Sean King

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Knoxville, Tennessee, United States

Monday, November 15, 2010

I Think They Get It!

Christian Science Monitor:
Representatives of the loosely organized tea party movement urged GOP leaders in a letter released Monday to abandon their fronts in the culture wars – issues such as gay marriage, school prayer, and abortion – and instead focus their new electoral power on individual liberties and "economic freedoms."
"If the Tea Party wants to remain true to its limited government principles, then it strikes me that the default position would be less government and more personal freedom, whether the issue being dealt with involves economics or so-called 'social issues,' " writes Doug Mataconis on the Outside the Beltway blog. "At some point this unnatural split in the GOP's view on freedom will have to be reconciled."

Yes it will. And fortunately, there's no reason why doing so should be all that difficult. The trick is simply remembering that the purpose of government in a free society is not to compel people to behave in ways you want, but to prevent people from compelling you to behave in ways you don't.

This means that we must be prepared to permit individuals to do things that we find ill advised or even morally or religiously abhorrent so long as they don't directly harm others in doing so. The only way to insure that government doesn't interfere with the way that we want to live our lives is to prevent it, as much as possible, from interfering with how others live theirs. A government powerful enough to impose our world view on others is, by definition, also powerful enough to impose some other world view on us.

Thus, I agree that conservatives should abandon the political culture war in favor of broader principles of liberty. But, that's not to say that we must remain silent on contested matters or ignore behaviors that we perceive as immoral or unjust. Rather, we must simply take the war to the streets and fight it block by block, or rather individual by individual, rather than in the halls of government. We must recognize that, if we are to convince others to adopt our way of thinking/acting while remaining true to our principles, our criticism must be so reasonable and so compelling that it is effective even without the aid of governmental coercion. We can no longer allow governmental compulsion to substitute for the hard work of persuasion. When we have abandoned this principle (and we too often have), we become just another of the many thugs fighting over the same governmental gun.

The only way to avoid such fights while still protecting ourselves from thugs who won't is for conservatives to disable the gun--that is, to shrink the influence of government drastically. A tiny weapon is hardly worth fighting for and can't do great damage even if won.

And, the only way to shrink government is for true conservatives to maintain a strong and lasting majority in Congress, not to impose our will, but to prevent the thugs from doing so. Conservatives cannot do that without building a big tent.

Fortunately, the way to build a big tent, as the last elections have shown, is to oppose government in almost all areas, even areas where we might prefer it to act, and doing this has the additional benefit of shrinking the gun. For instance, why do Americans permit government to become involved in the issue of marriage at all (gay or otherwise)? Shouldn't marriage be between a person and his/her betrothed, and perhaps his or her God or church? Why does the state get a say? By removing the state as the final arbiter of marriage, and returning that responsibility to individuals or religious institutions where it belongs, conservatives can both shrink government and build a big tent party without sacrificing their moral or religious principles.

All this is to say that, if conservatives are to long govern, they must agree to move the culture war from the political battlefield to the social one. Conservatives must take up the hard work of persuading individuals to voluntarily behave in their desired ways, rather than seeking to force them to do so through governmental action. Taking this approach, conservative culture warriors can vehemently oppose abortion, and support adoption, but they cannot advocate that the state should compel all pregnant mothers to carry their babies to term. They can favor individual school prayer, but they cannot advocate that the state compel people to pray a specified collective one. They can discourage stem cell research in a variety of ways, but they cannot insist that the state forbid it. They can oppose gay marriage (if they wish), but they can't seek to ban it.

Only when conservatives disable the gun will they long control it.

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