Politics, Economics, and the Law
It’s been a couple of weeks since I finished reading Rick Santorum’s book ‘It Takes a Family.’ I’ve let it simmer in my mind, perhaps a bit longer than I really had intended. In the meantime he’s managed to emerge as a somewhat legitimate contender in the race for the GOP Presidential nomination. I still don’t think he has any real chance of winning the Presidency, but he could seal the deal for Obama even more effectively than Romney would be able to.
Ultimately, I found ‘It Takes a Family’ to be an inconsistent treatise, espousing a worldview far more distrustful of the “common man” than Santorum would like us to believe. He opposed countless times the liberal elites, the “Village Elders” as he termed them, attempting to reshape American society into the form they desire. Yet his own ambitions differ only in the end-product, not in the desire to use government as a tool to mold people. He accuses the liberals of employing government as a hammer to break apart the traditional family and subvert traditional values, yet he would employ government as an enforcer of traditional values. As for the family, Santorum has settled upon a model he likes, and sees no reason anyone else should have much of a choice in the matter.
There are parts of the book I like. I like it when he talks about getting the government out of the economy (though I think he needs to polish up on his economic theory. I could give him a reading list). I like many parts of his education ideas. I agree with him that basic decency and respect towards others, and especially respect towards one’s parents are important. Not coincidentally, most of the areas of his book that I found myself nodding in agreement were areas which contained no policy ideas.
Yet every proclamation he makes that government has no business in a certain area ring a bit hollow when you consider all the areas that he does think government has business. Mr. Santorum, even if I agreed with you in those areas where you want to implement law and public policy (which I do not), how could any of us possibly trust you to refrain from meddling in other areas when you’ve addressed the issues you have with such zeal? If law and far-reaching policy are good for one facet of our lives, why should we expect you not to employ them in others at the first moment you decide that “something must be done”? To the hammer of government, does not everything become a nail?
The particulars of Santorum’s ideology are of great importance mainly to the groups he targets, and voters with similar prejudices. He is, for instance, unlikely to garner many votes from the LGBT bloc, even among fiscally conservative, Republican gays (they do exist, or so I hear). Feminists will have little nice to say about him. The teachers’ unions may not take kindly to his thoughts on public education. Ultimately though, these are just the peculiarities of his viewpoint. The reason his candidacy should be opposed is not because of the specific oppressions he would introduce, though they certainly warrant consideration, but because he is a statist. He decries the elitism of the liberals, but his own approach to governance seems different only in specific intention, not in the general ambition to impose a worldview. As a President he would attempt to rearrange government and set it to different tasks, but I see no reason to suspect we’d end up with any less of it overall. And even if you happened to agree with him completely, would you be comfortable leaving those tools of oppression to someone else?
Well, appeals courts have made rulings. The 10th has rejected an appeal on the grounds that no verdict has been rendered in the original case, and the 11th is saying that decryption is tantamount to testimony, and therefore subject to fifth amendment protections. I like this reasoning, myself. The issue going to the Supreme Court is most likely inevitable, but in the meantime it can’t hurt to accumulate some rulings that forbid forced decryption of data. A distinction being made by courts seems to be between data investigators know is on a hard drive, and investigators wishing to decrypt data so that they can poke around a hard drive and see what they can find.
Part 6: Educational Excellence
Santorum is surprisingly knowledgeable concerning the roots of compulsory public education, citing the European forerunners of public schooling (the Prussians) and the anti-Catholic roots of the American public education system. Realizing the origins and original motivations for public schooling goes a long way towards explaining why they seem to be failing their assigned task, which one might assume is educating our youth. The fact is they’re doing an admirable job of creating the “good citizens” the state wants: Politically apathetic consumers, workers, and soldiers. He argues in support of school choice, in the form of grants, vouchers, the right to home school, etc. This would certainly be a step in the right direction. If you recognize that public schools are delivering an inferior product, it is appropriate to allow people the choice to use a superior product if they so desire.
Next on the docket is the topic of manners. Here too I have no real disagreements (and he has no policy points, which helps me not find anything to disagree with). Showing other people respect and courtesy is indeed important, and is a civilizing force. We don’t need any laws for this, nor does he suggest we do. What we do need is greater parental action in instilling these social codes.
