We must protect speech, even ‘hate’ speech

Alabamians should be quite proud of the substantial progress that our state has made on the issue of racism. Last Tuesday night, a speech was given at Auburn University by a man who proclaims to be "dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States." His speech was called ignorant, extremist, and racist, and the tension it created caused the talk to be covered by national and even international media. It was cancelled by school administrators, a federal court weighed-in, an order was issued, and dueling demonstrations ensued. There were even a couple of nasty fist fights. But if that same speech would have been delivered six decades ago, at the same location, it would have been called ... Tuesday night. Nobody would have noticed. Campus life would have moved along as if nothing controversial was being spoken inside that nondescript university building, and not a single reporter would have wasted their time covering something so commonplace as a little-known racist saying racists things somewhere in Alabama. That's undeniable progress, so good on you, Heart of Dixie. On the other hand, the fact that so many people did notice - and moreover, that they responded so poorly - does present the millennial generation with an entirely different yet equally insidious threat to their freedoms: censorship. Here's how it went down: earlier this month Auburn University announced that it was cancelling a speech scheduled to be delivered on campus by Richard Spencer, the aforementioned…

Should conservatives care when politicians commit adultery?

One glaring distinction between conservatism and liberalism is that conservatives believe there is usually a clear right and wrong on most social questions, or at the very least a more virtuous way to behave in difficult situations. Whether at first glance or after careful study, we find very few actual gray areas in our mostly black and white world. In fact, Russell Kirk considered this understanding to be our movement's initial principle. "First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order," Kirk wrote in his famous summation of conservatism. "That order is made for man, and man made for it; human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent." Loyalty. Fidelity. Honesty. These are but a few virtues found within this enduring moral order. While some may cast them aside as relics of a puritan past, we are governed by them no less than our ancestors were. For who wants to be betrayed, cheated upon, or lied to? As Kirk said, they are permanent, and we cannot change them no more than we can change human nature itself. When we ignore them, or worse, accept their opposite as a fact of life, we take a chisel to the foundation of society and chip away a bit of something very important. That's why it's extremely disheartening to read that most Republicans suddenly don't care if our president cheated on his wife. And to add insult to injury, it appears that Democrats have taken the high-ground on the matter.…

Conservatism accepts that some speech must be censored

Soon after the 18-century lexicographer Dr. Samuel Johnson compiled the first dictionary of the English language, he received visits from many prominent groups at his Fleet Street home to congratulate him upon the achievement. One such delegation was said to represent the respectable ladies of London. “Dr. Johnson,” they said. “We are delighted to find that you have not included any indecent or obscene words in your dictionary.” “Ladies,” Johnson replied. “I congratulate you on being able to look them up.” When the late Christopher Hitchens recounted that story during a 2007 lecture opposing censorship, he was getting at this: there’s something a bit peculiar about one adult using the power of government to limit what another adult writes, reads, or in the modern sense, watches. The human instinct to censor goes far beyond harmless “indecent or obscene” words, of course, and stretches to cover nearly all forms of human thought: artistic, political, and especially religious. Censorship abounds globally and is strongly accepted, even popular, in most societies, even in the West. Not so much in the United States, though. We tend to believe that we’re grown-up enough to decide for ourselves what to read and watch, except for those who haven’t, in fact, grown up. Here, we believe that children are the only ones who should be protected from certain aspects of free speech until they can discern its usage for themselves as mature, or at least legal, adults. Even someone as zealous for the First Amendment as Hitchens…

Mo Brooks was correct to oppose phony repeal-and-replace bill

The few conservatives we have in Congress have suddenly found themselves caught in a traditional V-shaped ambush, with bands of intersecting fire coming from both Republicans and Democrats. From the establishment's left, their efforts to repeal Obamacare were called unconscionable, cruel and even corrupt. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said it represented "a merciless assault on working families." But conservatives were only trying to save the healthcare market from an inevitable financial death spiral that'd leave those families with the type of substandard care seen in most European nations. From the establishment's right, their pledge to vote against its poorly written replacement - the American Health Care Act - was also described as too demanding, puritanical, and even disloyal. President Donald Trump, reeling after the bill's defeat, sent this tweet: "Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club For Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood & Ocare!" But conservatives were only trying to keep the promise they (and Trump) made to repeal - in its entirety - Obamacare, and not simply tweak the program here and there. Regardless of what the establishment may think, Americans owe a debt of gratitude to most of the members of the Freedom Caucus, and especially to U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks of Hunstville. Brooks, along with every Republican member of our state's Congressional delegation, promised that he'd vote to repeal Obamacare when given the chance. But when push came to shove, only Brooks kept that promise, and…

