Sunday, September 04, 2005

Conservative strains ...

Jonathan Rauch has written a review of Rick Santorum's It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good that is by far the best I have seen. Rauch's analysis is excellent. Here is perhaps the key paragraph:
Where Goldwater denounced collectivism as the enemy of the individual, Santorum denounces individualism as the enemy of family. On page 426, Santorum says this: "In the conservative vision, people are first connected to and part of families: The family, not the individual, is the fundamental unit of society." Those words are not merely uncomfortable with the individual-rights tradition of modern conservatism. They are incompatible with it.
Glenn Reynolds thinks Rauch is suggesting that the Republican Party is splitting. I think he has merely discerned a fissure in American conservatism that has been there from the beginning -- and may well provide a good deal of the movement's vital tension (as Blake observed, "Without contraries is no progression").
Santorum's book is published by ISI Press. ISI stands for Intercollegiate Studies Institute. But that wasn't always the group's name. When Frank Chodorov founded it in 1953, the initials were ISI, but they stood for the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists. Chodorov was an anarcho-individualist, much influenced by the great Albert Jay Nock.
But the man Chodorov chose to head his society was none other than a young fellow fresh out Yale by the name of William F. Buckley Jr., whose father, Frank, had been a friend of Nock's. ISI, under both its names, has consistently explored all of the strands of conservatism and has been pretty open throughout its history to all of the movement's often contending factions. In 1968 I lectured at an ISI summer school held at Rockford College (I spoke on Nock). The followers of objectivist Ayn Rand and also those of radical libertarian Murray Rothbard were tough to deal with.
There have always been in the American conservative movement those who have wanted to place government at the service of traditional morality. But there have also always been those who have cautioned agianst going too far in the direction (Buckley is one of them). The split in the movement -- which has, as I say, always been there -- is between the traditionalists on the one hand, and the libertarians on the other. (At the last Republican National Convention the libertarian wing of the party -- represented by Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger -- was more on display than ever before.)
Santorum is a Catholic, and his view that the family, not the individual, is the basic unit of society, is standard Roman Catholic social doctrine. There has, by the way, been from the beginning a strong Catholic strain running through American conservatism.
But is Santorum's view, as Rauch suggests, incompatible with what he calls "individual-rights conservatism?" Philosophically, there may well be a number of irreconcilable differences between the two viewpoints. But the two sides have more in common with each other -- a commitment to free enterprise, a belief in the principle of subsidairity, among others -- than either has with the political left. Reagan, a very skillful politician, played both sides of the aisle and never identified himself exclusively with either. The two sides drive hard bargains, but they usually manage to cut a deal.

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