Charlie Gard: A Lesson in Conservative Cluelessness About the Culture Wars

In recent weeks, the right-wing commentariat has made quite the fuss about a European court that ordered the removal of life support for Charlie Gard, the infant son of Chris Gard and Cathy Yates who was afflicted with a rare genetic mitochondrial disease. And rightfully so – death panels, the rationing of care, and other grotesqueries are the result of a government-run healthcare system. The Gard family just provides a face for it.

However, many of these critical voices from the right are supporters of same-sex “marriage” or offered milquetoast resistance against it. Take, for example, three prominent right-wing talking-heads, Jonah Goldberg, Ben Shapiro, and Andrew Klavan, who have all attacked the court’s Charlie Gard decision. Yet, in regard to same-sex “marriage,” Goldberg wanted a compromise of civil unions and also wrote, “it’s progress that gay activists and left-wingers are celebrating the institution of marriage as essential.” During his numerous campus visits and speaking engagements, Shapiro often has said he believes the state should get out of marriage in the first place even though he is opposed to same-sex “marriage” personally. Klavan recently told Dave Rubin of the Rubin Report of a conversation he had with the late Andrew Breitbart in which he said — and I’m paraphrasing — the right shouldn’t be on the wrong side of the “gay rights” issue, meaning at least that conservatives should drop their opposition to same-sex “marriage.”

Now, I like Klavan, and I used to be pretty high on Shapiro too (Goldberg, not so much). But I confess: I don’t know how they, ostensibly men of the right, hold both these positions. If one is conservative, how can one justifiably support liberty — in this case, the freedom to care for one’s children as one sees fit without interference from the “expert” bureaucrats — and believe it’s fine, even welcome, or at least not an egregiously big deal that the state recognizes same-sex couples as married like opposite-sex couples?

At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be an incompatibility lurking between the two positions:

  1. A la Goldberg: “Societies depend on the principle that parents are their children’s best guardians. It’s appalling for the state — particularly one that runs the health-care system — to claim that it, not the loving parents, has the final say”;
  2. Resistance to same-sex “marriage” is either one or any sum of the following three predicates: i) wrong ii) politically ineffective iii) not worth upholding.

The problem with this judgment, however, becomes evident when considering what the recognition of same-sex “marriages” entails. If same-sex relationships and opposite-sex relationships are qualitatively and thereby normatively equal, and both are apt for marriage as “marriage equality” advocates enjoin, then the natural fecundity of opposite-sex relationships — a capacity same-sex relationships don’t have out of metaphysical necessity — is irrelevant to the institution. If sex’s end, procreation, is irrelevant to marriage, then so are procreation’s natural manifestation, children, and its institutional sequel, the family.

Instead, as procreation and the resulting children don’t inhere in these institutions, what’s left to define marriage and family is intense emotional attachment; they both become essentially functions of subjective will. Conceivably, couples of any sexuality qualify as married ultimately insofar as they will it to be so. Likewise, whether brought together via adoption, coitus, third-party insemination or impregnation, family fundamentally is not a house of blood but volition. The means to family might differ, but they’re equal byproducts of the personal will to create a personalized domestic artifact, a social construct called the family that is as fluid and varied as gender.

This conclusion should bother any conservative, including Goldberg, Shapiro, and Klavan, for several reasons, but I’ll describe two, with the rest of post emphasizing the gravity of the second:

1) If opposite-sex relationships and same-sex relationships are normatively equal, then so are the families they start and the differing experimental means by which to start them. In other words, given the assumptions of “marriage equality,” it’s hard to see why, in principle, there is any moral difference between, for example, a) making kids via sexual intercourse b) making kids via in-vitro fertilization c) making kids via renting out a poor woman’s womb in India for nine months as a surrogate before coming to collect. Bear in mind, with same-sex couples, b) and c) always involve the deliberate deprivation of at least a biological mother or father from the resulting child. Therefore, it’s hard to see, in principle, any moral difference between a family with a child living with his two biological parents and a family with a child living with two out of his five parents, who, by design, are not his biological ones in this Brave, Post-Obergefell New World.

