Thursday, March 15, 2007

Conservatism broadly defined

Michael Medved has penned one of the most reasonable definitions of conservatism that I've seen from the current crop of US conservative commentators. I say that mainly because it's the only one that explicitly includes secular conservatives within the boundaries. Here is the key paragraph:

It’s true that most conservatives and Republicans describe themselves as religious and we certainly recognize the value of organized faith, but nearly a fourth of GOP’ers remain proudly secular and there’s no obvious religious basis for, say, backing lower taxes on capital gains.


I'd be interested to know where he got the 1/4th figure from. It seems high in light of surveys that put atheists at no more than 5% of the US population, though I'm sure that it covers people that are functionally secular if not athiest/agnostic.

He does an admirable job of delineating many of the other values that conservatives uphold in a manner that isn't merely a laundry list of current political issues. Here is another sampling of Medved's article:

The essential instinct behind modern conservatism goes beyond a desire for small government or any religious impulses, and animates our approach to politics, culture, foreign policy, family life, child-rearing, the business world and much more.

Above all, conservatives feel impelled to make clear distinctions between right and wrong.

We reject all notions of moral relativism. Though we’re obviously imperfect, and (like all human beings) often fail to do the right thing, we try to draw lines between the beneficial and the dysfunctional, between productive and destructive.

In policy as well as personal life, we seek to differentiate between good and bad behavior, and we want all of society (not just government) to encourage the good and discourage the bad.

In other words, conservatives insist on making distinctions, giving the individual broad latitude to choose, and then recognizing that choices must carry consequences.

A decent society supports and rewards good choices and discourages bad ones.

Read the whole thing.

21 Comments:

Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'In policy as well as personal life, we seek to differentiate between good and bad behavior, and we want all of society (not just government) to encourage the good and discourage the bad.'

They differentiate to a fare-thee-well, it's just that they often have a hard time telling which is which.

March 15, 2007 8:59 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

I say that mainly because it's the only one that explicitly includes secular conservatives within the boundaries.

Give us a break, Duck.

It's a very good article, but it doesn't seem to describe what I would consider mainstream Duckian thought or even impulses. Objective right and wrong? Sanctity of traditional marriage?

March 16, 2007 5:16 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

You will never get a break on the Daily Duck. Not until you have learned to espouse Duckian philosophy in your sleep.

Now you give me a break! We can argue whether morality is objective or subjective, but that's not a basis for choosing a political philosophy. I understand what you religious conservatives mean by objective right and wrong and it is in practical terms of negligible difference than how I define right and wrong. And I have not abandoned traditional marriage. You have to get your Duckians straight.

March 16, 2007 5:44 AM  
Blogger David said...

Duck: I don't think "secular" means what you think it means. It is not another word for atheist. It means something like "in and of the world." There is no implication that a secular person doesn't believe in G-d.

I should know, I'm a secular conservative.

March 16, 2007 6:33 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Yes, it's a daily challenge to keep the evil Duckians separate from the confused ones.

No, I have no difficulty with what you say about morality and politics. And of course non-believers are part of the conservative picture. But what is the more interesting question, posed by Derbyshire, is whether one can be antithetical to religion and still be conservative. Libertarian, sure, but that's not conservative. Scruton raised the same issue a while back when he identified, not faith per se, but reverance as a defining conservative characteristic. It isn't on faith that I would challenge Duckian credentials, but on their hostility to history and default belief in a priori progress.

And I agree with David that we have battered the word secular out of all recognition and should retire it for a year. Same with fundamentalist.

March 16, 2007 6:42 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

David:

I agree that Duck doesn't have the meaning quite right, but you are only marginally closer. According to my dictionary, there are five meanings for the term, of which two are pertinent:

secular |ˈsekyələr| adjective

1 denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis : secular buildings | secular moral theory. Contrasted with sacred .

2 Christian Church (of clergy) not subject to or bound by religious rule; not belonging to or living in a monastic or other order.

"Secular" has no, or little, relationship to religious belief (it is religionists like Mr. Judd routinely who have tortured it beyone recognition).

Mr. Medved uses the term in its proper meaning, referring to those people who don't believe in imposing sectarian precepts upon the wider community, unless the wider community agrees those precepts are applicable outside the confines of specific religious belief.

In that light, 25% is plausible, and might even be a bit low, as I suspect the majority of Christians do not believe in imposing moral judgments outside the ordinary legislative process.

Peter:

Objective right and wrong? Sanctity of traditional marriage?

Except that you abuse the term "objective", at the risk of speaking for others, those to whom you refer as Duckians quite firmly believe it is both possible, and essential, to discriminate between right and wrong.

Similarly for marriage.

I'm baffled that you can, after all this time, state it doesn't seem to describe what I would consider mainstream Duckian thought or even impulses.

March 16, 2007 9:42 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Hold on a sec, Peter.

