“The Deepest Source of Our Troubles”
Paul Rahe on Romney’s failures and the changing electorate.
It’s a long article and well worth the read, but let me highlight a few points. First, as Rahe writes:
Lest I bore you and fail to provoke sound and fury, let me preface my remarks by saying two things: that libertarians should be social conservatives and vice-versa.
This was and is an argument I have been making here, sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly, and in fact this site has nurtured the nexus of those two groups in a way that I believe is unusual on the right side of the blogosphere.
Which is perhaps why protein wisdom is often treated as a kind of niche site. But be that as it may.
Recall, my argument for supporting Rick Santorum over a more milquetoast, establican moderate like Romney — who we all knew would move drastically to the center, would refuse (as did McCain) to take aim at Obama the leftwing ideologue, and who would try to pander in his own way to the centrists who oftentimes base their electoral decisions on flimsy and superficial desires for comity and compromise (for a glaring example of such puffed up fluff, see Colin Powell) — was that it was the social conservatives who, having been at war with the secularists, were in a sense doing the work of showing us where real liberty exists, what it is, and how, by way of an overweening government and the status quo popular culture, which can infect even the courts, it is taken away.
That is, I argued that Santorum would be able to articulate and explain the very real attacks on religious freedom, freedom of conscience, and the necessity and morality of federalism — of keeping the government more localized, and allowing the states to make determinations based on the wishes of the citizens of those states to pass laws (or not) that are the proper Constitutional bailiwick of the states (and not of the Courts or the federal government, who have created over time entire new categories of civil rights that don’t comport with the Constitution — in a way that would benefit classical liberals and libertarians and prevent a kind of social and cultural status quo.
For his part, Rahe argues a similar point, although he focuses on the sexual revolution and libertinism:
Why, then, you may ask — if you even remember the question I posed some paragraphs back — should libertarians be social conservatives? The answer is simple. Single mothers and their offspring are bound for the most part to become wards of the state. For a man and a woman who are married to rear offspring is a chore. It may be fulfilling, but it is demanding and hard. It requires sacrifice and discipline. For a single person to do so and to do it well requires a species of heroism. For a single person to do so at all requires help — and that is where we are. For we now take it for granted that we are to pay for the mistakes that the single mother (and her sexual partner) made. We now, in fact, presume that she is entitled to our help — and we now have a political party in power built on that premise.We are to pay for her groceries through WIC (Women, Infants, Children), for her medical care through Medicaid, for the contraceptives that she does not have the discipline to use properly and for the morning-after pill should she slip up and need an abortion. Her right to be promiscuous trumps our right to the fruits of our own labor.
What I would say to libertarians is this: Liberty requires a responsible citizenry, and the sexual revolution (very much like the drug culture, which was and is its Doppelgänger) promotes irresponsibility of every kind. It promotes dependence, and it fosters an ethos in which those who exercise the virtues fostered by the market are punished for doing so and in which those who live for present pleasure are rewarded.
There are many reasons why Mitt Romney lost in 2012. Some, as I suggested in an earlier post, were his fault. Some of them were not. One of the latter is that the demographic deck was stacked against him in a fashion that it was not stacked against Ronald Reagan in 2008. If we do not find a way to reverse the sexual revolution, we are doomed. The future of liberty is contingent on the success of the social conservatives. The libertinism that some libertarians ostentatiously embrace provides the growth in the administrative entitlements state with its impetus. If to be a libertarian is to favor political liberty, then libertarians must embrace social conservatism. If to be a libertarian is to embrace sex, drugs, and rock and roll, then libertarians are the proponents — whether witting or not — of the soft despotism that threatens to engulf us.
Here, I believe Rahe perhaps overstates the case, though I don’t dispute the larger points that redound to the necessity of recreating an ethos of personal responsibility. After all, there’s a reason the left is going full bore in the academic sphere to convince us all that rugged individualism and self-reliance are part of an American mythos that doesn’t really exist — that it’s a lie, that without the government, you wouldn’t have your business, your education, and so on. It takes a village, after all, and the collective we is greater than the selfish me.
This is the kind of feel-good pablum that, as a propaganda tool, sells well to a culture that’s been thoroughly Oprahfied and indoctrinated into leftism by schools, media, and much of popular culture.
But there’s an obverse to that, and I believe it explains the enormous rift we’re seeing as the country separates out into those who believe in the founding principles (including among them the Protestant work ethic and the necessity of a kind of baseline morality taken from Judeo-Christian teachings) and those who watch “Glee” unironically, and believe they are entitled to just about anything — even if that means taking it from some faceless distant other — provided they can figure out a way to define it as a “right”.
Lately, I find myself drawn to shows like “Pawn Stars,” “Swamp People,” “Duck Dynasty,” “Storage Wars,” and the like. Part of it is the kitsch value and the enjoyment I take watching the local color. But part of is that these shows represent an unapologetic defense of industriousness, capitalism, competition, self-sufficiency and self-reliance, and in many cases, the importance of family.
These are the “values” that I believe many of us on the right crave — though not in the way that makes us blue-noses or intrusive godbothering theocrats.
That is to say, it’s not necessarily the sexual revolution per se that is the problem, but rather a kind of tacit cultural acceptance that, as a result of the sexual revolution, the government needs to step in and act as a proxy family to those who are not prepared to deal with the consequences of their own actions, and to do this, the citizenry is required to pay for such “compassion.”
As Rahe rightly notes, the Democrat party saw an opportunity in the aftermath of the sexual revolution to court those who in the past would have been expected to learn from mistakes, not be rewarded for them, either with excessive governmental largess (see my earlier post today on the subsidizing of the poor and the disincentives it creates) or with a kind of romantic, Rousseauvian nobility.
And this is what I mean when I speak of the Oprahfication of American culture: those who make mistakes should be given sympathy and assistance; but what they shouldn’t be given is a victim status that allows them, with a few tears and some learned platitudes, to forgive their own missteps as the product of a collection of societal forces almost beyond their control. The Democrats nurture that narrative, pander to it, in fact (how else can you explain the glorification of Sandra Fluke, the $3000 a year condom junkie?) — all in exchange for votes and the creation of a permanent dependency class that, along with crony capitalists and insecure liberal elites concerned with status markers, is their electoral client base.
I believe the country is right now splitting along those lines — those who desire individual autonomy, smaller government, and self-reliance; and those who dismiss such things as antiquated Enlightenment ideals that don’t fit a modern society looking to “progress” toward an egalitarian system of conformity in outcome — and that we’ve reached a kind of tipping point, one that Romney (and most of the GOP establishment) continues not to recognize, and so continues to lose national elections for wont of appealing to all those who believe in the former, many of whom I suspect stay home on election day convinced that neither party represents them.
Of course, I could be reading the zeitgeist wrong, but then again, I may not be. So it’s worth considering. And if I’m right, the question is, how do we go about essentially deprogramming that part of the population that has lost its way and actually desires a kind of managed subjecthood, provided they can get a free phone out of the deal?
Because these two factions can’t continue to live peacefully together, I don’t think — particularly when one is paying for the other without even enjoying the same standard of living as those they are subsidizing.
Discuss. I’ve got wrestling to coach.
(h/t D.Skolnick and Sdferr)