Why traditional conservatism is for children, not adults
Public thought among Christians right now is headed toward a perfect storm of confusion. We are asked to choose between “libertarianism” and “conservatism” as if those were two indivisible, pure, political positions. Libertarianism, as far as it is a secular philosophy built on a non-aggression ethical imperative, does come closer to this description. (Of course, in the ancient world, adultery would be considered an act of aggression; Libertarians often seem to build more assumptions into their words than they account for.) But, for better and/or worse, conservatism has never been anything so coherent.
Yet somehow, in order to not sound or look libertarian, every demeaning novelty in legislation can get recommended as Christian wisdom. Thus a defense of regulating the size of sodas
This is local government, not the federal government, which in America is rightly one of enumerated powers, and so may do only what the Constitution says it can do. Government so far removed from the people should be correspondingly limited in its scope of action.
But state and local governments have what is called “police power,” the authority to rule broadly on matters of health, safety, and public morals. It is not libertarian to recognize this power, but it is indisputably conservative. Society is not a mere economic alliance, a trading bloc, or a mutual defense pact. It is also a moral bond between people who share a common life. So it is fair for government to protect not only public health but also the health of public morals and citizen character.
I responded to this column briefly, here. Now I’d like to add a few thoughts.
I don’t find the reasoning from “federalism” that convincing. New York City is hardly local government in any real sense. Much less are state governments local, even if they are unbound by the Constitutional limitations. Smaller communities would never make a difference banning sodas because of cars and highways. So, other than freedom from Constitutional restraint, I’m not finding much sense in calling these restrictions “local.”
In general, I disagree with the claims being made in the above column.
First: It is an insult to the law of God, which does indeed tell communities to use coercion to eliminate or at least marginalize sexual immorality, to use that authority as an infinite pass to extend the power of civil rulers to make them the arbiters of how much soda we can purchase or consume. The writer thinks he’s taking a stand against Libertarianism to say the government should be in our soda cups. I think he’s going to create Libertarians who will want the government out of our cups and our “bedrooms.” Drinking a 40-ounce soda is not a sin. Having sex with a prostitute is. Watching sexual acts for entertainment is a sin. It is not Christian to obscure this basic distinction.
Second: Conservatism is supposed to have a non-ideological, practical attitude that we look at society as it is. Yet this issue is treated as if the governments we have currently lording over us consist of reasonable people to whom we can entrust our health. No, they are people who want to provide free condoms for promiscuous homosexuals, free abortions for children having sex without parental consent (put the modifier both places; it works either way), and clean needles for heroin addicts. They are the last people I want having any authority over any part of my choices regarding my health. But we are supposed to expand the authority of these people?
Third, all our municipal governments are about to go bankrupt. This is the time when we need to reduce our government expenses to the least possible amount just to economically survive. If you really hate fast food soda sizes, I offer the consolation that we will soon probably see massive bankruptcies of fast food chains as fewer and fewer people can afford to eat there so often. This is somewhat related to my second point. Once again we are talking about an abstraction, “the government,” and its abstract timeless list of alleged responsibilities and disregarding such otiose matters having to do with the actual state of government and the economy that we have right now.
Fourth, again related to my second point, it is not conservative to make rules for a fantasy realm version of America we want to believe in, rather than the one that really exists. Conservatives have all decided that they are not Libertarians, and therefore will not countenance the a priori Libertarian/Anarchist view that the state is simply a criminal organization. OK. But what about the historical data? Do we get to look at that? Can we read books like The Money and the Power, a history of Las Vegas, and see that organized crime has, in reality, intersected with politics all through American history. How often have major metropolitan police departments and city governments not been organized crime syndicates? When have we had a president of these United States who was not supported by some faction of the underworld? But conservatives suddenly become the opposite of Burkeans. Rather than dealing with society as we find it, we imagine a government functioning in a pure theoretical manner and then add duties to it. And thus, the potential downside of aggrandizing the authority of such people is simply ruled out, because it might sound Libertarian.
