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The Big Answer

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Rights Talk: The Impoverishment of Political Discourse

a book by Mary Ann Glendon

(our site's book review)

The author cites the agreement that conservatives and liberals have over why family policy is worth discussing: “. . . healthy families enable individuals to reach their full potential; dysfunctional families breed delinquency and crime; families are the main source upon which we depend for the work force that funds our social security system and that sustains our competitive position in the world economy.”

She really gets to the heart of the matter when she says that: “If history teaches us anything, it is that liberal democracy is not just a given; that there seems to be conditions that are more, or less, favorable to its maintenance, and that these conditions importantly involve character—the character of individual citizens, and the character of those who serve the public in legislative, executive, judicial, or administrative capacities. Character, too, has conditions—residing to no small degree in nurture and education.”

She goes on to address the connection between child-raising conditions and crime rates, etc. She bemoans the lack of civic spirit in our young, who see only rights but not responsibilities and duties. This lack of feel for the common good leads to tyranny, as Tocqueville warned. Our leaders feign a feel for the common good, all the while lining the pockets of the Corporatocracy and their own pockets. We've left democracy behind and have entered the oligarchy phase of our downward slide into feudalism. (See The US is an oligarchy, study concludes.)

Healthy, nurturing, close-knit family
Healthy, nurturing, close-knit family

She looks at family ecology in which individuals are greatly influenced by conditions within families and also families are greatly influenced by conditions relating to their social networks and connections. Next, she examines the connection between good outcomes and at least one caregiver in a child’s environment (not necessarily a parent) closely bonded to the child. “The better the quality of the home environment, the more competence was displayed by the children.” Role models, mentors and opportunities for support in youth groups were also found to be significant. Regarding welfare bureaucracies, she looked at findings that showed that: “In many situations it might make better sense and be less costly as well to strengthen . . . available informal ties to kin and community than it would be to introduce additional layers of bureaucracy into delivery of services.” Head Start was seen as an effective program, however.

In Richard Louv fashion, she bewailed the “fraying of the net of connections between people at many critical intersections,” and then asserted that a sense of membership in a large community (important for civic society and democracy) “grows best when it is grounded in membership in a small one.” (As in microcommunities [MCs].)