Some random rants for the end of finals week. (I assume that’s why it’s been so quiet around here lately.)
Every time I read a review of From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin: Evangelicals and the Betrayal of American Conservatism by Darryl Hart, I come away renewed in my determination to not read that book. The latest review, annoyingly uncritical like all the rest, is at Front Porch Republic. This paragraph captures the gist of it:
Another virtue of Hart’s book is the loving hand that he extends to his Christian brethren via his multi-step counsel for how Evangelicals can become more traditionalist minded. He demonstrates that some Evangelical beliefs about the importance of family and the problems of socialism actually overlap well with traditionalist concerns about the importance of local, human-scale institutions, or what Burke called “little platoons.” Furthermore, Hart counsels Evangelicals to strive for the following objectives: (1) abandon their flirtations with ideologically narrow views of social reality; (2) refrain from trying to establish a Christian civil religion; (3) avoid attempts to impose nationally monolithic morals legislation; (4) stop de-emphasizing spiritual evil over social-political evils; (5) avoid undue focus on political solutions for problems that are largely cultural; (6) refrain from wrong-headed emphasis on being crusaders who fight to win a culture war; and (7) and, very importantly, focus on being City-of-God-pilgrims who travel within the City of Man.
#5 and #6 go well together don’t they? “You evangelicals shouldn’t put your energy in politics because the problems are cultural, and you’re not supposed to fight to reclaim the culture either.” #3 is a smarmy way of saying that evangelicals shouldn’t get so bent out of shape over women murdering their children in utero. #2 could mean either accepting the current Satanic communal consensus or looking forward to a time when America is too fragmented to have a communal consensus; #7 clarifies that it is the former meaning that is intended. So, let me simplify the message for my evangelical readers: “Evangelicals should shut the f*ck up and stop embarrassing Darryl Hart.”
Now, if it really were a choice between pursuing a traditionalist social order and a Christian social order, I would say “to hell with tradition”. It wasn’t Russell Kirk who redeemed me on the Cross. Is that really the choice we face, though? Like most Anglo-American conservative intellectuals, Hart has a very narrow idea of what true traditionalist conservatism is–basically he identifies it with the Russell Kirk interpretation of Edmund Burke. The great continental counter-revolutionaries–French Legitimists, Right Hegelians, and ultramontane Catholics–are written out of the tradition, and Burke himself is reduced to the platitudes that slow and steady change is best and “little platoons” should be protected. As I’ve argued before, this is not an adequate basis to resist the Left. In particular, we have no way to fight Leftist subversion of the family and the Church if our only reason for promoting these groups is that they are small and not part of the government. We must acknowledge each of these as having a distinct ideal and structure, a distinct nature in other words, that we are morally bound to respect.
Meanwhile, over at the Claremont Review of Books, Robert George discusses Mark Blitz’s Conserving Liberty in a review with the flattering title “Conservatism Properly Understood“. So, “properly understood”, what do conservatives wish to conserve? Liberty, of course! Blitz and George make the best case possible for this wretched thesis, mostly by including lots of qualifications to keep it from being really monstrous. Liberty is not valued, George acknowledges, for its own sake, but because it contributes to human flourishing and excellence. Family, religion, and virtue help preserve liberty, but that’s not the only reason conservatives value them. In his own writings (e.g. in The Clash of Orthodoxies), George has gone further against libertarianism, arguing that pornography should be suppressed in order to protect the community’s “moral ecology”, because this background consensus facilitates healthy marital intimacy. So, to his credit, George does realize that freedom must be curtailed in the name of superior goods. This is the one of the major arguments that conservatives make against liberals. So why structure an exposition of conservatism around the idea of preserving liberty? Wouldn’t it be more straightforward to just say that one wants to conserve human flourishing, excellence, or virtue? Maintaining freedom in some restricted spheres of life in some sets of circumstances would then be one (fairly peripheral) application of the general principle. Suppose an interested outsider, sensing something wrong in our libertine, individualistic world, were to look for a book about conservatism. Hopefully, he would find The Tyranny of Liberalism. More likely, he would find a book that reduces his (and historical conservatism’s) main concerns to footnotes in the devotion to liberty.
