35 years of one-note “conservatism”

A female reader writes:

Why is it that the evangelicals fulminate about abortion, which is already legal and will be very hard to undo, but say nothing about homosexual marriage, which is gradually being legalized but may yet be stopped? And why do they say nothing about illegitimacy, which is probably the number-one cause of so many ills in our society today—poverty, the destruction of public school education, the feminization of our culture, the denigration of fatherhood, the loss of masculine authority, personal disorder and alienation, and so forth?

The evangelicals had a meeting this week that was broadcast on C-Span. There was a person screaming about abortion and denouncing every little twist in the law and explicating the horrors of what the abortion law entails and going on and on to such an extent that I felt somehow that this was an affirmation of his identity, that it caused him to glow with power and self-righteousness. He feels very good about this kind of thundering denunciation, but he has nothing to say about the other cultural issues. It is becoming obvious that evangelicals, just like other “conservatives,” are next to worthless in advancing traditionalist goals. They are too busy preening themselves in utterly worthless denunciations of abortion.

AL writes:

Remember that “evangelicals” (I prefer the term “fundamentalists,” it’s a more accurate term for the people we are talking about here) have only been “conservative” for 40 years or so. These people are the actual descendants of the people who voted for William Jennings Bryan. Most of them don’t really understand what conservatism is or was, they just hate liberals. When the modern conservative movement was founded, fundamentalists had no role in it at all.

Spend some time on FreeRepublic.com if you want to get an idea of the mentality of these people. They are stupid and ignorant, but never let that get in the way of having strong, sweeping opinions about every subject under the sun. They don’t arrive at conclusions following from first principals or anything like that, they just spout off.

These people are also the 25 percent of the population who still thinks George W. Bush is good president. They seem incapable of registering the idea that anyone other than a liberal could criticize him. Not loving Bush with all one’s heart, soul and mind is seen as proof that one is a liberal or traitor to America.

I used to scoff at the idea that conservatives have an “authoritarian personality.” It seemed like just more leftist slandering. None of the conservatives I knew in my upper middle class northeastern environment were like that. But now I’ve come to see that there is an element of people on the right who are more or less like that. The “religious right” is where most of these people are.

Fundamentalists are also totally useless on racial issues and close to useless on immigration. They also don’t consider non-fundamentalists to be true Christians. Finally, their unwillingness to vote for Romney because of his religion is one of the main reasons why we have the totally unacceptable John McCain as the GOP presidential nominee.

LA replies:

Granting your main points, that doesn’t explain why they obsessively focus on opposing abortion, which is already in place and has been so for 35 years, while they speak so little about homosexual marriage which is actively threatening to be established and already has been in established in two states, and that can and must be stopped. And it doesn’t explain why they speak so little about illegitimacy, which, like abortion, is a result of a prior cause which they also ignore, sexual liberation. My sense is that they find those issues too complex or too politically and personally costly to pursue seriously. To oppose homosexual marriage means stopping certain people from claiming their “equal rights” to engage in whatever consensual behavior they want; it means being “discriminatory.” Thus it means being a bad person. To oppose illegitimacy and sexual liberation also means challenging the entire prevailing belief of our society that people can do what they like, so long as it’s consensual. But abortion is not consensual. It is the taking of a life or a potential life, and that fact makes it easier and simpler to argue against it. It’s a no-brainer issue. But how useful is a conservative movement that is only capable of handling no-brainer issues?* How worthwhile is a “conservatism” that is unwilling to challenge liberalism on the basis of first principles?

Also, abortion is already in place, and there is no realistic agenda in place to ban it again. So the pro-lifers’ ranting about abortion has no effect; no one takes it seriously. Which shows again who opposing abortion doesn’t cost them anything, either in terms of mental effort or in terms of being attacked as discriminatory. They get to have their moral high, and to rouse their troops, and to raise the money to keep their organizations going, for free.


*And as for no-brainer issues, it’s the same with immigration. People are “against illegal immigration,”—that’s the no-brainer part—but support “legal immigration.” Meaning that they would support 20 million immigrants per year, so long as they were legal? Talk about not having a brain.

Alan Roebuck writes:

At VFR, a reader asks:

Why is it that the evangelicals fulminate about abortion, which is already legal and will be very hard to undo, but say nothing about homosexual marriage, which is gradually being legalized but may yet be stopped? And why do they say nothing about illegitimacy…

Although a bit of an exaggeration, the criticism is basically valid. The answer to her question is that there exists a large Christian “infrastructure” (organizations, books, theories) opposed to abortion, whereas there is much less infrastructure opposed to homosexuality, and almost none opposing illegitimacy.

