Jonathon Van Maren

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J.D. Vance: We must wield political power to protect kids from porn

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July 16, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – J.D. Vance opened the second day of the National Conservatism conference. Author of the New York Times bestseller Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (Netflix recently bought the film rights for $45 million), which details his childhood with his Appalachian family and growing up in Ohio, Vance has gained the reputation of being a man who truly understands the working class that came out for Trump in 2016, and he is a rising star in conservative circles.

He is also calling on the Right to abandon libertarianism and to begin using policy and political power to actually effect good ends. In the hallway outside the Ritz-Carlton Ballroom, I picked up a copy of The American Conservative containing a copy of Vance’s recent speech “Towards a pro-worker, pro-family conservatism.” It is a compelling read.

Vance’s speech this morning was titled “Beyond Libertarianism,” and he took direct aim at the impotency of modern-day conservatism.

My book, he told the audience, is about a decline in the American dream.

Part of that dream for Vance was to become a good husband and father, and to give his children things he hadn’t had. Libertarianism, however, has led the conservative movement to believe that so long as public outcomes and social goods are produced by free individual choices, we shouldn’t be concerned with the results that are produced.

Often, the results are genuinely awful.

Vance provided one example: The fact that neuroscientists working for Facebook to get kids addicted to social media are making more money than neuroscientists working to cure Alzheimer’s.

That, Vance noted, should concern us, and we should be willing to use political power to fix it.

Another example he provided was that of an 8-year-old opioid addict, who would be given a pill rather than cash in exchange for running deliveries for his family. His community has too few dollars and too many drugs—and this is a result of political decisions, including a regulatory regime that produced the opioid crisis and the mounting body count to begin with. Children like that boy are being left behind, and libertarianism has virtually nothing to say to someone like him beyond a stale and almost insulting “Make better choices.” Context matters.

Another example Vance provided was one I have long been waiting for conservatives to address: Pornography, which is destroying an entire generation (if you want to explore the tip of the iceberg, read Vanity Fair journalist Nancy Jo Sales’ American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers. I also deal with the scale of the problem in two full chapters of The Culture War.)

Pornography, Vance noted, is having a tremendously destructive cultural effect, especially as kids begin to engage with it at younger and younger ages. The institution of marriage has been particularly impacted. And what does libertarianism say about this? Nothing. We’ve decided that the freedom to consume pornography is somehow more important than the public goods of unpoisoned minds and healthy marriages.

And pornography is only one example of how this culture is hostile to having children. If the health of a nation can be in part determined by the willingness of its people to have children, Vance pointed out, America is in rough shape. Economics has something to do with this, even though libertarians would point out that there is nothing technically wrong with people choosing not to have children—even if it could deeply damage the American republic.

When I look at my life, Vance told the audience to cheers, my son—sleeping just a few floors above us—is central. We want more babies because children are good. We can make political choices and exercise political power towards good ends that will help to protect our children from dire threats such as the septic sexual material now oozing from every screen in America. In fact, we should do so. 

It is difficult, Vance recognized, to persuade conservatives to use political power. He related the story of one libertarian speaker he heard who spoke eloquently about people abandoning marriage and the breakdown of community and family. It was the rise of technology, the speaker noted, that was fueling much of this. But, Vance said, if we think these things are problems, we should not pretend to be helpless where we are not. To refuse to use political power is itself a choice, and there are things that we can do to respond to these things. Libertarians respond by saying that mothers and fathers (if children even have both) should be better parents, but they forget that parents now swim in the same cultural pond as the rest of us. Everyone’s lives have been transformed by these changes. 

In short, Vance concluded, our culture is to a large degree shaped by our laws and public policy. That means that laws and public policy—political power—are tools that conservatives should be using to protect families, workers, and children.

Who do we serve, he asked. Do we serve commerce at the expense of the public good? Or do we serve something higher, and are we willing to use political power to attain that? I serve my child, and I cannot serve two masters.

The challenges we now face demand a proportionate response. To take the example of pornography, it is now ubiquitous for pre-adolescent children to encounter and become addicted to hardcore porn. Libertarianism is helpless to respond to this. Yet we must respond. Our children depend on it.

It is time, Vance concluded, for choosing. I choose my son, he said.  

I think he's right, and I want to hear more of him.

Jonathon’s new podcast, The Van Maren Show, is dedicated to telling the stories of the pro-life and pro-family movement. In his latest episode, he interviews Dr. Daniel K. Williams, author of two books published by the Oxford University Press. The first, “God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right” and also, “Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement Before Roe v. Wade.” You can subscribe here and listen to the episode below: 

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Jonathon Van Maren

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Jonathon Van Maren is a public speaker, writer, and pro-life activist. His commentary has been translated into more than eight languages and published widely online as well as print newspapers such as the Jewish Independent, the National Post, the Hamilton Spectator and others. He has received an award for combating anti-Semitism in print from the Jewish organization B’nai Brith. His commentary has been featured on CTV Primetime, Global News, EWTN, and the CBC as well as dozens of radio stations and news outlets in Canada and the United States.

He speaks on a wide variety of cultural topics across North America at universities, high schools, churches, and other functions. Some of these topics include abortion, pornography, the Sexual Revolution, and euthanasia. Jonathon holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in history from Simon Fraser University, and is the communications director for the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform.

Jonathon’s first book, The Culture War, was released in 2016.