NewsReal Debate to Watch – UPDATED: "Swelled-Headed Narcissists"?

Yesterday I objected to my NRB colleague Lori Heine’s criticism of social conservatives as “statist control freaks.” At her blog, she has some more remarks on the subject. She mention’s she’s got a NRB rebuttal to my piece waiting in the wings, so I’ll hold off responding for now. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Here’s Lori’s NRB reply. I’ve penned an upcoming response which entails some of the themes she touches on at her blog, so I’ll use this space to comment on something else she said yesterday:

First of all, I will again explain my take on social conservatism in general. According to my understanding, it can really only be said to mean one of two things. Either it concerns itself with politics — which is to say, with the workings of government — or it is the self-definition of swelled-headed narcissists who fancy themselves more moral, or more pious than anybody else (usually without any substantial evidence to back it up). NRB’s editors take issue with lumping all social conservatives together as big-government meddlers, and perhaps they are right. But I have not yet heard a better definition than the two that I have given.

Er, what? I’m not sure just what the first option’s supposed to be referring to, and the second – “the self-definition of swelled-headed narcissists who fancy themselves more moral, or more pious than anybody else (usually without any substantial evidence to back it up)” – is an egregiously insulting mischaracterization that’s hard to take seriously. Speaking of a definition “without any substantial evidence to back it up”…

Social conservatism actually isn’t all that hard to define. I’d argue that it’s simply the recognition that a self-governing society cannot be sustained without certain moral principles and institutions, and that while, to use Vindicating the Founders author Thomas West’s phraseology, government can’t “by itself produce the passions and convictions” America needs, it can “weigh in on the side of them” in certain ways, within the confines of the Constitution and consistent with natural liberty.

America’s Founding Fathers certainly didn’t believe that protecting natural rights and maintaining basic infrastructure were government’s only proper functions: George Washington tells us that morality, one of the “firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens,” is an “indispensable support” to political prosperity. John Adams writes that policy should “regulate” human passions, because it is “of the highest importance” that they be “arranged on the side of virtue.” Charles Rowley of George Mason University writes that for James Madison, “a republican order must have a moral content, a cluster of values, without which it would lose its meaning.” Even the Founders we consider relatively secular agree—Thomas Jefferson fears what might become of nations which fail to admit “a chapter of morality in their political code,” while Benjamin Franklin hopes the nation’s “virtues public and private grow with us, and be durable,” because “only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.”

Also, It’s a little surprising to see myself referred to as a “doe-eyed innocent”; that’s certainly not what a lot of other people would call me

UPDATE 2: Here’s my NRB response.


3 thoughts on “NewsReal Debate to Watch – UPDATED: "Swelled-Headed Narcissists"?

  1. Speaking for myself, I think social conservatism is much misunderstood.

    I am a social conservative, not because I consider myself so much more moral than others, but because I understand that much of the economic and political agenda of the conservatives cannot be put into place without, first, implanting a social/cultural change on the population. Fine to say that government should get out of giving money to people who haven't earned it, but that seems to be cold and and uncaring to many.

    However, if the social/cultural changes have begun percolating through the system, people will have begun to think of themselves as too independent and self-reliant to accept what really is charity. In essence, a return to an earlier, common sense of self – thanks to changing one's cultural paradigm, first.

    There is a critical point that has to be reached with these cultural shifts. It's no surprise that the people with whom the shift has happened generally come out of a religious tradition (in churches where the individual has accepted that paradigm change – it's a natural occurrence when you join a group).


  2. Hi Calvin,

    Perhaps “doe-eyed innocent” was unfair. It was not really intended as an insult; you seem to be basically a very nice young person. Perhaps I'm a bit of a feisty old bag, but I have seen a much less-flattering side of social conservatives than you seem to.

    I'm perfectly aware that many of them are nice folks. But NRB being primarily a political blog, when I post there I am primarily concerned not with how else they might change society — none of which I'm particularly inclined to oppose — but strictly with their philosophy of government and its proper scope and function. This is what I primarily mean when I write about social conservatism there.

    As a Christian myself, I welcome debate on issues like gay rights. I just don't think they should always take place in the context of attempting to sway governmental power. The debate can be very lively (and probably much more honest) without that.

    You seem to take a tremendous amount of umbrage at the suggestion that anyone might have less than a totally sunny view of social conservatives. I have come to have a better view of many of them than I used to. But I have lived enough years in this world to know that many of them have a dark side. And I don't think they should be attempting to legislate it.

    Again, I hope you're right that the threat is less grave than I have thought. But I would like to hear more people like you say so.


  3. Oh, don't worry – I wasn't taking offense at “doe-eyed innocent.” I just thought it was funny 🙂

    Let me rephrase my main objection to your argument another way: the intensity with which you argue against this crisis doesn't seem proportional to the extent that the crisis has been demonstrated to even exist. To demonstrate that it is a crisis, we have to know how big the movement you're talking about is, what powerful & influential conservatives are a part of it, and what concrete effects they've had on the conservative movement or the Republican Party.


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