2) Conservatives favor the “mediating institutions” of Alexis de Tocqueville and the “little platoons” of Edmund Burke of which the family is a prime example. Mediating institutions, e.g. the family, church, local community, and other associations, orient otherwise isolated individuals toward each other and the good. Thusly arranged, people live, learn, and rely on one another, remaining free from a large centralized bureaucracy stepping in to attempt to remedy their tribulations and disputes. Hence, these associations provide firm boundaries between the local and the federal, the private and the public, the individual and the state. Robust mediating institutions create a norm that promotes personal, local, and federal recognition of their primacy, tempering the reach of the far-away state and preventing the widespread social crises that invite the call to increase that reach. Thusly, a panel of technocrats, operating under the conceit they know best, are less likely to be empowered to decide, for example, how much wheat a rural farmer can grow and sell in a year, or, returning to the titular case, be granted the authority to order loving, desperate parents to let their son, Charlie, expire.

But in the post-Obergefell world, an era the likes of conservatives such as Goldberg, Shapiro, and Klavan did little to stop, the mediating institution of the family is a product of subjective will, a social construct with no root in objective blood ties to be respected. It can no longer mediate because it now is just a willed extension of the self instead of a separate entity comprised of interdependent individuals that shields these individuals from bureaucratic paternalism. Thus, the distinctions between the local and the federal, the private and the public, the individual and the state are greatly diminished. Family is solely now an expression of choice enacted by will, which, like many other choices in Leviathan-run society, is subject to centralized approval, regulation, and correction.

Even more disconcerting, Goldberg, Shapiro, and others foresaw leftist activists weaponizing the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision and yoking the cultural tide behind it to force into compliance dissenters and conscientious objectors, e.g. bakers, florists, and private religious colleges, et al. But for whatever reason, their countermeasure is to decry the left’s illiberalism in these matters as if they’re negotiating with wayward liberals that can be shown the error of their ways and be brought back to the fold. But “You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!” especially when you’re the ones who did next to nothing to prevent it from being there.

Rather than acknowledge the dire nature of the same-sex marriage debate and the implications of defeat in this front of the culture wars — that the line had to be held here — conservative intelligentsia and punditry (of which Goldberg, Shapiro, and Klavan are mere examples), as a whole, shrugged. Though they detected the left’s insatiability in regard to its agents’ intent to harness government to infringe on some mediating institutions, they didn’t see or didn’t care to confront the looming threat to the most important mediating institution undergirding the civil order. Many didn’t even make a concerted try to dignify marriage by defending it as essentially a heterosexual institution in a last-ditch effort to preempt or at least blunt the left’s push to target social conservatives in small businesses, religious organizations, and other institutions. Their current liberalized, ex post facto chiding of the anti-liberals perpetuating this tyranny is too little, too late and again ineffective. Frankly, they fiddled while the family and other mediating institutions were about to be set ablaze – now they are on fire. And that social bulwark against creeping totalitarianism that has been under siege for years has been severely, perhaps irrevocably, breached.

The lord of the Rings - The two towers (the blowing up the wall)

make action GIFs like this at MakeaGif

Of course, these guardians of conservative thought are right about the evil circumstances of Charlie Gard’s death. But on what objective grounds could the Gards have stood on in a political and legal system that only views them as voluntary stewards of their own child? Their parental legs were cut out from underneath them. Family is just a social construct gutted of objective essence and meaning, thanks in large part to conservative capitulation to same-sex “marriage,” the law of the land in many Western nations, including Britain. Take as another example the indoctrination of children with radical transgender ideology in public schools. Their decent parents don’t care for it? Well, too bad! After Obergefell, there is nothing objective or natural — in the sense of classical natural law theory — about their relationship to their children for education officials to recognize, especially when it impedes the progressive agenda these apparatchiks deem to be the common good. After all, according to Ian Kennedy, who wrote in The Guardian about the Charlie Gard tragedy:

children do not belong to their parents… We need to remind ourselves that parents do not have rights regarding their children, they only have duties, the principal duty being to act in their children’s best interests… any rights that parents have exist only to protect their children’s rights.

This is the reality the scions of conservatism effectively are helping to usher in with their unwillingness and inability to mount an impassioned defense of social conservative principles. It raises the question: What good are conservatives who, due to lack of desire and or competence, fail to actually conserve our most pivotal institutions?

