Sunday, June 11, 2006

What is a Social Conservative?

That is the question Vincent asks over at TooConservatives.

I wrote a two-part answer, but it was so long I thought I'd strip it down and put the longer version over here so it takes up my space and not his.

I will try to summize the original post in it's own words:

What does it mean for a politician to be a social conservative? ... I used to believe three issues defined whether or not a candidate could be properly labeled a “social conservative” : guns, abortion, and gay marriage. ... my definition has changed into defining a “social conservative” as someone who lives morally.
Is someone a social conservative who is pro-life but yet has taken bribes? Is someone a social conservative who is in favor of the marriage amendment banning same-sex marriages, when they themselves have cheated on their spouses?
it is a persons character which makes them a “social conservative”. For preaching the conservative line, and living a truly conservative lifestyle are often not one and the same.

First, it is certainly true that espousing social conservatism is not the same as living a conservative lifestyle. But moreso, we shouldn't expect them to be the same.

Let me take the most obvious set of examples. A person could support gay marriage on principle, but be a heterosexual who only had sex with his wife and stayed married til death parted them. Personally moral, but not "socially conservative". Or, a person could oppose gay marriage and civil unions, but practice group sex with both sexes -- taking the social conservative government position, while living a personally hedonistic life.

The first man might have more moral "street cred" for his position than the 2nd, but that's because of people's biases, not based on the soundness of the underlying position.

However, it is clear that, if a practicing divorce lawyer thinks government should ban divorce, that would suggest a hypocritic approach to the issue.

There is a danger in taking a policy position/philosophy - "social conservatism", and mixing it with personal behavior, making judgments about other people instead of about the philosophy.

It is a dangerous road, but one that bloggers in particular relish. It's so much easier to attack people for their personalities, their failings, their moral flaws, then it is to debate what the appropriate philosophy is.
People try to live a philosophy, but people are NOT the philosophy, and nobody will perfectly embody a philosophy.

All humans are fallible. But a sound philosophy remains one regardless of whether it's adherants live up to its tenets. NOBODY lives up to the Christian view of morality, NOT ONE of us, but that does not negate Christianity, nor is Christianity defined by how they live up to those tenets.

On the other hand, in deciding whether a PERSON adheres to the philosophy of social conservatism, you would judge by what they espouse or support. So what they believe and say and advocate matters.
If they don't LIVE UP TO those things they espouse, they could well be hypocrits, but it does not mean that social conservatism is what they live, nor does it mean that they do not believe in the values of social conservatism.

We should not be judges of others personal lives. The bible warns against such action -- we should denounce wrongdoing, but should not leap from the righteous identification of wrongdoing, to passing judgment on the soul of the wrongdoer.

Applied to politics, people love to point out he failures of others, and to condemn those they hate for those failures. It is easy to go from recognition of an error, to a condemnation of the character of the person who committed the error.

The definition of a "social conservative" as one who lives a moral life is inaccurate, an attempt by those who do not have conservative social principles to gain inroads among those who do. A person can live a personally moral life but espouse a philosophy that is anathema to true social conservative principles.

The view that "social conservatism" consists of specific position on guns, gays, and abortion, is simplistic -- especially as it substitutes issues for philosophy. A philosophy is an underlying principle, which when applied to a specific ISSUE would lead to choosing one side or the other, or determining a specific solution.

Take for example gun ownership. The principle of strict adherance to the restrictions on government and the freedom of the people espoused by the constitution is not a "social" conservative principle, it is simply a conservative principle. But it is a good proxy for determining whether a politician is likely to engage in social engineering using government to shape society to his/her liking in defiance of the constitution's limitations on government power.

Regarding abortion, the social conservative principle that each life has value leads to the opposition to abortion. Itn allows different social conservatives leeway on the margins as they define what makes a "person". One might oppose birth control pills, while another might be OK with anything that stops implantation of the fetus while opposing further interference.

The post included the following definition of social conservatism:

“Social conservatism is an umbrella term for any ideology that supports a belief in traditional or natural law based morality and social mores and the desire to enforce these in present day society, through civil law, regulation, on the grounds that such social arrangements’ age infuses them with such value”

Social conservatism broadly defined is a belief in morality as found in religious writings. However, it is not the "age" of those teachings that infuse them with value, it is their success in shaping workable societies.

More specifically, "social conservatism" espouses "family values" meaning married parents who put their children and family ahead of personal aggrandizement, believe in discipline, oppose premarital sex/overly physical contact, oppose extramarital sex, divorce, and living together. It advocates the value of children, of churchgoing, belief in things bigger than yourselves, and belief in PERSONAL responsibility and charity, NOT government-funded versions.

It opposes pornography, suggestive movies and lyrics, as well as violence, bad language, and other things that attack the morals of our culture and corrupt our youth. It espouses the work ethic, not the welfare state. It supports public religion, thinks it's OK to pray in public, thinks schools oppose morality because morality is defined in our culture through religious teachings. It opposes situational ethics, believes that people should not steal from other people or use the state to do so.

In summary, it puts family ahead of government, children ahead of personal aggrandizement, espouses public religion, and personal responsibility/charity, not government as Santa Claus. It opposes the attack on societies morals, and believes government should protect the people from these attacks, just as certainly as government has a responsibility to protect the people from physical attack.

"Gods, Guns, and Gays" is a straw man repeated by opponents of social conservatism to belittle it. Evidence is overwhelming that society suffers when we ignore and attack moral values, but rather than open their eyes to facts and truth, the opposition, loving their license to immorality more than the good of society, attack a straw-man, in the hopes of suppressing, making fun of, and marginalizing social conservatives because they can't win in the arena of ideas.

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