Catholics, Conservatism, Three Legged Stools, CPAC and Political Participation
The question 'Is conservatism a three-legged stool or not?' is incomplete
The controversy over the direction of the CPAC convention and the conservative movement presents an opportunity to reflect on the basis of Christian citizenship. I suggest it is time for Christians who are concerned about the lack of recognition of a "family values" leg on a metaphorical three legged stool to find a better foundation for their political participation than the conservative movement.
WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - I am a fan of Robert "Robby" George. With both a law degree and a Doctorate in Philosophy, this Princeton Professor and good Catholic is raising the water level of conservative political discourse. In a career of achievements, one of his more noteworthy ones was founding the "American Principles Project" which seeks to reaffirm the universal principles which form the foundation for the American experiment. His efforts to develop a language with which to reassert the existence of the Natural Law in order to prevent the collapse of western civilization is respected even by those who, like me, hold to a different approach to the Natural Law.
Recently he asked a question which provoked a response being labeled as a sign of a division in the "conservative" movement in America. The question was "Is conservatism a three-legged stool or not?" Dr. George used the imagery of the late Ronald Reagan whose 100th birthday we recently observed. I am a great admirer of the late Ronald Reagan. Like many other Catholics, I was deeply impressed by his book "Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation" published in 1984. The three legs to which Dr George referred are social conservatives, foreign policy conservatives and economic conservatives. The late President Reagan built an alliance of these three groups of conservatives which changed the political landscape of the Nation.
One of the organizations identified with this three legged stool metaphor for the American conservative movement was the American Conservative Union (ACU). They are the sponsor of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). The conference meets between Feb. 10 and Feb. 12 this year. This year's conference is embroiled in controversy because of some of the invitees. What is clear is that the "three legged stool" may no longer be as sturdy as it once was. In fact, it may not be the best of metaphors.
The strongest reaction was registered by the leaders of over two dozen groups who ran a full page ad in the Washington Times entitled "What Would Ronald Reagan Think of CPAC Today". It called the social conservatives, using that three legged stool metaphor, to not attend the conference this year. It further called for the leadership of the American Conservative Union to reaffirm its commitment to what is called "family values" in the shorthand of contemporary political parlance. The ad asks this important question, "Why is the free market an inviolable conservative principle, but not family values?"
I understand the frustration of those who ran the advertisement. I share their concern over the high profile placement at this conference of some who oppose the truth about marriage and the family and society founded upon it. I also share their disappointment at efforts to infer that "social issues" are "private" or "religious" and should be put on the back burner in a "truce" as one potential presidential contender asserted. The groups in question promote the homosexual equivalency movement. They insist that a legal equivalency in the civil law be given to partnerships incapable of ever being a marriage and that the police power of the State enforce this new cultural revolution.
I suggest that my Christian friends who question this turn of events at CPAC consider the roots of the problem. I, like Robby George, write as a Catholic. However, I long ago rejected the label "conservative". I am most certainly NOT a liberal. I am a Catholic Christian. I was never comfortable in the so called "religious right" and am not surprised by the turn of events in the conservative movement. I suggest that some Christians who accept the label 'conservative" share similar policy positions with me. However, we arrive there a bit differently. Let me share a few thoughts to demonstrate what I mean.
I affirm the classical Christian assertion that there is a law written on every human heart which can be known by the exercise of reason and should inform our positive or civil law. It is the foundation upon which a truly free society must be built. This is what has long been called the Natural Law. It is a participation in God's Law. At the foundation of the Natural Law is the recognition of the Right to Life which affirms the dignity of every human person from conception though the entire continuum of life and until natural death. All men and women are created in the Image of God and have an inherent dignity which must be recognized, respected and received.
The recognition of a Natural Law Right to Life is not about a single political issue. Nor is it only a "religious" position, though it is expounded upon within the Jewish and Christian tradition. Rather it is a framework through which I view every issue. Human rights are goods of the human person and not just concepts floating around somewhere. They are endowed upon us by a Creator in whose Image we have been fashioned.
Any Nation which allows the intentional killing of its young in the first home of the womb and calls that intrinsically evil action a "right" is in danger of losing both its soul and its future. Medical science confirms what our conscience has long confirmed, the child in the womb is one of us, our neighbor, and it is always wrong to kill our neighbor. The specious arguments used to defend the indefensible, that it can ever be a proper choice to take innocent human life, are being eroded on every front. We operate on children in the womb. We prosecute those who kill them in the course of the commission of a felony. We all know the truth, abortion is the intentional killing of a human person.
The Natural Law reveals - and the cross cultural history of civilization affirms - that marriage is between a man and a woman, open to children and intended for life. Further, marriage is the foundation for the family which is the privileged place for the formation of virtue and character in children who are our future citizens. The family is the first society, first economy, first school, first civilizing and mediating institution and first government. All other government grows out of - and must support and not usurp - the primacy of this first government.
I support the principle of subsidiarity. Its application insists that the family should be helped by other governing units and not replaced or usurped by them. I affirm small or "limited" government not because I think government is "evil" but because I value self government and insist that the family is the first government. Good governance beyond the family must be closest to those being governed and defer to an objective morality which helps to ensure it remains good. I affirm another existential and objective truth; human persons are by nature social. We cannot be truly happy, pursue happiness, or even be fully free without one another. We were made for relationships.
In the economic arena, I insist that economics is not in the first instance, about capital, it is about human persons. A truly free economic system recognizes that freedom is a good of the person. Only human persons can be free because we are capable of making free choices. It should further recognize the primacy of moral values, support the family, foster ingenuity, provide incentive, promote and reward creativity and innovation, expand participation, provide for private ownership, and foster human flourishing and advancement. That is why I extol the potential in the market economy and the free market system; it promotes human flourishing and opens the door to human advancement.
Finally, I affirm that we are our brother and sisters keeper. We have an obligation to one another. That is what is meant by solidarity. How that truth works its way into public policy requires the recognition of what was discussed earlier. It also leaves room for the application of prudential judgment in many areas of application. This kind of vision of the human person and the family, as well as the lessons of history, affirm that big government is not very good at charity. Charity begins in the home and works its way out through local communities, churches and other mediating institutions. It is bottom up and not top down.
All of what I have written above is not about my being a conservative. It is not based on conservative philosophy. It is based on Catholic Social thought. It is an example of my efforts as a Catholic Christian to be a faithful citizen and engage in political participation according to first principles as Dr. Robert George invites. It informs my effort to fulfill my civic duty to work toward a future of authentic freedom for all men and women and promote the true common good. I suggest it is time for Christians who are concerned about the lack of recognition of a "family values" leg on a metaphorical three legged stool to find a better foundation for their political participation than the conservative movement.
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2013
General Intention: Victimized Children. That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need.
Missionary Intention: Prepare the Savior's Coming. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.
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