Rick Santorum v. Individual Liberty

Rick Santorum's views on the role of government are somewhat disturbing.

The political punditocracy has focused like a laser beam on Rick Santorum since his rise in the polls and near victory in the Iowa Caucuses and, already, those who didn’t know much about the former Pennsylvania Senator have found out many things they probably didn’t know before. For example, there’s his odd foreign policy vision that seems to be based more on religious certainty than the cold reality of world politics. There are his views about birth control and homosexuality, which are clearly out of step with the mainstream of American political thought. And, there’s his record as a Congressman and Senator, which wasn’t exactly dedicated to fiscal conservatism. Hovering over it all, however, there’s something else about Santorum that I would submit places him outside the mainstream in very important ways. To put it bluntly, more than any other candidate in the field, Rick Santorum stands opposed to the individualism and belief in personal autonomy that has been a part of America from its very beginning.

Consider for example, this rather odd interview in which Santorum says that the time-honored idea of the “pursuit of happiness” is bad for society:

More recently, in 2006, Santorum said in 2006 that he rejected the idea of so-called “radical individualism”:

One of the criticisms I make is to what I refer to as more of a libertarianish right. You know, the left has gone so far left and the right in some respects has gone so far right that they touch each other. They come around in the circle. This whole idea of personal autonomy, well I don’t think most conservatives hold that point of view. Some do. They have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do, government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulations low, that we shouldn’t get involved in the bedroom, we shouldn’t get involved in cultural issues. You know, people should do whatever they want. Well, that is not how traditional conservatives view the world and I think most conservatives understand that individuals can’t go it alone. That there is no such society that I am aware of, where we’ve had radical individualism and that it succeeds as a culture.

None of this should be a surprise, of course, as Jonathan Rauch pointed out in a 2005 Reason article, Santorum had already put forward in writing a governing philosophy that was more anti-individualist than anything that Hillary Clinton may have been thinking of when the wrote It Takes A Village:

In Santorum’s view, freedom is not the same as liberty. Or, to put it differently, there are two kinds of freedom. One is “no-fault freedom,” individual autonomy uncoupled from any larger purpose: “freedom to choose, irrespective of the choice.” This, he says, is “the liberal definition of freedom,” and it is the one that has taken over in the culture and been imposed on the country by the courts.

Quite different is “the conservative view of freedom,” “the liberty our Founders understood.” This is “freedom coupled with the responsibility to something bigger or higher than the self.” True liberty is freedom in the service of virtue—not “the freedom to be as selfish as I want to be,” or “the freedom to be left alone,” but “the freedom to attend to one’s duties—duties to God, to family, and to neighbors.”

This kind of freedom depends upon and serves virtue, and virtue’s indispensable incubator and transmitter is the family. Thus “selflessness in the family is the basis for the political liberty we cherish as Americans.” If government is to defend liberty and promote the common welfare, then it must promote and defend the integrity of the traditional family. In doing so, it will foster virtue and rebuild the country’s declining social and moral capital, thus fostering liberty and strengthening family. The liberal cycle of decline—families weaken, disorder spreads, government steps in, families weaken still further—will be reversed.

“Freedom is not self-sufficient,” writes Santorum. He claims the Founders’ support, and quotes John Adams (“Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people”) and George Washington to that effect. But as University of Maryland political scientist William A. Galston notes, Washington and (especially) Adams stood at one end of a spectrum of debate, and it was a debate that they ultimately lost.

Other Founders—notably James Madison, the father of the Constitution—were more concerned with power than with virtue. They certainly distinguished between liberty and license, and they agreed that republican government requires republican virtues. But they believed that government’s foremost calling was not to inculcate virtue but to prevent tyranny. Madison thus argued for a checked, limited government that would lack the power to impose any one faction’s view of virtue on all others.

Freedom, for Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and others, was an end, not just a means. A government that allows individuals to pursue happiness in their own fashions, they believed, is most likely to produce a strong society and a virtuous citizenry; but the greatest benefit of freedom is freedom itself. Civic virtue ultimately serves individual freedom, rather than the other way around.

(…)

With It Takes a Family, Rick Santorum has served notice. The bold new challenge to the Goldwater-Reagan tradition in American politics comes not from the Left, but from the Right.

For Santorum and those who agree with him freedom is only properly exercised if it is done so in a moral and virtuous manner, with “morality” and “virtue” of course being defined by them. It’s ironic that this argument is resonating so well among evangelicals considering that it is a very Catholic view of the proper definition of freedom, but perhaps there is some compatibility between the two philosophies after all. Because they reject individual autonomy of individuals to make their own choices about their life as long as they don’t cause harm to others, Santorum and those like him see no problem with outlawing sodomy, or with suggesting that it might be acceptable for a state government to outlaw contraceptives.

