[Editor’s Note: Jonathon Van Maren is a pro-life activist, podcaster, and commentator. His work has appeared in First Things, The American Conservative, The European Conservative, National Review, and elsewhere. His writing can be found at thebridgehead.ca. He spoke to Charles Camosy about his article in The American Conservative on ‘left-wing social conservatives’.]
Camosy: Congratulations on your new, creative, and challenging article with The American Conservative. Can you give us the short version? What, for instance, is a ‘left-wing social conservative’?
The short version is that not so very long ago, most people agreed on the fundamentals of life and family — in short, agreed on what it was that needed conserving while differing strongly on how to do so. “Left-wing” wasn’t shorthand for “woke,” and plenty of economic leftists were strongly anti-abortion and pro-family. In the West, however, pro-lifers have been pushed out of left-wing parties and even feminists who disagree with gender ideology are getting cancelled. That hasn’t happened in Latin America and elsewhere.
In my piece for The American Conservative, I pointed out that economic leftism is not intertwined with the sexual revolution in Latin America as it is elsewhere — and that the loyalties of Western leftists are actually primarily to the abortion industry and the LGBT movement rather than to workers and families. Two journalists actually said that socially conservative leftists are worse than tinpot dictators. Woke Western leftists would like to colonize their erstwhile ideological counterparts in other countries, but hopefully they will continue to fail as the insanity of gender ideology and other aspects of wokeism becomes more apparent. These leaders face enormous pressure from their Western counterparts.
Some tend to wonder if writers and professors aren’t living in some kind of fantasy land when they hear about stuff like this. But one place where this has really worked is Hungary, as you highlighted in a recent interview with their family minister. What is going on over there and why should we be paying attention?
The Hungarian experiment is one of the most fascinating political phenomena unfolding right now. Essentially, the Hungarian government is attempting to orient the force of the state towards supporting families by incentivizing marriage and childbirth while disincentivizing abortion and divorce. This includes rather radical policies like exempting those under age 25 as well as mothers with several children from all income tax. As the family minister explained, in most societies post-feminism and post-sexual revolution, it has become an economic disadvantage to have children. What Hungary is attempting to do is at minimum level the playing field between those who choose to raise children and those who join the workforce and to remove all barriers and disadvantages to choosing parenthood. Thus far, the results have been impressive.
The easiest and most powerful weapon to use against anything one doesn’t like, at least in our current moment, is the accusation of racism. Predictably, some want to reduce and dismiss Hungary’s practices to a kind of racist, anti-immigrant focus on cultural purity. To some it really doesn’t matter what the evidence is, but speak to open-minded folks here: what’s the response to this change?
Interestingly, these accusations get leveled and then forgotten when folks find a new accusation to level at Hungary. As anti-Semitism rises sharply across Europe, for example, it is dropping precipitously in Hungary — a fact that is entirely ignored by Viktor Orban’s detractors. The reality is that policies like the Hungarian government’s decision to ban LGBT propaganda to minors are the real issue here, because their record on racial prejudice, by the results, is better than that of most Western democracies.
As for the immigration issue, one’s perspective on Hungary’s approach will probably be based on personal opinion. However, it bears mentioning that after the 2015 migrant crisis, plenty of other European nations belatedly came to the same conclusion that Hungary did. The precarious social safety nets created over generations and threatened by low birthrates simply cannot sustain the weight of hundreds of thousands of newcomers. Governments have a duty, first and foremost, to their own citizens.
I find it particularly interesting that old-school American Democrats in California and elsewhere once opposed illegal immigration, the resettling of refugees, and looser immigration policies because it hurt the wages of the workers they advocated for. Rigid views on immigration and the accompanying accusations of racism are a relatively new phenomenon on the Left, as well.
Do you think all of this has implications for the pro-life movements and how we go about activating on behalf of prenatal justice?
Absolutely it does. Fighting for the right to life of the pre-born should not be a partisan issue, and it is unfortunate that increasingly radicalized progressives committed to the sexual revolution have done so much to make it that way. There are many voters who lean liberal on economic issues but only vote GOP because it is the one party that stands against the killing of pre-born children. As I noted in another column (featuring the insights of yourself and Dr. Robert P. George) after the election, there is an opportunity for the GOP to realign itself as the pro-life, pro-family party of the working class while leaving the Democrats to go woke and become the party of Big Business.
On a more fundamental level, we should recognize allies when we see them. A social conservative, in my view, is someone who knows what it is they want to conserve. We can—and absolutely should — debate economic policy. Those debates should be robust. We will disagree. We should also watch political experiments in Hungary and elsewhere closely so that we can be results-driven rather than primarily ideology driven — a point that Tucker Carlson has been making almost constantly for the past several years (which is why he praised Elizabeth Warren’s book The Two-Income Trap as important for social conservatives). If life and family form the foundation of society, then why not strive for a society oriented towards the protection of those things?