expediency than on theological enlightenment. (I argue with my brother, the UMC pastor, about such things all the time.)

    • #41
  12. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    The King Prawn:

    Asquared: I guess I fail to see how “society” can become abusive to individual liberty. Can you elaborate?

    Let’s take the marriage example. Imagine if government had absolutely nothing to do with marriage. Marriage would then remain the purview of faith communities (undeniably social insitutions) which have traditionally held to the traditional, gender based definition of marriage. Who would then marry gays one to another?

     How is this a thing?  Lots of non-religious people get married.  It isn’t a believers-only club.

    • #42
  13. hawk@haakondahl.com Inactive
    hawk@haakondahl.com
    @BallDiamondBall

    Fred Cole:

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Libertarianism is a radical extreme that places no value on society as a body,

    Can you define “society” for us? Additionally: Who makes up “society”?

    Hmmm, good question.  Try this:  Society is those people who have instituted a government among themsleves to guard their persons and their culture from invasions and impositions of foreign ways of life.  Oh, and borders.

    • #43
  14. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    The King Prawn:

    Frank Soto: False middles are awful rhetorical tricks, not only because of how poorly they reflect reality, but because of the condescension that lays behind them. It is saying that everyone but those who hold your opinion are not only wrong, but unreasonable. Only you and those who think like you are in their right brain.

    You’re still arguing against a rhetorical device and not against the concept being abused by it. Strain out the point and battle that.

     Why does Frank have to explain why he doesn’t beat his wife exactly?

    • #44
  15. Majestyk Contributor
    Majestyk
    @Majestyk

    Frank Soto:

    You don’t have a right to another person’s services or approval. Refusal to perform someone’s marriage isn’t harm by any reasonable definition.

     While I agree with you, what is the limiting principle there – what if you refuse on the basis of that person’s race?  Does that right of refusal (under the reasonable heading of freedom of association) extend to your Lunch Counter?  

    • #45
  16. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Frank Soto: You don’t have a right to another person’s services or approval. Refusal to perform someone’s marriage isn’t harm by any reasonable definition.

     In theory, perhaps. In practice, no. Otherwise gays in Washington State would have be happy with the “everything but marriage” amendment.

    • #46
  17. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Fred Cole:

    Ball Diamond Ball:

    Libertarianism is a radical extreme that places no value on society as a body,

    Can you define “society” for us? Additionally: Who makes up “society”?

    Hmmm, good question. Try this: Society is those people who have instituted a government among themsleves to guard their persons and their culture from invasions and impositions of foreign ways of life. Oh, and borders.

     Okay, so society is the government?  Or just the people who instituted the government?  Or just the supporters of the government?

    • #47
  18. Asquared Inactive
    Asquared
    @ASquared

    The King Prawn:  In theory, perhaps. In practice, no. Otherwise gays in Washington State would have be happy with the “everything but marriage” amendment.

     They are unhappy with that solely because they want to force their views on everyone else, not because the religion of others violates their individual liberties.

    • #48
  19. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Fred Cole: How is this a thing? Lots of non-religious people get married. It isn’t a believers-only club.

     They still meet the requirements of the churches performing the marriages, i.e. male/female pairing.

    • #49
  20. Majestyk Contributor
    Majestyk
    @Majestyk

    The King Prawn:

    Majestyk: The United Methodist Church.

    The UMC has long followed the herd rather than shepherding the flock. Thier change was based more on political expediency than on theological enlightenment. (I argue with my brother, the UMC pastor, about such things all the time.)

     Hey, I’m not arguing with you, those guys have gone off the rails as far as I’m concerned – I’m just saying that whatever the reasons, civil society already contains those elements who will perform that exact service for gays.

    Unfortunately, we’re finding ourselves in the position of fighting a war which was lost before it even began.

    • #50
  21. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Mike H: Why does Frank have to explain why he doesn’t beat his wife exactly?

     He might as well have dismissed the color of BDB’s hair and been just as effective at refuting the point being made.

