An Irony of Social Conservatism

There is an irony at the ideological heart of social conservatism.  Many social conservatives are uncomfortable with lifestyle choices that differ from their own.  That is pretty much what makes them social conservatives.  The great irony is that in order for these social conservatives to freely express their views, and even try to petition government to change its laws and policies in their favor, they need a government which is liberal, as in legally neutral, about the lifestyle choices of its citizens.  If social conservatives lived in another country which was socially conservative in a different way (say it forced its people to observe certain religious or moral codes with which our American social conservatives disagreed) they would be out of luck.  It is the great virtue of social liberalism that the government seeks to be tolerant of many different lifestyle choices, and even give those who seek to undermine this virtue the political right to express their opinions.  If social conservatives really think they’re the marginalized ones in society, they should be especially grateful they live in a society that observes social liberalism.

[I seek to distinguish social conservatism from economic conservatism as libertarians are socially liberal but economically conservative–that is economically “conservative” in the contemporary vernacular, but actually classically liberal.  In the above I use the terms “conservative” and “liberal” in the academic sense (liberals are pro freedom and government neutrality or non-interference, as argued by Ronald Dworkin—though there is a healthy discussion philosophically between positive and negative liberty).  Also, any use of “ideological” isn’t meant as a term of derision, but as, “a set of beliefs about the proper order of society and how it can be achieved.”  (Erikson and Tedin 2003, p. 64, cited in Jost, Federico, and Napier 2009, p. 309).]

For more on positive and negative liberty and conservatism and libertarianism, see “Liberty: Positive and Negative (Cato Unbound)”, by David Schmidtz, et al. here:

The Politics of a News Story

A popular critique of current media, one which I shared, was the editorial natures of broadcasts and reporting (an editorial being an analysis and opinion piece).  People say they want unbiased factual reporting.  Just the events and relevant details without injections of opinion, analysis or speculation.  We, people, can arrive at our own judgments given the facts.  There are at least two problems with this position.  

One, is that determining what is relevant to report, and the words and organization of how to report it, involve judgments on the part of the reporter or editor.  But, let’s assume that the reporter and editor are aware of this and so use the most general and universal language to describe an event.  For example, “He said” rather than “He sneered”.  In essence, the reporter avoids adjectives and singularly descriptive verbs that necessarily invoke an emotional response.

The second problem, is that by trying to be as “objective” or “impartial” as possible, the reporter leaves out many relevant details and descriptions that a fair-minded reader would need in order to make a judgment on the rightness or wrongness of the behaviors of the subjects involved in the story.  By being non-descriptive, the reporter leaves these value judgments open to the reader.  Isn’t this a good thing?  Well, no.  Without relevant details to base value judgments on, the reader either resorts to their partisan affiliation to judge guilt and innocence based on the identity of the parties involved; or the person who values bland, boring compromise believes justice must reside equidistant between the partisan views; or the cynic abstains and withdraws from participating at all.

In this sense, by adhering to a method of journalism which refuses to offer value judgments, the reporter is leaving the gates open to partisan conflict and preconceived notions of justice.  While this may promote factual accuracy, it doesn’t promote justice, which is what citizens are generally and genuinely concerned with.  In this sense, such journalism fails to promote moral truth (which is a disputed concept) and as such frustrates readers as well.  It is not that the public needs to accept the moral judgment of the reporter as absolute, but they need morally relevant details which the reporter juxtaposes against countervailing positions.

In sum, this type of journalism, in the opinion of professor Paul H. Weaver, thwarts the type of opinion, “…which attempts to understand the world of events from a comprehensive rather than partial viewpoint, which is committed to intellectual honesty rather than to simplistic preconception…In the nation as a whole, then, this [type of reporting] encouraged needless conflict (among the various parties) and mindless consensus (among the groups of partisans), and to this extent it [is] an instrument of political drift rather than public mastery of events.”

Source: “The Politics of a News Story”, Paul H. Weaver  (Mass Media and Modern Democracy, edited by Harry M. Clor.  Rand McNally Public Affairs Series, 1974)
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