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Deal Hudson: Cultural Conservatives and the 'Vision Thing'

By Deal W. Hudson
3/15/2014 (4 years ago)
Catholic Online (https://www.catholic.org)

One challenge faced by cultural conservatives will be the ability to articulate a worldview about human life, community, the state, the nation, and our place among other nations without eliciting someone's gag reflex or sounding a BS alarm. An authentic and true vision is what we lack in our politics, and politicians themselves have nearly ruined the word.

I wonder how many people share my gagging sensation when I hear politicians talk about their "vision." There have been politicians, notable ones, who could talk about vision convincingly, without it sounding like the last of their talking points. Vision is the opposite of a talking point. The vision of cultural conservatism must begin to address the first principles of our nation gone astray - not simply in an exercise in going back to the Founding, but in an effort to recapture the common sense of government, of what it can and cannot do.  A human right should elicit in us an aspiration of attainment, not the expectation of a hand-out.

WASHINGTON,DC  (Catholic Online) - I wonder how many people share my gagging sensation when I hear politicians talk about their "vision." There have been politicians, notable ones, who could talk about vision convincingly, without it sounding like the last of their talking points. Vision is the opposite of a talking point.

One challenge faced by cultural conservatives will be the ability to articulate a worldview about human life, community, the state, the nation, and our place among other nations without eliciting someone's gag reflex or sounding a BS alarm. An authentic and true vision is what we lack in our politics, and politicians themselves have nearly ruined the word.

The favorite vision quote of politicians in the past two decades has been Proverbs 29:18; "Where there is no vision, the people perish." In actual usage, this isolated section of the verse allows politicians to view any vision he or she wishes to espouse, without boundaries.  Proverbs 29:18, in fact, provides boundaries; the end of the verse reads, "but he that keepeth the law, happy is he."

So the vision must conform to something other than the politician's often utopian rhetoric.  True vision exists within "the law," and that is precisely where cultural conservatism will differ with liberals and post-modernists on the "vision thing."

The law in the Old Testament stands for more than the Ten Command-ments or the lost lists of rules that fill the Pentateuch. The law stands for the objective order of life, the natural law created by God in creation. The law contains that order for human life and society - the logos, or Word, stands for the order embedded throughout creation and history.

Thus, talk about vision must be governed; it cannot be disingenuous promise making, inflating expectations of entitlement, and of human happiness without in-dividual effort. Rather, the vision should focus on strengthening families, vital social institutions, and a government that understands rights as privileges to be protected by our duties. 

It's "rights" language that is mostly responsible for muddling political discussions of vision and worldview. Since the Declaration of Independence, human rights have evolved from privileges which all men and women have by nature, to entitlements which either the government or society must somehow provide. 

When you look at the broad spectrum of the rights that have become the common parlance of policy, it's hard not to notice the slippage between their traditional understanding as privileges and the con-temporary view as entitlement.  The Declaration spoke of the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, all of which place obligations on each of us not to destroy or obstruct any person's exercise of those fundamental rights.

Not getting in the way of a person's exercise of a right is far removed from the obligation to provide that person, even guarantee that person, the good corresponding to the right.  In other words, we cannot guarantee a person's life, which is subject to all manner of natural dangers - or their liberty.

Persons commonly give up their liberty to embrace license, to exercise their free will wantonly.  Jefferson, thankfully, made this distinction clear when it came to happiness - the right is to the pursuit of happiness, not the capture!

Yet, most of the vision statements we hear in contemporary politics are not about these rights as privileges, as opportunities, as unfettered pursuit, but as a promise to provide the goods once obtained only by human effort and the exercise of personal responsibility. 

Since those who talk most about rights have refused to address this distinction, indeed, have papered over this distinction, the very concept of a right has become bloated beyond recognition to signifying the vague promise of a government that will satisfy all human needs and longing. 

Government cannot do that.  As President George W. Bush often said, "Government cannot love," and he was wise in reminding us of that.  Government exists in the realm of justice, not love - what we see in our bloat-ed conception of rights is a precise term made amorphous by those who treat government as in loco parentis.

The passage of Obamacare, and the promise of a single payer system just around the corner, is an ominous example of how the government more and more sees itself as the parental figure in relation to its children, the citizens. 

The vision of cultural conservatism must begin to address the first principles of our nation gone astray - not simply in an exercise in going back to the Founding, but in an effort to recapture the common sense of government, of what it can and cannot do.  A human right should elicit in us an aspiration of attainment, not the expectation of a hand-out.

© Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D

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Deal W. Hudson is president of the Morley Institute of Church and Culture, Senior Editor and Movie Critic at Catholic Online, and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine.This column and subsequent contributions are an excerpt from a forthcoming book. Dr. Hudson's new radio show, Church and Culture, is heard on the Ave Maria Radio Network.

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