The Perils of Parens Patriae, or When the State Becomes Daddy

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“In our dreams, we have limitless resources, and the people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hand.”
~ Frederick Gates, chairman of the Rockefeller-created General Education Board, 1902.

For those of us who love and understand individual freedom, it sometimes seems as if the Atlantic just isn’t wide enough to impede the collaboration of Anglo-American elites seeking to re-mold the world closer to their hearts’ desire.

That last phrase, incidentally, assumes that those elites, who look at us with u201Cbright, dead alien eyes,u201D could be said to have human hearts.

The government of departing British Prime Minister Tony Blair has announced a new initiative entitled the u201CNurse Family Partnershipu201D that would (in the words of the Guardian of London) u201Cintervene as early as possible in troubled families, first-time mothers identified just 16 weeks after conception [who] will be given intensive weekly support from midwives and health visitors until the unborn child reaches two years old.u201D

This program could be considered a form of pre-emptive parens patriae; that phrase refers to the fatherhood of the State. The Guardian captured the essence of the British early-intervention initiative in its headline: u201CUnborn babies targeted in crackdown on criminality.u201D

The Blair government, summarized that left-leaning periodical, u201Cis prepared to single out babies still in the womb to break cycles of deprivation and behaviour…. Under the programme, which has been copied from the United States, young, first-time mothers will be assigned a personal health visitor at between 16 and 20 weeks into their pregnancy. They will continue to have weekly or fortnightly visits until the child is two….u201D (Emphasis added.)

u201CChildren belong to the general family, to the state, before belonging to private families.”
~ French Revolutionary leader Bertrand Barere, whose memory was later invoked by French parents to scare disobedient children (I’m serious)

The objective is for these intruders, who are clothed in the supposed authority of the State (the u201Ccoldest of all cold monstersu201D), to instruct mothers how to care for their own flesh and blood. The program is u201Cvoluntary,u201D for now. It will not remain so.

As noted above, the Nurse Family Partnership (NFP) was devised in the United States by Dr. David Olds of the University of Colorado. It has been implemented in 22 states, and legislation proposed by Senators Ken Salazar (D-Colorado) and Arlen Specter (R-Pennsylvania) would u201Cexpand accessu201D to the program to all 50 states and the District of Columbia u201Cthrough the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) … providing at-home nurse visits for up to 570,000 first-time mothers each year.u201D

For more than a century, collectivist social engineers have extolled the merits of home visitations by State-assigned social workers as a way of circumventing parental authority and establishing a proprietary claim on children. The most notorious recent examples — on this side of the Atlantic, in any case — are Hillary Clinton and Janet Reno, the latter demonstrating her solicitude for children by immolating more than a dozen of them at Mt. Carmel and sending stormtroopers to seize another from his Miami relatives at gunpoint.

In her ghost-written opus It Takes a Village, Madame Hillary rhapsodized that she u201Ccan’t say enoughu201D about the merits of home visitation programs. The Nation’s Alexander Cockburn, whose household acquaintances in England included members of the Fabian Socialist movement, has pointed out that Hillary’s blueprint for social engineering bears a familial resemblance to Fabianism.

“Time and again, reading … It Takes a Village, I was reminded of [Fabian founder] Beatrice Webb,” Cockburn has observed. “There’s the same imperious gleam, the same lust to improve the human condition until it conforms to the wretchedly constricted vision of freedom that gave us social-worker liberalism, otherwise known as therapeutic policing.”


“Home visitation” la
Janet Reno in Miami….


… and in Waco.

In his 1919 book New Worlds for Old, Fabian activist H.G. Wells (better known for his science fiction offerings), laid out the basic premise of u201Ctherapeutic policingu201D: u201CSocialism regards parentage under proper safeguards as ‘not only a duty but a service’ to the state; that is to say, it proposes to pay for good parentage — in other words, to endow the home.u201D

By making the mother dependent on subsidies, the State became the surrogate father. And, as Wells pointed out, the State claims the right to raise u201Citsu201D children, should the natural parents be found unsuitable. This is the tacit but unmistakable threat that accompanies every State official who is permitted to violate the sanctity of the home.

The Blair regime’s NFP Action Plan makes this quite plain, at least to people alert to the nuances of State-speak:

  • Section 1.2 of the Action Plan claims a mandate for the government to assure that nobody is permitted to u201Cwasteu201D his u201Chuman potential,u201D since this is u201Cbad for the whole country.u201D
  • Section 1.6 asserts the State’s right and capacity to take u201Cpreventative actionu201D within the home in order to u201Ctackle problems before they become fully entrenched and blight the lives of both individuals and wider society.u201D
  • Section 1.9 attempts to cast u201Cwider societyu201D as a victim of unregulated families, since u201Cthe behaviour of some people — particularly some of the most challenging families — causes real disruption and distress in the community around them.u201D


    ZZ Top they ain’t, but they are one of history’s most notable power trios, “The Therapeutic Police”: Fabian founders Beatrice and Sydney Webb (from the left, appropriately), and Fabian popularizer George Bernard Shaw.

