Our endless culture war

The establishment of the liberal view of autonomy as the single, publicly favored way of life is inherently aggressive. Why not use government power to undermine the resistance of private institutions to reproductive rights by giving funding only to charitable organizations that refer for abortions? The Obama administration already imposed this requirement on a recent grant dealing with human trafficking. So why not take a similar approach on gay rights or gender equality, denying public benefits to organizations with illiberal views? It is an apparently endless public mission.

It is also a recipe for endless culture war. Institutions targeted by government as backward will naturally resent it, and the members of those groups will feel alienated from a common public enterprise.

Still, there are a number of arguments for genuine pluralism beyond social peace. The habits of good citizens — attributes such as self-control, cooperation and respect for the law — don’t emerge spontaneously. They are cultivated in families and religious congregations. The health of liberal political institutions is strengthened by the success of traditional institutions, which often teach values that prepare individuals for the responsible exercise of freedom.