All God’s Children Got Values (Michael Walzer, Spring 20905, Dissent)

Liberals and leftists are engaged on many fronts, but we are not coherently engaged. No one on the left has succeeded in telling a story that brings together the different values to which we are committed and connects them to some general picture of what the modern world is like and what our country should be like. The right, by contrast, has a general picture. I don’t think that its parts actually fit together in a coherent way, but they appear to do so. And in politics, despite the common view that all politicians pander to their constituencies, saying one thing here and its opposite there, the appearance of coherence is the name of the game.

Scattershot doesn’t work, not in arguments and not in campaigns; you need a coordinated barrage. And somehow, right-wing intellectuals and activists have managed to convince themselves and a lot of other people that the free market, individual self-reliance, the crusade for democracy, the war against terrorism, heterosexual marriage, conventional sex and gender roles, religious faith, and patriotic sentimentality all hang together. They are a coherent set, and together they constitute the American Way. And then the defense of “values,” even if it’s narrowly and weirdly focused-say, on sexual license in Hollywood movies-calls to mind everything else. Well, I guess it’s not entirely weird; there is a recognizable picture of America here, even if it’s a nostalgic picture, and even if a lot of Americans (maybe, today, most Americans) are left out of it.

Much of this essay is quite sensible, typical of Mr. Walzer, but his confusion here is strange. The entire set of values that conservatism defends–the American Way–derives from the recognition that men are Created beings endowed with human dignity. All else follows.


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