Social Conservatism vs Social Liberalism vs Freedom

 

Ann Coulter has a rip-roaring column up, arguing that the social issues are winners for conservatives even though the media and the establishment insist they’re not. It’s worth reading, and I suspect she’s about 80 percent right. But I can’t help thinking that the black/white, yes/no nature of media debate militates against wisdom in these matters. Should gays be allowed to marry or not? Should abortion be legal or not? Should there be prayer in school or not? The left always plays these issues as matters of freedom and equality, the right as questions of morality and strong communities. Am I alone in feeling caught in the middle?

What I want, in all of these issues, is liberty. I want our representatives to decide these things, not our judges; I want them decided locally not federally; and I want them subject to change by referendum – by voting the bums out and bringing in new bums to make new laws. This system works. Its failure to defeat Jim Crow is anomalous – a hard case that makes bad law. Racial rights should not serve as the model for every argument that follows. The Constitution should.

The question, as Thomas Sowell is always reminding us, is not right or wrong – it’s who decides? It ought to be the people’s representatives in their communities. Is anyone running on that platform, I wonder?

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  1. Profile Photo Inactive
    @CaseyTaylor

    They’re few and far between. I made the case at my last county GOP meeting – to stone silence – that this urge to federalize these huge social issues comes is wrong for a host of reasons, not least because it’s anti-federalist and extra-Constitutional. “That which governs best governs least,” right?

    All I got was crickets, then more talk about gay marriage.

    Why on Earth can we not stick to the basics? Economic freedom, national defense, cut the deficit, shrink the debt. DUH. Let us paeons sort the rest out down here at our level.

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    @TheMugwump

    I’ve been ruminating on this as well, Andrew. Maybe it would be best if the federal government left the decisions on social issues up to states and local communities. Let’s take gay marriage for example. It’s no business of the federal government or the judiciary. If a state’s electorate wants to offer a domestic partnership law that confers the benefits of marriage without explicitly calling it marriage, then so be it. If the couple in question can find clergy willing to marry them under the auspices of a specific church, then what business is it of government at any level? The state’s rights argument seems to me a winning strategy. Do we really want to legislate morality?

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    @

    Drew, I don’t think you’re alone in being in the middle–you have at least three friends there with you, me, Paules, and Casey!

    I wonder if conservatives have a hard time campaigning on the “leave social issues to the local government” platform because it is a less principled position. And let me explain what I mean by that. Don’t get me wrong: your argument rests on the principle of “liberty” (and separation of powers)–but your argument, which is the argument I happen to sympathize with, doesn’t deal with the meat of the social issues themselves. When we argue for local governance, we aren’t necessarily arguing for school prayer or against gay marriage–we’re making more of a procedural argument, acknowledging that the issue could go either way, depending on who gets elected.

    This laissez-faire attitude works with fiscal issues because the more liberty the better–but, some conservatives argue (like Robby George), it works less well with social issues, because the more liberty, the more social decay. That, to be clear, is their argument–or what I understand their argument to be–not mine.

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    @
    ~Paules: Do we really want to legislate morality? · Sep 23 at 7:54am

    That’s precisely it. And the answer to that, I think, is no.

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    @TheMugwump

    Emily Esfahani Smith, Ed. “This laissez-faire attitude works with fiscal issues because the more liberty the better–but, some conservatives argue (like Robby George), it works less well with social issues, because the more liberty, the more social decay. That, to be clear, is their argument–or what I understand their argument to be–not mine.”

    I’m somewhat sympathetic to this argument because I understand how my suggestion above gives license to decadence. On the other hand, the “laboratory of the states” argument suggests that we’ll know in time which system produces the better results. Besides, if I don’t like living in a liberal community, I have the option to move to a more conservative state, region, or neighborhood.

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    @livingthehighlife

    Add one more to “stuck in the middle”. I’m socially conservative, but I also believe the slippery slope of legislating morality could as easily result in laws I dislike as laws I like.

    And once we head down the legislative road, where do we stop? Who’s morality are we legislating? Mine, or someone else? And there’s no way a government can dabble in moral laws without restricting liberties. So what – as a social conservative – is more important to me? Freedom or regulating against what I believe are sinful behaviors?

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    @TommyDeSeno

    @Casey Taylor: I had the same experience with the county policial party, which in the end I determined was more about who gets what job than political philosphy.

    @ Paules: While I usually agree with your federlaist sentiment, let me ask: If I don’t want to give the US government so much power that they can decide who I marry, why would I want to give that much power to a State government? It’s all still power over liberty.

