Why Conservatives Lose The Moral Argument: A Response to Matt Walsh
True conservatives (the few there are left) are beginning to wake up and rediscover the need for asserting moral, rather than merely pragmatic, arguments for their causes. This breath of fresh moral insight has been expressed by both Ben Shapiro and Glen Beck for a while. More recently, though, it was the topic of a whole episode on the Matt Walsh podcast. Unfortunately, Walsh framed the discussion, not around the need for morality, but around the need to focus on “social issues” and “social conservatism”. I say, “unfortunately”, because this seeming equivocation between morality and social conservatism is emblematic of the disastrous reason conservatives have lost on moral principles in the past: our “principles”, in essence, are no different (or no better) than that of the left.
In The Realm of Politics
What do I mean? Let’s look at Walsh’s description of a “social conservative” as a good example. He says that if you believe that it should be illegal to dismember babies, that the family and institution of marriage should be protected, that men are men and women are women, that religious liberty matters, that truth and morality are objective, and that the creed upon which America was founded matters, then you’re a social conservative. Whatever good he has in that description (and there’s a lot of good there) is destroyed by one sneaky little equivocation. What does he mean when he says that “the family and institution of marriage should be protected”? It’s clear what he means. He means that they should be “protected” by making it illegal for gay people to enter into a marriage contract. Why? Because, as he stresses later, “the family is the nucleus of civilization”. If the family goes, he argues, all of civilization goes with it. Therefore, we need to legally “protect” the family. What about the individual right to enter into contracts? The needs of the civilization over-ride it. The needs of the people. The needs of the collective. In other words, individual rights only matter so long as they serve the collective. That’s one of the fundamental political principles of the left — being staunchly championed by the right.
Social conservatives, in other words, adopt the leftist policy of legislating based on “what’s best for society”, rather than the supposed conservative policy of legislating based on individual rights. Why? Because they rightly see that certain moral standards are necessary to maintain civilization, but falsely believe that there is no way to maintain those standards apart from legislation. Conservatives talk a big game about the principle of individual rights, but deep down, they’ve got a major objection against it which, if put into words, would go something like this: “If we stick too closely to the principle of individual rights, then our morality will lose to that of the left”. But those who actually hold to the principle of individual rights — without exception — have an answer to that objection. And it’s time for conservatives to listen up. There is a way, apart from legislation — a better way — to spread moral principles. There is an institution which, by its very nature and design, is meant to take over and influence all other institutions with the right moral principles. It’s called: the Church.
The Church is meant to be “the pillar and buttress of truth”. Not the RNC. And certainly not Congress, the Oval Office, or the Supreme Court. The Church is meant to be the salt and light of the world. But this is where the next ‘too-controversial-to-name’ objection begins to rise in the conservative’s heart: “it’s not working”. “The American Church,” they feel, “has tried to influence the culture with the truth; it’s tried to be salt and light, and look where we are”.
Has it, though? Has it really tried? Sure, it’s tried something. In fact, the American Church has tried a lot of things — almost everything. But has it tried the truth? I don’t mean “the truth of the Gospel” (as infinitely valuable as it is — even to cultural change). Certainly the Church has tried that, and made great headway (His Word does not come back void). But there is more to truth which Christians ought to care about than the Gospel (not less, more). What has the Church — and Conservatism — adopted as its worldview? What standards of truth have we offered as alternatives to that of the left? What moral principles do we employ to fight those of the left?
In The Realm of Morality
We’ve already seen that on the political level, social conservatives hold the same governing principle as the left: collectivism. What about morality? What is the basic moral premise of the left which unites various heads of their monstrous causes? Ultimately, their motive is nihilistic destruction of all that is good. That’s the only answer that can make any sense out of their hatred for western civilization, their hatred for economic prosperity, their hatred of moral standards (eg, the sexual “revolution”), and their hatred for reality (eg, transgenderism and “trigger warnings”). But that’s their un-named motive. What is the explicit morality which they use to mask all of that hatred? “Compassion”, “equality”, “love”. Altruism. It’s “selfish” to value western culture over other cultures, they say, so we must sacrifice our cultural preferences for the sake of the culturally weak. It’s “selfish” to “hoard” private property while others starve, they say, so we must sacrifice our property for the sake of the economically weak. It’s “selfish” to “impose” our “privileged” convictions onto others, they say, so we must sacrifice our norms for the sake of the psychologically weak. “Selfishness” is the great enemy, and sacrifice is the solution.
