by Virginia Postrel • Apr 23, 2003 at 10:06 pm
Eugene Volokh and Andrew Sullivan have ably analyzed the legal and policy arguments behind Sen. Rick Santorum's now- infamous comment that "if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything." (In the process, and not for the first time, Eugene has let blogging ruin his chances of becoming a federal judge.)
What I don't get is why sophisticated pundits imagine that Rick Santorum might think that the Constitution protects sexual privacy or that the government should stay out of people's sex lives.
Santorum is, first of all, from Pennsylvania, a highly traditional state with an aging population whose don't-make-waves politics is protective of the status quo and not the least suspicious of government power. I wouldn't expect a Pennsylvania politician to push for new sanctions to regulate sexual behavior, but neither would I expect one to push to get current laws overturned.
For a Pennsylvania pol, Santorum is actually quite the intellectual. And he's always been upfront about his political principles. Andrew Sullivan is being disingenuous when he writes, "Has Santorum heard of limited government? It was once a conservative idea, you know, Senator."
As Andrew well knows, limited government is a liberal idea. It only seems conservative in the Anglo-American context because we've had several hundred years of liberal tradition. But there are older, pre-liberal conservative traditions, including a rather prominent one to which Rich Santorum outspokenly adheres--a tradition that honors hierarchy, solidarity, and "natural law" and sees liberal individualism as a source of decay.
As a sample, here's what Santorum writes about the pedophilia scandals in the Catholic Church:
Any religious tradition as rich and varied as Roman Catholicism obviously has its liberal strands; the history of classical liberalism includes notable Catholic thinkers; and, to the chagrin of much of the Church hierarchy, most American Catholics have thoroughly embraced Anglo-American liberal individualism. But the conservative Catholic tradition to which Rick Santorum owes his primary intellectual allegiance is not liberal. It recognizes no public-private distinction on matters of sexual morality. Stop pretending you're so shocked.
Comment on this item
Buy Virginia's Books
Copyright 2013 Virginia Postrel. All commercial rights reserved.