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EXCLUSIVE REVIEW: It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good: A Book Review

7/25/2005 - 5:11 AM PST

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exemplifies exactly what we so desperately need in public service these days. He is an intelligent and deep man, who truly serves the people who elected him, and his Nation, while remaining faithful to his deeply held convictions. He has a heart for those who have no voice and is dedicated to the common good of all.

When I received his book, “It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good”, I was first struck by the title. I have been writing about the concept of the common good for years, attempting to call my fellow Catholics, other Christians, people of faith and people of good will to rediscover the right foundation for their social, cultural, economic and political participation, the service of the common good. I really hoped that what I would find within the pages of this book would not disappoint. I have grown tired of much of the political activism of the age, it is filled with sloganeering and lacking in substance.

I have rejected contemporary political labels. My positions on the major issues of our age make it very hard for me to “fit” any labels. I am pro-life, pro-family, pro-freedom (rightly understood), pro-poor and pro-peace. I seek to inform my political, social, cultural and economic participation by the principles derived from my Catholic faith and the Churches wonderful social teaching which is not simply for Catholics, other Christians, or even simply religious people, but rather for all people. I was delighted to see that the framework of this wonderful book follows the insights and principles that are derived from that rich body of teaching. The Author acknowledges the influence of Catholic social teaching on his thought. However, he does much more; he presents real substantive ideas, rooted in the principles derived from that teaching, in a readable and engaging book which is a breath of fresh air in a stagnant political landscape. “It Takes a family: Conservatism and the Common Good” presents a governing vision for the future of this Nation.

The author clearly understands the essential relationship between solidarity, (the truth that we are indeed our brothers keeper and that we have an obligation to the needy), and the application of the principle of subsidiarity, an ordering principle which encourages good governance by recognizing the vital role of the family and the mediating associations and institutions as participating in that governance, starting from below, at the smallest level first. He does not fall prey to the trend in some “conservative” circles to reject the right role of government, or the tendency in some “liberal” circles to exalt its federalized version and move from the top down in its application. Rather, he presents what I would call a vision of “good governance”, good in its moral foundation and good in its practical application. His treatment of the right role of faith based and community initiatives is insightful, thorough and replete with numerous real life, inspiring, stories from people whose lives, families and communities have been transformed.

He acknowledges the past shortcomings of “conservatives” in failing to reach out to the poor and presents an honest and compelling vision for how they can change that - and are doing so. However, I wish that he had broadened his own language. He uses the word “conservative” throughout the book and at times it sounds as though he is indicating that conservatism is the solution. He does try to clarify what he means by making helpful distinctions. He references great conservative thinkers such as Russell Kirk and separates himself from the failures of some contemporary conservative efforts.

However, I believe that the ideas compellingly presented in this fine book will appeal to some who still identify themselves as “liberals”, even though that term has been stolen by the modern cultural revolutionaries. I also it believe these ideas will inspire Democrats whose party, at least at the national level, has been hijacked. He does make reference to people like Zell Miller and pro-life Democrats in order to emphasize that he recognizes there are Democrats who share these ideas. But I believe that these ideas must become a clarion call for all people who, like me, are uncomfortable with modern political labels.

He writes of religious freedom as a fundamental human right and articulates a clear and compelling understanding of the First Amendment, with both its establishment and free exercise clauses. In fact, the book gives an excellent treatment of this vitally important subject. He also takes on the horrid abuse of judicial power, analyzing the growing problems arising out of the threats to the separation of powers. But by far, the strongest part of this book is its clear analysis of the role of the family as the foundation of a truly free and virtuous society. He takes on the growing efforts to establish, by judicial fiat or poor ...

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