Social conservatives aren’t big-government control freaks

Burwell Stark Freelance Writer
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Neville Chamberlain was a good man. A solidly conservative British politician, Chamberlain was respected by members of his party as well as by members of the opposition. His ability to govern was well known and he held high-ranking offices until his death. Unfortunately, he is best known for his participation in the Munich Agreement and his statement that war with Hitler had been averted. Chamberlain’s record goes to show that even a good conservative can make errors in judgment.

I mention Chamberlain in light of Robert Laurie’s recent Daily Caller column, “An open letter to social conservatives.” Laurie is unquestionably a conservative who is concerned for the future of his country. His columns are well written and usually lucid. Yet, while he is always right on the issues, it doesn’t follow that he is always correct.

The main thrust of Laurie’s column is that social conservatives are doing more harm than good to the Republican Party by diverting attention from “important” issues like limited government to “trivial” ones such as gay marriage. At least, that’s what I think he is arguing, because his column has more loops in it than a Gordian Knot.

I disagree with much of Laurie’s column — specifically, everything after the fifth sentence.

For instance, Laurie states that “often, [social conservatives] sound an awful lot like the kind of big-government control freaks who [they] claim to despise.” But social conservatives are extremely committed to individual freedom. Individual freedom, however, is not synonymous with personal license; freedom is only worthwhile when it is tempered with restraint. “Big-government control freaks” care nothing for freedom or restraint. Instead, they are obsessed with control and subjugation and will stop at nothing until their so-called enlightened will is imposed upon the proletariat masses.

Another example of his mischaracterizations involves an appeal to spite. Toward the end of the column, Laurie writes, “Like those who champion Sharia law … [social conservatives] work toward a day when [their] morality is enforceable at the federal level — thrust upon the entire nation.” Really? In what way are social conservatives like fundamentalist Muslims? I wish I had more room to debunk this statement but I don’t; I can’t waste any time arguing with the kafir.

However, it is in his last sentence that Laurie most clearly presents his false dichotomy between limited government and social conservatism. There he states that morality is not the government’s business. That sounds good but isn’t true.

The government’s business is to create and enforce laws, and what is a law if it isn’t codified morality? Webster’s Dictionary defines law as “a rule of conduct or action prescribed or formally recognized as binding or enforced by a controlling authority,” while it states that a moral is “of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior.” Am I the only one who sees the similarity between the two definitions? I doubt it.

The framers of the Constitution understood that law is morality — that’s why they created the separation of powers and instituted a system of checks and balances. Social conservatives don’t want to overturn these institutions; what they are fighting is the usurping of power by liberals who seek to impose their morality on the public through executive or judicial fiat rather than through constitutional processes. How is that fight harmful to the Republican Party?

Neville Chamberlain was a good conservative politician who looked at a situation and reached the wrong conclusion. Similarly, Robert Laurie has drawn the wrong conclusion here. Social conservatives, with their insistence on public morality, are not anti-liberty. Rather, they realize that if the elites succeed in imposing their morality on the entire populace, there will be no stopping them from doing whatever they want.

Therefore, social conservatives want to limit what government can and can’t do. I believe that is something that even Laurie can support.

Burwell Stark is a columnist and freelance writer. A former teacher, he also has worked in the areas of legislative research, budget analysis and communications. He lives outside Wake Forest, NC with his wife and daughter. For more of Burwell’s columns, visit burwellstark.com.