Aside from the fact that evangelicalism has been largely taken over by liberalism (theological and otherwise), most evangelicals, like most people generally, lack the conceptual equipment to think holistically about the disordering of American society, and so they only think in terms of discrete issues. They think that we just have to oppose certain discrete evils, and then society will continue doing ok. Furthermore, Evangelical Christians have a historic focus on individuals and their salvation rather than on defending the proper ordering of society.

Furthermore, abortion is easy to visualize as a concrete evil, whereas the legitimization of homosexuality is much less so (it is the legitimization of homosexuality, not homosexual practice as such, that is the proper focus of genuine conservatism), and illegitimacy is even harder to recognize for the evil that it is. Most people focus on the discrete acts of individuals, instead of thinking in terms of the ordering of society.

That’s reason # 867 why we need to build a proper traditionalist conservative theory and movement essentially from the ground up.

The Editrix writes from Germany:

“Why is it that the evangelicals fulminate about abortion … but say nothing about homosexual marriage?”

What about: Because the horrors of abortion (i.e. a living, feeling human chopped into pieces, liquefied and vacuumed out or executed with a lethal injection while in the process of passing the birth canal) are rather more imminent and disgusting than two old queens holding hands?

And since when is the fact that something “is already legal and will be very hard to undo” a principled argument against an ethical abomination?

Nota bene: The above is NOT an endorsement of homosexual “marriage.”

LA replies:

Nor were the reader’s and my comments endorsements of abortion. The question did not concern whether abortion should be opposed, but why, 35 years after Roe v. Wade, there is still this entire “conservative” movement that essentially just focuses on ONE issue and ignores others?

Wherever you look in the American conservative universe—whether we’re talking about the neoconservatives, or the paleoconservatives, or the pro-life movement, or the anti-big government, pro-Constitutionalism movement, all of which once made good and useful contributions—they’ve either stopped making good and useful contributions or have become actively harmful. Why? In my view, it’s because none of them had a view of the whole—a whole view of the liberalism that must be opposed, and a whole view of the good society which we need to restore. So these various conservatisms have respectively run out of steam, or run to destructive extremes, or lost their convictions, or become obsessively repetitive. Yes, there are lots of people called conservatives and they may accomplish useful things form time to time; but—as I first wrote in the mid 1990s—there is no coherent conservative movement that is prepared to resist the undoing of our civilization and fight to restore it. If such a movement is going to exist, it must be created.

And meanwhile, to add to our happiness, we’re being told that if present immigration trends continue, America will be a white minority country in 35 years.

Tim W. writes:

I would agree that it’s wrong to make abortion a single issue. That takes the focus off of other issues and results in otherwise bad candidates getting conservative support as long as they’re good on abortion (George W. Bush being an obvious example).

However, abortion is an important conservative issue for a variety of reasons. The fact that it takes an innocent life is an obvious one. Another is that the abortion mentality leads to a weakening of fatherhood and male responsibility. If it’s solely up to the woman to decide how to dispose of her unintended pregnancy, then men are going to react accordingly and not care about the children they helped produce. Yet another issue is that of judicial power. Roe was the result of raw judicial imperialism. If we accept Roe, on the grounds that overturning it will be difficult, then how can we in principle oppose future (or current) activist rulings on same-sex “marriage”? We’ll be seen as making an unprincipled exception ourselves. We’re against judicial power grabs, unless, like Roe, they’re too hard to overturn, in which case we look the other way.

Overturning the present liberal abortion regime in America would indeed be difficult, but no more so (probably less so) than overturning the current liberal racial regime. Roe may be 35 years old and entrenched but the racial rulings of the Fifties & Sixties are a decade or two older and even more entrenched. Yet VFR frequently entertains the possibility of overturning those policies.

Again, I agree that we shouldn’t make abortion the only issue. But to abandon it altogether would amount to complete surrender on same-sex “marriage,” because the liberal position on that issue is based politically on the same liberationist reasoning behind “easy” abortion and the same legal reasoning behind Roe.

I don’t think you want to abandon the abortion issue completely, but there are those who do. And I’ve never understood how we can capitulate on such a moral issue, as well as on the judicial fiat of Roe, and then expect people to listen to us when we object to promiscuity or the California same-sex “marriage” fiat.