    @Emily: Isn’t the entire Criminal Code (criminal laws) in each state nothing more than a legislated morality?

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    @
    Casey Taylor: They’re few and far between. I made the case at my last county GOP meeting – to stone silence – that this urge to federalize these huge social issues comes is wrong for a host of reasons, not least because it’s anti-federalist and extra-Constitutional. “That which governs best governs least,” right?

    All I got was crickets, then more talk about gay marriage.

    I share your frustration. I’ve been arguing the Constitutional case for devolution of social issues to the states for years and years.

    But the same folks who say they want the Federal government out of their lives when it comes to, say, education or what kind of car they can drive, are absolutely determined that their own social views must be imposed upon other people, nationwide.

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    @AdamFreedman

    I don’t buy the argument that government shouldn’t legislate morality. In my view government does little else. The question is: what is the appropriate level of government to make a particular moral choice. I agree that federalizing social issues without a constitutional basis is a very bad trend — because every time you ignore the Constitution’s plain meaning it’s bad.

    But the constitution can change via amendments. On abortion, for example, I would be equally comfortable with either of two outcomes (1) reversing Roe and returning the issue to the states, or (2) amending the Constitution to provide that the word “person” in the 14th amendment includes the unborn. What I can’t abide is the current situation that pretends as though the Constitution addresses the issue.

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    @EJHill
    Emily Esfahani Smith, Ed. and ~Paules: Do we really want to legislate morality?

    This phrase is a pet peeve of mine. Why? Because, with all due respect, it is intellectual laziness.

    Morality is not just about sex, it is at its essence your core beliefs about what is right and what is wrong. The law, therefore, is nothing more than the collective morality of the nation or a community. A legislator stands up and says, “I think ‘X’ is wrong and there should be a law against it,” or “I think ‘Y’ is an excellent idea and should be encouraged.”

    If you don’t want to be in the business of declaring what’s right and wrong then why are you interested in politics?

    Now, some counter that morality is about religion. No, it can be a source, but they are not interchangeable. I’ve known immoral believers and moral atheists.

    A moral person knows the difference between right and wrong and strives to do right, the immoral person knows the difference and does the wrong thing anyway. The amoral person doesn’t know the difference. An amoral nation is not preferable, either.

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    @BillMcGurn
    Andrew Klavan: What I want, in all of these issues, is liberty. I want our representatives to decide these things, not our judges; I want them decided locally not federally; and I want them subject to change by referendum – by voting the bums out and bringing in new bums to make new laws. This system works. Its failure to defeat Jim Crow is anomalous – a hard case that makes bad law. Racial rights should not serve as the model for every argument that follows. The Constitution should.

    Practically speaking, this should be the focus on the campaign. My experience, however, is that the left does not trust the people — and that they are increasingly unreceptive to this idea because they believe the courts are their only option. As Scalia put it, even the losers in a fair vote have a sense of having been heard, having had a chance to persuade their fellow citizens, etc. Returning these issues to the states would take a lot of the sting out of politics.

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    @

    I suppose, for me, that there’s a difference between legislation that promotes the social order (criminal code), and also happens to be moral, as opposed legislation that is solely designed for moral ends (abstinence ed, for instance). I realize that this is a sliding scale, though–which is why it’s so tricky!

    Tommy De Seno: @Emily: Isn’t the entire Criminal Code (criminal laws) in each state nothing more than a legislated morality? · Sep 23 at 8:32am

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    @
    ~Paules: Emily Esfahani Smith, Ed. I’m somewhat sympathetic to this argument because I understand how my suggestion above gives license to decadence. On the other hand, the “laboratory of the states” argument suggests that we’ll know in time which system produces the better results. Besides, if I don’t like living in a liberal community, I have the option to move to a more conservative state, region, or neighborhood. · Sep 23 at 8:12am

    Edited on Sep 23 at 08:14 am

    Paules, I agree with you–decadence is certainly nothing to aspire to.

    EJHill

    Emily Esfahani Smith, Ed. and ~Paules: Do we really want to legislate morality?

    This phrase is a pet peeve of mine. Why? Because, with all due respect, it is intellectual laziness.

    Edited on Sep 23 at 08:50 am

    EJHill — I see your point here, and it is the point I was dancing around when I wrote about “principles” in my earlier post on this thread.

    • #13
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    @TheMugwump

    @ Paules: While I usually agree with your federlaist sentiment, let me ask: If I don’t want to give the US government so much power that they can decide who I marry, why would I want to give that much power to a State government? It’s all still power over liberty.

