by Robert Arvay
I am a fiscal and social conservative. Am I the enemy of freedom?
Some prominent libertarians (many of whom I deeply admire) seem to think so. They say that laws restricting gay marriage, abortion, and even prostitution, are anti-libertarian, anti-freedom, and even unconstitutional.
Many libertarians oppose so-called drug laws. They say that such laws are examples of big government interventions in private affairs.
The libertarians do not come to this gunfight armed only with knives. They have strong arguments to bolster their case. If you are not prepared to debate with them, they will smoke you, even though you are highly literate and articulate. Especially concerning drug laws, libertarians point to an expensive war on drugs that they consider similar to the failed war on alcohol during the Prohibition era of the 1920s. Hundreds die, billions are spent, and people still use illegal drugs.
Given their strong, and seemingly sensible positions, how can we persuade libertarians that laws restricting certain types of so-called private behavior will expand, not restrict freedom?
Let’s begin with a general principle, which is this. Any society is governed by (so to speak) two separate sets of laws.
One set of laws is written. We have a Constitution, we have legislation, we have executive orders and regulations, and we have court rulings. All of these are in writing. As long as all of these writings flow logically and clearly from the Constitution, we are safe from government overreach. That safety comes from the laws that hold government accountable to an informed and moral electorate.
But what is this talk of a moral electorate? Where does that come in?
It comes in when we recognize the other set of laws that govern a society, a set of laws, which are not formally written down. Those laws are passed from generation to generation in the culture. The culture gives us a shared set of values, a common set of expectations concerning each other’s behaviors. The culture is no less important than the written Constitution.
The culture is so essential, that even if we were to impose our Constitution upon a culture that had no tradition of freedom, no tradition of personal responsibility— a culture that had none of the values of rule of law, none of our definitions of family— it is plain to see that our Constitution would be meaningless to such a culture.
Our culture assumes that each of us is created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. Those words are not in our Constitution. However, they are deeply embedded in our culture, as expressed in the founding document that declared our independence from a monarchy. Such ideas were meaningless to the monarch, and they are meaningless today to cultures that do not value freedom.
To be sure, our written law and our unwritten culture are intertwined with each other. Cultural values affect which laws will be passed, and how they will be enforced. Likewise, written laws either reinforce cultural values, or else, oppose them.
The American Civil War is a glaring example of the extremes of what can happen when a nation is divided by culture. Whatever arguments that historians can make about whether slavery was the issue in the Civil War, there can be no doubt that north and south had irreconcilable cultural differences regarding that issue. Even after the issue of slavery was decided by a horrific and bloody war, the related issues of racism continued in extreme form for decades afterward, and indeed, linger on in various ways in our culture to this day.
Only the most obtuse and ideological libertarian could possibly argue that the government has no business intervening between a man and his slave.
Yet, there are many libertarians who would argue that the government has no business intervening between an unborn child and the pregnant woman who wishes to kill that child. By defining a slave as a 2/3 person, the advocates of slavery found a way to redefine human rights in their ideological mold. Similarly, by defining an unborn child as a tissue mass, those who favor abortion can salve their consciences.
We could go issue by issue. But let’s settle on one.
Gay marriage cannot be an isolated right, because it requires everyone else to recognize as a legal reality what cannot be recognized as a natural and cultural reality. Marriage is not simply a living arrangement, not simply a domestic partnership, and indeed, not even simply a matter of falling in love. There is a reason why no culture, not even those in which homosexuality was accepted, has ever codified homosexual marriage into its laws, except in our lifetime.
The idea of a marriage consisting of one man and one woman, for life, with offspring, is so deeply embedded in our culture that we find it difficult to explain, and yet, shocking to violate.
But wait. What about divorce, what about unmarried cohabitation, what about out-of-wedlock pregnancy and single motherhood? Compared to that, why is homosexual marriage such a bad idea?
Exactly. When the culture collapses, when divorce and the other violations of marriage become prevalent in society, then you have cultural decay. With cultural decay comes a corruption of the legal framework. When that happens, you are on the road to catastrophe. Nations rise in triumph, and nations fall in catastrophe.
Nations rise in response to challenges. The challenges make them strong. Strength makes them meet their challenges. Ah, would it but end there. However, when the challenges are met, there enters a period of prosperity, followed by false security, followed by weakness, followed by collapse. Catastrophe ensues.
To the Libertarian I say this: I cannot go issue by issue and debunk the idea of an “anything goes” society, one at a time. We have to argue from principle.
The libertarian principle says that the only restriction on freedom should be that no man should be allowed to harm another. That sounds good, at first. The rights of your fist stop where my jaw begins. Flail about as you will, but stay away from my jaw.
But harm to another, harm to society in general, is not always as obvious as a punch in the jaw. It is often a much more difficult thing to identify, until after the harm is already done.
Unwed motherhood seemed very libertarian, and very harmless (according to many people), at first. It took about ten to twenty years to see the harm it did to the children of those sexual liberties. Likewise, our nation has suffered dreadfully from liberalized divorce laws, but the harm done crept in so slowly that by the time it was recognized, the snowball was already rolling downhill, unstoppable in its devastation. Yet despite the harm, because that harm is so difficult to see, no serious politician claims that we should outlaw divorce.
I said that there are two laws that govern a society, the written law, and the unwritten culture. But there is a third. I did not exactly omit to mention it, but rather, included it when I mentioned a “moral electorate.”
The law and culture are intertwined not only with each other, but also, with each individual. America has been a special place because Americans, as individuals, have been a special people. We are what we are because we are not, and never have been, culturally speaking, Chinese, Arab or African. We embodied the values and culture of Western Civilization, and we carried those ideals to unprecedented heights.
We did this as individuals, whether as individual Europeans, individual Chinese, Arabs or Africans.
To be an American is not simply to believe in the Constitution, nor to accept our culture, but above all, to internalize our Constitutional principles, to internalize our cultural values, within our individual souls. Americans are individuals.
Let’s provide an analogy here. Christianity was exported from England to Africa via missionaries, many of whom died in their quest to save lost souls. Indeed, many lost souls were saved in Africa. But then, England itself became less and less Christian. Its very church, the Church of England, became corrupted by the allure of homosexual values, until it became little more than buildings and symbols. It then happened that it was the English who were lost.
Today, missionaries from Africa come to England, to seek and to save the lost souls of wayward Englishmen. The irony is rich.
We, as Americans, have created the greatest and brightest social system ever to have blessed the planet. Beginning from violence, traveling through the dark shadow of slavery, surviving the treacheries of racism and so-called Progressivism, we have arrived at a state in which we no longer recognize the ultimate basis upon which all liberty must stand— individual morality.
Our individuals must each rise to the new challenge.
To be truly free, we must obey the Constitution, but also, we must preserve what is best in our culture; we can do that only when our individuals, in sufficient numbers, have become social conservatives.
If instead we go down the fatal path of progressivism or libertarianism, then our society will collapse into debauchery and ruin.
If that ever happens, let us hope and pray for the African missionaries to come and save our lost national soul.