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Santorum seems to sense as much. In an August interview with National Public Radio, 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.
Jonathan Rauch is a senior writer and columnist for National Journal, where this article originally appeared.