At Crisis Magazine, I read the article Time to Change Pro-Life Tactics? Given 40 years of complete failure, I’m open to the idea of a change in tactics (or even a change in strategy). What the author, Dustin Siggins, suggests, though, as his proposed “change” is exactly the strategy we’ve been using all this time. Some examples:
Recent statistics however show young people are more pro-life than ever, and across the country states (in addition to Members of Congress) are advancing strong pro-life legislation.
One such state is Mississippi. On April 16, the state’s new governor signed legislation that “requires all physicians at abortion clinics in Mississippi to be board-certified OB-GYN and to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.” This is both a victory and a “teachable moment” for the pro-life movement.
What is so significant is that the pro-life legislation passed in Mississippi (and similarly in Virginia) was made as fool proof as possible from the demonizing tactics of the left. The pro-life movement should emulate these successful principles and move away from those that are not working. For example, ultrasound legislation can be deemed as guilting mothers into not aborting their children or invading personal privacy. However, it is more difficult to argue against raising the standards of medical clinics so that women have a more sterile and professional environment.
Heaven forbid we guilt mothers into abstaining from murder. So it seems like the pro-life movement can be successful if it gives up its original aims and instead works to make the abortion business as professional and safe (for mothers) as possible. That these measures will ultimately make the abortion industry more respectable and unassailable is forgotten in the rush to find ways to successfully annoy it in the short term. More importantly, this change of focus in the pro-life movement brings a shift in the expectations of the community; by ceasing to agitate on the issue, the actual practice of abortion comes to be seen as settled.
- Stop using Biblical arguments to debate abortion. After attending the 2010 March for Life, I do not think using religious arguments will persuade either self-described Christians who agree with abortion or non-Christians who agree with abortion.
The Bible doesn’t say anything about abortion; so far as I know, no one claims that it does. Pro-life arguments have always been based on natural law. The trouble is that what Christians call “natural law” and what liberals call “public reason” are not the same thing. When a liberal tells us we must restrict ourselves to arguing from “reason” what he means is arguing from utilitarianism, and we cannot agree to this. What is naturally knowable to mankind is much wider and deeper than the calculus of pleasure, pain, and choice; it includes knowledge of man’s nature, telos, and Creator. Trying to always hammer our arguments into liberal form is precisely why we always do such a poor job arguing our case.
- Stop making abortion about women vs. children. Both are victims. Every time a pro-life activist blames a woman for having an abortion, that activist should in the same breath blame the men who get women pregnant and then either abandon them or encourage them to abort the child. We should make the battle about protecting women and unborn children from the abortion centers whose livelihood depends on the murder of children.
Bullshit. Women who get abortions are murderers–worse than murderers, because they do it to their own offspring. Once again, sticking to Leftist rules of discourse gets us nowhere. I for one have had enough of this rule that no woman may ever be criticized for any of her acts, no matter how stupid, irresponsible, selfish, cruel, or monstrous. Dalrock has done a brilliant job documenting society’s (and the Church’s) refusal to hold women responsible for betraying their wedding vows, no matter how slim the excuse offered. Now at a Catholic magazine, I am told that I’m not even to hold a woman accountable for murder? Once upon a time it was said that women were the less selfish sex, that given power they would use it above all for the benefit of the children they cherished. Even I–tending as I do to imagine that evil is spread more or less equally by gender–would not have guessed what monstrous uses these women would make of their liberation. The patriarchal society was organized around duty, including to ancestors and progeny. The feminist society is organized around selfish self-actualization, with impiety to ancestors and murderous indifference to the interests of children. Women of this wicked age–are none of you ashamed that the movement claiming your name champions sluttiness, divorce, and abortion, while the strongest defenders of the interests of children against the selfishness of adults are the old, celibate men of the Catholic and Orthodox hierarchies? Of course, most women neither divorce nor commit abortion, but if it is wrong to apply to all women the guilt of a substantial minority, how could it be anything but cowardice for us to go along with the popular culture’s thoughtless man-bashing?