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Jewish World Review Jan. 7, 2000 /28 Teves, 5760

Thomas Sowell

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Retail socialism -- Much of the history of the twentieth century can be seen as testing various ideologies produced in the nineteenth century. At a vast economic cost and a staggering cost in human lives, we learned that collectivism does not work.

The sundry varieties of collectivism -- Communism, Fascism, Nazism -- were once widely believed to be "the wave of the future," though each met disasters that made it a relic of the past.

Painful as it is to recall what a price was paid to disprove a theory, it is even more sobering to realize that the underlying assumptions of collectivism continue to flourish today. The idea that collective decisions, made by third parties, are to be imposed by force to override decisions made by individuals for themselves continues to spread. We seem to have learned nothing from the failures and catastrophes that such ideas have produced around the world.

Wholesale collectivism, sailing under its own colors, no longer has any appeal. What is thriving is retail collectivism, sailing under a variety of colors as environmentalism, anti-discrimination policies, safety regulations and social services. None of these makes the explicit case for collective decision-making by third parties. Instead, each stresses the supposedly crying need that it is striving to meet.

Perhaps the most dangerous of these retail collectivisms is the notion popularized by Hillary Clinton that "it takes a village" to raise a child. This is more than just a pious phrase coined by spin-masters. It is a whole mindset behind numerous government programs that operate through schools and other points of access to children to impose outsiders' notions on families.

Whether it is sex education in the schools or "home visitation" programs by social agencies, the point is to replace the decisions of parents by collective decisions made by third parties who presume themselves superior in wisdom or virtue -- and who pay no price for being wrong, the Achilles heel of collectivism.

Most Americans have no idea what pervasive and systematic efforts to undermine parental authority have been made in textbooks, movies and other materials used in public schools nationwide. A book for toddlers about mothers is titled "Why Are You so Mean to Me" and another is titled "Mommy Go Away!"

What is offered as replacements for parental authority and traditional values are the currently fashionable notions of "experts" and the guidance of one's peers. There are even "trust-building" exercises designed to get school children to rely on their classmates, who are of course as inexperienced and immature as themselves -- and whose lack of judgment is just as dangerous as their own.

Another way of replacing parental decisions about how to raise their own children with the collective beliefs of others is with "home visitation" programs. "I cannot say enough in support of home visits," is Hillary Clinton's endorsement. Nor should these visits always be "consensual," according to Hillary.

Home visitations by social workers and others are sold as ways of preventing child abuse and providing "parenting skills" to those who need them. Whether or not they actually accomplish such purposes -- and the evidence is inconclusive, at best -- they get the camel's nose inside the tent and the family's profile into computerized databases, where parents' raising of their children can be second-guessed by social workers and others.

The methods these visitors use to get into people's home and records are not what most people would regard as informed consent. Sometimes they get expectant mothers to sign the necessary forms while in labor or after returning groggy from the hospital delivery room. Often the home visitors are carried on the books as unpaid hospital "employees." This not only gives them entree to trusting patients, as if they were part of the medical staff, but also gives them access to the patients' medical records.

Who are these visitors and what are their qualifications? Their education need not exceed high school and their training may range from a few days to a few weeks -- after which these instant experts are to go into other people's homes and tell them how to raise their children, according to the fads of the day.

At one time, the insider's line was, "I can get it for you wholesale." Today, the collectivists' strategy is to get it for you retail. Home visitation programs are part of a much larger picture of collectivism on the instalment plan.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author, most recently, of The Quest for Cosmic Justice.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate