The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Real Conservatism is Social Conservatism

Aldous Huxley, in a preface written for the 1948 re-issue of his best known book Brave New World, wrote:

As political and economic freedom diminishes, sexual freedom tends correspondingly to increase.

Huxley’s novel provides a literary example of this. Brave New World depicts a future where numerous progressive dreams of the ideal society have been fulfilled at the expense of a complete loss of political and economic freedom. Everybody’s life in this literary world, their career, their place in society, is planned for them in advance. To keep them from complaining or even being conscious of this lack of liberty they have complete freedom in the areas of sex, drugs, and pretty much everything that liberals and libertarians would call “personal lifestyle” matters today.

Huxley clearly was possessed of far greater insight than many who call themselves libertarians or even “conservatives” today.

Libertarians like to think of themselves as the only believers in political liberty, as an Aristotelian mean between two statist extremes, liberalism on the left, conservatism on the right. Liberals, they say, support freedom on lifestyle/social issues, but oppose economic freedom, whereas conservatives support freedom on economic issues, but oppose it for lifestyle issues. In contrast, they themselves support freedom across the board.

Huxley, however, was aware of something the libertarians appear to be blind to. Complete liberty in “personal lifestyle” matters is only possible through state intrusion into society and complete political control over our lives. In his novel, the sexual freedom that everyone possessed, was created by the elimination of the family. People enter this society, not as children born out of the love of their parents, but as fetuses created in a laboratory. They have no parents or siblings, they are conditioned for their role in society through technology that allows them to be programmed in their sleep in state-run institutions. Only thus can their ethic of “everybody belongs to everybody else” be achieved.

An objection might be made that this was, after all, just a novel, and that in real life we have more freedom in these matters today than 60 years ago without any of that happening.

Lets consider that a bit more closely. It is true that the state has not issued a decree saying that we are not allowed to live together as families any more, that all children are wards of the state, and that from now on all sex will be sterile and all reproduction will be done in a laboratory. It is also true, however, that a) the government is far more involved in our everyday lives than it used to be, and b) institutions like the family and the church are not as strong and influential as they used to be. These two things are directly related to each other and are the reason the sexual revolution was able to occur.

In Christian society the government was never the primary enforcer of sexual ethics. It was traditionally the role of parents to raise their sons to respect women and to raise their daughters to guard their virtue. Parents were supported in doing so by the traditional culture – the songs, stories, legends, and folklore passed down through the generations that transmit a society’s identity, and values from one generation to the next, and by the institution of the church which provided spiritual and moral guidance. Further support came from the system of honor and shame, which far more effectively than the police, enforced society’s understanding of right and wrong. If wrongdoing crossed over into the realm of the criminal – if, for example, a girl’s virtue was taken from her by force, then it was time for the law to step in.

The sexual revolution was not a revolution against government power. It was a revolution against the church, a revolution against the family, a revolution against tradition and against society. How was this revolution made possible?

Several changes that occurred in the period immediately preceding, during, and following World War II opened the door to the revolution.

There was the transformation in how popular culture is created and transmitted brought about by the creation of the mass media. Popular used to be something people participated in, the songs and stories and literature they learned at the hearth, the bedside, in the fields, churches and taverns. The birth of the apparatus of mass communication, dubbed “The Great Stereopticon” by Richard Weaver, changed this. Popular culture became something produced for commercial purposes which people consumed rather than participated in. As such, its ties to the institutions of society were broken, and it became an instrument in the hands of those who sought to undermine traditional moral and social values, rather than to uphold them.

Then there was the transformation of public education. The original public schools were established by churches or by the local governments of small communities. Teachers derived their authority from the fact that they stood in loco parentis in the classroom and they were directly answerable to the parents. In the name of standardization, however, the schools were brought under the control of government bureaucracies and in the 20th Century governments began to use the public schools as instruments to challenge the authority of parents, tradition, and churches.

Then there was the establishment of the welfare state. The welfare-state was a massive 20th Century expansion of government relief programs. Behind this expansion lay the idea that it is the role of the state to feed the hungry, care for the sick, clothe the naked, and provide shelter for the homeless. While society certainly has a responsibility to see to it that these things are done, the state, the defining function of which is to wield the sword in the upholding of law and civil order and in defense of the country, is hardly an appropriate institution to be used to fulfill these tasks. Furthermore, when it takes over these roles it usurps and undermines the other social institutions to whom these roles traditionally fall.

Finally, there was the development of new contraceptive and reproductive technology. Here the connection to Brave New World is most striking. The development of cheap, effective, birth control could serve no purpose other than to try and approximate the barren, purely recreational, sex of Huxley’s dystopia. In vitro fertilization and other artificial reproduction methods were developed, largely to meet a need created by the advancements in birth control, but note that they too bear a certain resemblance to the means of reproduction in the novel.

The development of these two technologies threaten civilization by undermining our respect for human life and for the sex which generates that life. To strip the latter of its reproductive potential and reduce it to mere recreation is to play with fire. The development of cheap birth control was followed by the demand for legal, government-subsidized, abortions, in which human lives are terminated, usually for no other reason than that they inconvenienced their parents (the hard cases, by which abortion-on-demand is sold to bleeding hearts, are a miniscule percentage of total abortions done). In vitro fertilization by its nature involves the deliberate creation of multiple human lives which will never be allowed to grow to their full human potential. Monstrous as that fact is, scientists are now reasoning, that because they are creating these human lives anyway, they should be allowed to take the unused embryos and use their stem cells for research.

This is what contemporary ethics has been reduced to. “You are creating the embryos anyway, we might as well be allowed to cut up and experiment on the ones you won’t be using, and besides, we might find a cure for all sorts of horrible ailments”. Consequentialism is never good ethics, and it is particularly not so when it is mixed with the reasoning that two wrongs somehow make a right.

The hand of government in most if not all of this should be apparent. Government schools now serve a government agenda which includes the undermining of the authority of parents and churches in the minds of children. Government social programs weaken the ties that bind families, churches, and communities together as a society, teaching people that they don’t need those institutions anymore because government is going to meet all their needs from cradle to grave. Government money pays for research into contraceptive and reproductive technology.

Progressives and libertarians think of social conservatives as theocrats seeking to leash the power of the state to a religious agenda and to impose their will on others through the force of law. While one or two people who meet that description might come to mind this is not what social conservatism is really about.

Social conservatism is the belief that society is an organic reality, that the most essential human relationships are those established by blood, kinship, and covenant rather than those established by contract in the marketplace, that the institutions of family, church, and community are more important than either the individual or the state, and that the spheres of the political and the economic are the secondary spheres of human existence, taking a backseat to what is really important, the spheres governed and defined by the family and the church.

This belief is consistent with a belief in political liberty and is even foundational to it. Political liberty cannot stand upon the foundation of the autonomy of the individual. Such a foundation leads only to anarchy, chaos, and moral nihilism, which lead in turn to tyranny. Political liberty must stand upon the foundation of life in society, as part of a social and moral order, transmitted from generation to generation, through the family and the church. Such a society, requires nothing from government other than it do its job and uphold the law, and otherwise mind its own business.

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