As urban Affairs Counselor Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote to President Richard Nixon in 1968, “Tory men and Whig measures are what changed the world.” The quote, of course, refers to the two competing political temperaments that have defined Anglo-American politics since the Tudors, Shakespeare and the Anglo colonization of North America: Whiggery and Toryism.
For those who do not study such things as neurotically as I do, Whigs are basically political liberals, and Tories are basically cultural conservatives. Whigs have stood for the advancement of individual liberty and social progress. Tories have stood for the preservation of custom and tradition.
Social progress versus custom and tradition? Evolutionary growth versus amelioration of social ills? It would seem that there could be no wider gap between opposites and indeed, nowadays, the American conservative-liberal divide often pits politically liberal social liberals against politically conservative social conservatives, broadly defined. “Liberals” tend to favor campaign finance reform alongside redistribution and social liberation; “conservatives” prefer a laissez-faire attitude toward governance and the economy, while promoting traditionalist social values.
But these are not the only combinations. One of the most common things you’ll hear nowadays, especially among politically independent millennials, is the inescapable phrase “I’m socially liberal but fiscally conservative!” The quip denotes social toleration and a conservative attitude toward government and economics -—-“I’m for government getting out of our lives in all ways, social and economic, and I believe in free markets and small government even as I support marijuana legalization and LGBT rights and abortion rights.” Gary Johnson and Ron Paul love to hear this kind of stuff, and many libertarians will point to this widespread attitude as the latest harbinger of the impending, inevitable libertarian empire of light and reason.
Carry the logic further, though, and these socially liberal fiscal conservatives enter precarious straits. You don’t need to be “socially liberal” to support equality before the law and equal treatment of people of all races, genders and religions; But it is generally the socially conservative temperament that values character, social capital and traditional institutions over pure self-actualization.
Meanwhile, is “fiscal conservatism” necessarily a good thing, in a day and age when the results of international deregulated free markets and drastic cuts in social spending have spawned socially-regressive ethno-nationalist movements across the world? You can support institutional reform and fiscal responsibility without succumbing to illusions about the universal benefits of free trade, and while acknowledging that strong productivity and high employment are more important than low taxes and balanced budgets. You can support work incentives and changes to the welfare and entitlements system without pursuing a narrow up-from-your-bootstraps social Darwinism.
Most socially liberal fiscal/political conservatives would pause here and qualify their ideology — they’re not in favor of letting people starve, and of course community is important. Everyone’s something of a moderate when the real-life implications of their intellectual schema are revealed, myself included. But ideas have consequences, in policy, society and otherwise; and in the past half-century, with fiscal and economic conservatives and social liberals generally winning most of the policy battles nationwide, alternative voices must speak out to balance the equation.
There are few people out there, it seems, writing from an “American Catholic” socioeconomic and cultural perspective — that is, on the necessity of economic justice and fairness, which involves a hefty role for political action in economic and social affairs, out of the desire for social solidarity and cohesion and unity, as opposed to more commonly championed values like individualism and cultural diversity. No one is writing for the American nation as a cultural and economic organism that exists in real time.
That’s the point of this column: to provide a socially conservative and politically liberal perspective on national, state and campus developments. In my opinion, as I will constantly argue, the best solutions for such problems will generally come from tragic optimists and conservatively-tempered politicos with liberal aims — indeed, Tory men (and women) with Whig measures. Stay tuned.
Luke Phillips is a senior majoring in international relations. His column,“Tory Men,” runs every other Wednesday.