A Key Difference between Social Conservatism and Political Conservatism

A Key Distinction

When we think about political conservatism, that’s referring to political party apparatuses that are going to try to secure certain policy outcomes. And so when we think about the relationship between social conservatism and political conservatism, we would definitely probably want to say that social conservatism is going to have outputs into political conservatism.

But there’s a really key distinction that we need to be very clear about: just because political conservatism is adopting the label of conservatism, it doesn’t actually mean that that definition of conservatism is meeting what I would call a biblical definition of conservatism.

Social Conservatism for the Common Good

Andrew T. Walker

Edited by Andrew T. Walker, these thoughtful essays from Christian evangelical scholars examine the political philosophy and ethics of influential Catholic social conservative scholar Robert P. George.

I am a political conservative myself and I’ll fully admit that there are aspects of political conservatism today that gain acceptance under the umbrella of political conservatism that I am wary to adopt, and, in fact, I would say we cannot adopt.

There are political conservatives, for example, who really don’t have much problem at all with such things as same-sex marriage. We, as Christians and as properly understood social conservatives, would say that it doesn’t matter what political conservatism wants to do or say in order to secure party wins. We have to begin from some kind of prerequisite backgrounds. And if we’re going to have a political conservatism, true political conservatism needs to follow from what is true about social conservatism.

And that’s where we come back to those truths that if you’re going to have that just society, it’s the protection of the individual. It’s the protection of the family. It’s the protection of such things as religious liberty. And we absolutely want to advocate for those things in the political sphere. Politics is absolutely important. We secure those realities, those moral goods through the political process.

And so this is never less than something that has political significance. What I’m cautioning is that we don’t allow political conservatism—and that transient label that can change from one generation to the next—to kind of co-opt our absolute, fundamental, pre-political realities that stem from a Christian worldview, not simply what American political consensus is.

Andrew T. Walker is the editor of Social Conservatism for the Common Good: A Protestant Engagement with Robert P. George.

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