Friday, February 24, 2012

Social Conservatism's Big Government Agenda

Most conservatives will argue that they are for smaller government; but those who identify as social conservatives are decidedly not, even if they argue that they are.

I was having a conversation with a conservative friend who was lamenting the state of morality in this country.  He wasn't doing so in any kind of patronizing or bombastic way, just noting that our society seemed to have lost some of its mooring and that the laissez-faire social attitudes that seem to be more and more defining of our culture have led to something that he couldn't quite define, but something that he thought just wasn't "good."

He didn't want to take it so far as to say that government was the place where this social malaise needed to be rectified, but he was suggesting that government should have some kind of role in encouraging people to live better lives, more moral lives.  He didn't suggest how this should be done, just that he thought it would be good if it were done in some way that didn't restrict freedom.

But I don't see how this is possible without ceding to the state some kind of control over our lives.

I suggested that the resolution to his concern was really looking more at individuals and in trying to cultivate a sense of personal honor and dignity at the individual level, and that the state should be responsible not for telling people how to live by a particular moral code, but rather promoting programs and policies that enhanced the dignity of the individual.

That is what I think the liberal project is when it comes to the state.

I don't want an oppressive government telling me how to live my life.  But I do want government, as a representative of the collective will of our American society, to find ways to remove obstacles to the realization of a dignified life for individuals such that they themselves arrive at a way of living that is "good."  Hence my support for universal health care, a living wage, and other such agenda items.  Do they represent coercion at some level?  Perhaps.  But it is the only way I know to regulate our society and to fulfill the obligations of the social contract with minimal impact on individual freedom and maximum impact on recognizing the dignity of the individual.  On this point, the Catholic Church's social teachings are exemplary; and I just wish more Catholics (and especially the hierarchy) would pay as serious attention to them as they do to sexuality.

2 comments:

Eric said...

The problem is we do not have a social contract in America that obligates society to provide healthcare, living wages, and other such agenda to people. Many other nations have such things written into their foundational governing documents, but we do not. To the extent that some of those things have been implemented in our society, it is on the basis of legalistic maneuvering (some would say chicanery) and not a true cultural underwriting of the social contract. Hence, people who disagree with those ideas and those laws often see them as being somewhat illegitimate, and they have good reason to feel that way.

I see that as being such a huge cause of so much of the disconnect between conservatives and liberals.

Sort of a different issue than "Big Government Social Conservatives" (which is the liberal version of conservatives who look at Michelle Obama talking about eating healthy and then say the liberals want to pass laws to regulate how much junk food you can eat), but I think it is one of the major problems we have in America and I don't know what the answer is.

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