Monday, January 09, 2012

I appreciate Andrew Sullivan in general - a good writer, broad interests, a relatively reasonable conservative - but this kind of thing is one of his more annoying habits.
My friend David Brooks writes the following:
I’m to Rick Santorum’s left on most social issues, like same-sex marriage and abortion.

No, no, no. David is to Santorum's right on both issues, if left and right retain any meaning. Same-sex marriage is arguably the most successful socially conservative reform ever, as Conor Friedersdorf notes.

This post from this past weekend is just the most recent example of Sullivan's apparent belief that "good" and "conservative" are synonymous and indistinguishable. It grates.

For all his faults, Brooks believes that abortion and gay marriage should not be completely illegal. Santorum believes that both should be completely illegal. To me, and probably to most of my friends who might read this and to most people who might stumble on this post somehow, indeed to the world in general, that puts Brooks to the left of Santorum on those issues, just like he said.

Why is being pro-gay marriage and pro-choice the more left-wing option? One reason is because it's the more popular option with people and organizations on the left at the moment. Another reason is because it's the more liberal option in terms of personal liberty and leftism overlaps pretty well with civil libertarianism (in modern America, more often than not, in general, etc.). And as for the left-right divide as a philosophical question? Well, when you try to make any philosophical stance fit an entire half of the political spectrum, especially, again, in modern America, it's bound to be pretty incoherent. But given that the main argument against both is simple social conservatism, and given that both mostly benefit socially downtrodden groups, gay marriage and abortion seem more left than not. So all things considered, it's pretty clear that being pro-gay marriage and pro-choice is more "left" than anti-, right?

Not to Andrew Sullivan. He has this philosophy that's as complicated and self-reinforcing as the Catholic catechism about how Conservativism with a capital C is always the best approach to everything. It cannot fail, it can only be failed. It'll make you richer, smarter, and cure eczema, and if it won't make you taller then absolutely nothing else could either. And so to Sullivan, allowing gay marriage is really the conservative option because it promotes family values. As Sullivan linked to, he's not the only person to make that argument. But other than Sullivan's personal classification system, it's mostly just contrarianism for its own sake. Never mind that self-described conservatives generally don't like it, never mind that the families that result are not the 1950s-ideal nuclear family, never mind that it's still a relatively new idea as societal roles go, it's conservative because Sullivan likes it among its many other effects it sort of encourages some people to lead more traditional lifestyles than they probably would otherwise. Seriously?

Same for abortion. Sullivan doesn't like it in general, but doesn't support sweeping rollbacks of it. To him this is the conservative option because it's the status quo. Never mind that it's only been the status quo within the lifetime of Generation X, or just how much most conservatives hate it and how it's still really damn hard to get them in many conservative-dominated areas. It's technically, barely, the status quo, so it's conservative and he doesn't want to change it much.

In fairness, I haven't read any of Sullivan's books, so maybe if I did I'd be completely persuaded to his way of thinking that Conservatism really is the answer to everything. And like I said, I appreciate his work overall for other reasons. But this mentality of his is ridiculous. It really shouldn't be so hard for someone to admit that their political philosophy could be bad if misapplied or taken too far. It approaches doublethink, so it's particularly bad from someone who reveres George Orwell as much as Sullivan does.