Conservative social justice

“Conservatives need a social justice agenda of their own.” So writes Arthur Brooks, president of the Washington D.C.-based American Enterprise Institute, in a new article for Commentary magazine.

Brooks main question is this: How can conservatives overcome the widespread perception that they care little for the poor, while progressives care significantly? The transformation begins, Brooks writes, by articulating a conservative social-justice agenda:

Conservative leaders owe it to their followers and the vulnerable to articulate a positive social-justice agenda for the right. It must be tangible, practical, and effective. And it must start with the following question: What do the most vulnerable members of society need? This means asking the poor themselves.

Brooks builds his case on three pillars:

  • Moral transformation: Fostering the values of faith, family, community, and work.
  • Material relief: Encouraging individual charity and building a social safety net that discourages dependence.
  • Opportunity: Advocating for education reform and the virtuousness of the free market.

Writes Brooks:

Our nation has a great deal of need that goes unmet, and it is only exacerbated by years of misguided statist policies and a materialistic culture. The social-justice agenda outlined above can reorient us toward our best selves and toward our obligation to help the vulnerable.

It is an agenda that seeks transformation, relief, and opportunity. It means defending a culture of faith, family, community, and work; increasing our charity and protecting the safety net for the truly needy; and fighting for education reform and free enterprise as profound moral imperatives.

This agenda will do the most good for the most people—and revive the conservative movement. For too long, conservatives have identified themselves as fighting against things, perpetually making war on the left’s mistaken priorities. They fight against punitive taxes, creeping overregulation, wasteful spending, licentious culture, and ruinous national debt.

There is no reason to repudiate the ideology behind these fights. But these second-order policy fights are not intrinsic to a better nation; they are merely instrumental. The central, motivating purpose of conservative philosophy is not fighting against things. It is fighting for people.