Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Social Conservatism and Economic Conservatism: Two Sides of One Worldview

In his reflections on the recent Faith and Freedom Conference, at which most of the contenders for the Republican presidential nomination spoke, Tony Blankley argues that social and fiscal conservatism are not alternatives or rivals. Rather, he argues, they need each other. His thesis is:
Strong support for tradition, custom, moral behavior and religious faith (so-called social conservatism) is the equal handmaiden of free-market capitalism advocacy. They are the two parts that make up the one, whole concept of political conservatism.
A few years ago, I would have denied the truth of this thesis. But now I have come to realize the truth of it, although I think there is a danger of underestimating the importance of Biblical revelation in this formulation. In the paragraph following the one I just quoted, Blankley refers to Adam Smith, whose Theory of Moral Sentiments emphasizes the moral foundation for a free market economy as described in The Wealth of Nations. The problem is that the Enlightenment rejection of revelation undermines the possibility of natural law and absolute morality necessary to ground a free society. So, we need a different and better basis for our morality than Enlightenment theories of ethics if we are to have an enduring and culturally regenerative conservatism.

But there can be no disagreement with Blankley when he writes: "And unbridled pure materialism -- whether of the left or right --ends up in reigns of terror, gulags and holocausts." The problem is how to join an adequate ethic to a free market economics and the only way to do that is to set both in the context of a metaphysics generated by the Christian doctrine of God.

Blankley see this clearly. He quotes Barry Goldwater:
Consider how Goldwater asserted his religious "social conservative" principles to re-enforce his conservative economic principles. In his acceptance speech, he argued for "freedom under a government limited by the laws of nature and of nature's God ... Those who elevate the state and downgrade the citizen must see ultimately a world in which earthly power can be substituted for Divine Will, and this nation was founded upon the rejection of that notion and upon the acceptance of God as the author of freedom."
"Nature and nature's God," of course, is an allusion to Lincoln. Blankley goes on to quote from Goldwater's book The Conscience of a Conservative.
"The root difference between the conservatives and the liberals of today is that conservatives take account of the whole man, while liberals tend to look only at the material side of man's nature. The conservative believes that man is, in part, an economic, an animal creature; but that he is also a spiritual creature with spiritual needs and spiritual desires. What is more, those needs and desires reflect the superior side of man's nature, and thus take precedence over his economic wants. Conservatism therefore looks upon the enhancement of man's spiritual nature as the primary concern of political philosophy. Man's most sacred possession is his individual soul."
Goldwater and Blankley are right in asserting that the key difference between liberals and conservatives is their respective views of man; one has a godless view of man and the other has a Biblical view of man. One has a reductionist view of man that infantilizes and degrades man while the other has a view of man as gloriously fallen and in the process of being redeemed. The difference between these two views ultimately comes down to one's view of God.

Conservatism, both economic and social conservativism, is basically a worldview that is as wide as all creation and one which appreciates spiritual reality as well as material reality.

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