So, yes, mourn and be angry about Charlie Gard. Even more so, remember fiercely the indecisiveness, meekness, stupidity, and futility of the right that has enabled the totalitarianism responsible for his unceremonious end and the West’s increasing decline.

Jan Sobieski IV

For Jan Sobieski IV, the West is on the precipice of ruin again. With interests in journalism and philosophy, he’s a millennial convinced we’re living in another Vienna, 1683. Sobieski IV aspires to help lead the pivotal charge for Western civilization against those seeking to overrun or open her gates—these days, they’re one and the same, deserving nothing but the fury of the winged hussar reborn.

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  1. I forgot where we stood the last time we went at this, but my question restated: Just how marginalized are gay people supposed to be when it comes to marriage, civil unions, or any compromises in that direction. Just want to be sure that our civilization and culture won’t collapse if gays get to have legally recognized unions of any kind. (And not just gays here, but those half-misdirected folks, the bisexuals, who can have legal recognition for union with one loved partner but perhaps not another. They should only remain half-marginalized in this area, right?) (Also we’d better get our conceptual gerrymandering just right to avoid looking ridiculous in addition to upholding the one right and true gerrymander. Marriage is for the raising of children essentially and not accidentally, but it has to be natural procreation, and if a gay couple wants to obtain all the legal documents equivalent to a civil union, we’d better be sure to make that document-obtaining process cumbersome and time-consuming enough not to signal societal approval of their union, etc. Oh, those gays. Good fucking thing we don’t actually apply Leviticus law to them in this day and age, surely? Anyway, back to the question: just how much are gay people to be marginalized lest we contribute to the decline of our way of life? Specifics are nice.)

    • Ultimate Philosopher,

      There is next to nothing in your comment that is relevant to what I actually argued in the post.

      Marginalization? Where do I suggest, let alone propose the marginalization of gays? Probably right next to where I claim we should ostracize polygamists, polyandrists, those who engage in child marriage, and zoophiles. Yet your outrage only extends to homosexuals in regard to marriage — why? Just how much are the members of these groups to be marginalized lest we contribute to the decline of our way of life? Specifics are nice.

      As glib as it might seem, a person who is gay is free to engage in a relationship that is apt for marriage. Gay persons choose not to exercise their freedom in that manner. To argue that relationship type x ought be recognized is not tantamount to arguing for marginalization of those who practice relationship type y. Nor is the formal recognition of x a sufficient condition to show that those who practice y are being marginalized. Unless you have some other premises to show otherwise, but they need to be argued instead of you just taking umbrage.

      Furthermore, your comment assumes the state is obligated to offer at least some recognition of same-sex relationships. But why? What interest does it have in affirming and regulating homosexual couplings? There are reasons why it has interest in recognizing heterosexual unions, namely the procreation of the next generation, the stable upbringing and socialization of the state’s future citizens. These two consideration are only applicable to homosexual couples in ad hoc ways, and those in them of themselves do not justify the overturning of an institution that up until 20 years ago was universally believed to be procreative, and thereby heterosexual, in nature. Unless that is you have an argument to the contrary here.

      “Marriage is for the raising of children essentially and not accidentally, but it has to be natural procreation.”

      That’s not what I argued either. In 1), I claim, given the assumptions of Obergefell v. Hodges, it’s hard to tell in principle a moral difference between having kids the old-fashioned way and growing them out of a petri dish to be sold to those who can afford it. There are rational bioethical and human rights concerns with the latter case. But given the presuppositions of marriage equality now enshrined by Obergefell, “reproductive equality,” signaling the normalization of these experimental, dubious methods of making kids, is entailed, and as a matter of politics, a relatively soon to be fought new front in the culture wars. This does not imply an outright prohibition against against IVF or surrogacy. You’re misunderstanding what “natural” means here — “natural” in this sense means given a thing’s nature, there are particular ends that constitute that thing’s flourishing being the sort of thing that it is.

      So I urge you, for the first and the last time, to offer an argument in good faith that addresses something actually in the post instead of preferring what seems like the histrionics of a triggered social justice warrior.

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