September 04, 2005

Jonathan Rauch:

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.

Terms like "left" and "right" become meaningless after a point, but Rauch's take is that replacing the individual with the family as the basic unit of society is an invitation to governmental growth, and that Santorum is drastically revising—perhaps even reversing—the Goldwater-Reagan formula.

Posted by Attila at September 4, 2005 03:30 PM | TrackBack

I think Rauch may have missed the point of the family as the core unit of it was back in the days prior to WWII. People took care of their own, took responsibility for their actions and didn't go looking for the Feds to bail them out. THAT only started with the Depression and FDR's attempts to fix things. (Which didn't work, by the way. Only WWII got the country back on its feet.)

Posted by: joated at September 4, 2005 04:10 PM

It is the family that lays the foundation for upstanding, intelligent, and self-reliant individuals. If you have sick or broken families, you have sick or broken individuals. It's the foundation. The soil out of which the tree grows.

Posted by: mariana at September 4, 2005 09:14 PM

"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."

I don't know that it is so much the reverse as it is "cart before horse". While I agree with his premise that strong families represent the bedrock of society, I'm not so sure his vision of a government that is strongly invested in "promoting virtue" is wise. Everything he says (as quoted in that article, at least) about the connection between duty, responsibility and freedom rings true, but this is a matter of the heart, and not (in my view) something any government institution can inculcate.

What shall we call this new governmental function? "The Department of Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice"? This is the sort of thing that invites comparisons to the Taliban.

Posted by: Desert Cat at September 5, 2005 10:05 AM

I should add, that I don't mean to say the government can't do the opposite. The last fifty years have proven that it is very capable of damaging the family as a social institution. But the way it has done so is by making people dependent upon government, and also thereby discouraging and drawing artificial proscriptive boundaries around people's natural inclination to private charity.

So is the solution really a need for new government intervention to "shore up the family", or would the family as an institution be better served by the government disentangling itself from the programs and policies that have weakened the family over the decades? The latter would be more in keeping with the conservatism of Reagan and Goldwater.

If Santorum wanted to shore up anything, he would do well to shore up his own church, by working to remove the artificial secular/religious barriers that have pushed religious institutions to the sidelines of American society.

In the absence of "gummit programs", it has traditionally fallen to religious institutions to provide all of the things he seems to wish goverment to provide in this regard. The chief difference, of course, is that one's participation in a church community is an entirely voluntary association.

Posted by: Desert Cat at September 5, 2005 10:27 AM

I think my relationship with the government is as a free agent who has entered into a whole set of contractual arrangements with another individual (my "husband")

Our child, when he/she arrives, will be encouraged to see his/her relationship with the government as one that is monitored by mom and dad, who act as his agents in that regard.

I would hope that those of my friends who don't ever intend to marry or have kids wouldn't become second-class citizens if Santorum ran the circus.

In other words, I see the individual--meaning any adult--as the actor who has a direct relationship with the State.

Posted by: Attila Girl at September 6, 2005 02:03 AM

You know, I've read a lot of these kind of articles that decry the replacement of the The Family with The Individual as the unit of society, and I have to wonder... precisely what government policy is it that has caused this to happen? The New Deal? The Estate Tax? Married Filing Separately? It's described in almost horror-movie tones, like some miasma is floating out from Washington DC causing people to think of themselves as individuals (the horror!) through insidious mind control or something.

It is true that now we look to the government to provide some things that once were provided by a family or community. While reasonable people can argue as to where the line should be, I'm not wild about going back to, say, the days when one's personal safety was only as secure as the power of one's family.

Society has been moving from a society of families to a society of individuals since the start of the Industrial Revolution. (The collapse of families as people migrated from agrarian communities to cities has been decried since the late 1700s... not exactly the golden age of socialism.)

It wasn't FDR that created today's society: it was the factory, which fundamentally changed the way in which wealth was created. Adam Smith and Marx agreed on that point, if nothing else.

Posted by: Christophe at September 8, 2005 10:14 PM

I don't really agree. I honestly believe that most of the Founding Fathers were big on individual rights--they just couldn't agree on whether women/black people were individuals, and had to put that off for another day.

Of course, I'm talking political philosophy, and you're talking economics, so we may have an apples/oranges thing going here.

This may or may not be the time to point out that Goldwater was big on gay rights--for his time, at least--and point out that he and Reagan really took a live-and-let-live attitude thereto.

Posted by: Attila Girl at September 8, 2005 10:45 PM

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