    The power of a state to legislate is still vested in the people and expressed in the state’s constitution. Maybe the good people of Rhode Island would specifically bar state government from legislating on gay marriage. A more conservative state, like Utah, might specifically bar the state from endorsing gay marriage or its equivalent. It’s in the nature of representative government that the majority will sometimes restrict or deny the rights of the minority. It’s one of those insoluble conundrums of democracy. The best we can do is recognize the pendulum effect as the issues are publicly debated. Hopefully resulting in some sort of middle ground all can agree on.

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    @AaronMiller
    Adam Freedman: I don’t buy the argument that government shouldn’t legislate morality. In my view government does little else. The question is: what is the appropriate level of government to make a particular moral choice.

    Agreed. Every law we have is essentially a practice of ethics — application of general moral principles to specific circumstances. We can no more legislate without relying on moral views than we could build a house without debating what materials to use and what shape the house should take. Morality is almost entirely concerned with society. What are our relationships? Why and how should we honor them?

    By all means, argue that the proper role of government is local and limited. But don’t include in that argument the plainly ridiculous claim that government should not involve morality. Morality is entirely the purpose of government. Morals are social values. Freedom is a moral consideration.

    The very creation of government is an exchange of freedoms. As Americans, we believe individual liberty benefits all of society, but it does none of us any good to talk as if freedom is an absolute value.

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    @TommyDeSeno

    In the phrase “all men are created equal” there is no room for one state to be more restrictive of liberty and one state to be less restrictive.

    In the Declaration of Independence, Freedom was declared to be “unalienable” by all government, with no exception for state, county or municipal government.

    Don’t tread on me – no matter who elected you.

    • #16
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    @TheMugwump

    EJHill: “This phrase is a pet peeve of mine. Why? Because, with all due respect, it is intellectual laziness.”

    I will refer you to An Act for Establishing Religious Freedom by Thomas Jefferson wherein the founding father makes the case that government simply doesn’t have the wisdom to establish a state religion. He leaves the decision to a matter of individual conscience. I would say that in some cases moral distinctions must be left as a matter of individual conscience as well. And yet we do legislate collectively. A conundrum? You bet.

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    @EJHill
    Kenneth But the same folks…are absolutely determined that their own social views must be imposed upon other people, nationwide.

    All law, by nature, is an imposition. Leaving each person to his own code is anarchy.

    The thing must be remembered about social conservatism is that, while religion might be a source for such values, faith is not essential. One can easily be an atheist and believe that life begins at conception or believe that limiting marriage between the sexes has a societal benefit.

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    @AaronMiller

    In regard to abortion, the same reasoning that applied to slavery during the Civil War applies here. Slavery is such an egregious offense that one state cannot idly allow another state to continue the practice. As human beings, we are obligated to do what we can to secure at least the most basic freedoms for neighbors not belonging to our own society. If abortion is always the killing of an innocent human being, then it is genocide — millions are killed every year in our nation. One state is not obligated to permit another to allow or promote genocide.

    However, that does not address practicality. As we’ve discussed before, opposition to abortion might be most effective at the local level.

    Abortion opponents cannot conscientiously set the issue aside. What can be done (like stopping Obama’s promotion of abortions in Africa) should be done. But the case can be put to social conservatives that focusing on reducing government is the best means by which to protect the unborn.

    • #19
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    @EJHill
    Tommy De Seno: In the phrase “all men are created equal” there is no room for one state to be more restrictive of liberty and one state to be less restrictive.

    While a marvelous piece of prose, the Declaration is not law and not in any way a Constitutional defense.

    And of course one state can be be more restrictive on your liberty than another. One can allow you to carry a concealed weapon and another may forbid it. Just as one state may confiscate more of your earnings than another through varying tax codes. You are both free to vote at the ballot box and also vote with your feet and seek the liberty you desire.

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    @MichaelTee
    Emily Esfahani Smith, Ed. : I wonder if conservatives have a hard time campaigning on the “leave social issues to the local government” platform because it is a less principled position. And let me explain what I mean by that. Don’t get me wrong: your argument rests on the principle of “liberty” (and separation of powers)–but your argument, which is the argument I happen to sympathize with, doesn’t deal with the meat of the social issues themselves. When we argue for local governance, we aren’t necessarily arguing for school prayer or against gay marriage–we’re making more of a procedural argument, acknowledging that the issue could go either way, depending on who gets elected.

    Edited on Sep 23 at 07:57 am

    Federalism. Laboratories of democracy. The Ninth and Tenth Amendments.

    That’s the argument.

