No-Fault Freedom vs. Responsible Liberty

“Conservatives,” says Rick Santorum in his book It Takes a Family, “are the caretakers of a precious inheritance.” That inheritance rests on stable families. Yet the “village elders,” a name he gives to the liberal social engineers who operate in the spirit of Hillary Clinton’s tome It Takes a Village, don’t really care about stable families. It the family structure were to prevail, it would rob the village elders of their self-appointed role as the redesigners of America from on high.

Santorum confesses that one of his fundamental beliefs about American politics was wrong. He had always believed “that conservatives and liberals had the same vision of America, but just had different ways of getting there.” Both wanted the poor “to achieve economic self-sufficiency,” but, he admits, “I don’t believe that anymore.”

Liberals, he notes, have an entirely different definition of freedom. He calls it “No-Fault Freedom” where people can do whatever they want, practically without limits—“all the choices, none of the responsibility.” Conservatives, on the other hand, prefer the word “liberty,” which couples freedom with responsibility “to something bigger or higher than the self. It is the pursuit of our dreams with an eye toward the common good.” This is a definition based on Biblical roots.

The foundational social unit that instills a devotion to such liberty and that stands against No-Fault Freedom’s toxic effects is the traditional family. Strong families generate values and virtues. They are moralistic, and so they are moralizing. They teach right from wrong. Healthy families are our first strike for what is right and our first defense against what is wrong in America today.

The crux of Santorum’s argument is that only through selflessness as learned in families will this nation be strong and liberty protected. What he offers is the opposite not only of liberalism’s big government approach, but also of libertarianism’s atomistic individualism that promotes selfishness. Santorum doesn’t throw libertarianism into the mix at this point in the book, but I added it because I believe it is also a major problem, although not as pervasive as liberalism. Liberals, he explains, “don’t believe in the importance of strong, traditional families.”

For a raft of reasons, the village elders view the strong, traditional, married-mother-and-father family as contrary to their social agenda. They think of society as fundamentally made up of individuals guided by elite and “expert” organizations like government, not the antiquated, perhaps uneducated, independent family. The village elders want society to be individualistic, because a society composed only of individuals responds better to “expert” command and control. Your father or your grandmother (or your priest or rabbi) may give you advice that contradicts the latest “expert” wisdom. The village elders just don’t want such competition.

I like Santorum’s perspective here, and I will come back to it, and to a fuller discussion of the significance of families, in a future post.

Santorum: Liberal & Conservative Visions Contrasted

I said yesterday that I would begin analyzing Rick Santorum’s book It Takes a Family. I’ve completed about one-third of the book already because I’ve found it to be a compelling read. Before getting into specifics, I have some general comments:

  • First, I am finding this book to be a serious discussion of principles and policies related to those principles. It is not a piece of campaign fluff. In fact, since it was published in 2005, it hardly was written as a campaign biography for this year. It instead is a thoughtful evaluation of the cornerstones of a vibrant and successful society, what is eroding those cornerstones, and what we must do about it.
  • Second, Santorum clearly sees the family as the primary cornerstone upon which the entire societal edifice is based. This certainly resonates with my own views, but I find Santorum’s enunciation of this thesis to be one of the strongest statements of this principle that I’ve ever read.
  • Third, it is clear to me that Santorum is not simply repeating old nostrums in a mechanical manner. He truly is dedicated to his theme of recovering societal health via building strong family bonds. This is more than an academic exercise for him; he is speaking from the innermost man, sharing his heart and soul.
  • And finally, I’m rather surprised at the effect reading it is having on me. I expected to agree with most of what he would be sharing, but there has been a stirring in my spirit as I read. The essential truths he is communicating, truths I’ve long believed, seem fresh and more vital than I anticipated. I thought I would have to trudge through a book that repeats everything I know already, but I find myself eager to continue reading as he lays out his argument step-by-step.

Santorum does hit at the liberal failings, quite understandably so, as those failings are an essential part of his argument. Yet he devotes far more space to the positive solutions and to anecdotes of successful individuals and organizations who are tackling societal problems. His first chapter begins with a clear contrast between the liberal and conservative visions of the good society:

The liberal news media, Hollywood, and the educational elite in America tend to portray political liberals as the courageous champions of the average guy—and, of course, the poor. It is simply assumed that their more “enlightened” economic policies are all about helping the poor and middle class. Conservatives, on the other hand, are portrayed as fundamentally selfish, self-interested individuals, whose economic policies are crafted to protect or advance their (or their golf partners’) “special interests.” I will argue in this book that liberal economic policies have not only been devastating to the poor and the middle class economically, but have actually undermined the basic structures of our society. I will also argue that both conservative economic policy and conservative efforts to help the poor help themselves are more genuinely compassionate—and effective—than the liberal alternative.

