Tag Archives: conservatism

Karsten Erzinger: Shifting conservative strategy

In surveying the current political landscape, one can’t help but perceive a decline in social conservatism. Over the past 30 years, its supporters have effectively lost the culture wars and are now being pushed from the public square. Examples include Brandon Eich, who was chased from his job at Mozilla for his views against same-sex marriage, to pro-life clubs being marginalized at many Canadian universities. Gone is the tolerance to live and let live; instead, tolerance now means “accept and embrace, or else…”

How can social conservatives survive their decline into this new reality and live to fight another day?

Social conservatives tend to play defence. They try to apply society’s brakes, slowing the march of progress. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it does lead to negative perceptions.

Pick any major issue that social conservatives have engaged with and chances are their position could be summarized with just one word: no. Whether it’s abortion, same-sex marriage, drug legalization, or prostitution, social conservatives are seen as the old cranks who just say no. This makes the job easier for progressives, who can present themselves as enlightened even without a convincing argument.

Social conservatives need to shift tactics by getting ahead of the issues and championing means to address them. On abortion, rather than simply advocating recriminalization, why not start campaigning to improve adoption services and other alternatives? Why not campaign for better palliative care than simply arguing that euthanasia or assisted suicide is wrong and dangerous? Progressives don’t have a monopoly on solutions for social problems; conservatives simply need to better articulate their alternatives. It is not difficult to do: the abolition of the federal long gun registry is a perfect example. Conservatives got in front of the issue and made a strong case against the registry, making the repeal of it politically achievable.

While it’s easier to sit back and lament society’s moral decay, it would be better for conservatives to clearly define their positions and champion alternatives. If we simply sit back and say no, we’ll continue to lose the hearts, minds, and arguments.

The Hustings

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Geoffrey Wale: Barry Goldwater and gay rights

Believe it or not, Barry Goldwater was a gay rights advocate. His position was based on the conviction that there be a strict separation between religion and state. Goldwater’s position on gay rights and the separation of of religion and state put him at odds with many conservatives, particularly the religious constituency known as the Christian Right that supports the GOP and various socially conservative causes in the United States. The Christian right is composed primarily of the Moral Majority, renamed Moral Majority Coalition in 2004, the Christian Coalition of AmericaFocus on the Family and the Family Research Council. The most prominent figures in the Christian Right are the late Jerry FalwellPat RobertsonJames Dobson and Tony Perkins.

Goldwater was critical of Pat Robertson, who in 1988 sought the GOP nomination for the presidential election, observing some years afterward “I don’t have any respect for the Religious Right. There is no place in this country for practicing religion in politics. That goes for Falwell, Robertson and all the rest of these political preachers. They are a detriment to the country.”

Goldwater continued to stand up to the Christian Right in retirement. In 1994 Goldwater, in retirement, signed on as honorary co-chair, with Barbara Roberts, the former Governor of Oregon, with Americans Against Discrimination. Goldwater stated, in joining the campaign against discrimination based on sexual orientation, “It’s time America realized that there was no gay exemption in the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence. Job discrimination against gays or anybody else is contrary to each of these founding principles.” He added, “gays and lesbians are a part of every American family. They should not be shortchanged in their efforts to better their lives and serve their communities.”

As Goldwater is deceased, it is not possible to ask for his opinion on this trend toward granting gay people full civil rights in US society, but I think it reasonable to infer he would be pleased, particularly so in that the Christian right is finding itself on the losing side in its efforts to deny gay people civil rights. The fight is far from over and will continue for some time to come.

That he stood up for civil rights and the separation of religion and state gives me a certain respect for the man.

The Hustings

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Tom Stringham: Conservatism and technological change

Modern technology is realizing a new stage in its evolution, as artificial processes threaten to replace not only human exertion, as they have been doing since the Industrial Revolution, but vast roles hitherto played by human cognition as well. Firms like Google, whose autonomous cars are only years away from the market, are at the vanguard of this transformation, as Cody pointed out yesterday. Robotic devices, until now mostly out of sight, will soon find their place in our everyday lives.

Cody argues that while previous modernizations allowed for the creation of an expanded service sector of the economy, the next wave of innovation will leave no new space for human labour, perhaps leading to mass unemployment.

On this point I don’t agree: if we can’t imagine what the future’s jobs will look like, I think it reflects more on our imagination than on the future. This seems especially true given failed predictions of technology-triggered labour sector collapses in times gone by.

Where I do agree is that the shift toward a highly-technical economy has led, and will continue to lead, to profound social consequences. The less educated, the less ambitious, and the less inclined toward cognitively intensive, technical fields among us will probably be left behind—if not in jobs, at least in pay and status. We are already seeing some of these trends play out, as in yuppie tech haven San Francisco, where according to new data, income inequality rivals Guatemala’s.

This sort of impending social disruption probably justifies, for a conservative, at least a mild Luddism when it comes to technology. If the ship of civilization is thrown off course by rapid technological change, then its crew might do well to cast an anchor on the side of institutional caution.

This cautiousness will require its own ingenuity. Governments might have an educational role to play in mitigating media addiction, especially among young people. Or maybe the astounding, almost accidental accrual of massive wealth to technology firms and their employees will justify future changes to patent laws or tax regulations.

While innovation is prosperity’s lifeblood, it does seem clear that our society’s cultural maturity is lagging its own technical intellect, and large segments of our population will likely pay the price. As Cody mentioned yesterday, the economic and the social are truly inseparable—perhaps the approach to both requires an extra measure of conservatism.

The Hustings

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