It Takes a Village Idiot

The place of the village idiot as the touchstone for judging a society is central to the plot of two works of literature.

‘The Book of Jotham’ and ‘The Violent Bear It Away’ book covers
‘The Book of Jotham’ and ‘The Violent Bear It Away’ book covers (photo: Tuscany Press / Wikimedia Commons)

It’s over 20 years since Hillary Clinton told us that it takes a village to raise a child, and over 10 years since Rick Santorum responded with his riposte that it takes a family. These two perspectives would appear to be diametrical opposites and yet, in point of fact, and as we shall see, it takes both a village and a family to raise a child. 

The real point of contention is that Hillary Clinton doesn’t really believe that it takes a village to raise a child, in spite of her polemic, because she doesn’t really believe in villages. Her use of the word is a mere euphemism for Big Government solutions to political problems. She doesn’t trust villages because she doesn’t trust the people who live in them. The village mentality, like the small-town mentality, is not open to radical new approaches to traditional human problems. The village is not “progressive” enough. What Mrs. Clinton really believes is that it takes a huge city and a burgeoning federal government to raise a child. And by raising a child, she means teaching the child to despise the village, with its local roots and traditional morality, and to embrace the utopian and oxymoronic “global village” in which the child ceases to be part of a genuine local community and becomes, instead, a “citizen of the world,” a mere microcosmic minion among the multiple millions who inhabit the one globalist “village.”

The best solution to the globalist “village” is the revitalization of the real village. We need reinvigorated local communities with thriving local economies comprised of multifarious small to medium-sized businesses. We also need revitalized and reinvigorated local government with real power, which means wresting power away from Washington, DC, and reinvesting it closer to the people whom government is meant to serve. 

But what about the child? Does it take a family or a village to raise a child? 

There can be no doubt that the role of the family is sacrosanct, no doubt about it, but the family needs help, and the child needs friends other than family members. And this is where the village comes in. The village should have a school, or a choice of schools, and the family should have the choice of sending the child to school, or of choosing not to do so. Should the family choose to homeschool, it is often helpful for several families to get together once or twice a week in homeschool co-ops, enabling the children to make friends and enabling parents to pool their skills and resources for the common good. Yes indeed, it does take a village as well as a family to raise a child, but it has to be a real village and not a fake village; it cannot be the urban wolf in rural clothing which Mrs. Clinton offers as a euphemistic and oxymoronic alternative to the family. 

There is, however, one other crucial member of every village and every community whose very presence or absence is indicative of the community’s health or sickness, and that is the village idiot. 

Every village needs its own idiot. And, thanks be to God, since every village needs one, every village throughout the whole of human history has always been blessed to have one. And here the word is being used in its literal and traditional sense, as referring to “a person so deficient in mind as to be permanently incapable of rational conduct.” It is, therefore, not being used in the euphemistic sense as a catch-all word for those who have succumbed to stupid ideas. Mrs. Clinton might be considered an idiot in this latter euphemistic sense but she is not a real idiot in the sense that the village idiot is a real idiot. She is not “deficient in mind” but defective in reasoning, the latter of which is a consequence of bad philosophy. A real village idiot, on the other hand, is mentally disabled and is, therefore, unable to grasp or grapple with any philosophy, good or bad. He is innocent of the criminal negligence of the mind to which Mrs. Clinton has succumbed for the simple reason that he is innocent in the primal sense in which he is incapable of being guilty. He is not culpable for his idiocy and, in turn, his idiocy makes him incapable of culpability. He is truly innocent which is why he is sometimes seen as a holy innocent, or a holy fool. He is not the same as the holy fool who acts foolish in the eyes of the world in order to teach the worldly wise other-worldly wisdom; he is not, therefore, like certain Old Testament prophets or Christian saints, or literary “holy fools,” such as Poor Tom in Shakespeare’s King Lear, Prince Myskin in Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, Innocent Smith in Chesterton’s Manalive, or the eponymous hero in Myles Connolly’s novel, Mr. Blue. He is not acting the idiot, he is the idiot.  

Although village idiots come in many shapes and sizes, the most recognizable is the one whom modern science has labeled as having Down syndrome. It takes a village, as well as a family, to look after such people.

How the village looks after its idiots says a great deal about the state of the village. In healthy communities the whole village helps the one who is mentally handicapped, knowing that he needs the charity of those around him; and let’s remember that charity is the anglicized form of the Latin, caritas, which is divine love, the love that God lavishes on all of us. If caritas reigns in the hearts and in the actions of the villagers, especially in the way that they treat the weakest and most helpless members of the community, the village will prosper; if caritas is absent, the weakest will be neglected or even destroyed so that the strong can be liberated from their responsibility to the weak and vulnerable. In the latter case, the village soon becomes a place where the strongest tyrannize the weak. 

The place of the village idiot as the touchstone or litmus test for the judging of the health of society is central to the plot of two wonderful works of literature. In Flannery O’Connor’s novel, The Violent Bear It Away, the attitude of the “healthy” characters to the mentally disabled child serves as the very means by which we judge them. Insofar as we see the child as the innocent victim of the sins of others, we see him as symbolic of the scourged and suffering Christ. In Arthur Powers’ novella, The Book of Jotham, we see the life of Christ through the eyes of a mentally disabled disciple, judging the goodness of the other disciples by the manner in which they see or fail to see the goodness of the idiot in their midst.  

Moving beyond the truth of fiction to the ugly world of fact, the historian Mark Deavin has uncovered evidence of the Nazi government’s extermination of children with Down syndrome in the 1930s. In our own day, and in the same demonic spirit as that which animated the Nazis, countries such as Iceland boast of their own Final Solution to the idiot problem. In that frozen land, in which hearts are turned to ice by the sin of pride, every child with Down syndrome is systematically exterminated in the womb, butchered as soon as genetic testing reveals the extra chromosome. And lest we think such horrific genocide is restricted to Norse barbarians in the Nazi German past or the neo-Nazi Icelandic present, we should realize that politicians, such as Mrs. Clinton, believe that a mother has the right to choose to kill her own idiot children, should she wish, as she has the right to kill any of her other children, idiot or otherwise. It’s not a question of whether it takes a family or a village to raise a child, it’s whether a mother has the right to raze them.

It has been said that most of us are here to learn but that children with Down syndrome are here to teach. Those with mental disabilities teach us the most valuable lessons about the real heart of love, which is that we must sacrifice ourselves for others and not sacrifice others for ourselves.  

It takes a village idiot to teach such lessons. Without such teachers, we become tyrants.