Saturday, April 17, 2010

What's the difference between government and mother?

What's the difference between mother and the government? (This is not a riddle)

If the conduct of contemporary lawmakers is anything to go by, the answer is: not a lot

At least that is what I suggest in my book The Twilight of Liberalism. (To order a copy of the book, click HERE.)

In the book I use the nomenclature of the 'maternal 'state to describe a government that assumes the function of Mother. The maternal state is there to nurture us, to train us, to instruct us, to keep our toys safe, to be guardian of our possessions, to be our tutor in the way of virtue and, like a good mother, to make sure we share our belongings with our brothers and sisters.

The confusion between statecraft and motherhood is an ancient one. When Diocletian (pictured left) published his Edict of 301, mandating the persecution of Christians and destroying the few remaining liberties of the old Roman republic, he justified it by referring to himself and his associates as “the watchful parents of the whole human race.” Contemporary governments are increasingly following the pattern of Diocletian by acting, not simply as the guardians of law and order, but as mother to their citizens. I would like consider five overlapping areas where this is the case.

Government’s Maternal Eye

Part of a mother’s vocation involves educating her children in the path of virtue (Proverbs 1:8-9) and nourishing their bodies in growth. When government assumes the role of mother, the state begins to have a constant eye on our education, an eye on
our virtue, an eye on our growth and an eye on the all-around development of the human personality.[1] 

The result is that we all begin to belong to each other under the supra-parenthood of the state. As Hillary Clinton expressed it, “As adults we have to start thinking and believing that there isn't really any such thing as someone else's child. My child, your child, all children everywhere, must live and make their ways in society, and now, in the increasingly shrinking world we live in, in the larger globe as well.”[2]

Our lives become the business of the state and, as a corollary, the business of each other, because the state, like a good mother, has assumed responsibility for our growth and training. As C.S. Lewis remarked

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