Today, it’s clear that one of the sharpest distinctions between conservatives and progressives lies in our contrasting attitudes to civil society. Conservatives, following Edmund Burke and Alexis de Tocqueville, see hope and renewal coming from families, churches and civic groups. Progressives see them as fomenting prejudice and ignorance.
For conservatives, social justice is best pursued by restoring community, familial love, self-respect and responsibility, all products of a robust civil society. Progressives, by contrast, believe that social justice means redistributing material wealth.
Today the “clash of visions” between conservatives and progressives over civil society is most apparent in their contrasting responses to the Tea Party movement. For conservatives, the Tea Party movement is a classic example of Edmund Burke’s “little platoons” springing into action.
Ordinary Americans, appalled by the sudden, massive expansion of Big Government, and by the equally sudden, explosive growth of the national debt, have spontaneously organized into associations demanding change. Were Burke alive today, he surely would cite the rise of the Tea Party movement as vital to the health and well-being of democracy.
It’s obvious, though, that progressives are unwilling to give up yet. They’re still trying to mold society in their image. But can they succeed by alienating every major religious group in the country?
When Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, he said he wanted to be a “uniter.” It looks as if he finally got his wish.