Small-state conservatism may be coming to an end. Amidst intra-conservative debate about the role of the government, several Republican Congressmen have called on Attorney General Barr to prosecute hardcore pornographers under federal obscenity law. This plea comes in the wake of Barr’s second speech in two months defending religious traditionalism, where he attributed our fall away from religion to unremitting progressive assault.

In his words, ‘the problem is that irreligion and secular values are being forced on people of faith’ to discourage those weary of bloodless relativism and intemperance from embracing meaning and virtue. With the ‘force of mass communications’ gathered to indoctrinate Americans against faith, only the state remains as an avenue for conservative power projection. Using the authority of his office, Attorney General Barr should correct conservative attitudes towards power by heeding these congressmen. 

Liberal-conservative backlash to the congressmen’s letter was immediate. The criticisms were characteristically stale, blaming individual parents for ‘failing to protect their children’ and extolling the virtues of a small, neutral state. Many who opposed the congressmen agreed about pornography’s terrible nature, but opposed the idea of legislating morality. When Barr said conservatives possess ‘more scruple over their political tactics and rarely feel that the ends justify the means’ he presaged opposition to this sort of action from the liberal right.

Using government to shape the common good is not a ghastly visage of twentieth-century communism or fascism, and the spectre of utopian totalitarianism inhibits conservative thinking on how to actually shape social and economic circumstances.

The doctrine of maximum autonomy has not led the wild horse of culture to greener pastures. Instead, it has led us into Babylonian cyber-brothels, and a grindingly obscene day-to-day. Liberal conservative disdain for state action against this elevates warped proceduralism over virtuous ends. The question for conservatives is not how to change culture without the state, but how to order power toward traditionalist ends within the constraints of a liberal regime. Prosecuting porn into nonexistence is a good place to start. 

Pornography perpetuates disorded sexuality to real, material effect. PornHub, the archfiend of obscenity, recently hosted videos involving a fifteen year old victim of sexual trafficking. But even if the industry could render itself entirely consensual, its incentive structures tend toward maximum perversion. The clickbait model acts to exponentially deepen depravity and dysfunction, with one link leading to another, and another, and another. It is difficult for many to maintain a healthy relationship without compulsively reenacting the hardcore sex acts they grew up watching.

Despite parents’ best efforts, young children are almost invariably exposed to porn, whether from peers, or after solving for themselves the famously difficult riddle meant to keep them out – ‘are you 18? Y/N?’. 

Action against porn is impossible if religious traditionalists remain subordinate to state-skeptical, anti-reactionary liberal conservatism. Liberal conservatism is a lovingly gentle approach to political life, seeking to minimize disruption and maximize stability. Unfortunately, modernity’s ever-accelerating atomization makes disruption the status quo.

Progressive administrations are, ultimately, the handmaidens of modern individualism, which leads many to reject tradition’s teaching authority in favor of personal preference. As a result, many of the mores and institutions which conservatives wished to preserve are no more. With the little platoons gone, the throne empty, and the altar clouded in dust, only the state has enough immediate power to challenge secular individualism and reestablish moral authority.

This is not to say that the state is an end in and of itself. Il Duce’s motto, ‘everything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state’, is rightfully an empty epitaph on totalitarianism’s tombstone. The state can use its power to define and uphold the common good without sinking into tyranny. Hungary shows us what this might look like.

The Orban administration recognizes the married family as conducive to the common good, and uses its power accordingly. 

Last year, they introduced a generous pro-family spending scheme and eliminated gender studies. Progressives use the state this way all the time, the eminently referenceable instance being their efforts to coerce the Little Sisters of the Poor into providing contraceptive coverage. An effective traditionalist administration in America would take the hint and impose itself in kind.

That the reception to the congressmen’s anti-porn invective has provoked such conservative backlashes exemplifies the movement’s generally diseased relationship with power. As the inevitability of coercion in a dichotomized society crystallizes, eschewing state power is an increasingly untenable position.

Conservatives need to realize that the administrative state is here to stay, as is the opposition’s use of its power for their cultural ends. If the executive state switches every four or eight years between progressivism and neutrality, our cultural destiny is simple to divine. Barr should use obscenity trials to give conservatives a lesson in power. 



Photo by Office of Public Affairs on Flickr.