April 18, 2024
As Nisbet alludes to, the “mediating institutions” that sit in the space between the state and the individual — the family, the church, the community centers, parochial schools, and so on — are the basis of civic virtue. For those institutions to flourish, the political regime must allow them a wide sphere of freedom. In this sense, parental freedom is a cornerstone of a good society. But the “freedom” is the means; the “good” is the end.

DeSantis’ Latest Bill Exposes the Limits of Parents’ Rights

What we’re truly debating is a vision of what society is and should be

The slate of “parent’s rights” bills that swept through red-state legislatures over the past three years may have seemed innocuous enough to the average observer; in fact, even the most controversial of the bills proved to be broadly popular with the American public. But left-wing writers saw more malign motives lurking under the hood. Jamelle Bouie was one such writer. His March 2023 New York Times column, ominously titled “What the Republican Push for ‘Parents’ Rights’ is Really All About,” warned readers of the movement’s nefarious intent to undo progress, empower reactionaries, and “undermine public education,” among numerous other evils — an argument that was almost indistinguishable from the hundreds of other columns to the same effect. But in between a recitation of the conventional progressive script, Bouie briefly happened upon a kernel of truth: “‘Parents’ rights,’ like ‘states’ rights,’ is quite particular. It’s not about all parents and all children and all the rights they might have.”

This was, of course, exactly right. But it wasn’t liberal readers who needed to hear it. The fact is that neither the parents’ rights movement nor the conservatives who support it are really devoted to parents’ rights, at least as abstract concepts, even if they may be personally convinced that they are. In truth, they are devoted to certain parental rights in certain contexts and staunchly opposed in many others. This is good and just; only an ideological fanatic would support the unmitigated and absolute exercise of a particular right in every time, place and venue. “Circumstances,” Burke wrote, “give in reality to every political principle its distinguishing color and discriminating effect.”

Bouie’s argument comes to mind in light of a recent piece from Brad Polumbo, a libertarian writer at the Washington Examiner: “Ron DeSantis just betrayed his promise to champion parental rights.” This betrayal, according to Polumbo, revolves around the Florida governor’s decision to sign a commonsensical — and, in many ways, long overdue — bill restricting children’s social media usage:

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) has long positioned himself as a champion of “parents’ rights,” and that pitch is a huge part of his broad appeal to the public. But the Florida Republican just signed a bill into law that betrays those promises.

The new law is supposed to protect children from the alleged harms of social media. It does this in two major ways: by outright prohibiting Floridians under age 14 from having social media accounts and requiring that 14- and 15-year-olds obtain parental permission before they can have a social media account. 

Polumbo’s argument, in and of itself, is largely unremarkable, following the same essential logic as every other libertarian argument: “It is not the government’s job to [X]” — without any further consideration of exactly what [X] is, or what the government’s intervention would really do, or what the material effect of either intervening or not intervening would be on the collective (a word that raises every true-believing libertarian’s hackles) well-being of the nation. But while entirely unconvincing on the merits, the attempt to hoist DeSantis with his own “parents’ rights” petard helps to illustrate an important contradiction written into the so-called parental rights movement.

Interesting Read…

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