"Moral relativism": Do conservatives really object?

Conservatives took a mature attitude toward moral ambiguity in the matter of foreign policy, and to some extent still do. Our relations with the Gulf states, for example, is a reminder that while the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” school of thought is not always right, it is not always wrong, either. Our insistence on “moral absolutes” is very often to be rhetorical when challenged. You can take the conservatives out of Protestantism, but you can’t take the Protestantism out of conservatives.

Progressives, on the other hand, took a relativistic “Who are we to judge?” attitude toward questions of sexual ethics and a few thorny cultural questions, for about five minutes, and then they abandoned that single-serving libertarianism the moment they achieved enough power to demand conformity and punish dissent. “Liberals claim to want to give a hearing to other views, but then are shocked and offended to discover that there are other views,” as Bill Buckley famously put it. And now those shocked and offended partisans are out to root out and punish those other views — with prison time, in the case of global warming and the infinitely plastic offense of “hate speech.”

Which leaves us where, exactly? To the extent that the conservative movement is for the moment dominated by Republican™-branded entertainment figures, the question of moral relativism is . . . morally relative. Our populist friends, for example, presented the Donald Trump phenomenon as a classical case of moral relativism (“But Hillary!”) and at the same time argued that this relativistic calculation produced as its outcome a moral absolute, the applicable scope of which has been steadily enlarged. One suspects that they are not thinking too very hard about it.