A Renewed Social Conservative Agenda

The pandemic has exposed serious social and economic challenges that conservatives should be ready to address, and presents an opportunity to offer a relevant and expanded social conservative agenda.

It’s been a while since I published a newsletter, I apologize. A combination of time consuming teaching obligations, dissertation deadlines, pandemic wedding planning, and some health issues have meant I have trouble finding the time to sit down and write something thoughtful right now.

In this piece I’m going to try and push back against some of the received wisdom about conservatism in Canada and sketch out what a contemporary social conservative agenda could look like. This agenda has been given renewed relevance by the pandemic, which has highlighted an underlying fragility of our social institutions and fabric that needs to be addressed. This is the longest newsletter so far, but given how long it has been since the last one I figured you’ll forgive me for this. 

Social conservatism, properly understood, is not just about a few hot button issues. A concern for the health and wellbeing of the social world is ultimately built on a concern with the fabric and institutions that help people lead good lives in a free and flourishing society. It isn’t optional, it should be at the core of any substantive vision of conservatism. 

This also presents a political opportunity for partisan Conservatives to put together a robust social conservative agenda. Developing such an agenda is stunted by the way debates around social conservatism generally take shape. I want to sketch out an agenda you could call socially conservative that explicitly isn’t about a few hot button issues, not because we can just pretend these issues and people that care about them should be ignored, but because we need this kind of an agenda regardless of where we come down on these other things. 

The Tired Tropes of Social Conservative Debates

I loathe the social conservative label and the discourse surrounding it. When people talk about social conservatism in Canada they generally use it now to just describe two hot button topics; abortion/life issues and LGBT issues. Andrew Scheer’s tepid social conservatism was chalked up as a major reason for the Conservative Party’s disappointing performance in 2019, and social conservatives are the consistent scapegoats for Conservative electoral defeats. 

Socons are extremely well organized and exert real influence at the grassroots and in the selection processes of leaders and candidates for the Conservatives. Socons and social progressives inside and outside the conservative movement engage in constant debates about whether or not there’s a place for social conservatives within a modern and relevant Conservative party. These debates go nowhere. 

A Conservative Party that campaigned on completely outlawing abortion and repealing same-sex marriage laws would not do well, to put it mildly. But it isn’t clear to me that having pro-lifers and other socons within the fold is quite the “albatross” that some claim it is, and if social conservatives were to completely abandon the Conservative Party then putting together a winning coalition would undoubtedly become even harder. 

Debates around social conservatism rarely actually focus on or ask socons what they specifically want. For instance, the pro-life activists I know in Canada aren’t actually demanding abortion be completely banned tomorrow, they specifically want laws on sex-selective and late term abortion. Now maybe you disagree on the specifics, but these aren’t ultra-radical suggestions. Those that think socons, pro-life groups in particular, need to be extirpated from the Conservative Party, need to be more honest and actually engage on these terms with pro-life groups, not just abstract accusations of “you don’t support the right to choose.” Far too often scapegoating social conservatism obfuscates more fundamental reasons why conservatism is unappealing to many Canadians. 

Social Conservatism, Properly Understood 

But my unease here is deeper than electoral considerations, it’s about a misunderstanding of conservatism itself. Conservatism cannot just mean being liberals in favour of lower spending. Conservatism should begin with a recognition of our historical and social situatedness, and it should recognize that abstract talk of things like freedom make no sense in a vacuum. We live in the social world, this is where we learn how to be free and how to live well. It’s where we ultimately find meaning and purpose. 

This is perhaps the foundational insight of anglo-conservatism, and while this doesn’t just directly translate into a list of policy proposals, it cannot be ignored. It also isn’t a bad thing to begin with an insight like this that isn’t just a policy prescription. Our policy prescriptions should not be unchanging and dogmatic, they should be flexible and contingent, growing out of first principles to address the challenges of the day.   

If we’re conservatives it’s because we’re ultimately trying to conserve something. Alongside our political institutions, preserving and maintaining the health of these social institutions should be the most fundamental goal of serious conservatism. A focus on the social ought not be a mere supplementary component of conservatism. It should be at the core.

And that’s why I dislike the socon label. Reducing the entirety of conservative concerns with the “social” to few hot button issues does no one any favours. It produces stunted and superficial debates within conservatism, and enables people who call themselves conservatives but are really just economic liberals to wash their hands of these deeper and more foundational concerns that conservatism cannot neglect.

