Well Known Biases

Politics, Economics, and the Law

Notes on ‘It Takes a Family’ (pt. 4)

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.”
(pg.  201)

“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.”
(pg. 207)

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.”
(pg. 208)

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.”
(pg. 215)

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.”
[source]

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.”
(pg. 224)

[…] “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.”
(pg. 224-225)

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.”
(pg. 235)

“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.

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