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wFriday, June 27, 2003

SPEAKING OF POWERFUL CURRENTS OF CANADIAN OPINION: Jay Currie concedes that a collapse in editorial standards might have had something to do with the drop in circulation after all, but he still insists that Stockwell Day poisoned the well for the electoral prospects of social conservatives for a generation. He may be right (though Mark Cameron should probably weigh in on that), and I certainly have little interest in national politics in Canada, but I think his strong dislike of religious and social conservatives may be coloring that prediction.

I should add (for the sake of honesty if nothing else) that I'm at best a marginal social conservative myself. I often describe my politics as "pro-life and pro-drugs," but then, so was Day. Writer Paul Cella sent me a long letter on social conservatism and its relationship to the other varieties, and I reproduce it here without comment:


Somehow the writings of yourself and your former colleagues have provoked me to an interest in the story of the downfall of The Report. I want to say a few things in your defense against the charges of Jay Currie. Now I confess to knowing very little about Canadian politics, but I like to fancy I know something of human nature, and I can say confidently that, contra Mr. Currie, social conservatism is the only really popular conservatism there is, if the word popular means anything substantial about the sentiments of the common man. The common man is usually traditional; the mass of common men almost always traditional. Consider the social or cultural views of union members ? the blue-collar miners and plumbers and electricians. It seems rather clear to anyone familiar at all with blue-collar workers that their views on such things as gay marriage and school prayer are probably to the right of most elected Republicans.

As to "economic conservatives": well, they are popular to the extent that taxes and vague "big government" schemes are unpopular, which, as a fact, means they are reasonably popular. But the idea that libertarianism is popular with the mass of people is rather comical. Libertarianism, admirable though it is in many respects, is truly an ideology of elites. Try arguing that we ought to privatize, say, the highway system in front of a gathering of mechanics at the pub; or that the noble idea of Liberty includes the liberty to engage in incest, as Eugene Volokh did recently, to a bunch of construction workers -- do that and see what kind of looks you receive if you want to discover how "popular" libertarianism is.

Now perhaps Mr. Currie means that social conservatism is unpopular with "movement conservatives." On that asseveration I am open to persuasion; but, if true, it certainly tells us something interesting about this movement. I recall Ramesh Ponnuru noting with some surprise on the Corner, sometime after the Santorum affair, that very close to a majority of Americans actually favor anti-sodomy laws, which is a decidedly different thing than merely favoring the right of legislative bodies to criminalize sodomy without interference from the courts, as Mr. Ponnuru and many right-wing intellectuals do. In my judgment, this revelation tells us that National Review may be to left of the country on the question of sexual morality. Interesting, no?

Anyway, to the question, floating around by implication on your blog, Who will stand up for traditionalism or rather that dread phrase social conservatism?, perhaps we should answer, The common man, if ever he has a say in the matter. The idea that, for example, our gruesome "popular" culture is merely an instance of entertainers "giving people what they want," strikes me as laughable. Our vulgar entertainment culture is rather the invention of elites: men and women who graduated from Yale and Duke and the University of Michigan full of half-baked ideas from mountebanks and a lot of time on their hands. There is something very curious in assuming that, given the chance, farmers and carpenters also would fill the airwaves with filth and barbarism. I think they would probably fill them with Leave It To Beaver and Growing Pains reruns.

Well, I have written a small polemic here on a very obscure proximate subject, but, I think, a very important ultimate subject; the subject of oligarchy and tradition; the latter of which Chesterton wrote very shrewdly and very famously, it is "the democracy of the dead," which gives a vote to "the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors" and "refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about." Social conservatism is as popular as it gets.

Paul Cella

posted by Jeremy at 10:24 AM