Saturday, February 23, 2008

My Appeal to Social Conservatives

I've been holding off on posting on this for a couple of days as I've wanted the idea to solidify itself in my mind. I'm sufficiently pleased that it has, and it's time, I think, to get after it.

This post is a critique and an appeal to people who consider themselves social conservatives. My critique will center on the role of government in the eyes of social conservatives, and my appeal will be to reject this view and embrace a balanced government perspective.

Disclaimer: while I would describe myself as "socially conservative" I would not call myself a "social conservative" because the former describes one's views on morality and the latter is a description of one's political philosophy. The socially conservative person holds traditional ideas about family, religion, marriage, life and society. These are all admirable and desirable values, necessary to a healthy and strong society. The self-described social conservative holds those ideas; yet also views the role of "government" as one of advancing those ideas.

The problem with this idea is that morality's basis - and really its ability to continue as a strong and invulnerable cornerstone of society - comes from the smallest spheres of government. A moral and socially conservative society is a reflection of a moral and socially conservative people. To create such a society (and I think we'd all acknowledge that we're less so today than we were 20, 40, or 60 years ago) requires self-government. Creating distant, external forces intended to encourage social conservatism is a lot like creating distant, external forces intended to encourage any form of positive social change (think reducing poverty, encouraging education). It's ineffective and inconsistent with the design of our republic.

In short, while distant external government shouldn't be supportive of immorality or policies that are destructive to society, beyond the extent that it serves to protect the inalienable rights of citizens (such as life), it should be silent on most issues; they are the domain of the smallest spheres of government. The debate has been framed entirely incorrectly. Social conservatives, tired of external government imposing liberal ideas upon them, have elected to act using the same liberal tactic, to impose their views.

So here's my pitch to social conservatives: reject social (and "compassionate") conservatism and consider balanced government. Social conservatism should be a goal, not a tactic. There's no other political philosophy I am aware of that can potentially foster the re-birth of self-government like balanced government, gradually and inevitably. And really, that's the best guarantor of a socially conservative society: self-governing people, self-governing families, and self-governing communities.


Sunflower Desert said...

Hi Michael,

I've always considered myself to be a social conservative, yet I do not desire to force my values on other people through the government.

In short, while distant external government shouldn't be supportive of immorality or policies that are destructive to society, beyond the extent that it serves to protect the inalienable rights of citizens (such as life), it should be silent on most issues; they are the domain of the smallest spheres of government.

I agree 100%, I think. Not sure exactly what the term compassionate conservative means, but if it has anything to do with increasing government social programs, I'm against it.

I want to see the unborn protected. Even if this means some woman has to be inconvenienced by carrying her baby to term. I don't think we have the right to end a life simply because that life happens to be growing in someone else's body. I'm also against embryonic stem cell research. Are we on the same page?

I don't want to see children in school forced to pray at certain times, yet I do not want any child of mine told they cannot pray when they want.

Does this mean that I am socially conservative, yet not a social conservative?

Great post.

Michael Tams said...

Hi SD,

Thanks for the comments. The difference is evident when you speak to people on social issues. While I'm socially conservative, that's not my political philosophy; it's merely a description of my views on morals, culture and modern society.

(BTW, I use the term "American Federalism" fairly interchangeably with "Balanced Government" when discussing political philosophy. AF is a term that the folks who write here came up with to describe the Declaration-centric view of the purpose of government and the Federalist Papers-centric view of the proper structure/balance of powers between spheres.)

There are a lot of people who identify with GWB and "compassionate conservatism." This moniker is used to describe people who identify themselves nominally as conservatives (perhaps they are pro-defense and pro-free markets) yet also think that No Child Left Behind and the Prescription Drug Benefit program were excellent examples of government working.

You and I are on the same page on life issues. To me, the Declaration is the founding document of this republic, and we are endowed with rights from our Creator. Fewer and fewer people believe that, which I find quite remarkable. One of these rights is life. These rights cannot be taken from one class of persons by another class of persons even if the second class are popularly referred to as "mothers."

If you think that you and your family are the best guarantors for the morality of your home, your progeny, and your community, then you're socially conservative (another term for this is traditionalist).

While I admit that there's some degree of splitting hairs with language here, the important thing is the difference between one's views on morals vs. one's views on political philosophy. The latter needs to be informed by things greater than what the prevailing cultural issues are at this moment.

A curious alliance exists between social conservatives and neoconservatives, based upon their shared view of government. In their view, it is not bad for the federal government to be hyper powerful (imbalanced, in my vernacular). As long as its power is focused on the "right" things, this is good government. As you can probably guess, I reject this as destructive and counterproductive to the continued survival of the Republic. Imbalanced government, like what we have today, is bad, bad, bad, bad, BAD.

Thanks for the good discussion!


Terry Morris said...


Excellent work, and hear, hear!

Question: What is your sense; what proportion of the American populace may be described as "social conservatives"? I'm not necessarily talking about folks who we would describe as "politically active," but the American public in general, whether they're, more or less, currently active politically or not.

Sunflower Desert, hello and welcome.


Michael Tams said...


Thanks brother.

It's my impression that this is an enormous group; if I had to put a guess out there, I'd guess three out of five would fit into this category. Most Americans, I think, have traditionalist tendencies, but lack a coherent political philosophy. Instead, they substitute their tendencies for an informed philospohy, which ironically ends up being counter-productive to their traditionalist tendencies.

Every once in a while I have these moments when an idea like this hits me. You've known me long enough that we've been able to share some of these things with each other. And "hit" is exactly the right word for it - seemingly out of nowhere, and with force.

Knowing me as well as you do, you also asked the question that was on my mind! I think there's a lot of them... and I might have even been one before my political philosophy was truly and properly formed. Of course, I'd like to convert these folks. ;)


Call Me Mom said...

Excellent post Mike,

The challenge I'm seeing is "activating" that sphere of self-government.

I'm not sure the numbers are as high as 3 out of 5.

One of the biggest challenges in my volunteer position is to get other adults to "own" their program. I don't know if this is new or not, but I suspect it is.

Michael Tams said...

Oh, Mom. That's the *easy* part. As you know, I have something in mind in that regard. Something I've made some progress on in the last several days, and hopefully will have more to say about in the coming week.


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