Conservative Culture

I used to consider myself a social conservative.  This was largely due to the belief that, as a conservative, I was supposed to be, but it also fit my highly reserved and strongly change-averse personality (even though I was not, nor have ever been, religious).  When I got older and started to think more independently and develop my own belief system, I abandoned most of my social conservatism.  I went from opposing gay marriage to being largely indifferent about it, and I went from opposing drug-decriminalization to supporting it unequivocally.*  The change wasn’t drastic, at least not on the surface, especially considering those issues are among my lowest priorities (especially marriage).  And all my views on social issues didn’t change either; I am still as opposed to abortion as I have always been.  The more drastic change affected my more fundamental beliefs, and how I based my opinions on various issues on those core beliefs.  Since then, most of my current opinions originate from the premise of individual rights.

That gives me somewhat of a libertarian predisposition, but I would still reject that label due to the fact that the term “libertarian” is often co-opted by either conspiracy theorists or social liberals with incidental support of free-markets.  I generally describe myself as a classical liberal, which is essentially libertarian without the crazy, and I would argue it implies neutrality on social issues (since those are not what it is concerned with).  While I would also argue that classical liberalism is, in some contexts, identical to conservatism and I am therefore not wrong to call myself a conservative either, the word “conservative” is much more ambiguous.

Although I was born after the 80’s ended and I was only starting to comprehend politics around the time Obama was running for president in 2007, as I understand the American conservative movement, it is largely a coalition between social conservatives, capitalists, and national security types.  This history is discussed in this article, which gave me the inspiration for this post, because it got me wondering why these three ideologies are compatible in the first place.  It’s something I’ve wondered before, particularly with regards to social conservatives (or more specifically, the Christian Right).  I follow a lot of conservatives on Twitter (most of whom I agree with on a great deal**), and it continues to confound me as to why so many of them are Christians.  I don’t know how many actual, practicing Christians I know in real life, but it’s not very much.

Looking at Christian theology makes things even more confusing.  The example set by Jesus, with his compassion and charity, seems like it would be more conducive to socialism (or bleeding-heart liberalism, if you want).  I get that one can idealize these things without thinking the government should be involved with them, but that doesn’t explain the large correlation between Christianity and supporting low taxes or opposing universal healthcare.  Based on the article I linked to previously, I assume this correlation is more of a historical accident than anything, and started around the 1970’s, well after the hippies associate collective society with open sexuality, drugs, and rock music.  Due to this association, the hippies  became a common enemy of both Christians (who opposed their hedonism) and individualistic classical liberals (who opposed their communalism).

On the other hand, as I said, most of my views are basically the same as they were back when I thought of myself as a social conservative.  Even back then, I did disagree with social conservatives on some issues, mostly explicitly religious ones.  But overall, I still agree more with social conservatives than I do with social liberals.  Classical liberalism may not be a nominally traditionalist ideology, but I would argue that a strong respect for tradition is a logical consequence of it, but this respect for tradition is only superficially related to the respect for tradition social conservatives possess.  This is because the classical liberal respect for tradition is not for the sake of tradition itself, unlike that of social conservatism, but it’s rather a result of individualism and decentralization.

Individualism involves self-reliance, which requires traditional attributes like hard work, reliability, and competence, things that have become less fashionable in this age of self-esteem and helicopter parenting.  On the other hand, I assume most people, even not the most rugged individualists, want to completely isolate themselves.  So, a society in which everyone exists as a lone individual separated from everyone else is not an ideal for anyone, except for maybe the most extreme libertarians.  We still need to co-operate with, and even rely on, others in order to function.  That is why things like family and local community are important.  Once you reach a certain age, it’s theoretically voluntary to associate yourself with such things, and you find more purpose in them than you would in forced, society-wide communalism.  The point is that, while some degree of collectivism is necessary, the best form of collectivism is highly decentralized and voluntary (nuclear families being the best example).

There’s even an argument for common ground between classical liberals and social conservatives when it comes to lifestyle.  Self-reliance requires responsibility.  You can’t be very self-reliant if you’re high all the time or if you’re promiscuous and have a kid before you’re ready for one (this applies to both men and women).  Perhaps there’s disagreement about the extent to which the government should regulate these behaviours, but there’s certainly some cultural common ground.  This is also another reason why I reject the label of “libertarian”; my support for decriminalization of illegal drugs, for example, does not necessarily mean I like illicit drugs, such as marijuana, or want people to use them (for the record, I will acknowledge that marijuana seems to have therapeutic and/or medical benefits, and I’m not opposed to using it myself for such reasons.  Recreationally, though, is another matter).  I’m sure that’s also true for a lot of libertarians, but libertarians have the reputation of being somewhat hedonistic.

