Deal W. Hudson
During the 2012 presidential campaign the most oft-repeated charge against pro-life social conservatives was that they not care about a human life after the moment of birth.
When I was surprised to heard this charge from a Catholic bishop, I decided to write a response, and offered this simple argument: To be concerned about life is to be concerned about everything. In other words, if pro-lifers are consistent in their convictions then their passion for protecting life would extend throughout a human lifetime.
As someone who has known many pro-life leaders over a long period, I also shared my observation that no one among the leadership I knew were guilty of that particular charge. However, it had to be admitted that the ongoing divide between the Catholic pro-life community and those Catholics who speak first of social justice can create a disposition for each side to ignore the concerns, or achievements, of the other.
If asked, most pro-lifers would identify themselves as politically conservative which, over time, gave rise to the category of the social conservative, i.e. a conservative who views the life issues as having a greater importance than any others. Politicians earned the label of social conservative by being on the correct of side abortion, marriage, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, and human cloning.
During the 2012 presidential election religious liberty was virtually added to the list due to socially conservative reaction to the imposition of Obamacare. In retrospect, the linking of religious liberty, although entirely appropriate, to already establish five settled, or non-negotiable, life issues served to reinforce the general impression of social conservatives as uncaring about life after birth. Healthcare, after all, is a necessary part of living a full, and hopefully long, life. And, suddenly, pro-life social conservatives didn’t care about that.
Social conservatism has served as an effective political banner for many years but the debate over healthcare exacerbated its public perception as uncaring about issues impacting the sick, the poor, vulnerable, the suffering, and those lacking opportunity. Well-known philanthropist Foster Friess recently called for fellow conservatives to embrace a cultural conservatism. Friess’s message is that conservatives, especially Catholics, work to heal the unnecessary divide between the pro-life and the social justice communities.
Friess is right: a cultural conservatism would revivify conservatives both in their minds and hearts — it would allow them to act with their larger heart and with those parts of the mind that dream, imagine, contemplate, and create. Conservatives would discover another source of energy and vitality, rather reliving the glory days of Reagan and Goldwater, publishing another meditation on the Founders, or one more angry tract on how Obama destroying America.
Cultural conservatism would help donors and activists to realize they don’t have to choose between culture and politics or argue over which is more influential, when in reality they are interactive, with culture being a far broader concept that cannot be reduced to pragmatic calculations of electability.
Cultural conservatives would be more involved in the arts — meaning they would feel free to read more novels, or admit how many movies they’ve seen, and enjoyed. There is already a culturally conservative phenomenon growing among conservatives and Christians who have engaged the creative, production, and marketing side of arts and entertainment. One might argue that conservatives engaged primarily in politics need to notice what has been achieved by Walden Media, Icon Entertainment, Regal Entertainment Group, the Advent Film Group, Vision Forum Ministries, the documentaries of Dinesh D’Souza, and the fact former Senator Rick Santorum in now the CEO of EchoLight Studios.
Of course, the word culture means many things to different people, but that is part of its advantage: Individuals will connect to cultural conservatism from a multitude of angles, addressing issues new to the conservative movement but building upon the bedrock principles such as personal freedom, free markets, limited government, lower taxes, fiscal responsibly, American exceptionalism, and the sanctity of human life.
Cultural conservatism is an implicit recognition of the paradigm changes that have taken place with the digital age. News, opinion, and information are no longer managed by a media elite, and communication itself has become more visual, more interactive, and more cross-disciplinary. One added benefit will moving important conservative thinkers back into the spotlight, such as Russell Kirk, Richard Weaver, Marion Montgomery, Eric Voegelin, Whittaker Chambers, Robert Nisbet, Charles Murray, Robert Scruton, and William F. Buckley, to name a few.
The principles informing cultural conservatism will be no different from those that guide earlier generations of leadership, but it will be conservatism that puts aside the dour repetition of stock phrases and complaints. In short, cultural conservatism will come as a surprise to those who thought they knew what conservatism is.
©Deal W. Hudson