Monday, February 13, 2012

Is Rick Santorum a closet liberal?

Here he is discussing some differences between conservatives:

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.

Very interesting. If I wasn't told this was Santorum I would have guessed a liberal wrote that, aside from the part about the bedroom and cultural issues.

I think he is partially correct to say most conservatives don't believe in the idea of personal autonomy. Santorum himself says he doesn't. But to give him and modern conservatives some credit, they do believe in some personal autonomy in some situations. Like liberals, they don't believe in complete personal autonomy. Liberals and conservatives just draw the lines in different places. Conservatives on cultural issues and liberals on mostly economic issues. I'd argue both draw the line on some basic moral issues.

And most liberals would agree with him that individuals can't go it alone. He is correct that no society believes that, nor probably has believed that. It's fundamentally at odds with humans as a species. I give Satorum a lot of credit for saying this because many in his party speak in such ways that suggest they don't believe it. I think he invokes radical individualism in this context because it's so prevalent in his party and he wants to speak against it. He just choses weird issues for which to oppose that line of thinking, mainly modern cultural issues.

What is also notable is that he appears to be saying that he disagrees with conservatives who claim that taxes and regulations are a core part of personal autonomy. I'm not sure if Andrew left out more context in which Santorum adds an exception for taxes and regulations, but if not Santorum is taking the liberal view that the gov't can impose itself on personal autonomy by making taxes higher and having more regulations. Of all the things you could have told me I would do when I woke up today I wouldn't have had agreeing with Rick Santorum anywhere close to the top.

But here I am agreeing with him on a basic view of the world and the scope of gov't power within it. However, I firmly disagree with the cultural issues. I think personal autonomy can be imposed upon when an individual harms the personal autonomy of others or of society as a whole. I don't agree with Santorum that homosexuality, gay marriage, abortion, contraception, and whatever else he wants to throw in there meet that threshold for harm to the individual or society.

I also don't agree that taxes and regulation should be thought of in the same sense that who you have sex with and marry are in Santorum's conception of personal autonomy. But that doesn't change the basic point.

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