city liberals have for decades now been very interested in being ‘progressive’ about sex — and getting their progressions into the law. It’s obvious to me that the culture wars are really just sex wars, and if the sex issues went away life would be far more placid. Conservatives are generally down on cities to the extent that they can support a large number of radical individuals with radical attitudes about sexual ethics, who can band together to push their sexual program through the exercise of political power. It’s important to remember that this fact shouldn’t poison anyone’s picture of cities. But there’s also no way around the particular limitations our various cities impose on what most people would acknowledge as good clean living, and the appealing opportunities for self-indulgence that they are particularly good at creating and maintaining.
Please, James, I beg of you: what is being pushed on conservatives, exactly? What are they made to endure? What does this "sexual program" (enforced by political power) entail for people who are disinterested in pursuing it? What, exactly, are "values voters" compelled to do by the coastal liberal elite?
The answer: nothing. Nothing, whatsoever. There is no sexual practice that is being pushed on conservatives by anyone. No one is being compelled, by law or political pressure or cultural conformity or anything else, to do anything. What they are being asked is to respect the rights of other adults-- adults they are free to have nothing to do with-- to participate in whatever consensual sexual or romantic practices they wish to engage in. At no point whatsoever does the right to have whatever sex one wants to have with any other consenting adult become a duty to perform in the same, or even to morally excuse that behavior. All that is lost, to social conservatives, is the right to tell others not to do something, and to expect the coercive power of government (who else?) to enforce those desires.
I am deeply, deeply confused about what exactly are these limitations to the ability of conservatives (or whoever) to pursue "good clean living" in the cities, or anywhere else. There aren't churches, in cities? There aren't religious schools? There isn't non-offensive television? No one is forced to invite godless sodomites into their homes. No one is required to attend a gay wedding. The truth of the matter is, social conservatives can raise their children and live their lives in the cities without having to endure much more than, perhaps, having a homosexual serve them their coffee, or bumping into a S&M fetishist on the bus, or simply living in the same building as people whose sexual mores are their own. This is why the Onion has made so much comedic hay out of headlines like "New Bill Would Force Everyone to Gay Marry" (or whatever). Social conservatives insist that they are being forced to accept (in Poulos's words) "radical attitudes". If the profoundly conservative virtue of leaving other people alone can be meaningfully rendered radical, radicalism is a weak brew indeed. Democratic civil governance asks very little of is citizenry, depending on your views on taxation. But it does require that you have a thick enough skin to deal with the fact that, somewhere, people do things you yourself would not do. You'll excuse me if I fail to see in this requirement the hand of oppression.
This is the sad caricature of liberty that social conservatism asks us to embrace: freedom becomes not the neutral right of not being forced to do what you would not want, but the positive right to not have to "endure" other people doing what they want in some geography around you. It asks government to remove by force the threat of others living in a way consonant with their values, their vision of a morally and socially just world. In this spirit social conservatism, of course, is not a conservatism at all. It's anti-conservatism, the relegation of community mores and values to the power of government. My conservative friends admonish me that I have "government consciousness", where the government has grown as a concept in my mind to be the default engine of social change. What other mode does social conservatism consider the default? If the question is simply a matter of the fact that "morality" and "values" no longer have the ability to enforce social conformity, that is a factor of the failure of these institutions, and true conservatism insists that on this question government must remain silent.
Polous, to his credit, is unwilling to ask that government force city-dwellers to live according to a particular sexual morality. He wants minimal sex laws, and says that the country needs all kinds of cities, towns, and villages. But I'm perplexed by his invocation of the language of coercion and his notion that social conservatives are forced to endure anything in particular at all. It seems that once again, the social conservative question-begging asks social libertarians to prove the positive value of a right to unfettered consensual adult sexual practice. The socially conservative viewpoint is simply understood to be the default state of man. I'm not a big fan of Bill Maher, but I come back to the wisdom of his rejoinder: I'm not out of touch with conservative values. I disagree with conservative values. The notion that disagreement can only come from misunderstanding is, frankly, unAmerican.
There are, of course, countries and governments that are more than happy to enforce morality on their citizens. But these countries have little to do with democracy, and even less to do with conservatism.