LA replies;

Not I nor anyone at this site has urged abandonment of the abortion issue. So I don’t know what is the point of Tim’s comment. I have said and believe that the abortion issue can get nowhere by itself. Abortion will never be overturned so long as people believe that what America stands for is the right to unlimited sexual freedom. But the pro-life movement never challenges those liberal premises of the right to abortion. They just keep attacking the evil of abortion by itself. So their intense moral indignation at abortion goes nowhere, it just keeps spinning in place, never connecting with anything outside itself. Our whole house is burning, and all they care about is one fire in one room. Not only do they not care about the rest of the house, I don’t think they’re aware that the rest of the house exists. I was bored by the pro-lifers 15 years ago. Now I’m sick to death of them.

Tim W. replies:

I didn’t say that you want to abandon the abortion issue. In my final paragraph I specifically say that you don’t wish to abandon the issue. However, there are those who do wish to abandon the issue (not necessarily at VFR, and I never said otherwise).

My point in writing was simply to note some of the reasons why many conservatives feel that abortion is an important issue which relates to other issues, such as male leadership, the homosexual agenda, feminization, and other such matters. There is an element in conservatism which just wants to toss the abortion issue aside completely. These are the so-called Barry Goldwater Conservatives, who first came to prominence when Goldwater declared himself “pro-choice,” and within no time he was championing “gay rights” as well. One usually leads to the other.

I readily agreed that making abortion a single issue is a bad policy

LA replies:

I have said many times that opposition to abortion is the keystone of the modern Republican party (not an original thought). And I further believe that, even in the absence of any serious agenda to overturn abortion, the continuing presence of the anti-abortion plank has served an important symbolic purpose. It means that the GOP stands for a moral principle—a non-liberal principle.

And yes, you are right that there are those who want to dump the GOP’s anti-abortion platform. But they’re not limited to the “Barry Goldwater conservatives.” When, several years ago, various establishment “conservatives” began to promote Giuliani for the GOP nomination, I would write to them saying that nominating a pro-abortion person like Giuliani would both be wrong in itself and cause the GOP to disintegrate. But of course they continued in their grand romance with Rudy.

But the fact that the anti-abortion plank has been indispensable in holding the modern GOP together and giving it a moral rallying point does not mean that it is remotely adequate to the challenges of our time. For these “Christian moral conservatives” to continue making such a huge deal about abortion, while they ignore the ongoing institutionalization of moral liberationism and moral depravity throughout our society, doesn’t just make them useless; it makes them part of the problem.

August 17

LA writes:

It’s not just my impression that the pro-life people aren’t serious about opposing homosexual marriage. Here’s Byron York at National Review Online talking about candidates’ forum with Rick Warren at Saddleback Church Saturday night:

Obama had nothing to win on the [abortion] question; if anything, he seemed wary of saying something that might anger his pro-choice base. But McCain had a lot at stake with this group, and his answer seemed to settle the concerns of social conservatives who have been rattled by reports that he might be considering a pro-choice running mate. While many evangelicals have softened on the issue of gay marriage, they wanted to hear a solid, clear statement from McCain on abortion. “Abortion and marriage are still pivotal issues…but I think that abortion is probably more pivotal than marriage,” Marlys Popma, the Iowa social conservative who is now McCain’s national coordinator for evangelical issues, told me after the forum. “Abortion is still very, very solid with this group, even the younger ones [who are more liberal on marriage]. Life is a real delineating factor.”

“… many evangelicals have softened on the issue of gay marriage…”

So, the main contingent of pro-life “conservatives” have in effect surrendered to the most radical social innovation in the history of the world, and we’re supposed to take them seriously? I don’t. Because without effective opposition to homosexual marriage, homosexual marriage will inevitably continue to spread and become established in this country. And the only effective opposition to it, as events in recent years have demonstrated over and over again, is absolute opposition to it, meaning a federal constitutional amendment banning homosexual marriage in the United States. On this issue, there is no middle ground. Either you are on the side of those defending the central institution of human society, or you’re on the side of its destroyers.

Lydia McGrew writes:

I have much, much more that I could say but haven’t time to say properly now on this statement that evangelicals talk “too much” about abortion but “don’t talk” about the homosexual agenda. (Briefly, I think it false.) But please, do not take Rick Warren or the members of his church to be the best representatives of the religious, evangelical right. Strongly conservative evangelicals often know that Warren is a liberal, and those who like him without knowing it are very uncomfortable when they find it out. The religious right is not Rick Warren’s cheering section on political matters, and many of them worry that he isn’t even reliable on theological matters. Rick Warren is no conservative, not even from the pro-life perspective. Indeed, pro-lifers challenged his bringing in Obama to a conference with him before Obama was a presidential candidate.

David B. writes:

About the only conservative stand that McCain has taken is being against abortion. Since the abortion law is extremely unlikely to change, this position of McCain’s means nothing. This is how he likes it. McCain can continue to seize on issues like campaign finance and amnesty of illegal aliens, and back them with everything he has, as you write. Meanwhile, a large number of “conservative” voters like him because McCain is “against abortion” and a “war hero.”

