A recent article published in the New York Times dealt with young Republicans abandoning their party’s historic positions on social conservatism, instead preferring a more libertarian posture on social issues.

So now, there are young “conservatives” making peace with abortion and same-sex marriage for pragmatic reasons. We’re to believe: Young people are uncomfortable with social issues; young people are necessary for electoral success. So, to these mavericks, they dispense with social issues in hopes of electoral euphoria and amassing political power.

“A lot of the College Republicans I know share the same liberal-to-moderate social views,” says Zoey Kotzambasis, vice president of the College Republicans at the University of Arizona.

“When it comes to what you do in your bedroom, or where you go to church, or where you want to put a tattoo, we just couldn’t care less,” Mr. Hoagland said at a meeting last month of young Republicans in Charlotte.

My friend Eric Teetsel noted that young Republicans of today are governed by a “50%+1” obsession with demographics; not principles. Koch-influenced conservatism is really a social libertarianism that the New York Times wants to promote to its own gain. A Republicanism that ignores the difficult truths of marriage and life is a liberalism that suffocates metaphysical truths. Libertarianism is little more than small government liberalism—a convenient political philosophy when the ideology of indifference is easier to embrace than the urgency of confessional ethics.

Republican Party (United States)

Republican Party (United States) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The expulsion of social conservatism from some segments of mainstream conservatism is important for Christians who believe that life and marriage are transcendent claims that require acknowledgment. Where there are breeds of evangelicals and the chattering classes wishing for evangelical Christians to be less identified with the Republican Party, here’s your sign. Christian politics and ethics have never been Republican or conservative; they have been Christian who happened to find a convenient welcoming within a particular party apparatus. The attitudes of today’s conservative-libertarian youth change things. I, personally, am ready to sever ties whenever and wherever the Republican Party begins to patently endorse issues that are unbiblical. Are you? Pay attention carefully: the rejection of social conservatism by these individuals has nothing to do with any self-professed principles, but power. Principled (and historic!) conservatism—free enterprise, traditional values, and limited government—is now being gutted by a class of political debutantes who’d prefer to shelve traditional values in exchange for an intellectual and cultural conformism. The party that has detested political correctness has become its own party of political correctness. Why? Because the winds of cultural intimidation have successfully suppressed any commitment to social ethics because said ethics could be “risky” or “politically volatile” to one’s chances of winning. Today’s Young Republicans are today’s newest materialists. The broad denial of metaphysical configurations to humanity or society isn’t new, but one traditionally unrecognizable under the banner of “GOP.” The new Right is really the old Left; it’s Voltaire saying “Don’t Tread on Me.”

I’ve never longed to abandon the Republican Party, but the trajectory of young Republicans makes the break not only easy, but necessary.  Let us use this moment to reflect on our political commitments and whether our political commitments cause our principles to wax or wane. For young Republicans, principles have taken a backseat to political expediency. May it never be so for Christians. Christians should never enter the public square with the allure of expediency. Slow redemption is our lot. Christians don’t win, we witness. Where our Christianity takes us to uncomfortable places within the public square, we witness to greater realities and greater truths. The first apostles were theo-political agitators who gave witness to a better King and a better political order. Confessing Christ disrupted and re-ordered their political allegiances. The same should be said of us, whether as Republicans or Christ-confessing independents.

At the end of the day, the truths of life and marriage are more important than the political discomfort potentially afforded Johnny at his frat house, whose condom-ladened wallet provides a sharper ethic than his secular university has long since absconded on.

Posted by Andrew Walker

  • bfad

    As a young conservative, I feel like throughout the Bush era, politicians used social conservative positions to win political power and then governed like liberals when it came to fiscal policies — with the exception of increasing taxes. In my mind, this helped lead to the mess we now find ourselves in. Because of this, for me, social issues are less important in a candidate than fiscal ones.

  • David

    My theory for a few decades is that Christian Conservatives (and even moderate-leaning) realized that they were condescended to by liberal Christians, mocked by Democrats, hated by Washington…and tolerated by Republicans. Guess where they ended up.

    I’m still convinced that all it would take is a vocally pro-life Democrat Senator or Presidential candidate with a faith (even a more mainline one), and the GOP would be scrambling.

