But perhaps the most surprising result of the Iowa caucuses was the return of compassionate conservatism from the margins of the Republican stage to its center. Rick Santorum is not just an outspoken social conservative; he is the Republican candidate who addresses the struggles of blue-collar workers and the need for greater economic mobility. He talks not only of the rights of the individual but also of the health of social institutions, particularly the family. He draws out the public consequences of a belief in human dignity — a pro-life view applied to the unborn and to victims of AIDS in Africa…

This is not statism; it is called subsidiarity. In this view, needs are best served by institutions closest to individuals. But when those institutions require help or protection, higher-order institutions should intervene. So when state governments imposed Jim Crow laws, the federal government had a duty to overturn them. When a community is caught in endless economic depression and drained of social capital, government should find creative ways to empower individuals and charities — maybe even prison ministries that change lives from the inside out.

This is not “big government” conservatism. It is a form of limited government less radical and simplistic than the libertarian account. A compassionate-conservative approach to governing would result in a different and smaller federal role — using free-market ideas to strengthen families and communities, rather than constructing centralized bureaucracies. It rejects, however, a utopian belief in unfettered markets that would dramatically increase the sum of suffering.