Santorum’s focus on policies that help the poor becomes a primary theme of the book as it progresses, undercutting the liberal mantra that conservatives don’t care about anyone but the rich. His contrast between the two visions of American society continues:

Another view the media echo chamber promotes is that liberal social policies are rational, tolerant, progressive, and caring. Social conservatives, on the other hand, are portrayed as irrational, ignorant, rigid Bible-thumpers obsessed with prophesying woe. In this book, I hope to show that this all-too-common caricature of conservatives and their social policies by the liberal elite can be attributed to liberals’ fundamentally different vision for America—a vision that is completely at odds with that of our nation’s founders, and with the views of most Americans today. Liberalism is an ideology; conservatism is common sense.

Even those who don’t consider themselves conservatives, Santorum believes, can sense something is wrong, seriously and foundationally wrong, with the direction of the country. Our problem is that we tend to think government is the source of the solutions:

We too readily look to those wielding power and influence to solve society’s big problems for us—in particular, we look to the government. And why not? They are “society’s” problems, and the government is society’s representative. But over the past generation we have been learning that governmental, cultural, social, moral, and intellectual power brokers in far too many cases have made our problems worse. This has created a vicious downward spiral in which the more the public relies on the powerful elite, the worse it gets, which leads to the public relying on these elites even more.

That doesn’t sound like a man who wants to increase the government’s oversight in our lives, as some of his critics contend. In a couple of days, I’ll continue this analysis. Hope this was a good start that makes you want to know more.

It Takes a Family: The Santorum Political Philosophy

Lately, I’ve been drawn to Rick Santorum’s candidacy for the presidency. As I mentioned in a previous post, I had dismissed his chances from the start. But after seeing the weaknesses of the other candidates, even before he came in second in Iowa, I was beginning to view him differently. The more I’ve learned, the more I like.

Since I’ve paid close attention to politics for nearly four decades now, I already was familiar with some of Santorum’s background. I knew he was considered a conservative, and I had many reasons to be pleased with his stances, particularly his steadfastness on pro-life. I still distinctly remember, though, his endorsement of Arlen Specter for reelection as senator from Pennsylvania, despite a distinctly more conservative challenger. I was dismayed that Santorum would turn his back on someone who was more in line with his own beliefs. Yet I understood, to some extent—Specter had supported him, so it was expected he would return the favor.

That incident was incongruous with his overall record, and I was disappointed when he lost his reelection bid in 2006, but he wasn’t the only one to do so in that very bad year for Republicans.

The Florida primary is two weeks away. At this point, I will be voting for Santorum because I believe he has far more positives than negatives.

I desire to learn more about his basic philosophy of government and culture, so I ordered the book he authored a few years ago, It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good. I have begun reading it so I will have a better grasp of his principles and goals. As I venture further into it, I’ll report back on what I find.

So if you are interested in knowing more about Santorum and his beliefs, and especially if you are in South Carolina or Florida, you might want to check back on this blog the rest of this week, and probably beyond, as I offer a synopsis of Santorum’s political philosophy.

The Next Ronald Reagan

With Huckabee’s withdrawal from the Republican race, commentators are asking who will pick up what they term the “social conservative voters.” While I do recognize the basic validity of that name, it still rankles me that we have created such a divide in the conservative electorate.

The conventional wisdom is that there are social conservatives and economic conservatives, and that the two groups are rather at odds with each other. That does happen, but I submit it’s an artificial division.

I would fit the definitions for both, and I believe most conservatives do as well. If not, they aren’t really thorough conservatives. There should be no dichotomy. Economic issues are moral issues at root. The problems we are experiencing on the economic front are the result of wasting other people’s money, going deep into debt without caring about it, and wanting the federal government to dictate the actions of citizens in areas that combine the economic and the social. I believe healthcare is a prime example of that.