Not surprisngly, then Santorum’s dismissal of the value of individual autonomy leads Santorum to reject the idea of limited government as well. It’s fairly well known, for example, that he voted in favor of Bush Administration proposals like No Child Left Behind and Medicare Part D, both of which greatly expanded the power, size, and scope of government. As Cato’s David Boaz points out, when he ran for re-election in 2006 he emphasized his ability to bring pork back to Pennsylvania and the bills he had sponsored that took autonomy away from the states and implanted it in Washington. More broadly, it’s been noted that his ideas are emblematic of the big-government “compassionate conservatism” of George W. Bush, thus suggesting that the GOP return to a path that has been proven to be a failure as a governing philosophy.

It’s Santorum’s rejection of individual liberty that is perhaps most disturbing, though, In his ideal world, the only freedom that would be acceptable would be “morally appropriate” freedom. That is an idea that stands in stark opposition to the individual liberty that America was founded upon, and which countless Americans have strived for over the past two centuries. The idea that we’d have a President who would consider his obligation to use the Presidency as a bully pulpit to lecture the rest of us on what the appropriate use of our freedom should be is quite disturbing. Quite frankly, how people live their private lives is none of Rick Santorum’s business and the idea that he believes that it is indicates just how far outside the political mainstream he actually is. If the GOP nominates this man, which I doubt they will, they would find out very quickly just how much of a suicidal move that would be.

Photo via Politico

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Bleev K says:

    With President Santorum, “they” won’t hate us for our freedom anymore.




    0



    0
  2. Hello World! says:

    He is a real nut case and a hypocrit. I have no problem with he and his wife choosing to do what they thought best for their family when doctors advised Mrs. Santorum not to have a baby. Even their taking the lifeless fetus home is fine with me if he truely thinks it will teach his living children a lesson about life….but for him to go around the country talking about how he wants to take rights and choices away from others just shows how warped his world view is. No matter how odd or self-fulfilling his choices are I do not have a problem with them if he is not harming others. Unforunately, there are more and more people like him these days. People who have bizzare values for themselves but what to control others because they don’t understand a particular belief or behavior. They seem to be growing in numbers. It’s very scary.




    0



    0
  3. Ron Beasley says:

    This is not at all surprising. It is the ideology if the Catholic Church especially Opus Dei. The Catholic Church from the very beginning was more about tyranny than spirituality. It was created by politicians to be the state religion of the Roman Empire and was the political power broker in Europe and beyond until the Reformation.




    0



    0
  4. Bleev K,

    Perhaps that’s his plan to win the War On Terror?




    0



    0
  5. Bleev K says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Yeah, maybe, but personally I prefer being killed in a terrorist attack than living like a slave in Santorum’s disgusting theocracy.




    0



    0
  6. John Burgess says:

    It’s okay, Doug. I find Santorum to be wildly disturbing in all his guises. Yet another Republican that gets my vote only after Satan.




    0



    0
  7. Steve Z says:

    I think this is an example of what has become commonplace among the left lately–the idea that if someone holds views that oppose your own, they must be radical. For example, pro-life politicians are said to have “extreme” views when they are merely minority views. Minority views that are in the 40s percentage wise, not 4. Similarly, Santorum is a typical conservative republican who does not believe that we should all be left alone. Like Doug, I am a libertarian republican and believe more in individual responsibility. But this is one of the philosophies that Ron Paul is deemed to be unelectable for holding. Santorum holds a more traditional view of conservatism – fiscal individualism without as much individualism on the cultural issues. Many on the board, republican and democrat, may disagree with that, but branding it as “extreme” or “weird” is simply lazy.

    Let’s discuss his respective positions, say why they are good or bad for America, and then comment accordingly, but stay away from the argument that they are bad for America because they are out of the mainstream or extreme. That is circular. Fixing entitlements is “extreme” and out of the mainstream too, simply because people are afraid to deal with it. But I don’t think we would call a politician who advocates entitlement reform a dangerous extremist (or maybe we would, I don’t know). But simply because someone’s views don’t represent a majority view, does not per se make them crazy. Let’s be a little more nuanced as the left says.




    0



    0
  8. @Bleev K:

    I was mostly being facetious.




    0



    0
  9. Steve Z says:

    Doug,
    I went back and listened to the YouTube clips posted above. Again, I am a personal liberty guy and believe in legalizing drugs, etc. But I challenge you to post the text of the first youtube clip and (in context) explain to me what is so extreme or crazy about what he says there. I am a bit dumbfounded. Like I said, I may not agree, but I am trying to see why that clip was posted as an example of extremism by Santorum.