Social conservatives deserve blame here too, because they play this game as well. Lots of the loudest socons are “full blooded” conservatives, meaning they combine their stance on a few hot button issues with deregulation, lower taxes, less public spending, and small government. Reducing social conservatism to a handful of separate issues and then wedding the fundamental conservative concern about the social to a hard free market approach is deeply misguided, in my view. Just as the fiscal conservative/social progressive can wash their hands of any hot button issues, the social conservative who embraces this economic libertarianism can neglect the role that economic and material conditions have on the social world. By focusing on a few issues, it encourages a subordination of conservatism, and a concern for the social, to what others describe as “free market fundamentalism.” I don’t like this term, but you get my point. 

If we put the social, broadly conceived, first, then it should allow for some flexibility in how we approach things like the state and the market. To quote Sam Hammond: “A non-malleable view of human nature is supposed to be central to conservatism’s self-definition, from which one can easily derive a proactive role for government in nurturing bedrock social institutions like the family.” You can’t seriously say the family is the bedrock of civilization and then prima facie reject, for ideological reasons, government support that might actually help this bedrock institution. 

I’m not saying social conservatives should all of a sudden try and seize the means of production. What I’m suggesting is that if, like me, you think these concerns with the health of social institutions are a priority, and that economic conditions cannot be untangled from social conditions, then we would do well to adopt a more flexible approach to economic and social questions. Social conservatism ought to be about a concern for the social, not just a few specific issues, and we should reintegrate this into the core of our conservatism, not reduce it to a peripheral and quixotic concern.  

The Pandemic Has Exposed the Need for a Renewed Social Conservatism 

I don’t want to get too bogged down in the philosophical case I’m making here. I want to try and show how this can be translated into an actual agenda. The pandemic has exacerbated all sorts of social challenges, ones that desperately needed addressing before the pandemic but have become even more urgent now. And more importantly, lots of problems that were taking place safe out of sight and mind for most people have been highlighted by the pandemic, which means these sorts of things should be salient political issues as well. There’s a real opportunity here. 

At the start of the pandemic some people hoped that if one good thing was to come of the pandemic it might be a baby boom. But instead the opposite has happened. Canada has seen, like other countries, a baby bust. Low birth rates aren’t a new fact. Canada’s birth rate has been well below replacement rate for decades. And while there should be a baby boom post-pandemic, it isn’t clear whether that boom will actually make up for the dearth that the pandemic has created. 

This just exposes what has been an issue for a long time. We really don’t have the right moral language to talk about children and birth rates. We can talk about the value of children and fertility in economic terms and the need for population growth to support and sustain things like economic growth, dynamism, innovation, and keeping the social safety net sustainable. But this is the wrong language to use because it reduces the value of people to nothing more than economic units. 

In The Human Condition, one of the most important (and underrated) books of the 20th century, Hannah Arendt talks about the idea of “natality” and builds a rich understanding of freedom and human purpose around natality. Action is rooted in our natality, our very existence, and when each of us is born something totally unique and new is brought into the world. Our natality is the basis of our freedom, because it allows us to be totally original, and free. 

Every birth, every new person, is in this sense a miracle. Every human being is an entirely novel creation, and every birth is to be celebrated for the potential that every new human being brings into the world. This is alien language to most people, but I think most of us implicitly grasp what Arendt is saying. We shouldn’t be afraid to talk about the value of children and the potential each new human being brings into the world, and we shouldn’t be afraid to use language like this.

These people that now won’t be brought into the world because of the pandemic are a loss not just because of some utilitarian loss of productivity or growth, they are a loss because that’s thousands of individual and unique lives that now won’t be able to make their mark on the world. A task beyond politics but fundamental to our social flourishing and wellbeing is recovering this kind of understanding of human beings and their value and dignity.  

The Whole-of-Society Approach

But this doesn’t mean that we should ignore the other challenges that declining birth rates pose, and we should look at them as a problem that public policy should try and address. But how? To quote Sam Hammond again in an excellent essay

[H]ow can public policy successfully encourage family formation and childbirth? There is no obvious button to press or lever to pull to affect behaviors as personal and culturally mediated as the decision to start a family. Family policy advocates must therefore embrace a whole-of-society approach, both to activate the cultural antecedents of family formation, and in recognition of our fundamental uncertainty about what, if anything, works.

