Galston on Santorum

Now that Rick Santorum is having his moment–and it may be no more than a moment–as the latest asprirant to the role of True Conservative Alternative To Mitt Romney, it’s not a bad time to take a more serious look at the guy–more serious, perhaps, than the mockery he so richly earned from Dan Savage and many others.

Readers of the Washington Monthly don’t have to look very far. Bill Galston (disclosure: he’s a friend and mentor, and also co-editor, with Stan Greenberg and Ruy Teixeira, of The Democratic Strategist, the web-site I manage) reviewed Santorum’s book It Takes A Family for the Monthly six years ago this month, and the review remains interesting reading.

As Galston noted back then, Santorum was seeking to impose on American conservatism a type of old-school Catholic social and political philosophy, rooted in the concept of subsidiarism, that is alien to the constitutional tradition and the distinctive American attachment to individualism. But as Galston also noted, Santorum wasn’t especially loyal to his own purported tradition insofar as he seemed completely blind to the destructive impact of market capitalism on families and the other voluntary social bonds he so lavishly praised. Moreover, in deifying the traditional family and seeking government support for its perpetuation, Santorum failed to distinguish that institution’s own manifest shortcomings. The review’s conclusion is succinct:

In the end, Santorum does not have the courage of his convictions. The logic of his argument should lead him to conclude that parents are not free to raise and educate their children in ways that undermine universal moral truths and socially essential virtues. He shrinks from this conclusion, I suspect, because he understands that his fellow citizens would never accept it. Yet, his premises point straight toward the ultimate concentration of state power we call theocracy. Nothing could be farther from the intention of the Framers in whose name Santorum claims to speak.

Galston nails the incoherent quality of Santorum’s “thinking” that leads hammer-headed conventional conservatives like Erick Erickson to label him a “pro-life statist.” They have to point to votes for earmarks and No Child Left Behind to justify their unease with him, but they rightly feel he’s not One of Them, which makes his current “surge” all the more a sign of the abiding power of theocratic impulses in the conservative movement.

Aside from giving us insights into the ideology, such as it is, of Rick Santorum, Galston’s review is also a reminder of the value of the Washington Monthly as a regular outlet–increasingly rare these days–for political book reviews. I’m proud to have contributed a number of them over the years, and think it’s some of the best stuff I’ve ever written. If you for some reason don’t read the Monthly‘s book reviews, you are really missing something, as would everyone if this publication were not around.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.