    And as for the second quote that you did post, again where is the extremism there? I don’t think he is saying that as a general rule he is against personal autonomy across the board. It sounds like he is criticizing the extreme edges of that crowd the “legalization of drugs crowd” and the libertarians on the right who truly believe that there should be NO government intervention so long as nobody else is directly harmed. Especially with respect to the drug issue, I think Santorum represents the majority view, not some extreme anti-individualist position.

    There are plenty of reasons to criticize Santorum. This post is not included within them in my opinion.




    0



    0
  10. mattb says:

    @Steve Z:
    In the interests of an open discussion, let me suggest that the jump between “holding a belief” and “radicalism” is in the details an one’s openness to having that belief questioned (or allowing room for other beliefs).

    Satorum, for example, has made it clear that not only does he disagree with the idea of homosexual marriage but he would (a) work to make it illegal on the federal level and (b) nullify all existing homosexual marriages.

    There is no room for compromise in this world view. It’s solely black and white. And while that could still be his *belief* it’s policy/”real world” expression leaves no room for any other possible belief or position.

    One might argue that he’s just sticking to his beliefs. But cannot the same argument be made for the Islamists that Santorum is so concerned about imposing Sharia Law within the US.*

    * – Note, I’m not comparing Mr. Santorum to a terrorist. Rather, look to many of the ideas of Sharia law and on topics like homosexuality and abortion you won’t find a lot of different between the fundamental positions. Punishments I admit are different. But that difference doesn’t make the positions themselves less radical.




    0



    0
  11. Once again showing how GOP rhetoric is basically just a bunch of gang signs. They’re learned a bunch of phrases “free market”, “small government”, etc. that they parrot to identify themselves to other members of the tribe. But none of them really understands, or even cares, what any of those phrases means.

    Thus the party that spent the last four years going on about how Obama doesn’t really get the American spirit wants a candidate that is an explicit enemy of it.




    0



    0
  12. @mattb:

    Note, I’m not comparing Mr. Santorum to a terrorist.

    Given that Santorum has already said he wants to fund insurrgent groups to destabilize governments he doesn’t like, as well as calling for the assassination of civilians with technical knowledge about nuclear physics, I AM comparing him to a terrorist.




    0



    0
  13. Ben Wolf says:

    @Steve Z: What part of the clip wouldn’t a civil libertarian have a problem with?




    0



    0
  14. Septimius says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Why don’t you post the clip of the very next question from the interview where Santorum explains that he is personally opposed to birth control, but as a U.S. Senator, voted for government funded contraception? Oh right, that would totally destroy the hack column you wrote the other day about how “Santorum favors making birth control illegal.”




    0



    0
  15. steve says:

    @STEVE Z- Where I think Santorum gets out of the mainstream is his willingness to use government to achieve religious goals. He sees no problem with letting government ban contraceptives or outlawing gay sex. I think that these are now truly minority positions in the US. I dont know if Doug got those into his clips, but these are long held beliefs on his part that we voters in PA are familiar with.

    Steve




    0



    0
  16. grumpy realist says:

    Mr. Santorum would have been perfectly at home in Calvin’s Geneva. Or in the original settlements of the colonies, where the settlers found it perfectly reasonable to drive out individuals who had different religious opinions. (See Anne Hutchinson.) Unfortunately for Mr. Santorum, he’s about 200 years too late.




    0



    0
  17. Moosebreath says:

    I guess Santorum will need to fold his tent when all the libertarians in the Republican primaries go elsewhere. I can’t see how any candidate can recover from losing a segment of the party which is basically a rounding error in the big picture.




    0



    0
  18. Bleev K says:

    @Doug Mataconis: I know.




    0



    0
  19. julia shirley says:

    After reading that Mr.Santorum thinks that all older people are wealthy I must refer him to the many older americans that are living one social security check to another… How dare he say we are rich. I suggest he go to the local food banks, senior citizens centers. Let him pay for rent,lights, food and medicine on a fixed income. Not everyone in american had a 9-5 job and 401K plans (that lost money for alot of americans. Also when my husband lost all his 401k because of the greedy owners of his plant went bankrupt and wouldnt let them cash anything out before hand. But they went away with millions…Try being late 50’s and get a job. its not easy…… Get you head out Rick……. Older america worked their butts off, let them enjoy what they have left….




    0



    0
  20. anjin-san says:

    “Santorum, that’s latin for asshole.”

