It stands to reason that conservative parents would be more inclined to propagate the Santa myth, and not only because they tend to be more religious than liberals. Deception for noble motives has deep roots in conservative political philosophy. It was another era and a vastly different context, but consider Edmund Burke’s reactionary defense of illusion in 1790:
All the pleasing illusions, which made power gentle and obedience liberal, which harmonized the different shades of life, and which, by a bland assimilation, incorporated into politics the sentiments which beautify and soften private society, are to be dissolved by this new conquering empire of light and reason. All the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off. All the superadded ideas, furnished from the wardrobe of a moral imagination, which the heart owns, and the understanding ratifies, as necessary to cover the defects of our naked, shivering nature, and to raise it to dignity in our own estimation, are to be exploded as a ridiculous, absurd, and antiquated fashion.
We see the intellectual roots of today’s cry against the “War on Christmas” in Burke’s stalwart defense of “pleasing illusions” in the wake of the French Revolution, an event he loathed as much for its assault on the sentiments as for its attack on the ancien régime. Without supports for “the spirit of the gentleman” and “the spirit of religion,” Burke wrote, “we have no compass to govern us.” Illusion is the foundation of good government: “To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely.”
This is exactly the defense of lying to one’s kids about Santa we find today. She’s no Burkean prose stylist, but consider Lindsay Cross’s case for deception at the Mommyish blog:
We lie to our kids. We do it for their own good. There’s a higher purpose involved, but let’s not pretend like we’re honest all the time, about everything. I happen to think that the wonder and excitement of Santa Claus, his reindeer, and his elves are worth the moral cost of lying. I think these stories teach children to imagine the impossible, to stretch their creativity. And honestly, I think they’re fun!
For the liberal response to all this noble lying, we could turn to the pop psychologists, or we could consult Thomas Paine, whose argued in his deliciously snotty response to Burke that governments should be supported by the light of reason, not ignorant belief in the “naturalness” of hierarchy:
On the contrary, Government, in a well-constituted republic, requires no belief from man beyond what his reason can give. He sees the rationale of the whole system, its origin and its operation; and as it is best supported when best understood, the human faculties act with boldness, and acquire, under this form of government, a gigantic manliness.
If you want to raise (wo)manly, clear-thinking, independent-minded children, Paine might advise, do not feed them lies about a benevolent man in a red suit. Tell them the truth about the provenance of their presents. Even if the man from the North Pole, by all appearances, is a Democrat.
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