Conservatism Doesn’t Mean Putting Whorehouses In Boys’ Pockets

The Folly Of Libertarianism

A man striving for chastity should not live in a whorehouse. There is nothing virtuous about putting one’s virtue to the test, for the world has temptation enough without seeking it out. It is worse still to put temptation in the way of those who are not strong enough to resist it; recovering addicts should be kept far from their next fix.

Developing and practicing virtue requires limits. Humans are not disembodied minds or pure spirits choosing rationally and dispassionately between good and evil. Rather, we are embodied, finite, and temporal beings who are influenced by our surroundings. We develop virtue and goodness through imitation, habit, and cultural osmosis as much, or more, as we do through overt moral instruction and reasoning. Conservatives therefore know that government cannot be indifferent between vice and virtue.

This truth has been challenged by those who have a very different vision of conservatism. The division is illustrated by the response of New York Times columnist Bret Stephens to his former protégé Sohrab Ahmari. Stephens writes that Ahmari’s project, as seen in his latest book, “The Unbroken Thread: Discovering the Wisdom of Tradition in an Age of Chaos,” aims to give “moral voice to what so far has mainly been a populist scream against the values of elite liberalism, above all its disdain for limits, from moral taboos to national borders to religious rituals.”

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