Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Patrick Deneen notes in his "The Future of Conservatism":

For many older conservatives especially, formed out of the great and admirable battle against communism during the Cold War, certain alien orthodoxies were introduced that were incompatible with the deepest stores and sources of conservatism. Conservatism became identified with a defense of classical liberalism, with libertarian and libertine economics, with an expansionist Wilsonian foreign policy; in response to the rise of “multi-culturalism” it articulated a defense of Enlightenment universalism (rather than a true defense of multiculturalism); to defend the role of religion in the public sphere it began speaking in the language of utilitarianism, pointing to the usefulness of religion for a liberal democratic order; to argue against Roe vs. Wade it adopted the language of RIGHTS, a theory that originated in a theory of self-ownership. Can there be any wonder that conservatism seems all but routed today, given how readily it curried favor by accommodating itself to the very corrosive modern orthodoxies of what it originally arose to combat?
Let us accept for the moment that rights can be introduced into law without an underpinning theory of self-ownership. Who were the most influential exponents of this particular account of rights?

Rights are a limit on certain positive laws, but law is prior to rights (both natural law, and some positive laws). How do we explain how this understanding of rights (which I believe accompanied most medieval theories of rights) was displaced in the United States by the belief that rights are prior to all positive law?

The problem isn't that conservatives have adopted rights language when they shouldn't have, because it is completely antithetical to their belifs. Rather, their opponents cannot be convinced of the humanity of the fetus, or of the rationale behind the prohibition against abortion. Appealing to the rights of the unborn is not enough; one must also address the erroneous foundation of rights (a radical notion of individual sovereignty) upon which their opponents base their objections (right to privacy, right over one's body, etc.).

There is also the erroneous liberal assumption concerning human reason, which is that truth can be discovered by anyone, so long as they are 'rational,' however this is defined (following certain rules). Therefore, if someone remains unconvinced by an argument, the fault lies with the argument, not with the subject. It discounts the role that appetite can play in swaying reason. Does this mean that anyone who disagrees with traditional morality has a bad will? No, but their disagreement should not be taken as a sign that the arguments presented in favor of traditional morality are not sound or 'reasonable.'

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