Randians on the Right
Red State’s all-out assault on Santorum comes as no surprise. This is a blog that perceives all who fail short of achieving purity as a conservative (whatever that’s supposed to mean) as heretics. So they have taken a few incidents where Santoum fell short – and in some cases, he did cast a wrong vote or endorsed the wrong candidate – and have now transformed Santorum into some kind of statist.
The shrill attacks on Red State are to be expected. What’s disappointing is seeing an otherwise insightful blogger like Ace of Spades hyperventilate ignorantly about Santorum. What set Ace off was this comment by Santorum from much earlier in the campaign:
One of the things I will talk about that no president has talked about before is I think the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea … Many in the Christian faith have said, “Well, that’s okay … contraception’s okay.”
It’s not okay because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. They’re supposed to be within marriage, for purposes that are, yes, conjugal … but also procreative. That’s the perfect way that a sexual union should happen. We take any part of that out, we diminish the act. And if you can take one part out that’s not for purposes of procreation, that’s not one of the reasons, then you diminish this very special bond between men and women, so why can’t you take other parts of that out? And all of a sudden, it becomes deconstructed to the point where it’s simply pleasure. And that’s certainly a part of it—and it’s an important part of it, don’t get me wrong—but there’s a lot of things we do for pleasure, and this is special, and it needs to be seen as special.
Ace is displeased:
Glad we’ve gotten all the Big Things squared away so we can now focus laser-like on the sin and moral emptiness of people having sex while avoiding pregnancy.
So he begins with a strawman. Because Santorum has stated that he would use the bully pulpit to speak out against contraception, it means that Santorum is unconcerned with economic matters. Evidently Ace has inserted wax in his ears anytime Santorum has talked because he’s spoken in great detail about our financial predicament. What’s upsetting to Ace and others of his mindset is that Santorum understands that there are other items of importance. Santorum has articulated one of the fundamental aspects of conservative political thought: the nexus between social and economic issues. He understands that you can’t discuss one without discussing the other. This is something that is beyond the grasp of the libertarian-minded.
And if you say “gee he’s just talking about this stuff:” Um, if a plumber starts talking about the bad rap iron pipes have gotten over the years, and how they’re really pretty safe, I assume he’s open to the idea of using iron pipes in my house.
He is a plumber, speaking about what he considers to be his area of expertise.
So when a presidential candidate starts talking about the importance of the president taking the lead on the evils of birth control, yes, I assume he believes this to be within the proper functions of the executive.
Yeah, this might be one of the worst analogies I’ve ever heard. Santorum was talking about talking about (not a typo) birth control. At no point did he discuss legislating on this issue, but Ace believes he has some gift of foresight and therefore knows what Santorum believes more than Santorum himself does.
Ace then contorts a comment from Santorum about these being important public policy issues into an implication, again, that Santorum wants to abolish contraception. But Ace focuses too narrowly on birth control, ignoring the broader context of what Santorum is getting at. It is a bit fanciful to jump from one thing (these being important policy issues) to another (a wish to prohibit access to birth control). This is all part of a wider discussion about public policy, but in no way indicates that Santorum actually wants to prohibit access to birth control. In fact, he has said quite the opposite. In several interviews and in debates he has clearly stated that while he believes states do have the right to make laws restricting access to birth control, he would not personally favor such laws. When confronted with these quotes from Santorum, Ace ignores them, insisting that somehow he just knows better than Santorum what the latter is thinking.
Ace continued his assault on Santorum in the comments, huffily responding to Santorum defenders (including yours truly) that we really want to just use the machinery of government to legislate morality according to our whims. Yet Ace himself admits to being okay with the majority decision in Griswold vs. Connecticut. Here is his defense of his defense of Griswold:
I think everyone is missing a basic point of conservative governance: At what point did we agree to empower the state to such a degree?
People talk out of both sides of their mouths. They talk up “limited government” but check the details, and they don’t really support limited government, but empowered government, immodest government, overweening government.
People seem to like restricting liberties so long as it’s not a liberty they themselves approve of.
So in order to preserve liberty we have to empower the federal government to restrict states rights. Even though there is no reasonable constitutional argument that justifies the Court’s decision to strike down Connecticut’s birth control laws, the decision was okay because . . . well, because birth control is some sacred right or something. So we have to restrict the liberty of the states and their citizens to make laws as they see fit, and we should be able to do this through the power of the federal government. Furthermore, Ace us willing to embrace an outcome-based jurisprudence where personal policy preference, and not the text of the Constitution, dictates how the Court should decide.
But Ace, and not Santorum, is the true conservative.
There are a couple of things at play here. First of all, as I’ve said before, there is a strong Randian strain on the right. Libertarian-leaning conservatives view Rand as a prophetess, admiring her strong defense of economic liberty while ignoring, or actually celebrating her moral nihilism. Younger individuals on the right are especially drawn to this. This is a profound division that exists on the right, and is in some ways a divide between single, childless conservatives and those who have families. I don’t want to over-generalize here as there are obviously exceptions, but it’s hard to miss the deep resentment towards traditional morality expressed in certain quarters on the right, often by young, single individuals who are perhaps not as sympathetic to traditional conservatism as those who have moved on from that lifestyle.
The other difficulty is that Ace is attributing to Santorum and other social conservatives the motivation of the left. We’ve witnessed the politicization of everything under the sun. Leftists have no problem using the machinery of the state to advance their morality. So Ace naturally assumes that when Santorum discusses social issues, he is signaling his desire to “legislate morality.” Ignore for a second the banality of the term itself. What this demonstrates is the transformation of how we think about politics. We are almost incapable of thinking outside of the legislative realm, so when somebody in the political arena extrapolates on what he believes are the most important issues of the day, we all assume that he is discussing his policy preferences. But not all that is political is necessarily related to policy. This is a distinction that has been lost due to 80-plus years of Progressive dominance.
Ultimately, what’s fracturing the conservative movement is the insistence that we can somehow segregare social and economic conservatism. Let’s take a look at an abbreviated version of Russel Kirk’s six tenants of conservatism:
- “Belief in the transcendent order, or body of natural law, which rules society as well as conscience.”
- “Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence, as opposed to the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of most radical systems.”
- “Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes, as against the notion of a ‘classless society.’”
- “Persuasion that freedom and property are closely linked: separate property from private possession, and Leviathan becomes master of all.”
- “Custom, convention, and old prescription are checks both upon man’s anarchic impulse and upon the innovator’s lust for power.”
- “Recognition that change may not be salutary reform: hasty innovation may be a devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress.”
You see anything in there about tax rates? That’s not to say that economic issues are secondary. The fourth tenant in particular has an economic tinge to it. And of course we are not absolutely bound to Kirk’s tenants as though he handed down a magisterial document. That being said, this gets to the hearts of what conservatism has been about since the time of Burke. Convention, tradition, aversion to hasty change: these are the hallmarks of conservatism. At the heart of conservatism is respect for social conventions. This does not imply a slavish devotion to things of the past, but rather a thoughtful respect for tradition. By and large conservatives have been fighting a rearguard action to defend against attacks by the left on traditional morality. Others on the right who mock these efforts are betraying what it means to be a conservative, and at the same time endangering the very liberties they purport to value so dearly. Because the last time I checked it wasn’t some wild-eyed so-con trying to destroy the first amendment in order to force insurance companies to dispense birth control for “free.”