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By Deal W. Hudson

3/27/2014 (4 months ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Cultural conservatism is an implicit recognition of the paradigm changes that have taken place within the digital age.

During the 2012 presidential campaign the most oft-repeated charge against pro-life social conservatives was that they did not care about a human life after the moment of birth. When I was surprised to hear this charge from a Catholic bishop, I decided to write a response and offered this simple argument: To be concerned about life is to be concerned about everything. In other words, if pro-lifers are consistent in their convictions then their passion for protecting life will extend throughout a human lifetime.  Well-known philanthropist Foster Friess recently called for fellow conservatives to embrace a cultural conservatism.  Friess's message is that conservatives, especially Catholics, need to work to heal the unnecessary divide between the pro-life and the social justice communities.  Friess is right.

Highlights

By Deal W. Hudson

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

3/27/2014 (4 months ago)

Published in Politics & Policy

Keywords: Life, culture, culture, cultural conservatives, social Teaching, arts, pro-life, paleoconservative, social conservative, libertarian, Deal W. Hudson


WASHINGTON,DC (Catholic Online) - During the 2012 presidential campaign the most oft-repeated charge against pro-life social conservatives was that they did not care about a human life after the moment of birth.

When I was surprised to hear this charge from a Catholic bishop, I decided to write a response and offered this simple argument: To be concerned about life is to be concerned about everything. In other words, if pro-lifers are consistent in their convictions then their passion for protecting life will extend throughout a human lifetime. 

As someone who has known many pro-life leaders over a long period, I also shared my observation that no one among the leadership I knew were guilty of that particular charge.  However, it had to be admitted that the ongoing divide between the Catholic pro-life community and those Catholics who speak first of social justice can create a disposition for each side to ignore the concerns, or achievements, of the other.

If asked, most pro-lifers would identify themselves as politically conservative which, over time, has given rise to the category of the social conservative, i.e., a conservative who views the life issues as having greater importance than any others. Politicians have earned the label of social conservative by being on the correct side of abortion, marriage, euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, and human cloning. 

During the 2012 presidential election, religious liberty was virtually added to the list due to socially conservative reaction to the imposition of Obamacare. In retrospect, the linking of religious liberty, although entirely appropriate, to the already established five settled, or non-negotiable, life issues served to reinforce the general impression of social conservatives as uncaring about life after birth.  Healthcare, after all, is a necessary part of living a full, and hopefully long life.  And suddenly, pro-life social conservatives didn't care about that.

Social conservatism has served as an effective political banner for many years, but the debate over healthcare exacerbated its public perception as uncaring about issues impacting the sick, poor, vulnerable, suffering, and those lacking opportunity. Well-known philanthropist Foster Friess recently called for fellow conservatives to embrace a cultural conservatism.  Friess's message is that conservatives, especially Catholics, need to work to heal the unnecessary divide between the pro-life and the social justice communities. 

Friess is right: a cultural conservatism would revivify conservatives both in their minds and hearts - it would allow them to act with their larger heart and with those parts of the mind that dream, imagine, contemplate, and create. Conservatives would discover another source of energy and vitality, rather than reliving the glory days of Reagan and Goldwater, publishing another meditation on the Founders, or one more angry tract on how Obama is destroying America. 

Cultural conservatism would help donors and activists to realize they don't have to choose between culture and politics or argue over which is more influential, when in reality they are interactive, with culture being a far broader concept that cannot be reduced to pragmatic calculations of electability.

Cultural conservatives would be more involved in the arts - meaning they would feel free to read more novels, or admit how many movies they've seen, and enjoyed.  There is already a culturally conservative phenomenon growing among conservatives and Christians who have engaged the creative, production, and marketing sides of arts and entertainment.

One might argue that conservatives engaged primarily in politics need to notice what has been achieved by Walden Media, Icon Entertainment, Regal Entertainment Group, the Advent Film Group, Vision Forum Ministries, the documentaries of Dinesh D'Souza, and the fact that former Senator Rick Santorum in now the CEO of EchoLight Studios.

Of course, the word culture means many things to different people, but that is part of its advantage: Individuals will connect to cultural conservatism from a multitude of angles, addressing issues new to the conservative movement but building upon the bedrock principles such as personal freedom, free markets, limited government, lower taxes, fiscal responsibility, American exceptionalism, and the sanctity of human life.

Cultural conservatism is an implicit recognition of the paradigm changes that have taken place within the digital age. News, opinion, and information are no longer managed by a media elite, and communication itself has become more visual, more interactive, and more cross-disciplinary. One added benefit will be moving important conservative thinkers back into the spotlight, such as Russell Kirk, Richard Weaver, Marion Montgomery, Eric Voegelin, Whittaker Chambers, Robert Nisbet, Charles Murray, Robert Scruton, and William F. Buckley, to name a few.

The principles informing cultural conservatism will be no different from those that guided earlier generations of leadership, but it will be conservatism that puts aside the dour repetition of stock phrases and complaints. In short, cultural conservatism will come as a surprise to those who thought they knew what conservatism is. 

© 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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