One of the greatest deceptions perpetuated by the mainstream media concerning the American political scene is that whenever the “social issues” are prominent in election debate, conservatives lose. James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal recently wrote about an upcoming book by Jeffrey Bell—“The Case for Polarized Politics”—that helps dispel this myth.
“Social issues were nonexistent in the period 1932 to 1964,” notes Bell. “The Republican Party won two presidential elections out of nine, and they had the Congress for all of four years in that entire period. . . . When social issues came into the mix—I would date it from the 1968 election . . . the Republican Party won seven out of 11 presidential elections.”
Bell concludes, as have many others, that American social conservatism began in response to the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Thus, it is unsurprising that all of the most significant “social” issues in America today are sexual issues.
To borrow from pastor, author, and Christian apologist John MacArthur (as I have done before), “Within the moral realm in our society the conflict is almost exclusively about sex.” Abortion, fornication, homosexuality, divorce, and so on, he adds, are all sexual issues.
Therefore, the phrase “social issues” is a bit of a misnomer. Topics like abortion, homosexuality, marriage, contraception, and the like are not hot political issues simply because—as the word “social” implies—they relate to people’s personal lives. They are hot political issues because they reside deeply in the moral realm of our culture. We are not debating mere “social” issues; we are debating moral issues.
Being a nation that was “conceived in liberty,”—and for modern conservatism to have so wrapped itself up in the concept of liberty—it is often seen as a contradiction that conservatives wish to “legislate morality.” However, as Edmund Burke (considered by many to be the father of modern conservatism) noted, “Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their appetites…Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free.”
Is there little doubt that when these words first came to Burke in the late 18th century, among other things, mankind’s sexual appetite was foremost in his thought? Since our founding we have had laws that govern moral, including sexual, behavior. Our Founders, and throughout our nation’s history, most of our lawmakers and judges understood well Burke’s implication that true liberty cannot exist without those “moral chains” which bind our “appetites.”
For decades now, and with significant success, liberals have fought to break those Judeo-Christian “moral chains” that they have deemed unjustly binding. For example, in late 2003 the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 6 to 3 ruling, overturned the Texas sodomy law, and therefore invalidated similar laws in the 12 states that still had them on their books.
In his dissent, Justice Scalia summed up the conservative position well: “State laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity are likewise sustainable only in light of Bowers' (the 1986 Supreme Court decision upholding Georgia’s sodomy law) validation of laws based on moral choices. Every single one of these laws is called into question by today's decision; the Court makes no effort to cabin the scope of its decision to exclude them from its holding.”
Scalia continued, “The Court embraces… the fact that the governing majority in a State has traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral is not a sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting the practice.” He concluded that, “This effectively decrees the end of all morals legislation.”
“Laws without morals are in vain,” said Ben Franklin. In other words, all law is rooted in some morality. On morality, C.S. Lewis declared that, “Moral rules are directions for running the human machine. Every moral rule is there to prevent a breakdown, or a strain, or a friction, in the running of that machine.”
Liberals have not really ended all morals legislation; they are attempting to redefine what is moral. They want to rewrite the “directions” for running the “human machine.”
Consider Europe, where liberals often look for their new marching orders in their war against Judeo-Christian morality. Recently, the UK Telegraph reported that, in the Journal of Medical Ethics, an article entitled “After-birth abortion: Why should the baby live?” argues that newborn babies are not “actual persons” and do not have a “moral right to life.”
The journal’s editor said that those who made “abusive and threatening posts” about the study were “fanatics opposed to the very values of a liberal society.” With such “values” (morals) espoused by the left, is there any wonder that conservatives have been—and I believe will continue to be—successful when it comes to debating the moral issues in America?
Trevor Thomas resides in Gainesville, GA with his wife and four small children. He has a bachelor’s degree in physics and two graduate degrees in mathematics education. He has taught high school mathematics in public and private schools for the last 17 years and has written opinion columns for the last nine years. www.trevorgrantthomas.com
The CJS Forum seeks to promote an open exchange of ideas about the relationship between faith, culture, law and public policy. While all the articles are original and written especially for the CJS Forum, they do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for a Just Society.
Picture above from Flickr Creative Commons user ElvertBarnes under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License