Religious and social conservatives, not classical liberals and libertarians, need to lead American conservatism. Our society is riven by identity politics. We are divided into economic winners and losers. Our leadership class drips with disdain for ordinary people in “flyover” country. Classical liberalism and the “neutral public square” that Bret Stephens and others champion cannot heal these wounds. Rights and procedural fairness, important as they remain, cannot move us forward. We need the language of covenant and solidarity—the natural language of religious and social conservatives.
There is a practical reason why we should lead: We have voters behind us. And not just the religious and social conservatives, who unlike libertarians and classical liberals number in the tens of millions, not tens of thousands. There are plenty of working-class people whose native political intelligence tells them that our country is in trouble. They experience the breakdown in marriage, the declines in life expectancy, and the erosion of community. They’re not looking for “neutral” leaders. They want a vision of national renewal—covenant and solidarity.
The libertarian-inflected conservative establishment fixated on limited government cannot provide this kind of leadership. Religious and social conservatives can. This does not mean theocracy, as Bret Stephens insinuates. Nor does it foretell “illiberalism,” as countless pundits intone. Instead, it means restoring the social fabric of our country so that it can sustain our best liberal traditions.