Social conservatives threaten a free and open society

It’s been over a month since famed playwright Arthur Miller passed away and his eye for social commentary is already missed. A witch hunt, not unlike the one portrayed in “The Crucible,” is taking place under our very noses.

Back in December, Alabama state Rep. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) introduced a bill that would make it a crime to use state funds to purchase any book that has “positive depictions of homosexuality.” His prescription for classics such as “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “The Color Purple”? Dig a hole and dump them. His rationale? “Values are under attack.”

Allen is right, of course. Our values are under attack … from people such as himself. Not long after Allen’s censorship bid, the harridans of talk radio lashed out against Clint Eastwood for making a film that even so much as mentioned euthanasia in anything other than a one-dimensionally negative light (while they do have a right to an opinion, Michael Medved, as a film critic, was duty-bound to examine the merits of a film, not the merits of any message contained therein).

In a nation that has always placed a premium on freedom and liberty, this kind of behavior should be alarming. Instead, it is becoming accepted as the norm.

It is no surprise that this increase in oppression closely corresponds to the political ascendancy of social conservatives. Social conservatives occupy positions of prominence in all three branches of government and have numerous operatives in grassroots organizations.

They have succeeded, in no small part, by conning supporters into believing they stand for “traditional values.” A closer look, however, reveals that there is very little that is traditional or endearing about their methods and goals.

Offense or defense?

A common claim made by social conservatives is that their voices are not being heard. They point to a pervasive liberal bias in academia and insist they are seeking to merely level, rather than dominate, the playing field. Chanting the mantra of “academic freedom,” they are able to rally sympathizers to their cause.

While it is true that a disproportionate number of college professors lean left, these claims are largely without merit. Following Allen’s logic (if one can call it that), the bill he sponsored was designed to remove the pro-homosexual influence found in works such as “Angels in America.”

But wait – the last I checked, I could go to a library and read the Bible or Ann Coulter’s latest screed or “Mein Kampf.” Or, I can elect to simply not read at all.

Right now, there exists a balance of ideas (even if the stewards of those ideas are biased). Works that cast homosexuality in both a positive and a negative light are available and we are free to experience either, neither or both.

What Allen wants is not balance, but monopoly. He isn’t defending “traditional values” as much as he is attacking nontraditional ones.

It would appear then that in the warped mind of a social conservative, the two are one and the same. This “us or them” mentality, exemplified by Pat Buchanan’s cry for a “culture war” in the mid-1990s, again has its bearings in fantasy rather than reality.

Consider the following example. I don’t drink. As a nondrinker, am I allowed to argue that the drinking of others “threatens” my ability not to drink? Am I – though probably in the minority – then allowed to attempt to ban drinking on those grounds? I should certainly hope not! I, like the social conservatives, would essentially be punishing others for my own insecurity.

Indeed, social conservatives would be better off if they looked toward their economic counterparts and thought of ideas and values in terms of a market atmosphere. That which cannot survive healthy competition doesn’t deserve to survive at all.

Grasping at straws

It goes without saying that social conservatives seek a moral sanction for their agenda. By codifying personal moral convictions (such as those that govern sexual behavior), they believe they will be able to inject morality into law. This belief ignores the fact that law is neither moral nor immoral, but rather amoral.

Laws are designed to protect individuals and their property, not create “good” or “bad” people. Those who are of a righteous disposition do not need laws to tell them what they should or should not be doing.

Similarly, those who are of a malevolent disposition will not let laws get in their way. Therefore, the concept of law as an agent of moral change or authority is flawed to say the least.

As many social conservatives are also lawmakers, they are undoubtedly acquainted with this fallacy. In order to overcome it, their rhetoric often takes on an alarmist tone. “We can’t allow X to happen,” the emboldened social conservative declares. “Our entire civilization will crumble if it does!”

This is, at its core, a slippery slope fallacy. In opposing gay marriage, for example, social conservatives have argued that incest and polygamy will follow despite a lack of a logical connection between the phenomena. The former does not naturally result in the latter.

By attempting to paint an apocalyptic view of the consequences of abortion, gay rights, relaxed drug laws, legalized prostitution and other contentious issues, social conservatives are playing upon our deepest fears and paranoia.

The fact of the matter is we do not – and cannot – know with real certainty what will come of many of these actions in the long term because the long term has not happened yet. Any attempt to suggest otherwise is merely grasping at straws.

At odds with the past

What’s ironic about social conservatives is that they aren’t half as in sync with tradition as they believe themselves to be. Rugged individualism, not social cohesion, has been our greatest historical asset.

Many of our most renowned leaders engaged in behavior that would nowadays be seen as either morally unchaste or socially unacceptable.

From Benjamin Franklin’s opium use to Thomas Jefferson’s indiscretions with slave girls, it is evident that these men valued privacy and liberty. The effort to assault either in the name of tradition is an affront to their legacy.

Even more ironic is the extent to which social conservatives are out of touch with the history of their own movement. Barry Goldwater, one of the forbearers of the modern conservative movement – a man who attracted socially conservative white voters en masse – was pro-choice and supported the right of gays to serve in the military.

The late Ronald Reagan, a god among conservatives who was renowned for his traditional values, had the following to say against marijuana prohibition: “If adults want to take such chances, that is their business.”

How can it be that modern social conservatives are so out of touch with their idols? The answer is that Reagan and Goldwater were political conservatives first and social second. Political conservatives value small government. Social conservatives value an increased government role in promoting social cohesion. Therein lies the schism.

Borrowing from the enemy

For all the griping social conservatives do about progressives and leftists, there are remarkable similarities between them. Eastwood, a libertarian Republican, made light of this in response to his most recent criticism. “When you go far enough to the right you meet the same idiots coming around from the left,” he said in a Time interview.

Whether they are cognizant of it or not, social conservatives have essentially embraced the leftist concept of political correctness and made it their own.

They have censored that which is critical of traditional Christian values with the same zeal progressives have demonstrated in blocking critiques of egalitarianism.

Furthermore, social conservatives have placed a cancerous burden upon the governmental system. Just as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has taken heat for launching frivolous lawsuits, the Parents Television Council (PTC) should be lambasted for making ridiculous complaints.

According to the FCC, 99.8 percent of the nearly 240,000 complaints the agency received in 2003 were courtesy of the PTC.

Perhaps it can best be said that social conservatives are to society what socialists are to the economy. They believe that more government regulation is better, individual rights should be sacrificed for the abstract notion of a greater good and anyone who disagrees can only be evil or stupid (if not both).

When stripped of their subterfuge, it is clear that what social conservatives are advocating is not preservation and equality, but a vicious power grab.

Think about it: in a liberal/libertarian framework, any one person can still be a social conservative. Individuals can abstain from sex, not have abortions, believe homosexuality is wrong, refrain from drug use, practice Christianity and salute the flag with pride. Their rights are preserved even if they disagree with the system that preserves them.

A socially conservative framework, however, would not extend the same freedoms to those who disagree and would, in true tyrannical fashion, punish them for daring to be divergent.

President Bush has often spoken of establishing Iraq as “a beacon of freedom.” This is not going to happen if freedom is ignored on the home front.

We must acknowledge and respect our differences rather than try to force conformity, stand up to fear and intimidation and stop the gradual Talibanization of America before it becomes any more unbearable.


For the purposes of this article, “social conservatives” are persons and groups who advocate a socially conservative political agenda. The piece is not meant to criticize individuals who merely happen to have socially conservative views or those views themselves.