I had the honor of speaking last weekend at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference, at which most of the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination were the star attractions. The conference, led by Ralph Reed, brought together the nation’s leading “social conservatives.”
Politico’s reporting of the two-day event typified the tone. “The day after Haley Barbour implored the crowd not to put ideological purity over pragmatism for the general election as they pick a 2012 GOP candidate, Rick Santorum took to the podium at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference in Washington to make a different case. In a strong pitch to the mostly evangelical crowd on Saturday morning, the former Pennsylvania senator cast social conservative issues as the defining ones for the country - and for the Republican Party.”
It is true that many conservative commentators and some candidates see social conservatism and economic conservatism in both conceptual and electoral competition with each other. Certainly, Democratic Party strategists hope that is how the two main components of modern conservatism see each other.
Because America has been a right-of-center country since our founding, conservatives tend to lose national elections when we are the victims - often self-inflicted - of the liberal strategy against us of divide and rule - what James Madison called the “reprobated strategy of tyranny.” Once again this season, well-intentioned conservatives and Republicans see an ideological conflict that need not exist.
My understanding of conservatism and my experience in presidential campaigns, starting in Barry Goldwater’s 1964 primary campaign in California against Nelson Rockefeller, is to the contrary. Strong support for tradition, custom, moral behavior and religious faith (so-called social conservatism) is the equal handmaiden of free-market capitalism advocacy. They are the two parts that make up the one, whole concept of political conservatism.
This conceptual unity of principle was established at the very founding of capitalism. The efficacy of free markets was most famously articulated by Adam Smith in 1776 when he published “Wealth of Nations.” But Smith had first described the moral context in which capitalism could be successful in his earlier book, “The Theory of Moral Sentiments,” published in 1759. It is only the force of moral sentiment that bridles capitalism from degenerating into pure materialism. And unbridled, pure materialism - whether of the left or right - ends up in reigns of terror, gulags and holocausts.
These principles were very well represented in Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign, although recently it has become fashionable to mischaracterize Goldwater - the political father of modern American conservatism - as libertarian on religious and social issues. In his book, “Conscience of a Conservative,” and in the 1964 campaign he was anything but libertarian on social issues. It was my first campaign and I remember it pretty well. Andrew Busch’s 2006 article “The Goldwater Myth” in the Claremont Review is excellent on this topic, and from it, I have refreshed my recollection of Goldwater’s precise words from half a century ago.
Consider how Goldwater asserted his religious “social conservative” principles to reinforce his conservative economic principles. In his acceptance speech, he argued, “Freedom under a government limited by the laws of nature and of nature’s God. … Those who elevate the state and downgrade the citizen must see ultimately a world in which earthly power can be substituted for Divine Will, and this nation was founded upon the rejection of that notion and upon the acceptance of God as the author of freedom.” That is the foundation of an argument that could be used effectively today against the hubristic government powers installed under Obamacare - making both an “economic” and a “social” conservative case.
Consider how the vital conservative case for free-market capitalism is made more powerful, more complete, in the first chapter of Goldwater’s book:
“The root difference between the conservatives and the liberals of today is that conservatives take account of the whole man, while liberals tend to look only at the material side of man’s nature. The conservative believes that man is, in part, an economic, an animal creature; but that he is also a spiritual creature with spiritual needs and spiritual desires. What is more, those needs and desires reflect the superior side of man’s nature, and thus take precedence over his economic wants. Conservatism therefore looks upon the enhancement of man’s spiritual nature as the primary concern of political philosophy. Man’s most sacred possession is his individual soul.”
Republican primary voters should be looking for the candidate who best articulates the balanced case for conservative governing principles. We should be looking for the candidate who unites us into a national majority, not the ones who divide us into our mere component parts.
Sir Edward Coke, the great 17th-century English common law jurist, implored Parliament to work together and avoid being the victims of the tactic of divide and rule: “Eritis insuperabiles, si fueritis inseparabiles.” (“You would be insuperable if you were inseparable.”)
So, if we better understand the wholeness of our political principles, we will unite in winning the 2012 election for conservatism rather than divide in our dissent and thus re-elect President Obama.
Tony Blankley is the author of “American Grit: What It Will Take to Survive and Win in the 21st Century” (Regnery, 2009) and vice president of the Edelman public relations firm in Washington.