EXCLUSIVE REVIEW: It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good: A Book Review
Deacon Keith Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
"No discussion of moral capital and its effect on our moral ecology and the family is complete without addressing directly the great moral issue of our age. Abortion is a toxin, methodically polluting our fragile moral ecosystem. It poisons everyone it touches, from the mother and her ill-fated child, to the mother and father's families, to the abortion provider, to each of us who stand as silent witness to this destruction and debasement of human life. As a result of abortion for more than thirty years, over a quarter of all children conceived in America never took their first breath."
Senator Rick Santorum
I will never forget sitting in the Senate chambers in 1996 with other pro-life leaders during a debate on what is called "partial birth abortion". We all now know what this act entails, the forced pulling of a child down the birth canal, ripped from the sanctuary of first home of the whole human race, her mothers' womb - just far enough- to the point where her brains can be suctioned so as to collapse her skull and kill her. That is what occurs in this gruesome procedure. Of course, we do not like to hear of it. We rightly recoil when we do. There is clearly no medical justification for this brutal act; it is intrinsically evil and immoral.
Yet, under the horrors of the framework of the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v Wade, and the subsequent expansion of this horrid abuse of judicial authority, this procedure has been "protected" by law. It is actually called a "right."
That day I experienced of the heroic and inspired leadership of Senator Rick Santorum. I had just finished listened to the sophistry of a woman senator who had tried to justify this horror by playing to emotions and alluding to women who would somehow suffer if this evil act was outlawed. She said that she heard their cries. I was troubled by her abuse of her elected office to protect this barbarism. I was disturbed by the use of unbridled power over those who have no voice, because it is muffled by the womb, in the name of some "right" created out of whole cloth by a misguided and mistaken judiciary. I was sickened that this most extreme form of late term abortion was being defended by public officials like this woman who knew the truth, but continued the lie.
Then, Senator Rick Santorum spoke, calmly yet passionately, with the authority that comes from the truth and needs no emotional manipulation to persuade those who are listening: "The senator ...said she hears the cries of women outside this chamber. We would be deafened by the cries of the children who are not here to cry because of this procedure". He then turned to his colleague on the Senate floor and cried out with a prophetic urgency: "Where do we draw the line? Some people have likened this procedure to an appendectomy. That's not an appendix!" He pointed to a diagram he was using to make his appeal which showed a child being partially delivered. "That is not a blob of tissue. It is a baby. It's a baby!"
At that moment- and we all heard it - a baby cried. That cry filled the chamber and changed the environment. At least one Senator had the courage to give a voice to all those children. It was if that cry was the song of solidarity and Senator Santorum became the champion of those who had no one to speak for them. He also became a champion to me.
Shortly after that experience, my family and I relocated to Northern Virginia where I pursued further graduate theology work and engaged in advocacy on behalf of the causes to which I have committed my work. As a Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia, I sought and received faculties to serve in my neighboring Diocese of Arlington while I was engaged in my studies outside of my Diocese. I was assigned to St Catherine of Sienna parish in Great Falls, Virginia. It turned out that was also the Senators parish. For three years I had the privilege of witnessing his genuine faith and his beautiful commitment to his family on a weekly basis. I found in him a man who lives what he professes. I also found in his family the beauty of Catholic teaching on the family as a domestic church, lived and demonstrated for all to see.
Over time, my admiration for this man has only grown as I have followed his career. Throughout my own career, I have hung a picture of St. Thomas More, the patron of all politicians and public servants, in my office. As a human rights and constitutional lawyer, Thomas more has been my patron, an example of a faithful Catholic who always lived a unity of life and never compromised the truth. When I first visited the Senators office, I was not surprised to see the same painting on his wall. I have long believed that he is a contemporary Thomas More; a man who 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 legislation, a legal equivalency between homosexual relationships, unmarried heterosexual relationships and marriage and with clarity and conviction warns of the dangers of such a serious error and flagrant disregard of the natural law.
The framework for a governing vision set forth in this fine book is built upon the authors discussion of different types of "capital"; social, economic, moral, cultural and intellectual and how together they can serve the common good. In fact, the subtitle of the book is extremely important, because this entire vision for a truly free and virtuous society is tied to his excellent presentation of the classical vision of the common good. He also takes on the root issue behind every other issue, the struggle over the definition of freedom. Freedom must be exercised with reference to the truth and serve the common good. In an age that has mistaken the right to do what one wants as 'freedom", the Senator re-presents a freedom to do what is right, with responsibility to the other and at the service of the common good.
The issues that we currently face -and their solutions - cannot be easily labeled as "liberal" or "conservative", "left" or "right". They concern how we will define our future and whether we will have one. Our age cries out for a new political vocabulary and a new generation of public servants who truly care and understand the hour in which we live. We are engaged in a struggle for the future of freedom itself. In the words of Pope John Paul the Great, "freedom itself needs to be set free". In the name of "rights" we have allowed persons to be treated as property, instead of protecting every life from conception to natural death. The right to life is the first right and the freedom to be born is the first freedom, without it there are no others.
We have heard few new ideas concerning our obligations in solidarity with the poor and needy. In fact, we have often failed to hear their cry. This book presents many. We have experienced an erosion of the moral foundation of our social order, as we fail to protect the place of marriage and the family as the first vital cell of society. The authors' discussion of how to create a family friendly public policy which promotes fidelity and encourages motherhood, fatherhood and in tact families is well thought out and practical. It could develop into an entire public policy agenda and platform for the next election. But, it will take a leader who can both articulate a vision and help to implement it.
There are many voices pointing out the failures of government but few voices articulating a vision for good governance. We desperately need true leaders, intelligent men and women of conviction and courage, who will impart such a vision and help us to build a better Nation.
"It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good" is a manifesto for a new kind of politics. It presents a compelling vision for building a future of true freedom by building a culture of life, family, freedom and solidarity. When liberalism loses its soul, it becomes libertinism. When conservatism loses its soul, it becomes libertarianism. This book proclaims liberty. It does more than critique what is wrong; it proposes a path to a brighter future. It is a must read for anyone who cares about this nation and our future together. I hope that it is widely read and that its insights form an agenda for governing.
Then, it will take a leader.
Keith A Fournier served as a human rights lawyer and public policy advocate for twenty five years. He is a graduate of the Franciscan University of Steubenville, the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University and the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Law. He is a married Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia. He is the founder of Common Good and was a co-founder of Your Catholic Voice. The author of seven books and hundreds of articles, his eighth book, "The Prayer of Mary: Living the Surrendered Life" will be in bookstores in August. Deacon Fournier is the Senior Editor of Catholic Online and the Associate Director of Deacons for Life.
Third Millennium, LLC
http://www.catholic.org VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - Deacon, 757 546-9580
It Takes a Family
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