Former protestant pastors could strengthen the Catholic Church

As a devout Roman Catholic born and raised among the evangelicals of the Bible Belt, it's clear to me that our two communities have tied the issue of celibacy and marriage for our pastors into a Gordian knot of traditions, contradictions, and exclusions. On one end of that knot, Catholic priests are officially required to be celibate. I wonder what Saint Peter would say about this, especially since he was married (Matthew 8:14-15). There may be a few dozen married priests, but they entered the church through an extremely narrow exception for former Episcopal pastors or those from denominations with Anglican roots. On the knot's other end, protestant ministers are effectively required, or at least strongly expected, to marry. I don't have to wonder what Saint Paul would say about this because he not only practiced celibacy, he advocated for it (1 Corinthians 7:27-34). Sure, there isn't any such rule requiring protestant pastors to marry, but I ask you, if scripture says it's preferred, or at least acceptable, then where are all of the celibate protestant ministers? Even if one or two prominent examples come to mind, their scarcity is the exception that proves the rule. This knot has doubtlessly prevented many men from answering the call, either those Catholics who, like Saint Peter, are also called to marriage, or those protestants who, like Saint Paul, are also called to celibacy (a celibate protestant pastor would also lack the support structure that communities of priests like the Franciscans or Jesuits…

Conservatism rejects the central planning behind Obamacare reform

Conservatives, don’t be deceived. Any attempt by Republicans in Congress to ensure that all Americans have affordable health care coverage will simply extend and further complicate the mess left by Obamacare. But that’s exactly what’s happening, at least according to House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers. “Let me be clear,” she said earlier this year when top Republicans were drafting the reform bill behind closed doors. “No one who has coverage because of Obamacare today will lose that coverage. We’re providing relief. We aren’t going to pull the rug out from anyone.” Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price echoed that undeliverable promise last weekend. “I firmly believe that nobody will be worse off financially in the process that we’re going through,” Price said when asked about the bill on Sunday. He added, “We’ll have more individuals covered.” Conservatives know these statements cannot be true for many reasons, but chiefly because they run headlong against one of our movement’s guiding beliefs: our principle of imperfectability. The late Russell Kirk observed that when a society seeks to make things perfect – everybody having excellent health care, for instance – things usually end very badly. The only equality such schemes achieve is by dragging everyone into the gutter together. “To seek for utopia is to end in disaster, the conservative says: we are not made for perfect things,” Kirk wrote. “All that we reasonably can expect is a tolerably ordered, just, and free society, in which some evils, maladjustments, and suffering…

Reports of conservatism’s death have been greatly exaggerated

The headlines after last month's Conservative Political Action Conference seemed to describe less a celebration of our party's complete electoral domination and more a wake for our movement. "RIP, movement conservatism," declared the American Thinker. "How Donald Trump killed movement conservatism," wrote Truthout. "Trump's takeover of conservatism is complete," opined a Washington Post columnist. The rash of obituaries didn't end with the conference, either. Headlines following the president's first address to a joint session of Congress continued the trend. "Trump's speech to Congress killed conservatism," wrote one Mediaite contributor, and the bells continue to toll with each passing day. These types of political eulogies are nothing new, though. Similar headlines ran when Senator Barry Goldwater lost in 1964, when then-Governor Ronald Reagan lost his primary fight in 1976, and also in 1992 and 2006. Four years ago Reuters even asked "Is conservatism going extinct?" and in 2008 The New Republic happily confirmed that, yes, "Conservatism is dead." Ding-dong, the liberals cheered ... then their party went on to lose more than 1,000 elected offices during the next eight years. Who won those seats? For the most part, conservatives. Truth is, our movement was far from dead in 1964 and it's far from dead now. Quite the opposite. Still, these doom-and-gloom articles do illustrate how some people consistently confuse things like principles and policies with mere people. To paraphrase the protagonist in "V for Vendetta" the conservative movement is more than just flesh. It is an idea ... and ideas are…