*I do not support “legalization” of illicit drugs, merely decriminilization, the distinction being that government shouldn’t generally have policies relating to drugs (that’s an oversimplification of the issue, but that’s my general sentiment).  And this applies to all drugs, on the basis that prohibiting certain unwanted behaviours (for example, the use of cocaine) is a god-awful way to prevent it (see the 18th amendment).

**I know you should expose yourself to other points of view, it’s just often hard to find good people on Twitter, especially since I don’t use it to interact with people.  I have been making an effort to follow people with diverse viewpoints, though, and I do frequent which isn’t exactly a conservative site.  So I’m probably more in a bubble than I should be, but my situation isn’t dire.

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  1. “…but that doesn’t explain the large correlation between Christianity and supporting low taxes or opposing universal healthcare.”

    Snake, you know I’m an outside observer on this, but to me it’s quite simple. None of the texts support the idea that Christ subscribed to Force. The above examples are based in Force. The Socialists will cite his kicking the money lenders out of the temple… ‘his’ temple… but that’s the best they can do. As far as I’m concerned it should be read as his kicking A-holes out of his ‘house’. I have spent an inordinate amount of time reading the gospels as well as the books not so loved by those addicted to the Synoptic texts. It is the common thread running through these writings that one must come to Christ… one cannot be forced to have faith. All that from an Agnostic… take it for what it’s worth.

    I’m glad to see you posting again. Cheers my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I see your point, but you can’t really claim that a large percentage of devout Christians would prefer the government to rule based on Christian values and/or believe the US government was founded upon them (which I wouldn’t mind hearing your perspective on if you would be willing to give it. I can’t say I’m confident enough in my own knowledge to say that it wasn’t, but it seems to me that it influenced much more by enlightenment-era and Ancient Greek and Roman philosophies than Judeo-Christian). I don’t buy that, if it weren’t for this coalition between the Christian Right and capitalists, that most Christians wouldn’t be more supportive of higher taxes to pay for more generous welfare and therefore be more left-leaning. It just seems like human nature for your politics to reflect your values (unless there’s a reason they wouldn’t, such as that coalition); so that you would support that generous welfare state, if you’re a really compassionate person without necessarily thinking about it very much. I could certainly relate to that; I’m not a very compassionate person and I probably think about myself a lot more than I think about other people (in a way), and that definitely shapes my political views. I suppose that could be projection though, I don’t know. Maybe people do think things through more than I give them credit for (although judging by the election results, and the reactions to them from the left, I’m pretty skeptical about that).

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      • I’m going to need to parse this a bit… To your point about how our founders crafted our governing theory, yes to both. They were heavily influenced by Masonic beliefs which held that held no conflict between Enlightenment Philosophy and a belief in ‘God’, ‘Creator’, Great Architect’ etc. That pissed a lot of folks off and spurred what has been called The Great Awakening, while it lends to your observation it’s a bit of a digression. I would position said offended as the ‘Leftist’ Christians you rightly identify as wanting to Force others to pay for what they believe is right through taxes, etc. Just as a Gratuity ceases to be a Gratuity when it is mandatory as it becomes a Fee, Compassion is vacant when it becomes mandatory as it becomes Redistribution, and requires Force. Our Founders believed in limiting what the Federal Government was to exercise in terms of Rights for Individuals. Many believed them to be innate but a majority believed they had to be enumerated. The mistake, I believe, they made was enumerating them as the first ten amendments to the Constitution which implies in the minds of those who cherish control and force that they can be changed or further amended. Whoops. (Anyway, Italy is a Primo example of Government by the Religious Left. The Catholic Church supplies a large group of people who oddly side with Communists in this regard. Talk about odd bedfellows…)
        Regarding reality… We all think about ourselves more than others, it’s just some of us are honest about it while most others try to deny, deflect and distract from this truth in myriad ways. (I love this: “I suppose that could be projection though, I don’t know.” – Indeed. If we knew, it stops being projection. Great line.) Finally, as a general rule, nobody thinks things through. Nobody. Don’t hand out credit where it is not earned. We should all find comfort in skepticism. The Cynics were right, it makes the world a better place.
        I’m not sure this addresses everything above, but I’m on the fly. I enjoy these exchanges with you. They force me to think, revisit and learn. That’s a kind of force I can get behind. Cheers.

        Liked by 1 person

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