John Locke was often called the “Father of Liberalism” and can most properly be understood as the grandfather of “Social Conservatism.” John Locke was a Calvinist and, like John Calvin himself and unlike Martin Luther, he believed in the Natural Order and focused on its political preservation in his works. Like most Natural Order theorists, he delved deeply into the Natural Law and its proper role in preserving the Natural Order.
However, he was revolutionary in his belief in Natural Rights. He argued that man had inherent equality as the result of his humanity. He reasoned that the State of Nature (in which no prearranged Social Contract existed) would self-evidently feature human equality. This Natural equality was ultimately based on man’s reason. Locke believed that all government was the result of a Social Contract where man chose to relinquish aspects of his perfect liberty in exchange for the protection of the government.
His argument did not depend on Christianity. However, it resonated with Protestant and Catholic thought. They had the additional reason to believe in the equality of man because they felt that man’s equality was derived from his redemption in Jesus Christ.
Thomas Jefferson immortalized Lockean beliefs on Natural Law and Natural Rights in the Declaration of Independence, the mission statement of the United States:
“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”.
This ideology was in direct contradiction to slavery, which of course existed in the U.S. when Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration. However, the abolitionists fought to enshrine this belief into the Constitution of the United States — a feat that was not accomplished until the bitter end of the Civil War. Further, smaller ideological opponents remained to fight — segregationists, opponents of the suffragettes, and the Know-Nothings.
However, the next great challenge was the Sexual Revolution in the 1960s — a popular movement resulting from the embrace of birth control by the popular eugenics movement, the invention of the hormonal contraceptive pill by the pharmaceutical industry, and the take-over of the public schools in the United States by the progressive movement.
The Sexual Revolution broke the social consensus on the natural order. The Left exploded into the mainstream of the American political scene. They portrayed their triumph as inevitable and won decisive Supreme Court decisions on contraception in Griswold v. Connecticut in 1968 and on abortion in Roe v. Wade in 1973. It looked like the Left would be able to control both the Democratic and Republican Parties from Jimmy Carter to Richard Nixon. They ensconced themselves deeply into the UN and began to wield their influence in Africa and South America.
Once the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down 7-2, the Catholics got organized and founded the National Right to Life Committee for lay Catholics. The NRLC coordinated a host of statewide affiliates. Meanwhile, the Bishops organized effective lobbying with the newly founded United States Catholic Conference.
Then the Left overreached.
They went after Evangelical radio stations with the Fairness Doctrine. The Evangelicals organized politically and allied themselves with the Catholics who they had historically distrusted. Ever since then, the movement of Social Conservatism has advanced. They remain undefeated on the marriage issue in 31 statewide referenda. Polling shows that Republicans win social issues voters 5 to 1. Rhetorically, the pro-choice rhetoric has retreated. In the 1980s, “Abortion is a woman’s body and a woman’s right.” In the 1990s, “Abortion should be safe, legal, and rare.” In the 2000s, the pro-choice movement focused on having a few exceptions “abortion is necessary for rape, incest, or threat to the life or health of the mother.” Democratic politicians gradually began to avoid the abortion issue. Now, Planned Parenthood, the heart of the abortion industry, desperate to retain its funding, emphasizes all of the services that they do besides abortion. The Left’s hold on the Supreme Court is precarious, with 4 very Catholic Justices on the Court. If the Left (Planned Parenthood) is defunded, the battle could turn into a rout.
Demographics are further slipping away from the Left, even in the Democratic Party. California and the South are facing a huge influx of socially conservative (Democratic) Latinos. California is now 47% pro-life.
The Left is desperate to portray their battle with Social Conservatism as an attempted “Theocracy” by the “Religious Right.” However, social conservatism is simply the (classically) liberal philosophy of the American founding. The elites remain committed to the Left. But this is a Republic and the elites cannot control the political scene forever.
The battle in the U.S. between Social Conservatism and the Left is still up in the air.
But Social Conservatism is advancing.