It’s strange that this, from Rod Dreher’s argument for the centrality of religious social conservatives to the Republican Party, should have the air of something controversial:
Times change. Today, the greatest threats to conservative interests come not from the Soviet Union or high taxes, but from too much individual freedom. Look around you: Americans have been poor stewards of our economic liberty, owing to cultural values that celebrate unfettered materialism. Our families and communities have fragmented, in part because we have embraced an ethic of extreme individualism. Climate change and a peak in oil production threaten our future because we have been irresponsible caretakers of the natural world and its resources. At best, the religious right stood ineffectively against these trends. At worst, we preached them, mistaking consumerism for conservatism.
All political problems, traditional conservatism teaches, are ultimately religious problems because they result from disordered souls. In the era now dawning, Americans will learn again to live within limits — and together. Religious conservatives are philosophically positioned to lead the way, but we can’t do it by pouring new wine into old skins.
The piece that modern sensibilities tend not to infer is the specification that the excess of individual freedom oughtn’t be curbed by government fiat. Some people overreach, of course, but the mainline of social conservatism holds that it is government’s role to foster a sociopolitical environment in which sociocultural institutions can function to rein in behavior in an atmosphere respectful of free will and compromise. Even with clear atrocities such as abortion, social conservatives tend to advocate for federalist solutions. There’s a reason that they and libertarians have managed to hold their alliance for so long: there’s a significant ideological, and personal, overlap.
Dreher goes on to make a point that’s entirely in keeping with my general philosophy of political rhetoric:
We’re going to have to learn to think and talk in terms — and not overtly religious ones — of building up civil society and its mediating institutions. David Cameron has revived the Conservative Party’s fortunes in Great Britain by following this model. His is a heavily secular approach for his heavily secular nation. Fortunately, American religious conservatives have more of a cultural base to build on.
St. Paul insisted that we can know God by His creation, and it follows that moral ills ultimately manifest in social wounds that we all sense to be wrong. That is where dialogue must start, and it is where civil-sphere argumentation must stay; once the social point is made, those who’ve been converted that far will either find the rest of the way for themselves or they won’t. Attempting to force a particular destination on them ensures the latter outcome.