The debate over how to attract young voters is symptomatic of the challenges faced by American conservatives. Because the young are more liberal on social issues—at least at this point in their lives—traditionalists are being counseled by secularists to either remain silent about abortion and same-sex marriage, or even change their beliefs. But that would be tantamount to repudiating authentic conservatism itself. And since when did conservatives, who believe they have an “adult” understanding of human nature and culture, start deciding they should be deferring to the young for moral instruction? Wasn’t that destructive concept a distinguishing feature of the left during the 1960s? Shouldn’t responsible adults be instructing the young, and not the other way around? And if the young are allowed to drive our moral decisions, where does that leave the commandment, “Honor thy father and thy mother”?
Of course, even some “adult” conservatives have proven poor role models for the young. It’s not just a relaxed attitude to adultery, divorce, and pornography; it’s a swerve into political immorality as well. After 9/11, it was perfectly reasonable and just to respond to the terrorists with force (and still is), restrained and guided by just war principles. But then, something happened along the way, and certain conservatives—not all, but far too many—snapped, and came out in defense of torture as a means of resisting terrorism. To this day, many still defend “enhanced interrogation,” a euphemism if ever there was one, and a direct assault on the dignity of the individual.
When Saul Alinsky published his notorious tract, Rules for Radicals, true conservatives denounced it for what it was—a relativistic assault upon the Judeo-Christian ideals of the West. Yet today, in what can only be lamented as a bizarre reversal—if not a descent into moral madness—some conservatives have actually endorsed Alinskyite tactics, and championed them as an effective way to beat the liberals at their own game.
The American conservative movement was once known for its clarity of vision and purpose; today, confusion and contradiction reign. If it is to recover from its current woes, traditional conservatives need to resist the temptation of secularizing conservatism—at least the kind that empties it of religious content—and not allow the transient fortunes of political parties to intimidate them into abandoning their deepest held beliefs. A careful reading of John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor would be a good way to calm the anxious nerves of American conservatives committed to eternal truth.