Santorum home schools his own children (His wife does, anyway. Also, very impressive being trained both as a nurse and a lawyer, Mrs. Santorum), and while he feels its the best option for his own family, he concedes that this isn’t really practicable for everyone. He notes a variety of educational options. While I don’t have children, I have thought about the “local cooperative” model of education myself, and find the idea appealing.
He discusses, at some length, the teaching of sciences. He lends support to efforts to teach both classical evolutionary theory, as well as intelligent design, and authored a bill with the intention of fostering thought and debate in schools over these theories. There is of course room for this debate, as there is always room to think about the implications of any descriptive theory. Or, to put it different, answering how ‘x’ works within a given system says nothing about why (or if there is indeed a “why”) it works within that system. That said, I’m not sold that intelligent design has any place in science curriculum, as “why” questions seem more properly understood with philosophy or theology.
Santorum attacks the liberal bias of universities, which they do indeed have. Try finding a school with more than a bare handful of libertarian professors, or one that teaches Austrian economics… the pickings are slim. He doesn’t have much in the way of policy ideas to change this, nor should he (a fact he acknowledges). He devotes most of this final section to admonishing parents, and society at large, to demand change.
I come from a family of teachers. Both of my parents taught at the local public school. I have friends who teach, and friends who intend to become teachers. With that said, I don’t think Santorum goes far enough. If you understand the historical basis for compulsory public education, acknowledge that it is doing the job of education poorly (though it does the job of indoctrination quite well), and believe there are much better alternatives, then the logically consistent thing to demand is the dissolution of this institution. Compulsory public education is a house built on a poor foundation. We keep pouring money into repairs, but none of these efforts correct the fundamental underlying fault. But my own ideas on how to address education are at best tangentially related to Santorum’s book, and therefore won’t be discussed at this time.
This is the final section of the book, so the only other post I’ll be doing on it is some conclusions and afterthoughts, after I let it settle in my mind for a few days.
Part 5: Culture Matters
A generally predictable discussion of the various evils of popular culture. Santorum touches on technology when he rails against P2P networks, and advocates for stronger measures to fence in the internet. He also comes out in favor of anti-piracy measures. Apart from those, and his assertion that governing bodies such as the FCC and FTC are in the right to regulate media, there’s really nothing to see here concerning public policy. Move along.
Part 4: Moral Ecology
“The truth, as I have been trying to show, is that it is the conservatives who truly embrace American liberty— while the liberals’ No-Fault Freedom is a recipe for breaking down the moral and social bonds of our nation, which creates, in turn, the need for more government power. And with that comes less freedom.”
“How often do we hear acerbic, condescending, sarcastic lampoons by the Hollywood/Harvard crowd about “old fashioned” manners, customs, and moral duties? It is that kind of sarcasm–which is sometimes called, self-importantly, “irony”–that gnaws away at America’s moral capital. The duty of securing America’s liberty from the external threat of Islamic fascism has fallen to the courageous young servicemen and women on patrol in the Middle East. But the duty of maintaining our American liberty from the threat of depleting moral capital and the artillery of time is up to us all.”
Reading this, Santorum appears to believe that moral decline necessitates government intervention, and that rebuilding the ethics of the public, a task that is apparently to be spearheaded by the state, will allow the government to then “disarm” and allow the people more freedom again. There are problems with this. For the sake of argument, let us accept that moral decline indeed does require government intervention. Allowing for that still leaves me wondering why we should suppose that government is the appropriate tool. What has the state done that would lead me to believe it is some kind of moral beacon? There is no need for me to enumerate the various crimes of the state, but dwell on them momentarily and decide whether you think that government is the best teacher of ethics. Of course “government” is only an abstraction coupled with a collection of people. And what of these people? Are they the most virtuous among us? Are the halls of Congress filled with the very best of our nation? Once again, I needn’t dwell on this point for it to be made. Finally, power does not work that way. Power begets power, and a state bent on remaking a people in accordance with their own vision will not cease in this task, and will not relinquish this power when the task is done. To ask the state to control us only until the job is done is to ask the state to control us forever.
“But if you listen to ordinary Americans at backyard barbecues or sitting around kitchen tables across our land you will hear troubled parents worrying about what their children are learning in school, on the Internet, and on television; worrying about whatever happened to the common decencies of yesteryear and worrying about how to raise children the right way when everything seems set against them.”
Obviously Western civilization is on the express train to Hell. Just ask Socrates: “Children today are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers.” Moral panic over how the younger generations are behaving, and what they’re getting themselves into, has been a feature of public discourse for thousands of years.