Fifth, the science of obesity is about as settled as global warming–in other words, it’s not settled at all, except in the mind of government controllers. The “science” in fact, is completely ruled by “specialists” from the diet industry who have a track record of failure in getting anyone to lose weight, but who are treated as purely disinterested experts in what is causing (or in how to measure!) “obesity.” In fact, this “science” is often not more than a covering for the lust to be glamorous and youthful at all times. If people were concerned about health, they would encourage regular exercise, without attaching it to the myth of real weight loss. Regular exercise provides immediate health benefits, but it doesn’t give one substantial weight loss. Because people see weight loss as the only real reason to exercise, or the only real marker for health (actually untrue, overweight people live longer than the supposed ideal weight), they get discouraged by their caretaker cadre of nanny-state ‘experts.” In fact, all these health claims are a facade to foster some of the most superficial and intolerant attitudes.
But is this also part of a larger cultural crisis of self-indulgence? Could limiting soft-drink cup sizes also be a means of strengthening citizen character? Habits of self-restraint are essential to our ability to function as a community.
Yes, it is part of a larger cultural crisis of self-indulgence. We have politicians, behavioral scientists,”nutritionists,” and educators along with a media-industrial complex all working to make children (especially young girls) loathe their own bodies and view their own bodily needs (like hunger!) as the enemy. If someone wants to be a non-libertarian conservative, then support the ban of pictures of nude or “almost nude” models. Say the state should ban bikinis in public and (while I would still probably disagree with you) I’ll acknowledge your fearless non-libertarian Conservative cred. But you don’t get that for allowing Bloomberg his self-indulgence or pretending he has the power of strengthening citizen character or pretending that preaching self restraint to politicians hampers our ability to function as a community.
The truth is exactly the opposite. A group will function as a community when it learns not to judge one another or disparage the appearance of people who don’t measure up to your (media-invented) physical ideals. The Apostle Paul had something to say about community, and he suggested that we not judge one another about what we eat or drink. I think he teaches wisdom and invite you to go and do likewise.
As a matter of partially researched opinion, I tend to avoid sodas because I think that carbohydrates are problematic (but not so much that, when I have one, I am unable to give thanks to God before drinking). But I also think the buns on hamburgers are problematic. When I plan ahead and am trying to eat my best, I just eat meat with as high a fat content as I can find. Bloomberg’s cadre of court prophets think that is unhealthy. I think it is the healthiest way to eat. Bloomberg’s “scientists” think calories are the enemy and try to limit the caloric content of school lunches. I think calories are needed for life and that limiting the caloric intake of students will result in a host of performance problems as well as encourage unhealthy binging after school. Bloomberg wants fruit juice instead of soda. I think there is very little difference between them. The media privileges certain alleged findings of science, and ignores others. It is not “conservative” to use the government to impose questionable science on the nation.
But Bloomberg has an army of armed bureaucrats and represents many more who have shown repeatedly they don’t know the meaning of self-restraint. If I don’t put my faith in these human locusts am I hurting community? No, I am defending community from an anti-social institution that wishes to corrupt it. If I don’t want these people pointing a gun at me to overrule my dietary decisions, am I being a libertarian? No, I am being a conservative who recognizes a radical, revolutionary, utopian government when it tries to tell him how to eat.
Of course, one element of conservatism is traditionalism, and Christians have a history, especially if you discount the American political ethos as an unfaithful aberration, of making all sorts of rules for the moral good of the community. John Calvin, Robert Dabney, or even this blog’s namesake, Abraham Kuyper, could probably be invoked for such purposes. Thus for example, “Calvin’s teaching of generosity tempered with responsibility led to the development of Geneva’s sumptuary laws.”
I don’t care about any of this. The pretensions of a man like John Calvin being distilled into an unbeliever like Michael Bloomberg is an opportunity for Christians to grow up and rethink old errors. Let’s not waste it! God wants us to grow up and be rulers, not slaves. Recovering guardians and overseers for the human race is, at best, a backwards move. And it is, itself, childlike behavior to want to boss others and tell them what to eat or how to dress.
God has given us enough rules. These rules include mandates to punish sex outside of marriage when Christians are granted such civil power. Isn’t that anti-libertarian enough? Baptizing bullies like Michael Bloomberg, or even worse, rationalizing the impulse to judge and exclude manufactured deviants under the implausible cover of caring for their health, is not a legitimate Christian contribution to society–not even when it successfully evades the “sin” of being ‘too libertarian.”