LA replies:

Which is what he’s been doing for his entire career. Which is why I’m made heartsick by the brainless focus of “conservatives” on abortion, which allows McCain to call himself a conservative.

Chris L. writes:

Before I reply to your female writer and AL, I want to state up front that I have been an Evangelical all of my life.

Your female writer states that Evangelicals do not care about issues like homosexual marriage, etc. Nothing could be further from the truth. I remember reading plenty of articles discussing the homosexual agenda starting in the early 1990s. Add to this that 44 states have passed laws or constitutional amendments that at a minimum guarantee marriage is defined as being between a man and a woman. Evangelicals provided a lot of support to get those laws passed. I also know that there has been a lot of work on how to develop a proper relationship between men and women and strengthen marriage. Most Evangelicals put this as an area that it’s best to work with people on the individual or local church level. It’s not something that is going to be improved by a new law or government program. [LA replies: this is a tragically misguided view. As have been shown over and over by supporters of the FMA including me, state laws against same sex “marriage” are not sufficient to prevent its spread. For one thing, if homosexual civil unions are allowed, courts will inevitably—as has happened in California—find that civil unions are a “second-class,” unequal form of relationship and therefore full scale “marriages” must be allowed. Second, the conflicts between states having same sex marriage and those not having it—as will happen, for example, when a same sex couple moves from the state where they were married to a state that doesn’t recognized same-sex marriage, or when there is a custody battle between same-sex coupld residing in different states—will steadily move the whole country in the direction of the recognition of same sex marriage. Only a federal constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage for the whole country—and preferably banning same sex civil unions as well, as the “strong” version of the amendment does—can stop its spread.] It seems to me that your female correspondent may only be seeing one area because it’s the most prominent and oldest area of Evangelical political participation. It definitely is not the only area of concern though.

AL represents some confused thinking in my view. At one point, AL looks down on the barbarian fundies and states “None of the conservatives I knew in my upper middle class northeastern environment were like that.” That’s interesting because other than New Mexico and judges in California, the Northeast is the only area where homosexual marriage is marching along without much in the way of opposition. NY, MA, CT, RI, and NJ have no laws defining marriage as between a man and a woman. His conservative acquaintances may have surrendered, but at least they were not like the Religious Right.

Next AL proceeds to blame Evangelicals for the failure of Romney. It was not Evangelicals who attempted to foist the completely unacceptable, pro-abortion, multiple marriage, Giuliani on the party. Unsurprisingly it was the Northeastern Republican establishment that caused that self-inflicted wound. Neither was it Evangelicals who caused Fred Thompson to run a somnambulist campaign. Nor did they design the absurd open primary system of the Republican party. Finally AL blames Evangelicals for being Traditionalists and not voting for Romney. Mormonism is not a sect of Christianity and never has been generally accepted as one. So, Evangelicals, who actually consider the U.S. to have a Christian heritage, were leery of voting a non-Christian as a president. Romney’s religion speech came too late and by that point he had rubbed a lot of prominent Evangelicals the wrong way.

AL point that Evangelicals do not help with race and immigration issues. I think Alan Roebuck provides a solid response here. If you give Evangelicals a solid, Biblical framework through which to view race, you will start to sway them. And there is pretty strong undercurrent that the races really should remain distinct. On immigration, Evangelicals have, until recently, been staunch supports of controlling the borders. It’s only been recently that that position has softened and a lot of that is because the government has let the situation get out of control. Facts on the ground are powerful.

Lastly, basing the intelligence of a group based on postings at Free Republic seems to be a pretty limited sample size.

As a parting point, Lydia is right that Warren is viewed with either suspicion or out-right hostility by most Evangelicals. I do not believe Evangelicals have softened their position on gay marriage. However, I think there is a serious movement for Evangelicals to disengage from politics. There has always been a strong current of avoiding politics and the marginal successes of the past 30 years has strengthened those who support disengagement.

Robert R. writes:

I believe it a very great mistake to identify Evangelicals as being the same as Fundamentalists. Although the dictionary isn’t clear on just what the term evangelical should be applied to, I, in watching Evangelical services on TV have come to realize that the Evangelical movement is all about “love”—love of God, love of others, love of everything! It is a very emotional response to Christianity. This is very different from the Fundamentalist movement which is (like conservatism) about reading original texts and following the rules and laws laid down by those texts. Evangelicalism is actually quite in alignment with liberalism.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 16, 2008 02:38 PM | Send

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