The Corner

Santorum, Social Engineer

I know this is a pretty pro-Santorum forum, but I must say this scored more than mere glancing blows. I think I agree with what Santorum thinks he’s saying when he talks about how there’s never been a society of radical inidividualism. But at least as David Boaz presents him here, it sounds to me like Santorum’s making a logical leap in the wrong direction. Civil society discourages radical individualism (hint: that’s why they call it society). But it is the historic mission of conservatism to keep government from destroying civil society,  not to  use the State to “design” civil society along whatever passes for the fashionable conservative position at a given moment.   I agree that radical individualism is bad, but I don’t see how by conceding this point I have to believe that the State therefore has a writ to impose its vision of civil society wherever it sees fit. Of course, the State can’t help but be a player in this game. But it should tread lightly, selectively and rarely into the game of domestic nation-building.  One of the beauties of federalism is that it allows for a multiplicity of lifestyles and keeps the federal government out of the game of picking winners and losers, except in extreme cases (like slavery or Jim Crow). 

Let me add one caveat. Santorum is a villain to many conservative/libertarian gay-marriage proponents, but I don’t think that the above criticism necessarily lends ammo to their cause. The civil society argument cuts both ways. Gay marriage advocates are trying to use the State — mostly via the courts — to impose a new definition of marriage which conflicts with the traditional arrangements of civil society and the democratically expressed desires of most Americans. It is as much of a top-down project as what Santorum is suggesting. The left is great at decrying social engineering when it’s not their flavor of social engineering. 

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