It’s a mistake for conservatives to stake their case on the appeal to freedom and equality as ultimate principles that is the stuff of political rhetoric today. The appeal is self-defeating, both for conservatives and for anyone intelligently attached to those goals. Their logic is innately unlimited, and the attempt to put them into effect ever more comprehensively leads first to left-wing radicalism and then to tyranny and degradation.
Still, we have to live in the world around us to some extent and try to make our pitch in a way that can be understood. So if people want to talk about rights traditionalist conservatives should, among other things, put forward their own ideas on the subject. It seems to me that one very important right they should push is the right to live with integrity in accordance with views they share with others, at least if those views have longstanding local backing and so aren’t eccentric, antisocial or aggressive and are plainly capable of ordering a productive and satisfying way of life. Such a right is obviously basic to any political order that can legitimately claim to be free or popular. It would include:
- The right to resist reprogramming. If government, employer or school want to turn you or your children into a different kind of person for a different kind of society than has existed in the past, in which settled ways of living count for nothing, the effort is tyrannical and everyone has the right and duty to resist it.
- The right to withhold support from a cause, especially one at odds with longstanding habits and understandings. That’s been recognized to some degree, in connection with school activities fees and right-to-work laws, but needs to be greatly expanded. Why should a printer, for example, be required to print invitations for a “gay wedding”?
- The right to abstain from and refuse to support or countenance behavior considered outrageous for enduring and widely-accepted reasons. Why should Catholic doctors, hospitals and employers be required to provide or pay for abortions, euthenasia, birth control or what not? Why should a Catholic high school be forced to allow homosexual couples at its prom?
- The right to choose your associates, particularly on grounds that have long been thought relevant to the choice. That right is obviously inconsistent with “equal opportunity” laws. It’s mostly been asserted in connection with private clubs but has generally lost because some sort of public connection can always be made out, and in any public setting inclusiveness is thought to have infinite importance. Forthright assertion of the right might at least call into question the infinitely good and wholly drawback-free quality of inclusiveness—an extremely important goal, since what “inclusiveness” means is the forcible abolition of the distinctions on which non-market and non-bureaucratic institutions operate.
- The right, when participating in public life, to make the arguments and act (within the law) on the principles that seem right to you based on your best understanding of how the world really is. There can be no obligation, in a social order claiming to be based on popular participation and free discussion, for telling those whose participation has long been fundamental to the polity that in public life they may no longer make arguments or act on motives that a hedonist and materialist might not share.
The right can be viewed as an extremely moderate and restricted form of J. S. Mills’ principle that experiments in living should be allowed: if the experiment has been going on for a very long time, it doesn’t impose on others or require the use of force against them, and it’s enabled whole societies to live in a way they have enduringly found good, then it’s not the job of a government claiming to be liberal to eradicate it. What liberal could, in good faith, object to that?