The Corner

Immigration

Liberals’ Welcome Embrace of Parental Rights

An undocumented immigrant family is released from detention at a bus depot in McAllen, Texas, June 22, 2018. (Loren Elliott/Reuters)

Something has been bothering me amidst all of the understandable outrage over the policy of separating kids from their parents at the border. By now, everyone has heard a lot of sincere liberals lament the spectacle of children being “torn,” “yanked,” “pulled,” and “ripped” from their parents. I have no objection to such lamentations on the merits. I largely share their distaste for the practice, even if I can envision specific and narrow circumstance where it might be warranted.

But that’s not my point here. Rather, I’ve been amazed at the way so many liberals have fully embraced what is often a very conservative view of parental rights. Implicit in the revulsion over family separation is a belief in the sacred or holy or pre-political right of parents to be with their children. Some of the Catholic critics of the separation policy, such as Sohrab Ahmari (in a recent Commentary podcast), have been good at articulating the idea that the bond between parents and their children is prior to any regime or ideological commitment.

Few liberals state it outright but a great many allude to, or simply assume, that such a bond exists. It is the fuel for the fire of the outrage.

And that’s a good thing. I just hope they hold onto that conviction the next time someone floats “the communal ownership of children” or coughs up some hairball about “children’s rights.”

Recall the controversy over Melissa Harris-Perry’s ode to communal parenting?

We have never invested as much in public education as we should have because we’ve always had kind of a private notion of children. “Your kid is yours, and totally your responsibility.” We haven’t had a very collective notion of “These are our children.” So part of it is that we have to break through our kind of private idea that “Kids belong to their parents” or “Kids belong to their families,” and recognize that kids belong to whole communities. Once it’s everybody’s responsibility, and not just the household’s, then we start making better investments.

There was also Hillary Clinton, a pioneer in children’s rights and author of It Takes a Village, who said in 1996, “As adults we have to start thinking and believing that there isn’t really any such thing as someone else’s child . . . For that reason, we cannot permit discussions of children and families to be subverted by political or ideological debate.”

Of course, even paying rhetorical lip-service to the idea that our children aren’t our children is a classic example of subverting this bedrock concept for the sake of politics and ideology.

I could go on with Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Woodrow Wilson, John Dewey, and countless other progressives who saw the shell of the family and the private “ownership” of children as one of the last impediments to an enlightened government monopoly on raising children the right way. But you get the point.

Again, I’m glad liberals have found themselves stumbling into a natural-law understanding of parental rights. I just hope they hold onto it when it’s not so politically convenient.

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