This whole of society approach is the kind of ambition that is needed from natalists and social conservatives. The scholarly literature on this seems to suggest that the most effective direct tool we have is universal transfers, but more can and should be done. Canada of course already has the extremely successful Canada Child Benefit that was built on one of Stephen Harper’s signature accomplishments while in government. The CCB is both politically popular and has genuinely helped reduce child poverty. This is a springboard to build on.

A society that has a stake in the future, that can imagine itself and plan beyond our own lifetimes is a healthy and flourishing one. And it’s one that can, at an aggregate level, reproduce itself because this is an important way that we invest and have skin in the game beyond our own time horizons. It’s also a fundamental reflection of an optimism in the future, that the future is worth investing in even if we ourselves won’t be the ones enjoying it. Immigration can sustain population growth but it cannot solve this problem, and I think we should be able to call this a problem that we should try and address. But we shouldn’t pretend that universal transfers alone are some magical cure to declining and below replacement birth rates. To get beyond this is where Hammond’s whole-of-society approach is needed: 

In Israel, the national government provides families with a monthly child allowance, paid leave to care for sick children, and labor laws that promote part-time, flexible positions. Following a four-month maternity leave, mothers are even entitled to take an hour out of every workday to care for their child, what’s known as “parenting hour.” Any one of these policies may be worth doing on their own, but in combination they have helped orient every strata of Israeli society toward a healthy work-family balance.

In Canada a whole-of-society approach is caveated by the federal system. There are things that the federal government can do, but there are other things that can aid in this project that would need to be done by provincial and local governments that requires a kind of coordination we don’t often see in Canada. But, it could at least present an opportunity at all levels of government for pro-family, natalist policy making to be championed by conservatives. I’m going to keep quoting Sam because even though he’s writing in the American context, this is one of those things that is equally valid in the Canadian context, just switch out state with province: 

State policymakers are also in the best position to influence education policy. Higher education is correlated with reduced fertility, in particular, not just because college-educated women are more likely to prioritize their careers, but also because education is itself time-consuming. It is remarkably easy for women to fall short of their fertility aspirations by simply delaying their first pregnancy, not fully appreciating the risks of infertility and medical complications that arise from attempting childbirth at an advanced maternal age. Beyond shortening the time it takes to earn a diploma, states could do more to coax their colleges and universities to invest in family and childcare services for students and tenure-track faculty alike.

At the local level, mayors and city councils can take proactive steps to ensure their cities are hospitable to families, rather than let them become playgrounds for the young and the restless while families are forced into interminable commutes. Land-use restrictions that limit the supply of housing are known to lower fertility, and cities already use “inclusive zoning” policies to mandate a certain number of affordable units in otherwise expensive apartments. Why not adopt analogous “family zoning” policies that require apartment developers to reserve a certain number of units for tenants with children? Financial incentives could even be provided for developers that install childcare facilities on-site.

There’s no one specific cure all policy that could single handedly increase birth rates, but taken together these sorts of proposals send powerful cultural signals that create a society welcoming and encouraging of family formation. Things like affordable and abundant housing are social conservative issues, and social conservatives should champion and have their own reasoning and thinking behind why these things matter. 

As another proposal, what about rethinking income taxation by rethinking the fundamental unit of taxation? Right now we tax people as individuals, but we could rethink this and make the family unit the fundamental unit of taxation. Thinks like income splitting are a good start, but we could go further. What about income splitting that takes children into account as well? These sorts of things are loathed by liberals on both left and right who only see the world in terms of individuals, but these nudges create powerful incentives, both materially and culturally, that encourage family formation. There’s no single cure-all, but here and there these nudges make a difference, and might be the things that pushes a couple to take the plunge and start a family, or nudge a family towards having one more child.  

“Fundamental Uncertainty” and the Illusion of Choice 

I suspect many of you find will this way of thinking uncomfortable or alien, because we’ve all been conditioned to think about everything like liberals. To evaluate everything from personal behaviour to public policy in terms of choice, autonomy, and self-actualizing freedom. These are the only relevant moral considerations, anything else is unjustified or illegitimate paternalism. The state should be entirely “neutral” in these matters. 

The problem with this kind of thinking is that it is built on a shallow understanding of “choice,” and because people’s choices regarding children and family formation actually seem to conflict with their stated preferences. People have fewer children on average than they say they want. That matters. People aren’t making decisions about family formation in a vacuum, they are making decisions based on the economic and cultural conditions they find themselves in. If we actually want people to be able to choose their stated preferences, then there’s a role for public policy to play in changing these conditions. 

