Americans have soured on social conservatism, if we're to believe many media pundits. Some see a hopelessly retrograde movement stubbornly clinging to outmoded attitudes that younger generations will inevitably reject. Others wonder why anyone would fixate on the "culture wars" when so many people are out of work, drowning in debt, and losing their homes to foreclosure.
And secular elites aren't the only ones writing social conservatism's obituary, or lamenting its influence. Liberal evangelicals like Jim Wallis insist that younger evangelicals have moved beyond abortion and gay marriage to matters of immigration and economic justice. Many main-stream Republicans complain that social conservatives hold the party hostage to a divisive agenda. Happy to court social conservative votes, they sweep social conservative causes under the political rug once victory has been attained.
In The Case for Polarized Politics: Why America Needs Social Conservatism (Encounter) , Jeffrey Bell, a former policy adviser to Ronald Reagan, stands this conventional wisdom on its head. Social conservatism, argues Bell, is too firmly rooted in America's founding ideals to become obsolete.
'We Hold These Truths …'
Social conservatism is a relatively recent development in American history. It emerged, Bell says, as a response to the sexual revolution and cultural tumult of the 1960s, a decade marked by withering assaults on the institutions of church and family.
Bell ably demonstrates that social conservatism has continued to play an influential role in American politics, from the Reagan Revolution up to the present day, despite recurring protestations that the movement is on life support. He cites the political architecture Karl Rove built around ...