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"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

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Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Gay equality: "logically coherent from a conservative POV"

Nick Gillespie of Reason Magazine has commented about the dustup at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington over the participation of GOProud, an organization of gay Republicans. The conference was boycotted by several social conservative groups who believe that it is impossible to be a fiscal conservative without also being a social conservative. Gillespie writes:
As a libertarian, I'm in no way tied to CPAC (did speak there a couple of years ago and have attended from time to time), but it's fascinating to me that the conservative movement can't recognize some elemental facts. First and foremost that the world they're trying to create, especially when it comes to intolerance of alternative lifestyles, is never going to happen. And that by insisting, as Sen. James DeMint and Rep. Jim Jordan have, that you can't be a fiscal conservative without being a social conservative, you're alienating all those independents who just might give the GOP a second chance at running the federal budget. And you're in open denial of reality: A person's choice of sexual partner in no way means he or she can't be in favor of less spending on farm subsidies. There's a stunning knot of bull-dinkey at the heart of the argument that tolerance equals uncritical embrace. Do conservatives, of all people, think that the state allowing all religions to practice means official endorsement?


Maybe, baby, just maybe. Conservatives should recognize a few things. First, as Clouthier suggests, the fiscal con wing was exposed as just that, a total con job. Under Bush and a supposedly conservative Congress, federal outlays jacked up about 60 percent in real terms. Second, defense cons blew it. They had two wars to show themselves as effective, and they screwed the pooch, wagged the dog, shat the bed, whatever. After a good, long ride at the top, they did nothing well. They didn't create a coherent foreign policy that suggests when the U.S. might intervene and when it shouldn't (the Global War on Terrorism is not simply vague, it provides no stopping point for Wilsonian interventionism, which is decidedly not conservative). And third, social cons have lost, period. Gays are not going back in the closet and demands for equal standing under the law are logically coherent from a conservative POV. Gays didn't destroy marriage or the family (neither of which is in ruins, by the way, but that's another issue). The same goes for drug legalization, which has been touted by such raging liberals as William F. Buckley. In terms of abortion, like it or not, the country has settled into a semi-easy truce that abortion earlier in a pregnancy is OK and the closer the mother comes to term, the less comfortable people feel with it. In any case, advances in contraception and reproductive technologies will almost certainly render such decisions moot as people have gain ever-vaster control of their bodies.

In a historical way, libertarianism predates post-war conservatism. Libertarianism, with its emphasis on individual freedom, conscience, and responsibility, is the direct descendant of the classical liberalism that grew out of the English Civil War of the mid-17th century and worked its way through the Scottish Enlightenment, the Austrian economists, and others. It seeks to shrink to sphere of the state to that of an impartial judge protecting the equal rights of citizens and it valorizes, as Reason's motto puts it, "Free Minds and Free Markets." Sociologically, however, libertarianism has long been seen as a lesser brother to postwar conservatism, "chirping sectaries" in Russell Kirk's dismissive phrase, with about as much potential for leadership as Fredo Corleone.

That's no longer the case, dear conservatives. I'm no triumphalist but everything in the past 40 years suggests that the old-style left-wing command and control models have been thoroughly vanquished in theory if not practice (even old Europe has sold off virtually all of its state monopolies!). And the conservative desire for control of individuals' desire and lifestyles has similary come a cropper; your actual champions in the highest positions in the world have tried your ideas and been found wanting (who can disagree that George W. Bush was a "big-government disaster"?). In a world of increasing decentralization of power and corresponding growth in individual autonomy, libertarianism is looking better and better, both as a description of what's happening in those parts of our lives not completely under the thumb of government and as a guide to minimizing the reach of the state where it still is too grabby.

1 comment:

Alain said...

Good point. The so-called social conservatives who left are actually the ones who lost. The fact is that there can never be any political party with whose policies I always agree, and I accept that. I do not have a problem with people maintaining certain moral standards, but I have a big problem with them trying to impose their standards on everyone else. I have the same contempt for gays determined to impose their lifestyle on everyone else as I have for those who want everyone to condemn gays for what they do in their private lives. Frankly it is pretty much the same, and no I am not gay.