Economics and culture/social questions cannot be divorced, and this is a good example. Why do people often defer or decide to have fewer children than they would like? Cost is the main reason, but there is strong evidence that what also drives family formation decisions is uncertainty. Recessions and economic downturns drive down births, but there’s evidence that a more basic “fundamental uncertainty” has a real impact on family formation: 

While the European economy recovered after the Great Recession, fertility did not bounce back in many European countries and, in fact, it continued to decline. This was especially true in some Nordic countries, where the effects of the Great Recession were mild and where fertility decline started later and continued past 2014, after the macro economic conditions had improved. This led some researchers to focus on the presence of “fundamental uncertainty” regarding the future and its impact on family aspirations. Their argument is that fundamental uncertainty regarding the future of the economy, but also of political systems at a global level, can have an impact on the narratives, perspectives and worldview of individuals, regardless of whether they have experienced a precarious job or unemployment themselves. As “narratives of uncertainty” become widespread, births are delayed, even if and when the economy recovers.

Ross Douthat’s recent book The Decadent Society has a terrific chapter on this challenge. People who have pessimistic expectations around the future, the people most worried about climate change for example, are less likely to procreate. But there’s also a fundamental economic and material challenge we face today, a world in which uncertainty and precarity is the norm. Tackling this requires some fundamental shifts. 

Think about someone in their 20s or 30s who is in or approaching marital and family formation years. Lets say they go to university, and put off marriage and children while they finish their education. They then enter a job market with student debt that also requires them to move to a large metropolitan area like Toronto or Vancouver where housing costs are extremely high. In order to get on the job ladder in expensive cities and start their careers they have to live in accommodation with other roomates, have minimal saving opportunities as they pay off debt, and may find their dating lives complicated by their living arrangements. 

This kind of path means that people put off settling down and having children, and the longer people leave it the harder both these things become. There’s an uncertainty in this cycle that means delay these important decisions that most people want, but feel have to be deprioritized ahead of work and career considerations. Maybe these people do eventually settle down and try and start a family, but astronomical housing costs make settling down and establishing roots much harder. Another hard consequence of these delays is that it makes physically having children harder

People are choosing to delay childbirth, making it harder to conceive naturally. One in six opposite-sex couples suffers from fertility challenges and many seek medical help in the form of assisted-reproductive treatment (ART) to conceive. Most often, people turn to in-vitro fertilization (IVF), which costs about $20,000 with no guarantee of success. There are also thousands of same-sex couples whose only choice is to use ART to have their own children.

Delaying have children, while a necessity for many, makes it harder to have children and the kinds of fertility treatment and assistance that can help people overcome this is extremely expensive. A national fertility strategy that made these treatments more affordable and accessible could help deal with this. While this doesn't solve the underlying structural conditions that mean people “choose” to delay family formation, it still ensures people don’t decide not to have children because they can’t conceive or afford fertility treatments. 

That’s one side of the fundamental uncertainty people face. Think about another deep structural economic challenge as well. The rise of what has been called the “precariat” and a gig economy where work is increasingly temporary and unstable. Research shows that People with temporary jobs are less likely to have children during periods of economic uncertainty, particularly when having a second or third child, so imagine what a workforce with a growing class of precarious and gig workers who never have stable employment might do to couples considering family formation. 

I’m not an expert on this sort of thing, but I am very open to reforms that might provide precarious workers with some certainty, not tying benefits to jobs and ensuring contract, temporary, and self-employed people have access to employment insurance and other programs that can make their lives a little less precarious. Miles Corak is a very smart economist who writes about these things, and one proposal of his I find persuasive is a “wage insurance” that would better suit the needs of a changing workforce. These challenges aren’t new, but embracing these challenges as problems conservatives ought to be concerned with is the key to my argument. These are questions about the health and wellbeing of the social fabric, they are things we should care about.

This is why the “choice” argument falls apart upon examination. People aren’t making choices about family formation in a vacuum. Or think about the infamous “double income trap.” So much of our public discourse around work and family life assumes that there’s something inherently degrading about the idea that some families might actually prefer if they could live off one income for a time and have a parent stay home to look after children. Polling in America that it would be nice to see replicated in Canada suggests that a majority of Americans, including a majority of women, would prefer arrangements that allowed a parent to stay home full time with children. Lise Ravary made the case for this recently in the Montreal Gazette. Families that have double incomes often do so out of necessity, not necessarily out of choice. You can’t just hide behind the language of choice to reject support that might encourage these more traditional arrangements if it turns out this is what a large number of people would actually prefer. 

