Goodbye to Goldwater

Rick Santorum's Republican crusade for big government.

It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good, by Rick Santorum, Wilmington, Del.: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 464 pages, $25

In 1960 a Republican senator from Arizona named Barry Goldwater published a little book called The Conscience of a Conservative. The first printing of 10,000 copies led to a second of the same size, then a third of 50,000, until ultimately the book sold more than 3 million copies. Goldwater's presidential candidacy crashed in 1964, but his ideas did not: For decades, his hostility to big government ruled the American right. Until, approximately, now.

Rick Santorum, a second-term Republican senator from Pennsylvania, has written a new book called It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good. The book is worth taking seriously for several reasons, not least of which is that it is a serious book. The writing and thinking are consistently competent, often better than that. The lapses into right-wing talk-radioese ("liberals practically despise the common man") are rare. Santorum wrestles intelligently, often impressively, with the biggest of big ideas: freedom, virtue, civil society, the Founders' intentions. Although he is a Catholic who is often characterized as a religious conservative, he has written a book whose ambitions are secular. As its subtitle promises, it is about conservatism, not Christianity.

Above all, it is worth noticing because, like Goldwater's Conscience, it lays down a marker. As Goldwater repudiated Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, so Santorum repudiates Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. It's now official: Philosophically, the conservative movement has split. Post-Santorum, tax cutting and court bashing cannot hold the Republican coalition together much longer.

As a policy book, It Takes a Family is temperate. It offers a healthy reminder that society needs not just good government but strong civil and social institutions, and that the traditional family serves essential social functions. Government policies, therefore, should respect and support family and civil society instead of undermining or supplanting them. Parents should make quality time at home a high priority. Popular culture should comport itself with some sense of responsibility and taste.

Few outside the hard cultural left--certainly not Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who makes several cameos as Santorum's b�te noir--would disagree with much of that. Not in 2005, anyway. Moreover, Santorum's policy proposals sit comfortably within the conservative mainstream. But It Takes a Family is more than a policy book. Its theory of "conservatism and the common good" seeks to rechannel the mainstream.

In Santorum's view, freedom is not the same as liberty. Or, to put it differently, there are two kinds of freedom. One is "no-fault freedom," individual autonomy uncoupled from any larger purpose: "freedom to choose, irrespective of the choice." This, he says, is "the liberal definition of freedom," and it is the one that
has taken over in the culture and been imposed on the country by the courts.

Quite different is "the conservative view of freedom," "the liberty our Founders understood." This is "freedom coupled with the responsibility to something bigger or higher than the self." True liberty is freedom in the service of virtue --not "the freedom to be as selfish as I want to be" or "the freedom to be left alone" but "the freedom to attend to one's duties--duties to God, to family, and to neighbors."

This kind of freedom depends upon and serves virtue, and virtue's indispensable incubator and transmitter is the family. Thus "selflessness in the family is the basis for the political liberty we cherish as Americans." If government is to defend liberty and promote the common welfare, then it must promote and defend the integrity of the traditional family. In doing so, it will foster virtue and rebuild the country's declining social and moral capital, thus fostering liberty and strengthening family. The liberal cycle of decline--families weaken, disorder spreads, government steps in, families weaken still further--will be reversed.

"Freedom is not self-sufficient," writes Santorum. He claims the Founders' support, quoting John Adams ("Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people") and George Washington to that effect. But as University of Maryland political scientist William A. Galston notes, Washington and (especially) Adams stood at one end of a spectrum of debate, and it was a debate they ultimately lost.

Other Founders--notably James Madison, the father of the Constitution--were more concerned with power than with virtue. They certainly distinguished between liberty and license, and they agreed that republican government requires republican virtues. But they believed government's foremost calling was not to inculcate virtue but to prevent tyranny. Madison thus argued for a checked, limited government that would lack the power to impose any one faction's view of virtue on all others.

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" (emphasis in original). 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," he wrote, "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. "In the conservative vision," he writes, "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 in tension with the individual-rights tradition of modern conservatism. They are incompatible with it.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • nfl jerseys||

    kfhjf

  • ||

    I agree with much of what Santorum has to say on social/family issues. He is completely wrong (and I believe immoral) however on his interventionist foreign policy stance.

    Over the last 40-50 years 'big government' has been active in dismantling traditional families and so promoting policies that act as a countervailing force to those destructive policies are needed. Whether this is 'anti-Goldwater' as the author claims is another matter.

  • ||

    From the lack of recent comments, I'll bet that I'm not the only one who hasn't done their homework on Santorum.

    Ron Paul is right. This guy is a flaming, big-government liberal (oh, yeah, and a "social" conservative, whatever the Hell that means.) He's going to flame out faster than Newt. I guess the MSM will just need to call Mittens as the winner next week.

  • Wes||

    Inculcating or promoting virtue is not the same thing as imposing virtue, which is wrong. But just as it is wrong to impose virtue, it is also wrong to encourage freedom to do things which are wrong. Conservatism is and should be about both virtue and freedom. Virtue and freedom should reinforce each other. Conservatism and government should strengthen and promote not only the family, but also faith, community, and vocation. These are the four things that the ancient Greek philosophers believed that people received meaning in their life from. These are also the four things that Judeo-Christian philosophy and Western Civilization have as their foundation. So I disagree that importance of the family goes against two centuries of American political thought.

    Other than foreign policy and Social Security, the modern Republican Party is not really the Republican Party of Barry Goldwater. There is a reason that we talk about Reagan Conservatism, but not Goldwater Conservatism. Reagan won both of his elections by a landslide, but Goldwater lost his election by a landslide, with less than 40% of the vote. The base of the modern Republican Party is in the South. Goldwater won a handful of Southern States by opposing the Civil Rights Act. If he hadn't opposed the Act, he probably would've only won his home state of Arizona and maybe gotten less than 30% of the vote.

  • RMW Stanford||

    Santorum has a really bad record as an economic conservative. He has supported ear marks on a number of occasions. He also has a terrible record on trade. He has supported a number of tariffs that would raise cost on consumers. He sponsored a bill that would raise tariffs and then given those tariff revenues to a special interest group.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement