LOS ANGELES, May 22, 2013 — There is a split in America. It is a split between left and right, as many of our divisions are, but it is a divide more fundamental than those you might find surrounding tax reform or immigration policy. This is a divide between differing conceptions of what a healthy culture looks like. It separates those who hold a more traditional vision of American values and those whose social moors tend to be more post-modern.
While the two sides line up as conservative and liberal or Reblican and Democrat, this is only roughly true. There are many socially conservative Democrats and an entire movement of socially liberal Republicans in places like Los Angeles. Many of these Republicans feel a great liberation at being able to cast away what they feel is the rigid and paralyzing dogmatism of an older generation, freeing them to pursue economic arguments against the left without the burden of defending the prejudices of the right.
There is a great deal of energy and creativity coming out of this section of the Republican Party. Yet, I do not entirely identify with it. I am socially conservative. I would feel remiss if the Republican Party were to abandon social conservatism. It is not obsolete in the face of a changing America and economic challenge. Our culture needs an anchor and a grounding that the values of the liberal left often fail to provide.
The cultural divide goes beyond the two conspicuous issues of gay marriage and abortion. I favor traditional marriage because I do not believe there is anything wrong with the traditional definition of marriage. Likewise with abortion: I do not believe a child has to be born before it can be considered a human being.
But these issues are almost as important for the patterns of thought that they symbolize as they are as issues unto themselves. You can easily be for gay marriage and against gratuitous violence and sexuality in music and television, and we can be pro-choice while remaining avid and pious churchgoers. However, these positions tend to reflect a larger distrust of well established institutions, as well as a willingness to pardon a lifestyle of indulgence that rejects the pro-active ethical responsibility that a belief in the sanctity of the life of the unborn (and the rights thereof) implies.
Ultimately, people are neither good nor bad based upon whether they are socially conservative or liberal. In the past social liberalism has stood for gender equality, racial integration and the breaking down of the institutional and cultural barriers that prevented this nation from living up to its greater promise. Today the battle cry of the cultural left is “tolerance.” The best liberals hold to it truly, not only expressing toleration for people on the basis of race, sexuality and religion (even if they’re conservative Christians) but for people of different ideological persuasions as well. This is not the liberalism that comes forward in the demeaning political rhetoric of much of left wing media, Hollywood and academia. But where it is found it is to be appreciated and respected.
The value of social conservatism is harder to see in history, because where the victories of social liberalism are demonstrated by the great changes that have occurred in our culture and our institutions from one era to the next, the victories of conservatism generally and social conservatism specifically are evidenced by those things that haven’t changed ― and in some cases those things that have changed back. The enduring piety of the American people bespeaks the continuing power of religion to inspire, even in the face of an increasingly secular modern world.
For a long time, consistent moral themes of justice, honor and respect undergirded our popular culture, too. But beyond the sphere of the culturally religious, America more broadly has lost her sense of dignity and propriety that was once expressed in film and music, in television shows like Father Knows Best and more recently The Cosby Show (one of the last broadly popular, moral based American television shows). The moral center that was once expressed in our cultural conservatism was largely one with the social liberalism of a Martin Luther King, Jr. It bespoke its own brand of humility and tolerance not evidenced in much of conservative rhetoric today, one that said that it is possible to hold to one’s own moral code without judging others who do not.
Today’s social conservatism is often harsh and judgmental, and in this, unappealing. I urge social conservatives to fight to restore America’s moral center, and to be moral in the way we do it.
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