They get bitter. They cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
– Barack H. Obama, 2008
Lately, I often hear Republicans describe themselves as “socially conservative“, which, in a lot of cases, seems to be why they believe themselves to be conservatives. However, there is a world of difference between what “socially conservative” seems to mean and what being “conservative” has meant, and the two aren’t necessarily compatible.
A lot of the problem is that the word “conservative” itself is a philosophically loaded and ambiguous term with a lot of different practical meanings in different contexts. In general, though, a social conservative is generally deeply (and often fanatically) religious individual who believes their religious values should be reflected in society.
Philosophically speaking, this isn’t necessarily problematic. Simply wanting a society where religious social norms are recognized and respected isn’t itself a violation of political conservatism. A society where personal piety and faithfulness, especially in the Christian tradition, is one based on loving one’s neighbor as one self.
There isn’t any problem with people treating others with kindness and respect. Unfortunately, that’s not what they generally mean. What the social conservative generally intends is a society where piety and faithfulness is enforced by the authority of the state, and the whole state part is the problem with “social conservatism“.
In that regard, social conservatism is the literal definition of theocratic political bigotry and self-righteous prejudice imposed through state tyranny upon those who may not be sufficiently pious, the wrong kind of pious, or not even religious. They advocate against common liberties based solely on their brand of morality, and this is intolerable.
It’s one thing to oppose state concessions to Muslims, such as installing unconstitutional prayer rooms in public buildings, or the ridiculous thought policing of atheist activists, such as the attempts to scrub Christmas from the public square, but it’s another thing altogether to try to deny Muslims entry to the country or disenfranchise atheists.
Disagreements between people of different opinions is perfectly compatible with political conservatism, but let’s not forget that conservatism is ultimately about leaving people alone, an idea that was best paraphrased by Ronald Reagan, when he said, “Government is not the solution to our problems. Government is the problem.“
The same people who defend a religious symbol on public land because it is harming absolutely no one cannot turn around and demand the government to stop a same sex couple from entering a state sanctioned union or a follower of the Islamic faith from exercising their free speech simply on the basis of how offended the bigot is.
Obama once said of such people that they cling to their guns and to their religion. It’s clear to me now, even if he was speaking a bit over broadly, that he wasn’t completely unjustified in his comments. There is a large segment of the American right that believes they are justified in interfering in the lives of people because they are different.
That must end.
Liberty is For The Win!