Without Social Conservatism, We Won’t Be Free

Barb Wire

Since I started on the radio about a decade ago, one of the elements that has consistently set my show apart from other conservative talk programs is the strong focus I put on so-called social or moral issues.  I’ve been warned against it.  I’ve been counseled not to do it.  I’ve been told that it will stunt my growth and prosperity.  I’ve been advised to “tone it down” or even to “slip it in when no one is looking.”  No thanks.

What’s funny is that a lot of the folks who have advised me to not talk about it so much are those associated with the same political party I gravitate towards.  A recent example of this silliness came when I was listening to Garrison (the morning talk program out of Indianapolis hosted by Greg Garrison).  He was hosting conservative legend Jed Babbin of Human Events and discussing the future of American politics.  Babbin, a man I’ve always appreciated and respected as a strong conservative thinker in the ways of foreign policy, became quite animated at one point in the discussion and said that (I’m paraphrasing) if they knew what was good for them, social conservatives (those of us who concentrate on morality in the public square and in our public policy) would just “shut up.”

How lovely.  And how incredibly silly and stupidly short-sighted.

It really is no wonder that the Republican Party is in such a mess today when this is the extent of our thinking.  We now divide up conservatism into three main branches: the libertarian wing, the economic/fiscal conservative wing, and the social conservative wing.  Typically the first two agree on matters of social policy with the social conservatives objecting, the latter two agree on matters of defense policy with the libertarians objecting.  But here’s the bad news for the first two: without social conservatism, liberty (the aim and goal of both libertarians and economic conservatives) won’t exist.  It can’t.

The breakdown of morality in the public square is at the root of every single cultural, economic, and social problem we face in the United States.  And you don’t have to be a Rhodes Scholar to put this puzzle together: if you oppose profligate government spending, you oppose the breakdown of morality in the public square.  Because the consequences of that breakdown are precisely what we American taxpayers (and businesses) are paying through the nose to try to alleviate.

Public school spending is way up because our families are failing.  Welfare spending is skyrocketing because our families are failing.  Jails are overcrowded and delinquency rates are insane because our families are failing.  Violent crime, drug trafficking, gangs are all epidemic because our families are failing.  This isn’t speculative.  Sociologically, we know this is the case.  Yet for some reason we are told not just by liberals, but by supposed conservatives, that government promoting strong families through public policy that is consistent with the Natural Law and moral order of God is something we shouldn’t do?

And these people who say that claim to believe in less government?  Seriously?

George Washington made perfect sense about this when he wrote in his now largely unread Farewell Address:

“Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality will prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

In other words, when you don’t listen to social conservatives and you chase religious principle from the public square, national morality will not last.  Libertarians and economic conservatives are shunning reason and ignoring experience when they deny that reality because it is exactly what we’ve seen over the course of the last 230 years.  The same freedoms that citizens have exercised with responsibility since the dawn of our civilization are now being abused by reckless and immoral people.  Why?  Because there has been no publicly embraced religious character that has taught them internal moral restraint.

My question, then, for the economic conservatives and libertarians who want people like me to “shut up” is simply this: what has happened since people began abusing these long-held freedoms in the marketplace and every corner of society?  The answer is self-evident: the people being abused have cried out for government to protect them.  “We need more gun laws because these people are abusing their freedom to own guns.”  “We need a minimum wage because people aren’t paying me what they should.”  “We need government regulation of banking because corporate suits are taking advantage of people and not treating them fairly.”  So government has responded to their cries.  And responded.  And responded.

As Edmund Burke put it:

“Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites… Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without.”

People have lost internal moral restraint because despite Washington’s explicit warning, we removed religious principle from the public square and public consciousness.  And without internal moral restraint (“the less of it there is within”), control has had to be executed by a larger government (“the more there must be without”).  But here’s the question for libertarians and economic conservatives alike: when government grows and writes another law to help control the expanding chaos, what do we all lose just a little of?  Freedom.

Freedom – cherished by libertarians and economic conservatives – cannot and will not exist if social conservatives fail in helping reignite a public policy respect and recognition of the importance of religious principle and the moral lessons that come from it.  So how about instead of fighting us on our cause, they actually start using their brains and join us?

And with all due respect to Jed, if this simple principle evades your realm of comprehension sir, perhaps it’s time to start taking your own advice?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

Pete Heck
Pete Heck lives in Kokomo, Indiana with his wife Jenny, and their three young children. An award-winning public high school teacher, Pete has also authored three books on Christians in our culture. He also hosts a radio program, The Pete Heck Radio Show, and has been heard on over 200 radio stations around the country.

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