Part of what we need to do if we are to put forward this sort of an agenda is reject the siloed approach to politics. The siloed approach reduces politics to “economic” and “social” issues and then divorces them from one another. Political compasses and the way we talk about politics conditions us to think like this, but it’s wrong. Economics, culture, social questions, and public policy are all wrapped up together and we shouldn’t think about them in siloed ways. Thinks like affordable housing, stable jobs, reforming EI, and so on aren’t just narrow economic questions. Conservatives should think about these issues as social issues and not silo economics from the social. 

An Aging Society 

I’ve spent too much time talking about birth rates and children, this is just one part of what a renewed social conservative agenda should look like. But it leads to another challenge. One of the consequences of low birth rates is an aging society that presents serious demographic challenges. According to 2019 Canadian population data, 17 per cent of our population – 6.5 million Canadians – are older than 65. This number is growing rapidly. As boomers age and retire and our demographic pyramid increasing flips upside down, caring for elderly Canadians is going to become an even bigger challenge. 

We’re already in poor shape on this front, as the pandemic has exposed. Something like 70% of COVID-19 deaths in Canada have been in long-term care homes. Our performance in this regard is shocking and worse than most other countries. It exposes the poor infrastructure and quality of care that many elderly Canadians endure: a basic affront to human dignity that should sicken us all. 

This has understandably shattered the trust senior Canadians have in LTC. A recent survey suggested 96% of Canadians would do all they could to avoid moving into a LTC home, and who can blame them? Fixing this is no easy task, but as our population gets older this isn’t something that can be ignored. 

Fixing this again is complicated by federalism, and the burden is going to fall primarily on provincial governments. This Cardus report on LTC in Ontario is an excellent place to start, and fixing the broken system in which we have a shortage of personal support workers who are both underpaid and working in poor conditions should be a priority.

But we need to think beyond just fixing the existing LTC model and find innovative ways to provide care for elderly Candians. Garnett Genuis has suggested a bigger role for non-profits in LTC, which is a good idea. Beyond expanding and improving institutional care though, we should be looking for ways to help seniors stay in their homes as long as possible, which means improving at-home and flexible care options. But what about finding ways to support families caring for elderly parents and relatives? 

Canada and some provinces have a mishmash of various minor tax credits to help people caring for relatives, and (temporary) EI programs to care for disabled relatives, but none of these would even come close to helping support a family that decides to take care of an aging or ailing relative themself. Someone much smarter than me should really dig into the policy design of how this could work, but what about creating a caregiver allowance that supported people who take care of relatives? What about expanding home modification credits and subsidies that might not just allow people to modify their own homes to stay in them, but potentially convert basements into separate units where people can bring in relatives to help care for them, but give people a sense of independence by making it a separate unit? 

The crisis of LTC in many parts of the country are not new problems created by the pandemic, they are long term problems many of us have chosen to ignore. But there’s no hiding anymore, and conservatives need to be ready to champion solutions to this that include but go beyond just improving existing institutional care if they don’t just want to see an expansion of the public care model that will inevitably be championed by the left.

The Loneliness Crisis 

Canada faces, like many other countries another looming public health crisis, one that is in so many ways a symptom of the ill health of our social fabric: a loneliness epidemic. Once again, this is a longstanding problem that has been exacerbated and exposed by COVID. It is a supreme irony that at a time when we’re more connected than ever, so many of us feel so alone. This is a spiritual and social crisis, but it’s also a public health crisis

[S]tudies have linked chronic loneliness to the risk of early death, coronary heart disease, stroke, cognitive decline and dementia. People who are lonely are more prone to depression. Loneliness and a lack of social interaction are predictive of suicide among older people.”

It’s not hyperbole to say that loneliness kills:

Being disconnected is just as dangerous to good health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and is more predictive of early death than the effects of air pollution or being a couch potato according to oft-cited research by Julianne Holt-Lunstad of Brigham Young University.

Lots of us have unfortunately gotten a taste of what this is like during the pandemic. The feeling of being unwanted, unloved, alone, of being invisible to the world around you with minimal meaningful social interactions. There’s a real difference between loneliness and solitude, a distinction I would again point you towards Hannah Arendt to understand. Solitude is good for us, but it’s quite different from loneliness. While solitude is good for the soul, loneliness is spiritually, emotionally, and physically crippling. 