Santorum employs populist verbiage, appeals to the thoughts and wants of Hard-working Families™, Concerned Parents™, etc. to cast the current social climate as a deeply-cleaved conflict between the atheistic, elitist liberals who would restructure our nation into a godless socialist utopia, and the honest, religious, and decent conservatives who just want to raise a family and go to work.
“I am not advocating a replenishment of our moral capital because I want everybody to be alike. I don’t want a government snooping through people’s private lives, either.”
I don’t know that I believe you, Mr. Santorum. You have stated in an interview the following:
“Again, it goes back to this moral relativism, which is very accepting of a variety of different lifestyles. And if you make the case that if you can do whatever you want to do, as long as it’s in the privacy of your own home, this “right to privacy,” then why be surprised that people are doing things that are deviant within their own home? […] The idea is that the state doesn’t have rights to limit individuals’ wants and passions. I disagree with that. I think we absolutely have rights because there are consequences to letting people live out whatever wants or passions they desire.”
It would certainly appear that you do want government snooping through our private lives, because in order for the state to limit individuals’ “wants and passions” they will be required to snoop.
Santorum dedicates his next chapter to attacking the judicial branch of government, blaming them for sodomy, abortion, and “court-mandated same-sex marriage” (pg. 223). Mandated? I’m sure he means that the courts will be “mandating” that we recognize same-sex marriage, but it makes me chuckle to interpret it as courts compelling us to pair up with our favorite same-sex buddies. He continues his assault on the Supreme Court, regarding Griswold v. Connecticut, with the following:
[…] “it is in this case that the Court “discovered” a “right to privacy” in the U.S. Constitution. Of course, such a right does not appear anywhere in the text of the Constitution. Rather the Court’s majority discovered–or invented– such a right from the “emanations” and “penumbras” of rights found in the First, Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments.”
[…] “it was marital privacy that was discussed, So, an aspect of the traditional moral view was a motivation for the Court’s majority decision: but the jurisprudential novelty it established– the right to privacy– would quickly become a constitutional wrecking ball.”
Yes, Santorum asserts boldly that there is no right to be free of government intrusion. The state may, and indeed perhaps should, be the equivalent of a parent. Poking into your private affairs, judging their appropriateness, and compelling your towards restraint or action. His conception of the Constitution, made explicit during his brief discussion of pornography, is one where a person is free only so long as they’re doing the Right Thing. He rejects any notion that the Constitution is meant to protect forms of expression that may not be decidedly for the “public good.” He is inconsistent on common law, as well, lauding it on one hand for its freedom from “abstractions,” yet condemning it on the other for the ability of “activist” judges to lead the law down a road he disapproves of.
“Privacy. Neutrality. Free Expression. These three abstractions together make fora perfect storm, a jurisprudential hurricane for wrecking havoc on a moral ecosystem. Together they make of our Constitution not a document for democratic self-governance, but instead describes a pure liberal society of isolated individuals each doing their own thing within the politically correct boundaries carefully crafted and enforced by the village elders.”
“Democratic self-governance.” What is this, if not the ability to do as one pleases so long as one does not infringe on another’s rights? Santorum is somehow defining “self-governance” as a group activity, in which the whims and habits of the individual must be subordinate to those of the greater society. This may certainly be democratic, but it’s hardly self-governance. Though if Santorum rejects the whole idea of individual sovereignty, then perhaps it’s “self-governance” in the sense that we’re free from outside oppression And where has his previous optimism concerning humanity gone? Where is that “can-do spirit” which claimed government should leave our economic decisions (mostly) alone? Is rational self-interest good enough for the building of our houses, but not for the bedrooms inside them?
This section of the book is closed by several chapters dealing with the issue of abortion. As you are almost certainly already aware (and could easily guess, if not), Santorum is very much against the practice, and many of his examples are thoughtful and moving. The issue of where one draws a line for the legal protection of the unborn is incredibly clear to some, and quite vague to others. I find it interesting that Santorum offers much the same argument concerning abortion that I have used; that it ends up as an argument over property rights. Are unborn children people, or biological tissue that amounts to chattel property? Is there a middle ground which would imply some leeway in how they’re dealt with? The issue simmers and stews in a broth of ethics and legal definitions, and it periodically boils over. And it’s an issue much too large to shoehorn into my notes on this book.