A statement like this should never come from anyone calling himself a conservative.
Today, the greatest threats to conservative interests come not from the Soviet Union or high taxes, but from too much individual freedom. Look around you: Americans have been poor stewards of our economic liberty, owing to cultural values that celebrate unfettered materialism. Our families and communities have fragmented, in part because we have embraced an ethic of extreme individualism. Climate change and a peak in oil production threaten our future because we have been irresponsible caretakers of the natural world and its resources. At best, the religious right stood ineffectively against these trends. At worst, we preached them, mistaking consumerism for conservatism.
Rod Dreher is a smart man and has a lot to contribute in the arena of ideas, but this is exactly wrong in nearly every particular. We do not have too much individual freedom. You don’t believe me? Try to smoke in a restaurant or government building in most states. Try to smoke in a bar in Maryland. Try to drive your car without your seat belt on or ride a motorcycle without a helmet. You’ll see just how free you are.
Freedom hasn’t destroyed our families and communities – government has. When we made it so that the government was our brothers’ keeper instead of each of us, our communities suffered. When we decided that our government was a better caretaker of our children, our families suffered. Freedom had no part in any of that. Indeed, we have removed the freedom parents used to have to make decisions for their own children because of the same sort of misguided woolheaded thinking that Dreher employs in his quest for “social health”. What he forgets is that society is only healthy when individuals are free not just to succeed but also to make mistakes and to deal with the consequences of their actions. The quest for the perfect government program has laid waste to our families and communities because it gets the quest for “the common good” entirely backwards. Government can never create a healthy society, only individuals can do that. We have seen time and time again what happens when you try to use the power of government to enforce social well-being. Dreher has often decried this very thing when progressives have proposed it. It’s no less wrong, and certainly no less harmful, when he proposes it.