To Reform Government, Reform the Culture First

The statement angered liberals and embarrassed some conservatives, but CNN’s 2008 exit poll does show that 74% of unmarried women with children, and 69% of unmarried women without children, voted for Obama. In fairness, however, 68% of unmarried men with children also voted for Obama. And 56% of unmarried men without children voted for Obama; compare that to the 53% of married men who voted for McCain.

The poll also showed those who attended religious services at least weekly voted for McCain, while those who attended less frequently or not at all voted for Obama. A more religious, more marriage-minded America would have voted quite differently.

In the end, the majority of the world has little in common with the libertarian archetypes of Howard Roark or John Galt. We will either have strong families, strong houses of worship, and strong communities, or we will have strong government to take the place of all three.

This isn’t to say government must or can solve our culture’s problems. However, those on the right who think conservative goals for limited government can be achieved through passing economic legislation are spitting in the wind. We will never have a limited government until we have a culture that allows for one.

To change our culture, we must take a more holistic approach to the issues America faces. Even more than conservative candidates and activists, we have a great need for conservative writers, artists, schoolteachers, Boy Scout and American Heritage Girls troop leaders, ministers, and volunteers in organizations that seek to strengthen marriages.

The public policy side of addressing cultural issues should center around removing harmful barriers, such as unnecessary regulations that discourage charitable organizations, and eliminating and reforming programs that encourage illegitimacy and dependency. There should also be strong opposition to the efforts of many school boards to use the public schools to undermine parental authority and values.

Benjamin Franklin provides a good model for irreligious conservatives and libertarians who don’t think too much of cultural conservative concerns. Himself a deist and great individualist, Benjamin Franklin urged the author of an anti-religious screed to not publish his work, writing, “think how great a Proportion of Mankind … have need of the Motives of Religion to restrain them from Vice, to support their Virtue. ... If Men are so wicked as we now see them with Religion what would they be if without it?”

Franklin understood what might work for him wouldn’t work for society. We desperately need this mature understanding in the age of New Atheism. At a minimum, those concerned with liberty should not undermine efforts to renew culture. The future of American culture will determine the future of American liberty.