Well Known Biases

Politics, Economics, and the Law

Notes on ‘It Takes a Family’ (pt. 1)

After reading a review of his book, I decided to go straight to the source and read Rick Santorum’s ‘It Takes a Family’ for myself. I’m making notes as I go, and will be posting a section of notes for each part of the book. I’m not sure how much sense some of these notes make without having the book to follow along with, but hopefully you’ll get something out of it. If I’m replying to a specific statement or argument in the text, I will quote it. Original italics in the quoted sections will be made bold. At the conclusion I will also write an overall review and opinion.

(Apologies for the text chopping off at the end of italicized phrases. This is something with the CSS stylesheet, and I don’t think I can fix it without paying for the premium WordPress.)

*   *   *   *   *

Part 1: It Takes a Family

“Men and women and children have natures, but liberal “individuals” are abstractions, free to choose anything at all and unconfined by purportedly illusory factors like gender. At first, the liberal vision may sound attractive – because freedom is attractive. The only problem is that it is a false vision, because nature is nature, and the freedom to choose against natural law is not really freedom at all.”

Is it therefore government’s duty to be the enforcer of natural laws? Will not nature perform that service on its own? Or, to co-opt a phrase, must government be the “midwife of nature”?

Santorum offers mention of numerous societies which featured marriage between a man and several women. How does that fit into his vision of history? He fails to mention any societies which have marriages of one woman and several men. These are much less numerous however, and somewhat obscure, so perhaps this is simply a lack of knowledge that such things exist.

“It is because children have a right to a faithfully married mother and father that we must oppose this radical redefinition [of marriage, to include same-sex unions] – not because we are mean-spirited.”
(pg. 32)

Santorum is, it would appear, a believer in the idea of “positive liberty;” that is the right to have a thing. The problem with this worldview is that if you have a right to possess a thing, that places upon someone else the obligation to provide it. I am inclined to agree with him that parents have a moral obligation to their children, but I am deeply uncomfortable with the view that this obligation should be enforced by the state, under penalty of law. Outside of clear-cut abuse or neglect, which are the government’s purview in our present society, I think there are better institutions, wielding “soft power,” that should address these lesser offenses. Well, you might argue, the churches and the communities aren’t doing anything about it. In response I would argue that the non-state institutions aren’t doing anything because we’ve lived for at least a century under a state that proclaims these are matters for it to address, and no one else needs to, or indeed even should. I think there’s a good argument to be made that without government claiming to be the responsible party, other institutions would reclaim their roles.

“Laws have meaning, and therefore, laws teach. When something is legal it has the presumption that it is moral and right.”
(pg. 34)

Bollocks. I’ll give him that laws “teach,” but what are the lessons they give? Ask around, and you’ll find that what they’ve taught most is that our government can be bought and sold, and that its laws are the tools of the political class. As to the moral value of laws, the vast majority have none, and are simply regulatory. There are of course laws which do have moral underpinnings, but these things would be right or wrong independent of legislation. I just can’t see any but those least blessed with critical thinking, and most worshipful of the idea of “nation” and “state” buying into the idea that a thing is right or wrong simply by virtue of there being a law concerning it.

[Santorum is discussing the long-term consequences of allowing same-sex marriage and separating the institution from the idea of child-rearing:] “What happens to a society that disconnects marriage from babies in this way? The connection has already been strained by the consequences of children born out of wedlock and the damage wrought by our divorce culture. Same-sex marriage severs this connection completely. Once same-sex marriage becomes firmly entrenched as the law of the land, we can expect to get even more children raised outside of marriage. And we will also have fewer children, period.”
(pg. 34-35)

I can’t really make heads or tails of the entirety of this argument. Same-sex unions will disconnect marriage with childbirth. Okay, I can make some sense of that. At our present level of technology, there is no way (That I am aware of. Please correct me if I’m in error here.) to merge two sperm or two eggs and create an embryo, therefore same-sex couples cannot have children, at least not in the traditional sense of the phrase (I’m leaving aside other methods by which to initiate pregnancy, such as sperm donors, in vitro, etc., as that isn’t a merger of those two particular individuals’ genetics). I’ll also grant Santorum that childbirth isn’t necessarily thought of as intimately connected with straight marriages, either. As a tangent from this, what is Santorum’s take on heterosexual marriages that do not result in children? Are these less valid? Moving on, how exactly does he suppose that same-sex unions will result in more children raised out of wedlock? He says this, but he fails to provide an argument. “Well, if them queers start marryin’ you’ll sure see more unwed mothers and bastard children ’round here, I tell ya!” isn’t an argument. Simply asserting this without providing justification won’t do. But then he says  that we’ll have fewer children overall, so perhaps these unweb mothers won’t actually be a problem after all. Once again, Santorum fails to provide any backing for his statement, and I can’t recall anything from earlier in the section which establishes a causal link.

Santorum goes on to discuss Europe’s low birth rates, and affirms a causal connection between this and “the liberal conception of marriage” (divorce, cohabitation, same-sex unions, etc.).

The first section of the book is concluded by Santorum voicing support for a constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union of one man and one woman, and employs doom-and-gloom rhetoric that it is “now or never” to defend the traditional marriage.


One response to “Notes on ‘It Takes a Family’ (pt. 1)

  1. John Brownlee February 6, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    “Well, if them queers start marryin’ you’ll sure see more unwed mothers and bastard children ’round here, I tell ya!”

    This is totally an argument. Step 1: Same-sex marriage. Step 2: … Step 3: PROFIT.

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