The family and free markets are perhaps two important arenas of American life where conservatives have had a consistent and credible voice, and where liberal ideas have been largely found inadequate or harmful.
Yuval Levin has a fine column on the American family and the direction in which conservatism should be moving over the next decade with regard to both of these arenas at The Weekly Standard. Here are a couple of excerpts from the first half of the piece:
American conservatives have worked politically in recent decades to advance two sets of goods: the family and the market. They have advocated traditional values that sustain cultural vitality, and economic freedom that brings material prosperity. These two sets of ideals are mutually reinforcing to an extent. The market relies on a stable and orderly society made possible by sturdy families and strong social institutions; and freedom from unduly coercive authority is an essential prerequisite for making moral choices.
But markets and families are also in tension with one another. The market values risk-taking and creative destruction that can be very bad for family life, and rewards the lowest common cultural denominator in ways that can undermine traditional morality. Traditional values, on the other hand, discourage the spirit of competition and self-interested ambition essential for free markets to work, and their adherents sometimes seek to enforce codes of conduct that constrain individual freedom. The libertarian and the traditionalist are not natural allies.
The left at its height viewed capitalism and traditional social institutions like the family as equally unjust and oppressive, and sought to use government power to replace or to undermine both.
This allowed conservatives to serve the cause of family and market by opposing big government. That doesn't mean the conservative coalition always held together amicably, but a common enemy can go a long way toward smoothing over differences.
Because of welfare reform and conservative pro-family policies, it is no longer fair to say that government is the greatest threat to American families. In the wake of Reagan's and Bush's tax cuts, the federal government is not the drain on Americans' pocketbooks or the deadweight on economic dynamism that it was in 1981. The federal government remains too big and overbearing. But opposition to government can no longer do as the primary means of advancing the interests of families and markets--which has been and should remain the twofold aim of American conservatives.
The genuinely statist left, which opposed both the family and the market, has not exactly disappeared, but it is beleaguered and badly bruised. American "progressives"--triangulated out of bounds by Clinton and then driven out of their minds by Bush--are in sorry shape, notwithstanding their good cheer at the recent election results. They are cynical "realists" in foreign policy, badly confused in domestic policy, with no clear purpose but power, no clear adversary but Bush, no clear ideals but clinging desperately to every tattered remnant of a failed vision even they no longer take seriously. When their electoral fortunes wax, as they surely have this year, it is not because voters think highly of them but because of the country's low opinion of Republicans.
Limited government is inherent to any conservative governing vision, but if those who run the government no longer explicitly seek to undermine capitalism and traditionalism--if government is no longer the greatest danger to both--then what is that greatest danger? And what is the best way to serve the causes of family and freedom?
Read at the link how Levin answers that question and what he prescribes for conservatives over the next decade.