« When Will Rupert Buy It? | The RCP Blog Home Page | It Depends on the Definition of "Illegal" »

'Santorum, Social Engineer'

Perhaps my least popular post ever here was a criticism of Sen. Rick Santorum. My problem with Santorum, however, isn't that he's a Christian conservative (though there are more than a few social positions of his to which I would take exception). What Santorum represents that is unhealthy for the GOP, in my view, is big-government social conservatism.

The Cato Institute's David Boaz lays out Santorum's views on the role of the federal government here, quoting from some Santorum campaign materials as well as from a profile of Santorum by Jonathan Rauch. In his profile, Rauch recounts the many government interventions the senator supports in his book, It Takes a Family: "national service, promotion of prison ministries, 'individual development accounts,' publicly financed trust funds for children, community-investment incentives, strengthened obscenity enforcement, covenant marriage, assorted tax breaks, economic literacy programs in 'every school in America (his italics), and more."

Over at National Review (a pretty pro-Santorum place), Jonah Goldberg chimes in, calling Santorum a "social engineer" and reaffirming the more traditional conservative view that the federal government's role in promoting civil society should mostly be limited to staying out of the way:

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.

Goldberg qualifies his agreement with Boaz and other libertarian critics of Santorum a bit. But basically what he's enunciating is the concept of "fusionism," the idea that libertarian conservatives and social conservatives should both support a limited federal government.

Santorum-style conservatism abandons the old fusionist bargain between conservatism's two main branches. And to the extent the GOP moves in his direction, it leaves libertarian conservatives (such as myself) unsure of why they should support the modern Republican Party.