Politics, Economics, and the Law
Notes on ‘It Takes a Family’ (pt. 2)
February 8, 2012Posted by on
Part 2: Social Capital and the Ties That Bind
For our founders, this liberty was defined and defended in the context of our Judeo-Christian understanding of humanity. Often, in fact, American liberty meant the freedom to attend to one’s duties–duties to God, to family, and to neighbors. Our founders were in the business of constructing a nation, a political community. No-fault freedom, a freedom from every tie and duty, provides no basis for that project: it is a principle of division and social deconstruction.
Santorum goes on to argue that the liberal (progressivist) method of attempting to help the poor has actually hurt them. There is truth to this, but I don’t think his solution is what we should want:
The real solution, the conservative solution to the problems of low-income America, is to structure all our programs around the family, to work with the family rather than against it.
[. . .]
We need to build up the ties that bind, because the ties that bind are also the ties that support, the helping hands of neighbors, friends, and family who care–in a way that government bureaucrats never can.
So the fix for decades of badly thought out government meddling in the lives of people is just to make the government meddling better? This abandons the traditional conservative rhetoric, and affirms openly that your life is the government’s business, it’s just that the government hasn’t been doing a good enough job of managing it!
Santorum then moves to a discussion of the U.S. Constitution, saying that in using the phrase “promote the general welfare” the founders intended to leave the execution of this up to the people at large, and the government was to take an indirect role. Fine. What then, Mr. Santorum, of your proclamation earlier that we required, and you supported, an amendment to define marriage, and thus bar any other unions? In what sense is that “promoting,” and not “securing” or “establishing”? Do you not believe marriage to be part of the “general welfare,” or do you just believe we should only play by the rules when we like the result?
He goes on to argue for a collectivist understanding of the Constitution, in which individual needs and wants should be properly understood as subservient to the wants and needs of “the People” and “the common good.” I’ll acknowledge that freedom is best suited to a moral population, but I don’t buy his claim that the founding fathers meant that our freedoms were all well and good, but only if we used them the right way. To assert that is to argue for a paternalistic government which lets you play with your toys, but takes them away if it doesn’t like the way you’re playing. And that is to argue for a government which grants privileges, not rights.
Santorum talks about freedom, and the trust and help provided in communities, but it’s hard to pin down exactly what sort of free community he wants. He doesn’t seem to really trust people to be completely free. They must be “free do what’s right” or “free to help each other.” He seems to trust the basic decency of many, but assume that no one can be trusted with “no-fault” freedom. He is coy about actual policy ideas, but continually argues for a government that will “encourage” goodness. But what sort of morality from a government, the greatest liar, thief, and murderer among us? A creature that consistently violates its own supposed principles, and conducts itself with a “might makes right” mentality. That entity which Murray Rothbard described as “nothing more nor less than a bandit gang writ large.” And when it comes to the state, “encouragement” always sounds much more like “command.”
He cites statistics concerning black-on-black crime, and the substantial percentage of black males who will end up in prison at some time or another. Naturally, he blames much of this on the degradation of the black family in America, with absentee fathers being the norm in some (though naturally not all) quarters. This is an enormous problem, but I would consider the breakup of the black family not so much a cause as a result. Both traditionally “liberal” and traditionally “conservative” laws have conspired to bring this about. A declining economy, courtesy of the horrible fiscal policies of both parties, the welfare system, the war on drugs which locks away untold thousands… there is more than enough blame to go around. It is not simply the progressivist policies which has wrought this, and using government to try to instill “conservative” values is not the solution. Conservative values don’t put food on the table, or guarantee a future for yourself and your family. Jobs put food on the table, and jobs are the realm of economics, not ethics. A population with jobs to work at and hope for their future will be more likely to settle down and maintain a family. I won’t dispute that ethics have more than a little to do with family, but I will argue that trying to make people better will be much less of an uphill battle if they can afford to provide for themselves and those they love.
Santorum finally comes to his policy ideas. He would like PSAs, informing the population about the benefits of marriage, and presumably the dangers of premarital sex, cohabitation, and the like. He would like covenant marriage laws, making it more difficult for couple to obtain a divorce. He wants there to be programs to combat fatherlessness. And finally, programs and education to encourage abstinence among teens, etc. Divorce, tee pregnancy, STDs, fatherless children… all these are problems. Unsurprisingly, most of the examples of helpful groups he cites are not government affiliated. If they’re doing a better job shaping up the citizenry, perhaps it should be left to them. But I’ll grant that there are certainly worse ways Uncle Sam can (and does) spend our taxes, so in the grand scheme of things buying some abstinence and marriage PSAs is less harmful than buying munitions and surveillence equipment.
The Democrats today have become the party espousing European-style secularism. They have gone to great lengths to create government bureaucracies to displace the work that religious groups have done ever since the days of the Pilgrims, and to marginalize and privatize faith and its moral demands altogether.
I don’t know that this has been a purely Democratic process. To the extent that the progressives have sought to replace the church with their own “secular religion” of state, the Republicans have gotten ample mileage out of perverting Judeo-Christian religion into a militarized “God and Country” belief system where we worship the soldier first and foremost. And, lest we forget, some of those pilgrims he mentions were statists and avowed communists, who did not hesitate to use the sword of government to impose their moral views on their populations.
[…]–anything and everything but churches, synagogues, and mosques. It is almost as if religion frightens them: and perhaps it does. The village elders [The term he employs to mean the progressive, ivory-tower elites. The liberal political class.] see churches as serious challengers to their “expert” authority and to their profoundly secularist worldview.
He has a point here, though he’s hardly unique in holding it. The state and the church have long been competitors for power over hearts and minds. Examples are numerous, e.g. the Marxists officially abolishing, and suppressing, religion, seeing it as an unacceptable alternative to state control. In a somewhat different vein, American protestants instituted compulsory public education in part to lessen Catholic influence (as at the time, the Catholics were one of the principal providers of schooling).
After discussing the struggles of faith-based community support groups to toe that fine line that keeps them legal and and able to recieve funding, Santorum demands that we “find ways of providing public funds to these vital intermediate groups serving public purposes, we must protect churches and their ministries from persecution.” Here he apparently finds no fault in blurring the seperation of church and state, so long as the state is unbiased, and supports all these various organizations. But even if he were able to accomplish this, is it really a good idea to implement a policy that opens the doors for abuse, and the propogation of “state churches”?
The last chapter of this section of the book closes it with a look at prisons, and prison ministry programs. While there is much I could write on the topics of prisons, crime, “crime,” and tangential points, the fact is that prisons do exist, and there are rather a lot of prisoners in them. Assuming prison ministry programs are voluntary (an interesting requirement in light of the circumstances), and are not using public money, I have absolutely no problems with these initiatives, and think that in general they’re to be applauded.
I’m a fairly conservative person, personally. I find little fault in most of Santorums admonitions for parents to spend more time with their children, and to be better parents. I have nothing against faith, or even the concept of organized religion. If a church doesn’t suit me, I can find different one that does. I don’t even mind when he affirms that there’s indeed nothing wrong with a woman being a stay-at-home mother. Outside of radical elements of the movement, I think feminism is largely about a woman having the choice to conduct her life in the way she decides is best. Genuine rehabilitative efforts in prisons is an admirable endeavor. Santorum phrases things in such a way as to make you believe that the state was just a kindly uncle trying to give you a hand, and perhaps he sincerely believes that. But the essence of government is violence and control, and one of the very few things it does with remarkable speed and effencieny is take good intentions and use them to pave the road to hell.