Advice Goddess Blog
« Previous | Home | Next »

Who's That Hairy Liberal?
Promoting collectivism and government meddling? Why, it's Rick Santorum, writes Jonathan Rauch in Reason:

Freedom, for Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and others, was an end, not just a means. A government that allows individuals to pursue happiness in their own fashions, they believed, is most likely to produce a strong society and a virtuous citizenry; but the greatest benefit of freedom is freedom itself. Civic virtue ultimately serves individual freedom, rather than the other way around.

It was in this tradition that Goldwater wrote, "Every man, for his individual good and for the good of his society, is responsible for his own development." Note that word "and": Individual and social welfare go together—they're not in conflict. All the government needs to do, Goldwater said, is get out of the way. "The conservative's first concern will always be: Are we maximizing freedom?" Reagan spoke in the same tradition when he declared that government was the problem, not the solution to our problems.

Goldwater and Reagan, and Madison and Jefferson, were saying that if you restrain government, you will strengthen society and foster virtue. Santorum is saying something more like the reverse: If you shore up the family, you will strengthen the social fabric and ultimately reduce dependence on government.

Where Goldwater denounced collectivism as the enemy of the individual, Santorum denounces individualism as the enemy of family. On page 426, Santorum says this: "In the conservative vision, people are first connected to and part of families: The family, not the individual, is the fundamental unit of society." Those words are not merely uncomfortable with the individual-rights tradition of modern conservatism. They are incompatible with it.

Santorum seems to sense as much. In an interview with National Public Radio last month, he acknowledged his quarrel with "what I refer to as more of a libertarianish Right" and "this whole idea of personal autonomy." In his book he comments, seemingly with a shrug, "Some will reject what I have to say as a kind of 'Big Government' conservatism."

They sure will. A list of the government interventions that Santorum endorses includes national service, promotion of prison ministries, "individual development accounts," publicly financed trust funds for children, community-investment incentives, strengthened obscenity enforcement, covenant marriage, assorted tax breaks, economic literacy programs in "every school in America" (his italics), and more. Lots more.

Though he is a populist critic of Big Government, Santorum shows no interest in defining principled limits on political power. His first priority is to make government pro-family, not to make it small. He has no use for a constitutional (or, as far as one can tell, moral) right to privacy, which he regards as a "constitutional wrecking ball" that has become inimical to the very principle of the common good. Ditto for the notions of government neutrality and free expression. He does not support a ban on contraception, but he thinks the government has every right to impose one.

The quarrel between virtue and freedom is an ancient and profound one. Santorum's suspicion of liberal individualism has a long pedigree and is not without support in American history. Adams, after all, favored sumptuary laws that would restrict conspicuous consumption in order to promote a virtuous frugality. And Santorum is right to observe that no healthy society is made up of people who view themselves as detached and unencumbered individuals.

"But to move from that sociological truism to the proposition that the family is the fundamental unit of political liberty," says Galston, "goes against the grain of two centuries of American political thought, as first articulated in the Declaration of Independence." With It Takes a Family , Rick Santorum has served notice. The bold new challenge to the Goldwater-Reagan tradition in American politics comes not from the Left, but from the Right.

Posted by aalkon at September 17, 2005 7:01 AM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Santorum and his ilk aren't "liberals", they're the American equivalent of the Taliban.

Posted by: deja pseu at September 17, 2005 7:18 AM

It was a joke, deja, because he's the antithesis of Barry Goldwaterian small government, with "the family" as his excuse.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at September 17, 2005 7:54 AM

Ah. I seem to be a bit "irony-deficient" before my second cup of coffee. :-)

Posted by: deja pseu at September 17, 2005 8:14 AM

Leave a comment