Santorum wrestles intelligently, often impressively, with the biggest of big ideas: freedom, virtue, civil society, the Founders’ intentions. Although he is a Catholic who is often characterized as a religious conservative, he has written a book whose ambitions are secular. As its subtitle promises, it is about conservatism, not Christianity.First, as my previous post has shown, the conservative movement has never really been of one philosophy, so Rauch's idea that it has "split" is not really correct. Nonetheless, the fact remains that Santorum is promoting a new kind of conservatism.
Above all, it is worth noticing because, like Goldwater’s Conscience, it lays down a marker. As Goldwater repudiated Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, so Santorum repudiates Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. It’s now official: Philosophically, the conservative movement has split. Post-Santorum, tax cutting and court bashing cannot hold the Republican coalition together much longer.
As a policy book, It Takes a Family is temperate. It offers a healthy reminder that society needs not just good government but strong civil and social institutions, and that the traditional family serves essential social functions. Government policies, therefore, should respect and support family and civil society instead of undermining or supplanting them. Parents should make quality time at home a high priority. Popular culture should comport itself with some sense of responsibility and taste.
Where Goldwater denounced collectivism as the enemy of the individual, Santorum denounces individualism as the enemy of family. “In the conservative vision,” he writes, “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 in tension with the individual-rights tradition of modern conservatism. They are incompatible with it.Especially since he offers a litany of government programs to foster this promotion of the family. Though the goals may be laudable, the turn to government as the dispenser of a pro-family will concern many conservatives.
Santorum seems to sense as much. In an August interview with National Public Radio, he acknowledged his quarrel with “what I refer to as more of a libertarianish Right” and “this whole idea of personal autonomy.” In his book he comments, seemingly with a shrug, “Some will reject what I have to say as a kind of ‘Big Government’ conservatism.”