Other countries have identified this as a major public health and policy challenge and begun to take steps to address it. The UK has a minister of loneliness, and a national strategy to combat it. Australia and the United States both have Coalitions to End Loneliness. In 2019 Congress passed the Dignity in Aging Act, “which updates the 1965 Older Americans Act, put a major focus on social isolation and empowering local organizations to evaluate solutions for social isolation, incorporating social isolation screening into health and supportive services for seniors and creating a new focus on the issue of social isolation among older adults at the national level.” Can you just “solve” loneliness with things like a national strategy? Of course not, these are deep problems. But strategies like this combined with a broader attempt to preserve the health of the social fabric can work in tandem to try and address this.

A lonely society is not a healthy one, and while we think of this primarily as a problem that afflicts the elderly, think about the broader implications of a society in which people of all ages increasingly live alone. A recent Angus Reid survey had some interesting findings on this

Among the key findings: the cherished group — those who suffered from neither social isolation nor loneliness — are most likely to be married with children and higher incomes. Those 55-plus with incomes of less than $50,000 were twice as likely to be in the “desolate” group — they were both lonely and isolated, and were more than twice as likely as the cherished to be single and living alone. Almost a quarter of Canada’s population fits into the desolate group.

The explosion of single person households is one of the more underrated, but significant social changes in the last few decades. Lots of people do so by choice of course, and before anyone accuses me of some sort of prejudice I am not saying literally everyone must get married and have children. Some people will remain lifelong bachelors and nothing here is suggesting they cannot do otherwise. But the data suggests that “Most young adults who lived alone in 2017 intended to either form a union or have a child in the future.” 

This is a good thing, and we shouldn’t shy away from promoting and encouraging lifelong stable unions. Most fundamentally, we shouldn’t be shy to promote and find policies that support and encourage marriage. Marriage is good for you. It’s good for your health, and other life outcomes. And while not every marriage is perfect, married people don’t tend to struggle with loneliness and isolation nearly as much. Marriage is an antidote to all sorts of social ills, including poverty. Outcomes are better for children who grow up in households with married parents, and changing modes of family formation and who does/doesn’t get married have generated very contemporary forms of inequality that are worth examining. 

I’m leaving this here because I am going to do a separate piece at some point on alienation, radicalism, and stability (and Hannah Arendt) that will delve much more deeply into this. But again, I want to encourage you to not just think about all these things as separate issues. None of the things I’ve talked about here, from birth rates to an aging society and long term care to loneliness can be understood in isolation. We should think about them as interconnected challenges when figuring out how we should be responding to them. 

A Renewed and Much Needed Social Conservatism

I’m not a policy wonk, the intricacies of public policy design and rollout are not something I pretend to be an expert in and there are people much smarter than me that do this better than I ever could. But first principles matter and shouldn’t be confused with policy prescriptions. Having a robust set of foundational assumptions about politics enables us to approach public policy and political questions with a degree of prudence and flexibility that recognizes changing circumstances and challenges require different solutions. Confusing policy with first principles leads to stale and rigid thinking that treats contextual and contingent policy prescriptions as timeless principles. That isn’t how we should think about politics. 

If we’re concerned about the wellbeing of social institutions and the social fabric, as we should be, then we need to continue to come up with practicable solutions. But we should be drawing on the deeper, more philosophical first principles that help us identify problems in the first place and mean that we aren’t just conceding philosophical premises and assumptions to political opponents. The point of my piece here is not to single handedly solve these problems, it’s to try and get us thinking about them and imagining what a new agenda built around these issues should prioritize. 

I’m not suggesting that traditional socon groups, whether that be pro-lifers or others, should just “move on” and forget about their priorities and focus on this. This is an incredibly condescending and in many ways a deeply anti-pluralistic attitude that wants to just exclude reasonable and serious issues from public discourse. What I’m suggesting is that debates around social conservatism focused on just a few specific issues, and not a more holistic understanding of what the concern for the social should mean for conservatives, really don’t help anyone. 

The pandemic has exposed long standing challenges conservatives should be ready to address, and a proper understanding of what conservatism is actually trying to conserve means putting a concern for the “social,” at the centre of any substantive conservative agenda. We shouldn’t even need to call this social conservatism, it should simply be conservatism.