  • As a Christ-confessing Independent I agree with much of what you’ve written here, but hope that you aren’t painting with too broad a brush. The phrase “Libertarianism is little more than small government liberalism” just seems a bit too simplistic to me. An “ideology of indifference” toward social issues is indeed unacceptable for Christians, but I don’t think you can equate such an ideology with libertarianism. Indifference is a problem no matter what your political philosophy.

    Libertarianism as a philosophy (as opposed to the political party, as there are several Libertarian-leaning members of the GOP) does not necessarily lead to abandoning conservative Christian principles on social issues. In fact, the organization Libertarians for Life (founded in 1976) makes a very strong case for why Libertarians must be pro-life.

    I want what you seem to want — free enterprise, traditional values, and limited government — but for every “political debutante who’d prefer to shelve traditional values in exchange for an intellectual and cultural conformism” there’s also a social conservative who’d prefer to shelve individual liberty in exchange for a big government military-industrial complex and imposed morality (they are after “power”, too). And there’s a whole lot of nuance between those two positions as well.

    So where do we go to find “free enterprise, traditional values, and limited government”? Many Libertarians who promote traditional conservative positions on social issues (i.e., Ron Paul, Justin Amash, etc) have remained in the Republican Party, but are often treated as “fringe elements” of the GOP from those within and without. The Libertarian Party and their presidential candidate Gary Johnson have a pro-choice position on the official party platform, so for me that’s right out.

    It seems that having re-ordered political allegiances almost requires Christians to vote independently. There isn’t a “convenient welcoming within a particular party apparatus” for someone like me in today’s political climate. I think this is the real reason why so many young Christians are compromising. Developing consistent, principled political positions that willingly sacrifice political expediency in favor of slow redemption is hard work.

  • Unfortunately, I have to believe that most young Republicans who waiver on social issues (mostly gay marriage–not sure there’s an issue with abortion) do so because of a shift in “values”/principles, not because of mere political expediency. Perhaps it’s because I was once one of those folks and my convictions were deep, though also shallow, convictions.

    Many are simply stunted by an overly simplistic view of coercion/liberty, and are tired of seeing social conservatives like Bush ramp up the debt. Many Christian libertarians base it in a belief that truth will win when you allow moral forces to compete, and that maximum compassion requires maximum freedom, regardless of whatever distasteful byproducts may emerge. They believe presidents and political parties have little influence over actual culture (which is actually true, and very conservative to an extent).

    Now, they are certainly misguided on much of this, just as they are throwing out the baby with the bathwater when they are actually right, but I do think it’s out of a genuine distortion in principles.

    I say “unfortunately” because I think this is a bit more difficult to overcome than idiotic, youthful “pragmatism.”

  • Ryan Lunde

    Andrew – thanks for this post.

    As a social conservative, I’ve always been wary of libertarianism. However, it seems to me that you simply decided that all young Republican libertarians are opting for their libertarianism out of political expediency. That young Republicans are folding under cultural influence is certain. However, is it helpful to say this entire change in belief is motivated by political expediency rather than a genuine change in convictions?

    Regardless of your answer, I appreciate your post’s conclusion. If this young Republicanism drives the church to adopt an independent political voice — one that takes seriously all political charges of the Kingdom — then perhaps we’ll see a revitalized Christian identity.

  • Libertarianism is little more than small government liberalism—a convenient political philosophy when the ideology of indifference is easier to embrace than the urgency of confessional ethics.

    An earlier commenter suggests you’re painting with too broad a brush here… It struck me more as willfull ignorance or ideological hostility. Just as a counterpoint – I would probably be identified as a social conservative personally and religiously, adopting the orthodox and traditional positions of the Church in relation to sexuality (not just gay marriage but divorce as well), life issues, etc. And yet I am convinced both by my anabaptist background and by the theological analyses of people like Jacques Ellul that exercising power via politics is not the calling of the Church nor should it be the focus of individual Christians. I usually identify with libertarianism as closest to my own “Christian Anarchism”.

    It may be that the move away from social conservatism on the part of youth is universally a matter of pragmatism over principle. Perhaps an increase in support for gay marriage is purely a cynical and cowardly expedience. In an article tarring all young Christians libertarians with that slur, however, I’d expect to see more evidence cited than an anecdotal (and openly hopeful) article in the NY Times.