Like it or not, human nature defines our politics

Conservatives have spent years relying upon a single man to effectively represent our movement's philosophy in the U.S. Senate - Alabama's own Jeff Sessions. When others bowed under pressure or blew-up with frustration, his steadfast advocacy kept the fight going long enough for the cavalry to arrive. So while his departure to become our nation's top cop was certainly applauded, it does leave some trepidation within our ranks. Are conservatives now without an effective and dependable voice in the Senate? Thankfully, no. Mike Lee, the junior senator from Utah, is quickly speaking up. One could point to his record - Lee is the only Senator to earn a perfect 100% score from Conservative Review - or the many initiatives he's championed, but perhaps the greatest sign of Lee's solid understanding and genuine belief in our movement is how he explains conservatism. "Conservatives' view of human nature and history tells us that in this life, there will always be problems, and that attempts to use government to solve them often only make things worse," Lee recently said in a speech at the Heritage Foundation. Lee went on to explain when and how government should become involved in our lives, but his mention of "human nature" is quite revealing. He's spoken about it many times before, once warning lawmakers that "policy cannot pick a fight with human nature and hope to win." Most people mistakenly assume that conservatism is principally about preferring things like limited government or low taxes, and defending things…

How can someone possibly be a conservative?

Earlier this month a senator from South Carolina was called a "traitor" and told he "doesn't have a shred of honor" because he voted to confirm Alabama's Jeff Sessions as our nation's attorney general. A few days later a young singer from California received death threats after she wore a gown to the Grammys emblazoned with the campaign slogan of our current president. Then a journalist in New York City was called a "monster" by his best friend after writing a rather balanced profile of political provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, and was then called a "Nazi" in a local bar after admitting he supported stronger borders. What was their great transgression? It wasn't so much what they said or did, but who they are. The senator is Tim Scott - a black man. The singer is Joy Villa - a black woman. And the journalist, Chadwick Moore, is a gay man who recently told NPR that he and others are "part of a brand new conservative" taking shape across the country. "We were born in the Democratic party," Moore explained. "Somebody set our house on fire, we went running out, and the right has been so welcoming to people like me and there's so many of us." Yet, as Moore learned, his old pals on the left reserve a special sort of vitriol for those who dare to step outside of their neatly designed box of identity politics. If you're a member of some type of minority - race, religion, sexual…

How would you define conservatism?

A recent survey from Gallup found that the United States remains an overwhelmingly conservative country, with conservatives outnumbering liberals in 44 states, tied in just two, and lagging in only four. Although the gap has narrowed in some regions, conservatives still enjoy at least a 20-point advantage in 13 states (Alabama is fifth, where we outnumber liberals by a whopping 30 points). With so many Americans calling themselves conservative, one would assume its definition would be simple to explain. One would be wrong. Conservatism, as a word, doesn’t fully describe the many aspects of our philosophy. Some of its principles and processes aren’t “conservative” at all, just as modern liberalism is often quite illiberal. That makes defining conservatism incredibly difficult. So much so that, as pointed out in the National Review, when its founder William F. Buckley was asked to define the term for a book titled What is Conservatism?, the usually confident and always prolific writer produced an essay sheepishly titled “Notes toward an Empirical Definition of Conservatism; Reluctantly and Apologetically Given by William F. Buckley.” If Buckley couldn’t do it, then nobody can ... yet others have tried. “What is conservatism?” Abraham Lincoln asked. “Is it not adherence to the old and tried, against the new and untried.” Yes, but conservatism also seeks variety, preferring creativity to centralization, and there’s nothing old and tried about what happens within a vibrant free market. Just ask the buggy whip industry. Conservatism also “understands the important role that traditions, institutions, habits,…