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By Keith A Fournier

4/12/2013 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (

So how should we respond? We should reject her straw man argument entirely. It is not a matter of individualist vs. collectivist thinking at all.

The real key to understanding Ms Harris-Perry is her use of the word "collectively." She argues that children belong collectively to the State. Thus, she is a collectivist. Since her views are of the leftist variety, she is being accused by some of her interlocutors being a socialist. However, collectivism, whether of the right or the left, must be completely rejected. It is a grave threat to authentic human freedom.

Melissa Harris-Perry

Melissa Harris-Perry


By Keith A Fournier

Catholic Online (

4/12/2013 (2 years ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: Melissa Harris-Perry, Collectivism, Parents, Presidential Election of 2016, Rick Santorum, Hilary Clinton, Keith Fournier, Deacon Keith Fournier

WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - Since the furor over Melissa Harris-Perry's comments has not died down, I have decided to weigh in. For my readers who may not yet know what the comments were, here is a transcript of a commercial she did for the MSNBC network:

"We have never invested as much in public education as we should have. We haven't had a very collective notion of, these are our children. We have to break through our private idea that children belong to their parents, or children belong to their families, and recognize that children belong to whole communities. Once it's everybody's responsibility and not just the household's, we start making better investments."

Media pundits have been busily dissecting Ms Harris-Perry's words in this controversial commercial. She has partially succeeded in what she probably intended, bringing notoriety to herself in order to continue her efforts to remake the social vision of this Nation.

Some defending her views have tried to dismiss the outrage they elicited among those who object to collectivism as simply 'right wing' or 'conservative'. They use both as terms of derision in order to dismiss the argument without engaging in any intelligent debate.

Some thoughtful analysts pointed out that her basic premise in the first sentence is false, that we have not spent enough on public education. The truth is we spend much more than most Nations and we have reaped very poor results. 

I also take exception to the straw man argument in her second sentence. Her effort is clear, to denigrate the role of parents and the value of the family. Respecting the primacy of parents and the family is not a private notion at all. It is profoundly public and has great implications for how we structure our society.

Her language is loaded. She intentionally makes it sound as though the idea of the primacy of parents is an outdated concept which makes children property. That is nonsense. Worse, it is propaganda of the rankest kind.

She simply wants to demean those who believe that children are given to parents and that the family is the first cell of society because she has a very different idea of how we should structure the social order. 

The real key to understanding Ms Harris-Perry is her use of the word "collectively." She argues that children belong collectively to the State. Thus, she is a collectivist. Since her views are of the leftist variety, she is being accused by some of her interlocutors being a socialist. However, collectivism, whether of the right or the left, must be completely rejected. It is a grave threat to authentic human freedom.

So how should we respond? We should reject her straw man argument entirely. It is not a matter of individualist vs. collectivist thinking at all. We affirm the proper understanding of our obligation in solidarity but insist upon its proper application through the principle of subsidiarity.

Solidarity acknowledges that we are our brother and sister's keeper. We are responsible for one another. This is true. In fact, we are not fully human unless we are in relationship with one another. Freedom and human flourishing are not found in a notion of the isolated individual as the ground of human freedom.

We were made to give ourselves in love and service to the other; to form societies and communities of interest. We build societies to further humanize us, enable us to live in peace together and promote human flourishing. The role of mediating associations is to assist in governing and play their proper role between the family and governing structures beyond it. 

Children are given to parents and extend the family circle. All other government must defer to this first cell of social government and move out - or up - from there, never usurping the primacy of the family. The family is the first government, the first school, first economy, first hospital, first church and the first mediating institution. The proper role of any Government is to support the first government in the home and empower parents and the family.

We need a family friendly public policy which promotes fidelity and encourages motherhood, fatherhood and intact families. We do not need collectivism. The argument which this comment by Melissa Harris-Perry's endorsement of collectivism engendered reminded me of a book I read and reviewed years ago, It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good . It was authored by a friend, Rick Santorum. He was contending with an argument much like the one made by Ms Harris-Perry by Hilary Clinton in a book she wrote entitled It Takes a Village. 

As the 2016 Presidential election approaches, the issues raised by both books should help to define and frame the debate. Melissa Harris-Perry may have actually helped to pave the way for  a discussion we desperately need to have as a Nation.


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