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    @MichaelTee

    Oh and Thomas Sowell tells us a lot what is right and wrong.

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    @

    What is it about some social cons that renders them unable to sleep at night, fearing that in some state, 3000 miles away, some guy might marry an Alpaca and settle down for the evening with a big, fat, doobie?

    And would folks who oppose gays in the military really, in an airport, be prepared to approach a group of our troops and say, “I’d just like to say thank you for your service…except for you, because you look awfully queer”?

    • #23
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    @MichaelTee
    Emily Esfahani Smith, Ed.

    ~Paules: Do we really want to legislate morality? · Sep 23 at 7:54am

    That’s precisely it. And the answer to that, I think, is no. · Sep 23 at 8:00am

    We legislate morality all the time. It’s written in the Founding Documents. The limits on the government established in the First Amendment is a moral argument.

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    @
    Michael Tee

    Emily Esfahani Smith, Ed. : I wonder if conservatives have a hard time campaigning on the “leave social issues to the local government” platform because it is a less principled position. And let me explain what I mean by that. Don’t get me wrong: your argument rests on the principle of “liberty” (and separation of powers)–but your argument, which is the argument I happen to sympathize with, doesn’t deal with the meat of the social issues themselves. When we argue for local governance, we aren’t necessarily arguing for school prayer or against gay marriage–we’re making more of a procedural argument, acknowledging that the issue could go either way, depending on who gets elected.

    Edited on Sep 23 at 07:57 am

    Federalism. Laboratories of democracy. The Ninth and Tenth Amendments.

    That’s the argument. · Sep 23 at 9:34am

    Watch out, Michael: you’re agreeing with me again.

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    @TheMugwump
    Kenneth: What is it about some social cons that renders them unable to sleep at night, fearing that in some state, 3000 miles away, some guy might marry an Alpaca and settle down for the evening with a big, fat, doobie?

    And would folks who oppose gays in the military really, in an airport, be prepared to approach a group of our troops and say, “I’d just like to say thank you for your service…except for you, because you look awfully queer”? · Sep 23 at 9:38am

    The courts have ruled that school principals have the right to restrict student speech based on a collective right to an orderly learning environment. If “gays in the military” ever makes its way to the Supreme Court, you can bet that someone is going to argue that unit discipline and cohesion requires gay soldiers keep their preferences to themselves. I’m not a lawyer, but I can anticipate the argument.

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    @EJHill
    Kenneth: What is it about some social cons that renders them unable to sleep at night, fearing that in some state, 3000 miles away, some guy might marry an Alpaca and settle down for the evening with a big, fat, doobie?

    Because somewhere, 3000 miles away from me, the guy with the Llama might sit on the California State School Board, an organization that has undue influence on text books across the country because of the sheer volume of their purchases, that’s why.

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    @TheMugwump

    Kenneth

    What is it about some social cons that renders them unable to sleep at night, fearing that in some state, 3000 miles away, some guy might marry an Alpaca and settle down for the evening with a big, fat, doobie?

    An alpaca is just a gay camel. The question is whether or not they should be allowed to serve openly in the military.

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    @TommyDeSeno

    EJ Hill said:

    While a marvelous piece of prose, the Declaration is not law and not in any way a Constitutional defense.

    The first day of law school they told us that very thing. I reject it today as strongly as then.

    While technically not a piece of legislation, the Declaration of Independence is above legislation: It’s “the construct.” It was the rules set up to be followed in drafting the Articles of Confederation and Constitution.

    Neither were intended to violate enlightenment principles of the Declaration – rather to support them.

    The problem with the Articles of Confederation was that it left too much power to the states. That is why our beloved Federalists Hamilton, Madison and Jay argued for the Constitution, and why they are known as “Federalists” and not “anti-Federalists.”

    With issues like abortion and marriage, I never understand why people who self-identify as small government conservatives and Federalist paper followers, in an attempt to disallow the national government power over them, are willing to trust State government with that power, something that Hamilton, Madison and Jay wouldn’t do.

    My rights were endowed by my Creator – not other men or their laws – State or Federal.

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    @MichaelTee
    Kenneth: What is it about some social cons that renders them unable to sleep at night, fearing that in some state, 3000 miles away, some guy might marry an Alpaca and settle down for the evening with a big, fat, doobie?

    And would folks who oppose gays in the military really, in an airport, be prepared to approach a group of our troops and say, “I’d just like to say thank you for your service…except for you, because you look awfully queer”? · Sep 23 at 9:38am

    1. The preservation of society and its norms?

    2. Unit cohesion. Elite military units don’t have women for this very reason.

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