A Frothy Mixture of Collectivism and Conservatism

America's Anti-Reagan Isn't Hillary Clinton. It's Rick Santorum.

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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.

© Copyright 2005 National Journal

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  • Robert||

    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.


    Couldn't both statements be true?

    "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.


    In principle yes, but in practice 99% of the time an individual's interest will be the same as the interest of hir family.

  • thirtyandseven||

    Couldn't both statements be true?

    Both could perhaps be true statements, but only one can be good public (government) policy.

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