Thus the need, as the Blair regime and its American consultant describe it, to u201Cdevelop and promote better prediction tools for use by front-line practitionersu201D and take measures u201Cto ensure that those identified as at risk are followed up.u201D

Some sense of the purpose of u201Cfollowing upu201D on u201Cat risku201D families can be found in the British Government’s Policy Review paper, u201CThe Role of the Stateu201D:

u201CThe state … has the legitimate monopoly of force in a given territory,u201D that paper begins, immediately laying a totalitarian foundation (from Lenin — the State exercises u201Cpower without limit, resting directly on forceu201D; from Mussolini — u201CEverything within the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the Stateu201D).

The Fabian Socialist crest depicts a wolf in sheep’s clothing — a suitable symbol for that subversive movement, and an apt metaphor for government “home visitation” programs.

The NFP initiative, the paper continues, is inspired by the vision of a u201Cstrategic and enabling stateu201D which would be u201Cless about command and control and more about collaboration and partnership.u201D The state will u201Cfocus on ends, not the means by which [its] goals are delivered,u201D working through u201Ca new partnership between the State and the citizen.u201D

Ah, but remember that the u201Ccollaboratoru201D and u201Cpartneru201D offering its assistance to the citizen claims u201Cthe legitimate monopoly of force,u201D which means that in the event of a dispute, it is the citizen, not the State, that will be compelled to yield.

To anyone even slightly familiar with the tenets of the Clinton-era u201CThird Way,u201D or the nostrums of the attenuated variety of Marxism called u201CCommunitarianism,u201D none of this will be new. It may strike some as remarkable that the American version of the NFP program has become so deeply entrenched during the reign of George W. Bush, but this wouldn’t be considered odd by those who understand u201Ccompassionate conservatismu201D to be politically enharmonic with Clinton’s u201CI Feel Your Painu201D-style corporatism.

Furthermore, as much as it pains me to admit it, the British Fabian Socialists have nothing on their American counterparts regarding the long, patient campaign to subvert the family.

u201CSince the 1840s … American social history could be written as the deliberate dismantling of the home-centered economy, and the consequent decay of the foundations of our liberty,u201D observers Dr. Alan Carlson. u201C[T]his turn against the home was not a natural consequence of industrialization or the emergence of a modern economy. Rather, the change derived from the application of statist ideology and consciously-made political and legal choices.u201D

“The first direct assault on family autonomy grew out of the reform school movement during the 1830s,” whose influence was particularly strong in New York and Pennsylvania, continues Dr. Carlson. In 1839, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, acting on assumptions inspired by the reform school movement, invoked the concept of parens patriae to justify the state’s actions in supplanting parents it found “unequal to” or “unworthy of the task” of educating children.

In 1882, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled: “It is the unquestioned right and imperative duty of every enlightened government, in its character of parens patriae to protect and provide for the comfort and well-being of its citizens…. The performance of this duty is justly regarded as one of the most important governmental functions, and all constitutional limitations must be so understood and construed so as not to interfere with its proper and legitimate exercise.” (Emphasis added.) The principle of parens patriae, properly understood, requires the demolition of all constitutional limitations, rather than their u201Credefinition.u201D

In 1913, Dr. Arthur W. Calhoun published A Social History of The American Family: From Colonial Times to the Present, which would become an authoritative text for American social-service and welfare workers. Calhoun was remarkably unabashed in promoting a perspective on State supremacy that could have been offered by Marx and Engels (who brazenly called for u201Cabolition of the family!u201D in the Communist Manifesto):

“American history consummates the disappearance of the wider [or extended] familism and the substitution of the parentalism of society…. The new view is that the higher and more obligatory relation is to society rather than to the family; the family goes back to the age of savagery while the state belongs to the age of civilization. The modern individual is a world citizen, served by the world, and home interests can no longer be supreme.”

By 1930, the year that President Herbert Hoover convened the White House Conference on Child Health and Protection, it was possible for an American president to describe, in public, the individual child as someone “who belongs to the community almost as much as to the family,” and a citizen of “a world predestinedly [sic] moving toward unity.u201D The latter phrase seems to foretell, by roughly six decades, the claim contained in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child that government is the primary custodian of all children, with the UN itself at the head of a global system of parens patriae.

For more than a century and a half, collectivist cliques on both sides of the Atlantic have been engaged in a kind of dialectical pas de deux where State control over the family is concerned, each side propelling the other to ever-greater heights of presumption. As I said, sometimes it seems a pity that England is just one ocean away.

William Norman Grigg [send him mail] writes the Pro Libertate blog.

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