Whence comes this notion that Duckians are "hostile to history" ?
At the very least, Harry and I refer to history all the time - just not necessarily to "Canadian-approved" history.

Further, it's not an "a priori " belief in progress, it's a belief well-grounded in the fact that when one studies history, the first and foremost thing that one learns is that we're now living in the very best times in human history. Compared to anything that came before, NOW is humanity's "Golden Age" - except that compared to what's probably coming, we'd be hard-pressed to call this even the "Leaden Age".

I understand that you take issue with some of today's mores, but as I write again and again, (and again, and again, and again...), not only do those mores not apply to all modern subcultures, but NOBODY HAS TO LIVE WITH THEM.
Everyone in advanced societies has options, should they wish to live in some ancient way.

March 16, 2007 9:45 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Skipper:

The conservative focus on making distinctions makes it easy to defend traditional definitions of marriage. The difference between a same-sex relationship and the union of a man and a woman isn’t subtle, or slight or inconsequential. Aside from the brutally obvious fact that no love between two men or between two women will produce its own progeny, it’s the union of profoundly contrasting male and female elements that gives marriage its unique and permanent power. The insistence that marriage apply only to this joining of opposite genders doesn’t require the conviction that homosexual relationships are wrong, but it does arise from the clear-eyed recognition that they’re profoundly, irreducibly different from male-female coupling.

You're ok with that, are you?

Oro:

I hope you aren't going to argue that "best" is now a term of objective, scientific precision.

March 16, 2007 12:23 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

I'm not the least OK with that, but not for the reason that has, before further reading, already hurtled into your head.

The nonsense that it’s the union of profoundly contrasting male and female elements that gives marriage its unique and permanent power is both presumptuous and laughably self-defeating. It is worthless as a basis for denying marriage, and its material benefits, to same-sex couples.

Why the writer included that is beyond me, particularly considering the elephant has already been spotted, albeit standing behind a weasel-word: Aside from the brutally obvious fact that no love between two men or between two women will produce its own progeny.

The truly conservative (IMHO) approach is to base marriage on this fundamental fact.

No same-sex couples are allowed to marry.

And if heterosexual couples fail to have children within three years of the wedding, their marriage is revoked until such time as they do.

That basis provides a distinction based upon merit, and goes right to the core of what marriage is all about.

In contrast, profoundly contrasting female and male elements has all the persuasive power of any other form of group-think bigotry.

March 16, 2007 1:10 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Right, so to the extent that you are representative of mainstream Duckian thinking, that's why I said it doesn't seem to describe what I would consider mainstream Duckian thought or even impulses.

What is the problem here?

March 16, 2007 1:31 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Of course "best" can be a term of objective precision, and that's been true for as long as the word has existed.

It can also be used in a scientific manner.

I shan't bore you with a laundry list of all of the ways in which now is objectively, scientifically "the best", but I will note that I've already addressed the self-solving nature of the ways in which one might legitimately claim that now isn't best.

March 16, 2007 1:59 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

... it doesn't seem to describe what I would consider mainstream Duckian thought or even impulses.

Your consideration is out of whack.

March 16, 2007 3:25 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Do I need to print a team program so that everyone can tell which Duckian plays which position? I know it's a confusing concept, but we don't all agree on everything.

The nonsense that it’s the union of profoundly contrasting male and female elements that gives marriage its unique and permanent power is both presumptuous and laughably self-defeating. It is worthless as a basis for denying marriage, and its material benefits, to same-sex couples.

It may not be the best formulation of the argument, but it that's the way it goes when you're trying to come up with reasons for the blindingly obvious fact that the terms "marriage" and "union of man and woman" are synonymous. Same sex partnerships just don't fit the bill. Most people just accept this as a blunt fact of nature.

As far as the "material benefits" of marriage, I don't see how those are denied to same sex couples, unless you are talking about tax filing status. Two men can create a relationship and structure their commitment in a contractual manner just like any other free individuals. This contractual relationship can mimic the marriage relationship in all of the important ways that matter. But society is under no moral obligation to extend the existing institutional marriage status to same sex couples as a matter of course.

When marriage is discussed in terms of material benefits, then you know that it's meaning has been bastardized beyond recognition. It's not an entitlement program. It's a set of legal obligations. It's long been recognized that marriage is an ordeal that restricts the freedom of both its participants. If it was just about material benefits then the term "shotgun wedding" would have no meaning. You don't normally need to point a gun at someone to get them to enjoy material benefits. Marriage is a state of giving up material benefits, the benefits of unrestricted singlehood.

To the extent that government extends certain monetary incentives to married couples, it is in compensation for these sacrificed benefits of singlehood. Society has a vested interest in encouraging traditional marriage formation between men and women, and it is precisely because of procreation. That vested interested isn't there for same sex couples.

