Not too long ago, both liberals and conservatives were oriented to some kind of common social good. Liberals pushed for what they considered to be “social justice.” Conservatives emphasized patriotism and worked for cultural stability. Today, both sides frame their arguments in terms of personal liberty and individual rights (gay rights, abortion rights, reproductive freedom, etc., vs. parental rights, religious liberty, gun rights, free markets, etc.).
Is that an advance? Perhaps it is. But did you notice that when we recently discussed Iceland’s attempt to battle pornography, hardly any of us–social conservatives mostly, me included–were able to come up with any way to oppose it legally. Even as we were decrying pornography and admitting how socially harmful it is, we could only conceive of the issue in terms of first amendment rights. On another blog that discussed Iceland’s policies, someone defended pornography on the grounds that we must not interfere with free market economics, that the demand must call forth a supply.
Then I was part of a discussion of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s graduation address at Harvard University in 1978. In that talk, the exiled Russian author who spent nearly a decade in the Soviet gulag and whose dissident writings helped bring about the fall of Communism, said why he would not recommend that his country, once free, emulate the modern West. One reason he gave is that western societies have become “legalistic”; that is, our societies have replaced morality with laws. And societies cannot protect themselves with laws alone. [Read more…]