Our values as a culture will affect all areas of our society. Our thinking will be warped if we say we can ignore ultimate right and wrong. We end up with a culture somewhat like this:

And our attempts at social engineering through the courts can even impact our national defense and our security:

While abortion is primarily a moral horror and cesspool of depravity, it also has a direct economic effect: over fifty million potential producers/inventors [add any other descriptor here that is relevant] have been erased from our population.

The big question is not who will pick up the social conservative voters, but who has the foresight and communication skills to help everyone understand the links between all conservatives. Who is going to help them form the coalition that is absolutely necessary to bring this period of electoral folly to an end?

We shouldn’t be looking at this as either/or. It’s both/and.

There is this yearning for “the next Ronald Reagan.” Well, there was only one Reagan. Yet what he did can be repeated in this sense: he was a true representative of all types of conservatives. He drew them together. Who, on the national scene right now, can succeed in this challenge? The one who can accomplish this will be the standard-bearer for all who call themselves conservatives.

Old, Tired Rhetoric

It gets old. What am I talking about? The old, tired rhetoric from the Left that tries to convince Americans that conservatives and/or rich people are to blame for everything. First, a little perspective correction: not all conservatives are rich. Many of those rich people are liberals. Ask any Kennedy or Rockefeller serving in politics whether they have ever had to work in a factory. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are liberals as well. Let’s do away with the easy connection between conservatism and wealth. You find wealthy people on both sides of the political spectrum.

What the president seeks to do now, though, is to link all things conservative with evil, greedy, wealthy individuals, and to make it appear that those evil people are ruining it for everyone else. He’ll say things that sound similar to this:

His approach is rather simple to explain:

And when he does talk about the debt problem, and he calls on all to sacrifice, he leaves out one significant part of our society:

You must sacrifice the future of your children, but the government must never be asked to cut back on its expenses.

Like I said, it’s getting a little old. Is it possible we won’t fall for it this time?

Chambers & Counterrevolution

More wisdom from Whittaker Chambers today. Reflecting on the sad state of society in 1925 with respect to its grasp of the dangers it was facing, he penned these poignant words:

The dying world of 1925 was without faith, hope, character, understanding of its malady or will to overcome it. It was dying but it laughed. And this laughter was not the defiance of a vigor that refuses to know when it is whipped. It was the loss, by the mind of a whole civilization, of the power to distinguish between reality and unreality, because, ultimately, though I did not know it, it had lost the power to distinguish between good and evil. … The dying world had no answer at all to the crisis of the 20th century, and, when it was mentioned, and every moral voice in the Western world was shrilling crisis, it cocked an ear of complacent deafness and smiled a smile of blank senility—throughout history, the smile of those for whom the executioner waits.

As I read his analysis of 1925 America, I can’t help but think about American society as we get ready to enter this new year. How do we compare with the America he witnessed? Are we dying and don’t know it? Is the executioner waiting for us?

Chambers always said that it wasn’t good enough to be a conservative. Here’s why:

Counterrevolution and conservatism have little in common. In the struggle against Communism the conservative is all but helpless. For that struggle cannot be fought, much less won, or even understood, except in terms of total sacrifice. And the conservative is suspicious of sacrifice; he wishes first to conserve, above all what he is and what he has. You cannot fight against revolutions so.

Christians have become more politically active; the Tea Party movement, apparently comprised of a majority who consider themselves Christians, has made an impact on politics. Yet politics is only one part of the answer, a part that can hold back the onslaught, but can never overcome it. There is a deeper level where the real battle is engaged. It is a spiritual battle, and only committed Christians—perhaps the counterrevolutionaries Chambers mentions—are the ones who can  and must carry it forward.

French Fried

Overlooked while focusing on American election news are the riots taking place in France. Like most European nations that have gone the socialist route, France has had to reappraise its ability to provide such extensive government services. Hence a move toward austerity measures that have led to outrage among the socialized masses. What terrible policy has the government proposed? Raising the retirement age from 60 to 62. Wow, how mean-spirited can a government get?

Police have had to crack down on the protesters.

If you don’t get that one, study it for a while.

While Democrats in America accuse Tea Party people and other conservatives of being extreme, they are silent about the extremists at the other end of the spectrum—the French violence emanates from the communists in their midst. We seem to have a hard time recognizing genuine extremism.

Well, I don’t want America to become like Europe, either. Yet we have a segment of our society that loves all things European; they think Americans are backward and unintelligent. You can see them basking in the glow of the sophistication Europe has to offer:

May it never be.