March 16, 2007 11:35 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Duck:

You have presented a Hindenburg argument*, not a conservative one.

The conservative argument for marriage is this: society's only means of perpetuating itself is through children; therefore, society has a vested interest in providing the most reliable arrangement for providing children special encouragement. That is the only reason marriage exists, so why would a conservative try to defend its province on any other grounds?

Blather like ... the union of profoundly contrasting male and female elements would be laughable if it wasn't so invidious. Bad enough telling people a variant of "you aren't having as much fun as you think you are."

What's worse, though, is that you are giving credence to those who apply precisely the same argument in an only slightly different direction: because of your lack of belief, you cannot comprehend the founding principles of our republic, therefore you should be [disenfranchised | punished | denied citizenship | deported] (select one or more options).

So long as the question of who may marry is tied strictly to children -- the only reason marriage exists -- and a meaningful test applied to that requirement, then the conservative argument is not only a cinch, it needs no assistance.

Any alternative completely avoids this absolutely fundamental point, and ends up resorting to no end of hand waving solely because technology has reliably separated sex from procreation. That is no place from which to make a conservative argument; and the results are plain to see: empty blather, and circularity ("marriage" and "union of man and woman" are synonymous)

*So called because it is self immolating. See also, "splodeydope argument", because it is self-detonating.

March 17, 2007 9:14 AM  
Blogger erp said...

David, secular conservative is just right for me too.

March 17, 2007 4:25 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

What's worse, though, is that you are giving credence to those who apply precisely the same argument in an only slightly different direction: because of your lack of belief, you cannot comprehend the founding principles of our republic, therefore you should be [disenfranchised | punished | denied citizenship | deported] (select one or more options).

I think that's a real stretch. For one thing the guarantee of the free exercise of religion is guaranteed by the constitution, but there is no such declaration for same sex marriage. But I'm not advocating for the disenfranchisement, punishment, denial of citizenship or deportation of homosexuals. I'm not advocating that they be denied the right to form partnerships with whomever they choose. I'm just saying that if they partner with a person of the same sex, it shouldn't be recognized as marriage.

The closest analogy I can draw to non-believers is if an athiest demanded the right to be a Navy chaplain. That is an office that is just not available to him by virtue of his nonbelief.

March 18, 2007 7:17 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

David,
How is a religious "secular" conservative different from a religious conservative? I fail to understand the distinction you are trying to draw.

March 18, 2007 7:19 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Duck:

I think that's a real stretch. For one thing the guarantee of the free exercise of religion is guaranteed by the constitution, but there is no such declaration for same sex marriage.

Forgive me, my reference wasn't clear.

I'm not saying what you advocate, but what others advocate about you, Constitutional guarantees be damned. Orrin Judd is just one example.

Which is why making an impossible to substantiate claim (who the heck is a heterosexual to claim what a homosexual can feel?) with regard to what one is allowed is a Hindenburg argument: OJ, or Prager, or Neuhaus, or a recent past president can claim that because your beliefs render you incapable of comprehending the founding principles of our republic, then you deserve one or more from that list of opprobrium. That claim is nonsense, not only because they presume to know what you comprehend, but, even worse, it has nothing to do with merit.

Clearly, I happen to think that allowing same-sex couples to marry will have utterly no effect upon traditional marriage. Ignore that. Not only because I haven't brought it up, but also because I am presenting what I think is the single respectable secular conservative contrary argument.

Focussing on the society's fundamental interest is far more stringent and coherent than revisiting the Hindenburg, experimenting with circularity, or resorting to inappropriate analogy (First Hint: for your Chaplain analogy to hold, you must believe same sex couples cannot possess an emotional need for sanctioned monogamy. Second hint: my argument doesn't even being to require an analogy.)

So long as civil marriage is independent of procreation, there is no respectable argument against allowing same-sex marriage.

Make it dependent upon procreation -- why not? -- is the most conservative argument possible.

Unfortunately, I doubt anyone is willing to enact the obvious.

March 18, 2007 8:55 AM  
Blogger joe shropshire said...

Skipper's secret ambition is to be drawn and quartered by an angry mob of 38-year-old career women, who finally got married last year.

March 18, 2007 2:19 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Joe:

Gotta admit, that made me laugh.

March 19, 2007 5:41 AM  
Blogger David said...

Sorry to come back to this so late.

Duck: I'm not conservative because I'm religious. If anything, I'm religious because I'm conservative. In fact, by real world standards, I'm not particularly religious at all.

Skipper: On the question of history, I think that civil marriage has been more about property than about child raising. "It's for the children" is, as far as I can tell, a thoroughly modern slogan. I do think that Duck is right to note that marriage is hard and that all the so-called benefits are barely enough to keep marriage going.

Also, it's not the effect on traditional marriage that we worry about. It's the effect on civilization.

March 21, 2007 7:15 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home