Polarizing Politics by Defending the Declaration
The Declaration's insistence upon self-evident truths and rights derived from God, not government, has given social conservatism its philosophical grounding and a prolonged staying power in American political life. "What divides social conservatives from social liberals," writes Bell, "is this: Most—not all—social conservatives believe the words in [the Declaration] are literally true. Most—not all—opponents of social conservatism do not believe those words are literally true."
According to Bell, this basic difference underlies the "polarization" to which the title of his book alludes. The advancement of social liberalism, Bell notes, comes without exception from legal maneuvering. Social liberals, largely disagreeing with the proposition that rights come from God, pressure the judiciary to invent new "rights"—for instance, a right to "privacy," encompassing the decision to kill one's unborn child, or a right to "marry" a partner of the same sex. Social conservatives, as the natural heirs to America's conservative founding, look to defend a treasured inheritance from such incursions.
For this, they are often attacked as paternalistic chauvinists or divisive bigots. But if they, and not their opponents, lay the strongest claim to the American founding, then we need to rethink the commonplace observation that social conservatives are aggressors in the culture wars. Social liberals are the real revolutionaries, harnessing government power to radically redefine society's values. But social conservatives—far from being intolerant "theocrats"—seek merely to preserve the religious heritage articulated, however imperfectly, by the Declaration of Independence.
'… To Be Self-Evident'
According to Bell, then, "social conservatism is more accurately seen as the application of natural law to politics—the self-evident truths of the Declaration—rather than as a political manifestation of religious revelation."
"Natural law" claims that certain truths are, in the Declaration's wording, "self-evident"—that is, accessible through human reason, without the aid of external revelation. Bell references Russell Kirk, the father of traditionalist conservatism, who understood there to be a moral order woven into the very fabric of existence, against which all manmade laws must be judged. According to Kirk and natural law theory, societies flourish most when universal principles are acknowledged and obeyed.