The power of III

Summum ius summa iniuria--More law, less justice

09 January 2012

A Constitutional Agenda for Social Conservatives

by Gary North

I am an Old School Presbyterian Calvinist, a position so conservative within Presbyterian Calvinism that it was relegated to the fringes after 1870. And if you ask me, they were kind of squishy.

With respect to politics, I voted for Goldwater in 1964. In 1966, I voted for William Penn Patrick instead of Ronald Reagan in the race for the Republican nominee for governor of California. I thought Reagan was too liberal.

I was a speaker at the National Affairs Briefing Conference in Dallas in 1980, which launched the New Christian Right.

I sent my children to Christian day schools.

With this as background, I want to present my case for Constitutional social conservatism.


I begin with a premise: "If a federal law is not in conformity to the judicial principles and precedents in American colonial law in 1788, it is unconstitutional, unless a Constitutional amendment has authorized it." This is simple to understand. It means that the Constitution was intended by the Framers to be the source of fundamental law restricting politicians and judges who hold office in the United States government. The Constitution was ratified by voters on that basis in 1787-88. That which is not authorized by the Constitution is prohibited.

Conservatives say they believe this. But do they?

The Constitution of the United States does not authorize the following:

1. Federal laws against pornography
2, Federal laws against alcohol
3. Federal laws against drugs
4. Federal laws against homosexuality
5. Federal laws against abortion
Social conservatives must decide: federal laws prohibiting any of the Big Five vs. Constitutional law.

The Constitution of the United States also does not authorize the following:

1. Federal laws legalizing local pornography
2, Federal laws legalizing local alcohol
3. Federal laws legalizing local drugs
4. Federal laws legalizing local homosexuality
5. Federal laws legalizing local abortion
Social liberals must decide: federal laws legalizing any of the Big Five locally vs. Constitutional law.

The two groups are generally agreed: Violate Constitutional law. This is the problem for American liberty. American politics is a contest over which group gets to decide which Constitutional restraints to ignore.

This is not how the two groups come to their donors. Each group pledges to extend justice. Each group blames the other for undermining the Constitution. Both groups are correct.

The social conservative says he favors local initiative. Then he votes for Washington politicians who interfere with local practices.

The social liberal says he favors national justice. Then he votes for Washington politicians who interfere with local practices.

The social conservative is inconsistent. The social liberal is consistent. So, the social conservative politician, when in office, attempts to pass laws that set legal precedents for the social liberals to use in the next election cycle: extensions of federal power. Then, in some future election cycle, the social liberals repeal the conservative laws by passing new laws that extend the power of the federal government. The new laws make illegal local practices that social conservatives favor. What the politicians do not do in this regard, the federal courts do. In both views, the federal government becomes messianic. It becomes a means of implementing federal control over local practices. We have seen this in action ever since 1788. It has done what the opponents of ratification said it would do, but on a scale undreamed of by the Anti- Federalists.

The social conservative goes to Washington vowing to bang heads locally. So does the social liberal. This question does not occur to the social conservative: "How much federal power must we consent to in order to bang heads locally?" This question occurs all the time to the social liberal. He has an answer: "More." When push comes to shove, this is the also the traditional social conservative's answer.

So, the social conservative finds himself defending the extension of federal power. He insists that this is for a good cause.

Yet here is the great irony: the word "social" means "voluntary." The historic position of American conservative political theory is this: The state is not society. The historic position of the social liberal is this: The state best represents society. We hear of "social justice." This is a code phrase for "welfare state." We hear of the Social Gospel. This is a code phrase for "welfare state." Liberals say "social," but the really mean "state."

In practice, so do social conservatives. Officially, they defend free association, but when push comes to shove, they join with liberals to vote in favor of an expanded federal government. When it comes to assessing the power of the state, both groups say "more."

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The post 1865 federal leviathan has to be rejected in a popular return to local government. This was the intended way to avoid tyranny in this land.  350 million people were never supposed to be ruled by 1, or 9, or 100, or 435 people.  Each individual was to be represented and served by their elected representatives. The only system that works is where the people know each other and the person representing them, and can "reach" them when necessary.


  1. 1. "If you find yourself in a fair fight, your tactics suck"

    shouldn't that be "...your strategy sucks"

    2. "Never let someone or thing that threatens you get inside arm’s length and never say "I got a gun". If you feel you need to use deadly force for heaven’s sake let the "first sound they hear is the safety clicking off" and they shouldn't have time to hear anything after that if you are doing your job."

    If there is no immediate danger, but there is potential danger, brandishing a weapon can avert a bad situation. Also, it puts you in a position to defend yourself. But, I do agree there is little point in announcing you have a gun without brandishing it.

  2. Unless you change it from 'your tactics suck', you'll be quoting John Steinbeck... not very conservative.