    …Bob Kerry

    Case closed




    0



    0
  21. Tano says:

    @Steve Z:

    simply because someone’s views don’t represent a majority view, does not per se make them crazy.

    I cannot imagine that anyone here believes that minority views are crazy, per se.

    Santorum’s views are radical and crazy because they are radical and crazy, not because they are held by a minority.




    0



    0
  22. Vast Variety says:

    @mattb: If Santorum had his way I would be shipped off to a camp to be “Cured”




    0



    0
  23. Hello World! says:

    @mattb – I don’t think Santorum believes you should be cured of anything. He has stated in the past that gays are probably born that way (if thats what your referring to). You should just deal with it by suppressing your feelings, getting into a loveless marrage, have kids that you can take your pent up aggression out on, and with, most importantly, a lot of prayer. You should just suffer through life without a relationship that you feel secure in. Its better for humanity that way…..according to Rick.




    0



    0
  24. sam says:

    Santorum is one of those conservatives who like to prattle on about ordered liberty, coming down hard on the ordered part.




    0



    0
  25. Mr. Prosser says:

    @grumpy realist: In a more modern context Santorum would fit in nicely in Vito Corleone’s world view. Family is all, you’re either in or out.




    0



    0
  26. Nick Howard says:

    Before Kinsey, Santorum’s views on birth control and sexuality were considered mainstream. Most, if not all, states banned artificial birth control, laws in many cases dating to the 1800s, when Catholic political influence was minimal, except in Louisiana and New York. All states regarded abortion was illegal. Sodomy was illegal, a ban that reflected English common law. Divorce was permissible in most states only on the grounds of adultery or desertion, reflecting Biblical standards. From an historical perspective, Santorum holds truly traditional positions. Although the United States was predominantly a Protestant country until the 20th Century, historical Protestant standards differed from those of Catholicism only in the area of divorce, where the latter was more stringent than the Biblical position, banning all divorce and only permitting annulment or separation. It is Santorum that is accord with historic Christianity and the moral standards of pre-World War II America, and not his critics.

    Santorum deviates from traditional Catholic position in the area of subsidiarity. He appears to be an advocate of a strong and centralized Federal authority. Pre-Reformation Europe was generally characterized by weak kings and minimal central authority, with the nobility and the independent cities holding most of the reins of power, reflective of Catholic social thought at the time.




    0



    0
  27. mattb says:

    @Nick Howard:

    From an historical perspective, Santorum holds truly traditional positions…. It is Santorum that is accord with historic Christianity and the moral standards of pre-World War II America, and not his critics.

    True, but lets we forget that from a historical perspective:

    – Slavery was more-or-less an acceptable practice at the start of the 1800’s in large swaths of the country.
    – Pre-WW II much of the country didn’t have a problem with racial segregation.
    – Child labor was historically OK for much of that period
    – Denying women the rights of full citizenship was also mainstream
    – The only good Indians were dead ones (or those that quietly give up their land and convert)

    And much of these positions were justified through scripture. The list can go on.

    The fact is that many of Santorum’s positions, while once historically mainstream are drifting further and further towards the fringe.




    0



    0
  28. Nick Howard says:

    One difference between the segregation, slavery, and other cases you cite and the sexuality issues is that the former represented legalized discrimination against entire classes of people (blacks, women, Native Americans) whereas the restrictions on sexual behavior generally prevalent in pre-World War II America affected all classes, races, and ethnicities, as well as both genders. Eliminating these restrictions by legislation and court rulings expanded freedom. However, liberty has greatly decreased in other areas, such as economic activity; the freedom to choose foods, medicine, and drugs; property rights; rights to free association; and freedom to travel (especially post 9-11).

    Herein lies the left-right split. A hard-core conservative, say Michelle Bachmann (a better example than Santorum) , favors economic freedom (except in the areas of narcotics and medicine) while seeking to re-impose past restraints on sexuality and reproduction. Those on the left seek to expand sexual liberty further, while favoring expansion of restraints on commerce and free association and restricting religion and freedom of expression (hate speech laws, for example).

    Neither left nor right are friends of freedom. Both sides seek to impose chains on human freedom, the left in the name of equality and diversity, the right in the name of tradition and Christianity.




    0



    0
  29. Steve Verdon says:

    Cripes Doug we could have just summarized it thusly….

    Individual liberty is bad, but “virtuous freedom”, as defined by Santorum, is a great and noble thing.

    Santorum, the Republicans version of Warren Jeffs.




    0



    0
  30. Hello World! says:

    @Nick Howard: The first sodomy laws did not appear until the 1950’s. Marrage did not exist until the 1850’s.




    0



    0