When social conservatives gather to hear conservative movement leaders, activists, and Republican hopefuls this weekend at the Omni Shoreham hotel, there will be an elephant in the room: libertarianism.
Public opinion is trending their way on a variety of cultural issues, but as I noted the other day at The Week: “Conservatism and libertarianism are not the same … there’s also the ever-present tension between freedom and virtue, between order and liberty.” Social conservatives are perhaps the hardest hit by this trend, as they see some of the issues they’ve long advocated losing favor, even among fellow conservatives.
With this in mind, libertarian-leaning social conservative Sen. Rand Paul is expected to address this tension in his speech at the Family Research Council’s 2014 Values Voter Summit today. In a first draft, obtained by The Daily Caller, Paul says:
“Some seem to believe you must choose either liberty or virtue — that to be virtuous you can’t have too much liberty. That is exactly wrong. Liberty is absolutely essential to virtue. It is our freedom to make individual choices that allows us to be virtuous.”
At another point in his prepared remarks, Paul avers: “The great achievement of the Constitution’s framers was in providing a means for synthesizing freedom and tradition.”
This synthesizing, also known as “fusionism,” served the right well for decades, but has been coming apart in recent years. It seeks to take these disparate worldviews and unite them around shared goals — or common enemies. In recent years, however, this partnership has turned into a zero-sum game, where libertarian victories equal social conservative losses.
Sensing a house divided cannot stand, and that someone must broker a peace, Paul may be betting betting that he, like Ronald Reagan, can find common ground between the social and traditional conservatives — and the libertarians. He is shrewd to sense the need to address this schism, and it can be easily accomplished in a speech. The much harder part is building a bridge that can survive the storms to come. Today, he begins construction.