The wild ideas of social conservatives

But with all that being said, there is something strange, even deeply strange, about a discussion of social and legal change in which it’s never acknowledged that for all the hard-to-quantify elements in their vision, social conservatives do have a pretty decent predictive track record, including in many cases where their fears were dismissed as wild and apocalyptic, their projections as sky-is-falling nonsense, their theories of how society and human nature works as evidence-free fantasies.

It’s not that social conservatives are always right about where American society is going. As you would expect, they often err on the side of pessimism: The “Slouching Toward Gomorrah” fears that informed some right-wing arguments in my youth, for instance, were partially falsified by subsequent declines in crime, abortion rates and teen pregnancy, and it’s easy enough to reach back into the history books to find moral panics that turned out to be just that. And there are plenty of slippery-slope arguments, even when vindicated, that don’t necessarily prove anything on the merits: The fact that Antonin Scalia’s dissent in Lawrence v. Texas was basically correct about that ruling’s implication, for instance, is a point that same-sex marriage’s supporters have actively (and understandably) embraced in the recent years.

But there’s still a broad track record that’s worth considering. In the late 1960s and early ’70s, the pro-choice side of the abortion debate frequently predicted that legal abortion would reduce single parenthood and make marriages more stable, while the pro-life side made the allegedly-counterintuitive claim that it would have roughly the opposite effect; overall, it’s fair to say that post-Roe trends were considerably kinder to Roe’s critics than to the “every child a wanted child” conceit.

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