Calvin Freiburger

Are Social Conservatives “Statist Control Freaks”? Not So Fast

Posted on December 7 2010 6:00 pm
Hailing from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Calvin Freiburger is a political science major at Hillsdale College. He also writes for the Hillsdale Forum and his personal website, Calvin Freiburger Online.
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This weekend, NewsRealBlog’s Lori Heine objected to Ann Coulter’s recent column attempting to tie WikiLeaks enabler Bradley Manning to the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Today, she responds to several critical commenters. I’m not terribly interested in revisiting DADT right now—my position is that I’ll defer to military experts on what changes should be made to the current policy, but I insist that the decision be based on military criteria alone, not political correctness or kowtowing to the whims of the radical gay Left.  Lori argues her position well, and successfully refutes several of her critics.

However, I must take issue with the way she conflates social conservatism with statism:

One form of fun of which big-government statists on the social Right never seem to tire is the purity game.  True believers must toe the line and never stray from it, even one jot or tittle.  “You are no conservative,” another commenter harrumphed at me.  Since this person evidently thinks only the big-government, control-freak statists on the social Right are the “real” conservatives, then according to his definition of course I am not.  Nor would I ever want to be.

What I am is a former Leftist progressive who has come to the conclusion that libertarian conservatism is – for a wide variety of reasons – the right direction for America to take.  The relentless and childish tug-of-war of the past few elections has convinced me that the Left and the statist Right are actually as alike as Tweedledee and Tweedledum and that they are, together, pulling the country apart.  Just as Leftists view any liberal who believes in small government and individual initiative a heretic, so do those on the Right who view anyone who does not share their fantasies about Granny Government and her all-powerful magic wand “not a real conservative.”

What I think of the “purity game” is no secret, either, but here I want to consider this talk of “big-government, control-freak statists on the social Right” who believe the government has an “all-powerful magic wand.”

Maybe I just missed them, but I’m struggling to recall a significant number of examples of this nefarious social-con variation. To be sure, there are a select handful of individuals who come to mind—for instance, Joseph Farah and Peter Sprigg—but beyond that, I don’t know how any significant, respected portion of the social conservative movement fits the bill.

Social conservatives, by and large, have four major concerns pertaining to public policy:

  • The Right to Life—So-cons want to make abortion illegal because it’s not simply immoral, but unjust. As the deliberate killing of human beings, abortion is a clear violation of basic human rights. As such, protecting people from being aborted easily and clearly falls under the proper ends of government, not only from a conservative standpoint, but also from a libertarian one. The same goes for embryonic stem-cell research.
  • Marriage—Even if one believes that either civil marriage should be extended to gay couples, or that government should get out of marriage entirely, the fact remains that there is nothing coercive about government only recognizing man-woman unions. Doing so does not deny gay Americans their rights to life, liberty, or property, their rights to form relationships, to live together, to have sex, to hold marriage ceremonies, to consider themselves married in the eyes of their friends or families, to share property, to visit one another in hospitals, to make medical decisions for one another, or to receive domestic partner benefits from employers who wish to offer them. And in cases where laws either don’t permit these things or make them needlessly onerous to achieve, simple legal reforms far short of redefining marriage can easily suffice. Indeed, no less a Religious-Right boogeyman than Dr. James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, has long been on the record in support of such straightforward reforms.
  • Religion—In controversies over religious displays, symbols, and practices in public places or on public property, such as those initiated and egged on by leftist groups such as Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and the American Civil Liberties Union, so-cons are pushing back against statism and coercion, not trying to impose it. The vast majority of these scandals are secular leftist attempts to censor voluntary, private religious expression that in no way violates the First Amendment as the Founding Fathers understood it, against which so-cons are standing for liberty.
  • Education—Admittedly, the number of so-cons who object to the teaching of evolution, and want to either complement or replace it with lessons on evolution or creationism, might be substantial. This is mistaken, in my view, but in their defense, their efforts aren’t being made in a vacuum—they’re reacting to left-wing and progressive attempts to indoctrinate children into believing, wrongly, that evolution somehow undermines religion. So-cons are also very concerned about the sexual values public schools are teaching America’s children, and rightly so—there’s a lot of pro-casual sex indoctrination going on that undermines’ the right of parents to impart their own values to their children, and to decide for themselves when their kids are ready for mature subject matter.

None of the above can be reasonably construed as comprising a “statist” agenda, nor does any of it rely upon unrealistic expectations of what government is capable of, or violate the boundaries of the Constitution. Granted, there are a handful of lesser issues that might not line up so well—federal faith-based initiatives come to mind—but they’re hardly what motivates the average social conservative to get out of bed in the morning.

And while some so-con figures and groups might take an overly broad view of government power, or blur the lines between federal and state, on some of the second- and third-tier issues, that’s a far cry from “statism.” When I hear rhetoric like “statist,” “control freak,” or “all-powerful,” I envision a far more comprehensive agenda, exercising far more control over how we run our daily lives—meddling in everything from the lightbulbs we use and the news we watch to the toys in our kids’ Happy Meals and your choice of health insurance.

If that doesn’t convince you, I urge you to check out a 2008 American Thinker piece by Randall Hoven, a self-described agnostic libertarian who looks at the political landscape and concludes that social conservatives are overwhelmingly allies to libertarians on true matters of liberty.

If I’ve somehow missed the secret statist agenda of the social conservative movement, then by all means, show me. But as it stands, I just don’t see it.


Hailing from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Calvin Freiburger is a political science major at Hillsdale College.  He also writes for the Hillsdale Forum and his personal website, Calvin Freiburger Online.

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