Chapter 4

Hillary Clinton's Anti-Individualism

First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton epitomizes some of the problems individualism faces in contemporary America. Beginning with the sensible if often exaggerated proverb that "it takes a village" to raise children, she ends up, in her book It Takes a Village, calling on all 250 million Americans to raise each child. Of course, we can't possibly all take responsibility for millions of children. Clinton calls for "a consensus of values and a common vision of what we can do today, individually and collectively, to build strong families and communities." But there can be no such collective consensus. In any free society, millions of people will have different ideas about how to form families, how to rear children, and how to associate voluntarily with others. Those differences are not just a result of a lack of understanding each other; no matter how many Harvard seminars and National Conversations funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities we have, we will never come to a national consensus on such intimate moral matters. Clinton implicitly recognizes that when she insists that there will be times when "the village itself [read: the federal government] must act in place of parents" and accept "those responsibilities in all our names through the authority we vest in government." In the end, then, she reveals her anti-libertarianism: Government must make decisions about how we raise our children.

Even when the government doesn't step in to take children from their parents, Clinton sees it constantly advising, nagging, hectoring parents: "Videos with scenes of commonsense baby care--how to burp an infant, what to do when soap gets in his eyes, how to make a baby with an earache comfortable--could be running continuously in doctors' offices, clinics, hospitals, motor vehicle offices, or any other place where people gather and have to wait." The childcare videos could alternate with videos on the Food Pyramid, the evils of smoking and drugs, the need for recycling, the techniques of safe sex, the joys of physical fitness, and all the other things the responsible adult citizens of a complex modern society need to know. Sort of like the telescreen in 1984.

When Bill Clinton announced that by his own authority he was issuing new regulations on tobacco and smoking in the name of "the young people of the United States," he said, "We're their parents, and it is up to us to protect them." Hillary Clinton told Newsweek, "There is no such thing as other people's children." These are profoundly anti-individualist and anti-family claims. Instead of recognizing individual parents as moral agents who can and must take responsibility for their own decisions and actions, the Clintons would absorb them into a giant mass of collective parenting directed by the federal government.

The growing state has increasingly treated adult citizens as children. It takes more and more money from those who produce it, doling it back to us like an allowance, through a myriad of "transfer programs" ranging from Head Start and student loans to farm subsidies, corporate welfare, unemployment programs, and Social Security. It doesn't trust us to decide for ourselves (even in consultation with our doctors) what medicines to take, or where our children should go to school, or what we can access through our computers. The state's all-encompassing embrace is particularly smothering for those who fall into its much-touted safety net, which ends up trapping people in a nightmare world of subsidy and dependence, taking away their obligation as responsible adults to support themselves and sapping them of their self-respect. A caller to a talk show on the government radio network complained recently, "You can't cut the budget without causing the total economic and in some cases physical annihilation of millions of us who have nowhere to turn except to the federal government." What has the government done to make millions of adult Americans afraid that they could not survive the loss of a welfare check?

Libertarians sometimes say, "Conservatives want to be your daddy, telling you what to do and what not to do. Liberals want to be your mommy, feeding you, tucking you in, and wiping your nose. Libertarians want to treat you as an adult." Libertarianism is the kind of individualism that is appropriate to a free society--treating people as adults, letting them make their own decisions even when they make mistakes, trusting them to find the best solutions for their own lives.


| Order Libertarianism | About the Author | Home Page | The Libertarian Reader | Next Excerpt |