That’s the morality of the left. What does the right offer as an alternative? We agree! At least, on the same moral premise: “selfishness” is wrong, and sacrifice is the solution. But, as with individual rights and collectivism above, we try to have our cake, and eat it, too. We don’t want to get rid of Western civilization altogether, so we rationalize that Western civilization is good — so long as it helps others. We don’t want to get rid of business and economic freedom altogether, so we rationalize that business is good — so long as it helps the poor. And we wonder why we’re left arguing numbers and figures, while the left preaches morality. It’s because we’re busy trying to justify our position on their moral premise of sacrifice. It can’t be done. If the standard is sacrifice, then socialism wins over capitalism — every time. If the standard is sacrifice, then that which destroys the self, or one’s own civilization, wins over that which is good for oneself, or one’s own civilization — every time. We cannot win an ideological battle in which we cede the moral high ground to our enemy. The “high ground”, ideologically, always belongs to those who are most consistent with the fundamental principle. In politics, conservatives agree that the fundamental principle is collectivism, and then wonder why we — who want to preserve some individual rights — lose out to those who jettison all individual rights for the sake of the collective. In morality, conservatives agree that the fundamental principle is sacrifice, and then wonder why we — who want to preserve private property — lose out to those who want to sacrifice all private property for “the poor”. This is why we’ve lost in the realms of politics and morality.
In The Realm of Truth
But what about the realm of truth, which undergirds both politics and morality? We know that the left rejects objective truth for the sake of emotional whims. What is the right’s alternative? Answer: we have none. Sure, we talk a big game about “objective truth” — just like the leftists talk a big game about “science”. And just as “science” is a mask to cover for their epistemology of whims, so “objective truth” is a mask to cover for our epistemology of faith. That’s the answer that all of our moral, political, and ideological reasoning comes down to. How do we know that the Christian God exists? “Faith”. How do we know the the Bible is the word of God? “Faith”. How do we know that Christianity is true? “Faith”. Translation: we feel it. We feel so strongly that it must be true. Just like Bruce Jenner felt so strongly he was a woman, that it must be true. Once again, we discover that the we have no fundamental disagreement with the left about basic principles. And once again, the more consistent party wins. If feelings are the standard, then the dress-flaunting 66 year old man with fake breasts wins over the semi-rational prude with a Bible.
A Way Forward
So, Matt Walsh is absolutely right. We desperately need to fight on the level of morality and worldview. But we cannot do that so long as we agree with our enemy about the fundamental issues in those realms. We don’t need to double-down on the vague and contradictory garbage heap of our current worldview. That dumpster fire is what got us to where we are now. No. We need to leave it, so that we may rediscover and identify a better morality and worldview. We need to rediscover the virtue of individualism, and reject collectivism. We need to rediscover the virtue of rational self-interest, and reject the orgy of sacrifice as an end in itself. And above all, we need to rediscover reason as the sole (and sure) ground for objective truth, and reject every idea which comes from feelings, whims, and “faith”.
We, particularly the Church, need to pick up that hard task which we have neglected now for centuries: the task of comprehensive worldview integration. We need to despise the fear that the truth might lead away from God. That fear assumes that God isn’t true. Reject it. We need to learn that the truth is always better than a lie, and therefore reason is always better than any alternative (even the supposedly pious alternative of “faith”). We need to learn that all truth is one, because reality is one — and therefore all truth goes together. There are no contradictions. We need to labor, harder than we ever have before, to understand the full truth of reality, and how it all fits together without contradiction. We need to think about moral principles, not as rationalistic justifications for what we think is right, but as principles which are grounded and based in reality, to which we must conform. We need to repent of our contradictions and evasions, and rededicate ourselves to discovering the truth, the full truth, and nothing but the truth, so help us, God. It won’t be easy. But it will be worth it.
Originally published at www.thechristianegoist.com on August 10, 2016.
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