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  • Why America Needs Social Conservatism

    Should conservative leaders be talking about social issues? Do conservative positions on these issues still appeal to Americans? Jeffrey Bell, author of The Case for Polarized Politics: Why America Needs Social Conservatism, visited The Heritage Foundation on Friday to make the case that they do. His book discusses the fight for socially conservative values that has been going on since the 1960s as a result of the leftward cultural change in many institutions and the sexual revolution.

    The first question to be addressed is why the left chose to start a social movement rather than focusing on other important issues. Bell notes:

    They wanted it to be on economic issues. The people who led that movement were overwhelmingly Marxist in one way or another. But they didn’t succeed in rolling back capitalism anywhere…What did change was the cultural climate, the sexual revolution. Institutions that had resisted the left for decades, for hundreds of years in some cases basically gave over. A whole set of institutions that had resisted the left, and in this country had been wedded to the ideas of the Founding went over and became part of a basic social left movement.

    Bell believes Obamacare’s anti-conscience mandate is just the most recent example of attempts to liberalize American culture on social issues. Bell believes that the timing of this mandate involves more than simply diverting attention away from the still struggling economy. In fact, this move goes to the core of what liberals believe.

    They want every institution to either fit into the Sexual Revolution or get out of the way. And making the Catholic Church provide [abortion-inducing drugs, contraception, and sterilization] is a way of rubbing their nose in it.

    According to Bell, some claim that the American social conservative movement will eventually fizzle out, and the United States will go the way of countries such as Great Britain or Japan on social issues. Bell responds by arguing that the unique social conservative movement in the United States stems from a set of principles that are also uniquely American – our Founding Principles:

    It occurred to me that there might be some underlying reason that doesn’t have to do with just the United States being more retro than Western Europe or Japan. And it strikes me that the reason that we have had a social conservative movement here is the values our Founding and also the circumstances in which the social conservative movement arose.

    These same people who dismiss social conservatism often believe that the culture is already moving to the left. High divorce rates, the breakdown of the family, and less frequent church going, they claim, are signals that Americans are becoming more relative in their approach to social issues. How can a social conservative movement possibly flourish in a society that is seemingly headed in the wrong direction? Bell answers:

    Social conservatism is inspirational. It is people who sense that there is just something out there that if they could just keep from being overwhelmed by the culture, that they could live better lives. That it would be better for [children] growing up if there were a husband and a wife in the home.

    Liberals want people to believe that the conservative movement is a problem for today’s society. In reality, social conservatism is the solution to societal breakdown.

    Bell comments in his book that social issues have historically been winning issues for conservatives:

    When the choices to be made are fundamental, then political polarization renders a service to the electorate because if the choices are clearly stated by both sides, the electorate is better able to decide which direction to go in. I do think we have fundamental differences of that type now, and I think the electorate, if it wants to go in the direction of the left and the social revolution, then it needs to be told explicitly that this is what they’re doing.

    Like or not, social issues have become an important topic in the political debate during the last month. As conservatives, it is important to remember that social issues are central to preserving the Principles of the Founding.

    Ryan McNulty is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm

    Posted in Obamacare [slideshow_deploy]

    4 Responses to Why America Needs Social Conservatism

    1. @BeckIsALib says:

      The problem I have with politicians banging the social conservative drum is that the entire effort becomes immediately disingenuous once the campaign ends. Historically, the social conservative arguments die on the vine in the face of political reality. Reagan, for example, was significantly more moderate than his rhetoric (despite the mythical rewrites of his legacy).

      It would be far more honest for politicians and pundits to lead by example–to become role models–and to maintain fiscal conservatism as their backbone. In this argument, Romney looks better than either Gingrich or Santorum.

      We should also never forget the the so-called social breakdowns that began in the 60's were as much about visibility and communication with the explosion of mass media. Nothing was happening that didn't always happen–we just saw more of it.

    2. Bobbie says:

      Never thought America would be forced in position fighting for America's dignity while the government America elected to lead??? is in total defiance to America's principles of common law, the rule of law, all founding documents. Leading the opposite of the will of the American people.

      "Social conservatism" is phony. Social has an "ism" of it's own that isn't controlled by ones own but by government's own. Conservatism are all matters of ones own livelihood within control of ONES OWN!! Social agendas are the American peoples' freedom to conduct without permission, attention, instruction by government.

      Please people, stop thinking of yourselves so little to have to look to government over yourself/ your personal resources, your ability to handle your own affairs. Let yourself take control of yourself let the government know you can! Understand what is happening in America is the greatest loss of freedom known to free men.

    3. Girth says:

      This is just buffoonery. In regards to social issues, conservatives are no better than the liberals they demonize for so-called 'social engineering'. You're both demagogues, with no real regard for civil liberties that don't fit your agenda.

    4. Michael says:

      At least social liberals don't want the government trampling all over our personal lives. I'm pretty sure "religious freedom" means the freedom to believe whatever you want to believe; although Obama's mandate for Catholic hospitals is a step to far, it shouldn't support social conservatism in the least. American people are free, in both their fiscal lives and their social lives, THAT is what our founding fathers wanted. They didn't want to form a "Christian nation" with so-called "traditional values" (which, by the way, is so vague a term it is practically meaningless). One can be Christian and advocate for an unassuming, secular government which treats all beliefs as equal. Our founding fathers certainly were:

      "The United States is in is in no sense founded upon the Christian religion" -George Washington.

      "Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man"- Thomas Jefferson

      "In the affairs of the world, men are saved not by faith, but by the lack of it."- Ben Franklin

      "Take away from Genesis the belief that Moses was the author, on which only the strange belief that it is the word of God has stood, and there remains nothing of Genesis but an anonymous book of stories, fables, and traditionary or invented absurdities, or of downright lies."- Thomas Paine

      Social conservatism is a bane on society and progress. It has always been social liberalism (i.e., social freedom) that has brought about things like the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, modern science, social equality, etc. One can form morals without fundamentalism. People do everyday. In a scientific study, small toddlers not yet aware of religion have been shown to have an acute sense of justice and fairness at just a few years of age. Morality is already in our genes. There is little to like about social conservatism.

      A Libertarian.

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