    • #51
  22. user_653084 Inactive
    user_653084
    @SalvatorePadula

    The King Prawn: I think it is the “flexibility” of the obligations in which libertarians and conservatives differ mostly. A libertarian can wake up on the wrong side of his head one day and opt out of the society which he had previously adhered himself to because by gosh he’s a free individual.

     I don’t think that’s quite accurate. Most libertarians (genuine anarchists excepted) follow a social contractarian theory of the polity under which a person is obligated to abide by the laws of the polity in which he lives. It’s true that he can choose to leave that polity for another, but that is an option available under most any political theory. The distinction between conservatives and libertarians relative to societal obligations isn’t about the degree of freedom an individual has to opt out of his obligations. It’s about the extent of the obligations society imposes on an individual.

    • #52
  23. Asquared Inactive
    Asquared
    @ASquared

    Majestyk:

    Frank Soto:

    You don’t have a right to another person’s services or approval. Refusal to perform someone’s marriage isn’t harm by any reasonable definition.

    While I agree with you, what is the limiting principle there – what if you refuse on the basis of that person’s race? Does that right of refusal (under the reasonable heading of freedom of association) extend to your Lunch Counter?

     Why is race any different?

    The problem with Jim Crow laws wasn’t freedom of association, it was that governments enforced laws that objectively did violate people’s individual liberties.  

    I have zero problem with a restaurant owner not wanting to serve anybody for any reason.  I have a lot of problems with the government telling that restaurant owner that must or must not serve people based on the color of their skin.

    • #53
  24. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Asquared: They are unhappy with that solely because they want to force their views on everyone else, not because the religion of others violates their individual liberties.

     They want society to reflect their values rather than have their values conform to society. That sounds exactly like BDB’s main contention with progressives.

    • #54
  25. Frank Soto Contributor
    Frank Soto
    @FrankSoto

    The King Prawn:

    Mike H: Why does Frank have to explain why he doesn’t beat his wife exactly?

    He might as well have dismissed the color of BDB’s hair and been just as effective at refuting the point being made.

     May I ask what point you think was being made?

    • #55
  26. Asquared Inactive
    Asquared
    @ASquared

    The King Prawn:

    Asquared: They are unhappy with that solely because they want to force their views on everyone else, not because the religion of others violates their individual liberties.

    They want society to reflect their values rather than have their values conform to society. That sounds exactly like BDB’s main contention with progressives.

     So, you agree that they want to violate other people’s rights to choose their own values.  

    • #56
  27. user_653084 Inactive
    user_653084
    @SalvatorePadula

    Misthiocracy:

    Libertarianism is a radical extreme that places no value on society as a body…

    “Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all.” – Frederic Bastiat

     Just wanted to like this twice.

    • #57
  28. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Frank Soto: May I ask what point you think was being made?

     Progressivism will normally (always?) sacrifice the individual and libertarianism will normally (always?) sacrifice society if there is a conflict between individual liberty and social order/stability. Conservatism acknowledges no default choice. (There’s more to it, but that’s the footnote version.)

    • #58
  29. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    Salvatore Padula: It’s about the extent of the obligations society imposes on an individual.

     The realistic difficulty of selecting a different society or polity makes the obligations imposed by society rather absolute, no?

    • #59
  30. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    The King Prawn:

    Asquared: But it absolutely NOT true that libertarianism places no value on society, it places MORE value on society than government.

    And when society becomes abusive to the individual and liberty then what? It’s not like pulling up stakes and leaving the western society is really an option.

    Actually, if it wasn’t for government it would be possible to pull up stakes and move to a more remote geographical area. If I didn’t like the culture, rules, and taxes of the city I could move to the country. Unfortunately, thanks to government, the number of rules and the severity of taxes are just as onerous in the country as they are in the city, so why bother?

    The founders understood the importance of the ability to vote with one’s feet, which is why they tried to make it easy for citizens to do.  Modern progressives also understand the importance of the ability to vote with one’s feet, which is why they try to make it as difficult and futile as possible.

    • #60
Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.